Greek gods plan to beat Roman challengers
Posted: Monday July 5, 2004 10:51PM; Updated: Monday July 5, 2004 10:51PM
ATHENS, July 6 (Reuters) -- The Greeks invented the word plagiarism but they say it was the Romans who perfected the art, hijacking the Hellenic culture they admired right down to its gods and heroes.
Next month, though, the Greek gods are set for an Olympian comeback with Zeus and his divine entourage looking forward to setting the record straight during a fortnight in the global spotlight thanks to the Athens Olympics.
The Greeks are seizing the opportunity to remind the world that their gods, heroes and monsters were the originals, with their Roman counterparts the impostors.
If you do not know your Jupiter from your Zeus let alone Ulysses from Odysseus then the August 13-29 Games promise to set you straight with a blast of mythology.
The opening and closing ceremonies will lean heavily on mythology with the premiere themed on Apollo, the god of intellect, the arts, prophecy, healing and light.
The curtain will come down with a show inspired by Bacchus the god of wine and revelry.
Even the mascots Athena and Phevos are a cartoon-style take on Olympian gods. Athena was the goddess of wisdom and patron of Athens, while Phevos was the alternative name for her brother Apollo.
For the Greeks, it all started with the Olympian creation myth.
The earth goddess Gaea came out of the shapeless mass, Chaos, to forge a union with the firmament or Uranus.
Two generations of power struggles later, Zeus and his wife Hera emerged victorious from a celestial civil war to rule the world from Mount Olympus, along with the pantheon of 12 Olympian Gods.
The tales woven around the mythical exploits of the lascivious Zeus and his many descendants were introduced to Rome through Greek colonies in what is now southern Italy.
According to Wisconsin classics professor Barry Powell, the effect was overwhelming and swept away the domestic worship of abstract fertility spirits.
"The Romans had no Gods," said Powell whose book 'Classical Myth' examined the roots of mythology in Greece and Rome.
"The cultural power of the Greeks in the Roman Empire was extraordinary. The Romans absorbed it lock, stock and barrel."
As the power of Rome rose, the names were changed to pay respect to local traditions. Thus the gods of love and war, Aphrodite and Ares, became Venus and Mars.
"The general view is that there was no Roman mythology," Powell added.
Zeus, Hera and Athena became Jupiter, Juno and Minerva; the sea God Poseidon got rebranded as Neptune and the confusion began in earnest.
It has lasted into modern times with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's wife Veronica recently saying that she saw herself as Penelope to her husband's Ulysses, staying at home with the family as the hero battled storms and monsters on an epic adventure.
But as any Greek will tell you, Penelope was indeed the homemaker but the legendary wanderer who took such a winding route home to the island of Ithaka after the Trojan wars was Odysseus not Ulysses.
It might seem a Herculean task to take all this on board but it is actually a Heraklean one -- the name Hercules is another example of Roman rebranding.
It could all have been so different. It was Rome not Athens that was the favourite to win over the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne in 1997 as hosts for the 2004 Olympics.
The Italians were so incensed at their last-round defeat to Athens that the Mayor of Rome cried scandal and called for the vote to be taken again.
As a final insult, Powell suggested that even Rome's own creation myth involving the twins Romulus and Remus was borrowed from the Greeks.
"The word Rome comes from the ancient Greek meaning strength; it's likely the myth came from the Greek tradition," said Powell.
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