Tuesday, January 27, 2009
THE ZEUS PLAY
The Zeus Play
Scene: Olympus, today
Zeus and Hera are fast asleep, side by side, face upwards as though lying in state, under a rich coverlet. Off to one side is Zeus's empty throne. Demeter (comfortably motherly) and Persephone (young) enter together.
Demeter: That's all very well, Persephone, but you have not been yourself
recently. (Lightly pinching Persephone's bicep.) Not the same muscle
tone - and you're definitely paler ...Is Hades ... er ...
Persephone: No, honestly, mother -you mustn't listen to all these hellfire
stories about him. He's a darling, really; no problems down there. It's
when I come up to Earth and start sprouting ... All these nitrates and
things in the soil.
Demeter: (Sighs) / know - Gaia's always on about it, and threatening to
do something drastic ... Will humans never learn?
Persephone: / hope they don't drive her to it. Push Gaia too far, and she
can be a bit... well, wholesale. Then there'd be no one left to plant me
... (Gesturing at Zeus) Time he woke up. His thunderbolts are more
Demeter: Zeus and Hera have been asleep for nearly 2,000 years now. I
sometimes think nothing will ever wake them.
Hermes: (Entering) / wouldn't bet on that.
Demeter: Ah, Hermes. Good morning ... What's the matter? You look flustered.
Hermes: Morning, Demeter ... Persephone ... Trouble, I'm afraid.
Can't you feel it?
Demeter: (Sniffing the air) There is something ... Like a tidal wave in the
Persephone: (Pointing at Zeus) Mother! Look! (Zeus sits up, yawns, and stretches. Then Hera sits up, pats her hair, gets out of bed, pulls off the coverlet and starts folding it neatly.)
Hera: Come on, Zeus, get up. You can't idle all day. There are things to
attend to. You were going to deal with the Persians, remember? And that
priest in Sparta who's been getting above himself... I've told you several
Zeus: (Standing up and resuming his dignity, he goes to his throne
and sits down.) Stop nagging, woman ... Demeter - Persephone -Hermes - who's first?
Hermes: Er ... Zeus ... And Hera too, for that matter ... I'm afraid we
must bring you up to date, and it may be a shock to you. You have both
been asleep for nearly 2,000 years. (Zeus and Hera both stare at Hermes unbelievingly. Hera drops the coverlet, then hastily picks it up and re-folds it. Zeus shakes his
head as though to clear it.)
Hera: / don't believe you.
Zeus: No, my dear, he means it... (Laughing) Oh, well, what's a couple
of thousand years to the gods? At least it'll have fixed that Spartan you
were worrying about. (To Hermes,) And the Persians too, I imagine?
Hermes: Well, not entirely - but leave that for the moment... What do you
think woke you?
Zeus: (Pausing, frowning, and suddenly angry) A thunderbolt! By
Myself, a thunderbolt! Who has had the audacity? Thunderbolts are my
Hermes: Humans, I'm afraid.
Zeus: (Leaping to his feet) HUMANS! (Athene, Poseidon and Aphrodite hurry in. They are all talking at once, interrupting each other and trying to get Zeus's attention)
Athene: Father -you're awake ... Poseidon: Zeus, I need your help ...
Aphrodite: Everything's wrong - even my lipstick's changed colour ...
Athene: (Scornful aside) Is that all you can think of? (To Hera) Tell him
to listen ...
Poseidon: Dead fish, and living ones the wrong shape ...
Aphrodite: (To Athene) You could do with some colour yourself!
Athene: Father -for Your sake ...
Zeus: (Thunderously) SILENCE! (They all subside, and he sits
down again, taking his time, then, speaking quietly:) That's better.
Now, Hermes -1 think you should put us in the picture.
Hermes: Thank you, Zeus ... Well, for many centuries after you and Hera went to sleep, everything proceeded more or less as normal. King¬doms rising and falling, Hephaestus thinking up new techniques, Ares stirring up his usual trouble ...
Athene: Bloodthirsty oaf.
Aphrodite:(Smugly) He has his nicer moments.
Demeter: Burning crops, for instance?
Zeus: Order, order!
Hermes: They discovered America ...
Zeus: Damn. I had hoped we could keep that to ourselves.
Hermes: Well, they do call it God's Own Country.
Hermes: Except that they don't mean you. It's been taken over by Yahweh -as indeed has what is now called Europe.
Hera: (Muttering) Named after that hussy Europa, I suppose.
Hermes: .. .and much of Africa and the Near East.
Zeus: That doesn't worry me too much. Keeps it in the family, at least. Inter-pantheon relations work fairly smoothly.
Hermes: Not any more, they don't. While you've been resting, there's been a marked tendency to monopolization.
Zeus: H'mm. I think I'll call a Council of the Gods about that.
Athene: And Goddesses, if you please. We've been declared redundant wherever Yahweh's in charge.
Zeus: But Yahweh has a wife himself! What's happened to Ashtoreth?
Athene: Divorce and oblivion.
Hermes: To be fair, I think it's the priesthood to blame, more than Yahweh himself. You see ...
Athene: (Vehemently) And that's the trouble. Men have taken over entirely. Which makes things easier for Ares, for a start. Men have had things more and more their own way ever since you fell asleep. Women are their property, denied power ...
Aphrodite: (Chuckling and taking out her compact) Who says?
Athene: (Turning on her) Yes, they can simper and seduce and pull strings, sacrifice their self-respect ...
Aphrodite: (Starting to make up her face) You're just a radical feminist.
Zeus: And what in Hades is 'a radical feminist'?
Hermes: Please - let's not be sidetracked. We were talking about thun¬derbolts.
Zeus: Indeed we were. Go on, Hermes.
Hermes: Thank you. A century or two ago, man discovered electricity. The simple principle of your thunderbolts. At first he used it fairly sensibly, for lighting and warmth and ingenious engines for making things move ...
Zeus: (Shaking his head) Clever little creatures we made.
Hermes: Perhaps too clever. Just before Ares' worst orgy, called the
Second World War, they discovered the real secret.
Zeus: (Aghast) You don't mean ...
Zeus: (After a pause) As I slept, I dreamed. I dreamed of Helios gone mad, of cities wiped out in an instant. I dreamed ... (Groans) Even Gods have nightmares ... Then, today ...
Hermes: Men tried also to harness your thunderbolts for peaceful use. But
they were too greedy, too careless. Today, in a place called Chernobyl,
the power broke loose. It was that which awakened you.
Poseidon: I did not have to be awakened. (Coughs as though bringing
up phlegm) My realm has been sick for years. (Patting his chest) /
caught this offshore from Sellafield ... And it's not only your
Demeter: The dryads come weeping to me, as man destroys their trees.
Persephone: The creatures of the wild call to me, as man shrinks their
Athene: My builders of old cry out to me, as acid rain eats away our
Aphrodite: The ordinary people call to me, as wealth outweighs love.
All: (Looking at Zeus) What shall we do?
Zeus: (Pauses, then rises) / think it is time to call that Council of Gods
and Goddesses - by whatever name they are known. And to call upon all
men and women of good will - whatever Beings they worship. Otherwise
Gaia may take matters into her own hands... Are we agreed?
All: We are agreed.