“Thank you once again for all coming together to express ourselves with writing,” came Athena’s calm, clear voice in the Olympian Hall. “Why should the mortals write songs, poems and stories about us and not us write them about ourselves.”
Murmurs of agreement from the 11 Olympians seated on their marble thrones, each throne representing some aspect of their personalities. All of them wore a differing array of emotions.
Hera looked haughtily down at the proceedings, as she did with everything.
Zeus kept glancing down to the mortal world and Athena wondered which mortal had snared her father’s fickle interest this time.
Ares wore his permanent scowl and had once again refused to bathe, smelling of blood and mud and death.
Aphrodite perched delicately on her throne, her eyes liquid gold, dreamy and intoxicating, a permanent, sensuous lilt to her lips.
Poseidon sat there looking stern, his skin deeply tanned, his dark brows descending over aquamarine eyes.
Hades had been invited, despite everyone’s wishes, but he had declined Athena’s invitation by way of a very harried bat. However, the bat had also delivered Hades’ contribution to this “family writing circle.”
Demeter also wore her stern look, smelling of freshly toiled earth and baking bread.
Hephaestus sat there, intention fixated on a small golden object he was tinkering with, his face a mask of concentration.
Hermes lazed upon his throne, absentmindedly waving his winged feet over his chair’s armrests, his bright eyes following Hephaestus’ quick movements.
Dionysus wore a glazed, happy look on his face, probably the result of his constant inebriation of wine. In a single moment though, that look could turn into one of mad fury if provoked.
Artemis and Apollo sat side by side, the glowing twins – one silver and one gold. Both seemed preoccupied, wearing a vacant look on their beautiful, perfect faces.
Athena sighed inwardly at her divine family.
“Now, last week we learned about how to write poetry, taught by our beloved Calliope, our Muse of Poetry,” Athena said, mentioning the ethereal Muse that had taught the Olympians last week. Athena had decided to not bring Calliope this time as she proved far too “distracting” for the males of Olympus.
“So now is the time to hear your contributions. As the Goddess of the Arts I am interested in hearing them. I’m sure we can do better than the mortals below,” Athena said confidently. “So, who would like to go first?” she asked.
Silence amongst the gleaming silver, marble hall.
“Anyone?” she asked.
No-one seemed interested in beginning the proceedings. No-one seemed particularly interested at all.
The silence lengthened and Athena heaved a very audible sigh this time.
“Well then, I will start things off with a kind contribution from Hades,” she said.
“Hades? Write poetry? Ha!”
The other Olympians snickered along with him.
“He has written a small haiku. It reads as follows:
‘All alone I sit
Blackness gnaws at my dead heart
Hatred consumes me.’”
“Bah! Hades is always so dour. What has he got to complain about? He just rules the Underworld. I have to rule the entire cosmos!” Zeus boomed.
“Yes,” Athena agreed smoothly. “Perhaps you can do better than your brother then?”
Zeus’ eyes darkened slightly.
“Perhaps? Perhaps! I can beat Hades at anything!” he bellowed, then pulled out a rich piece of parchment with his messy scrawl on it. He cleared his throat.
“I am the mighty Zeus.
Any female mortal I can seduce.
For none can resist me,
all who see me.
I have my giant thunderbolts,
that can zap you with 10,000 volts.
None dare cross me, Lord of the Sky,
and any who do, soon will cry.”
He ended on a triumphant note and looked around, waiting for the adulation to come. All he got were smothered laughs from Apollo, Artemis and Poseidon, while Hermes openly laughed. Hera glowered at her husband again.
Zeus’ fair eyes darkened and the sky above Olympus rumbled ominously.
“Why are you all laughing?” he roared.
“We’re not laughing,” Apollo said, trying to keep the grin off his face.
“We simply couldn’t contain ourselves when confronted with the pure beauty of your poem. It just made us so…happy,” Hermes said, completely deadpan.
Zeus eyed him carefully but Hermes’ façade didn’t crack.
Zeus sniffed and the sky calmed.
“Thank you. I do consider myself quite a wordsmith,” he said proudly, and oh-so-modestly.
More laughter was smothered from the twins.
“Thank you, Lord Father Zeus,” Athena said calmly, her wise grey eyes the only thing that betrayed her shared amusement. “Who is next?”
Not to be surpassed by his brother, Poseidon stood up and cleared his throat.
“I will go next, Athena,” he said.
There it was again, that simmering, pointed anger whenever he said Athena’s name. Athena rolled her eyes. It wasn’t her fault that the people of Athens had chosen her as their patron. He shouldn’t have given them a saltwater spring.
“Lonely blue expanse
Waves crashing against a lonely shore
The deep blue’s ringing cry
To the wide blue sky
Me walking alongside
“That’s all? It doesn’t even rhyme! And we all know you love the ocean. That’s your domain!”
Poseidon stared hard at his brother.
“And we don’t know you have thunderbolts and seduce mortals?” he said mockingly. “And besides, unlike you I am quite busy running my kingdom. So many mortals on the seas these days. I didn’t have time to sit and write something truly fantastic.”
Zeus puffed up his chest, ready for a fight.
“Zeus,” Athena warned.
One look at his daughter’s stormy eyes made him rethink and he huffed back into his throne.
“Thank you, Poseidon. I think that was short but lovely,” Athena said, placating him somewhat. “Next?”
“I will go next,” came the regal voice of Hera as she stood to her full, glorious height. Athena bowed to her will and listened.
“I am Hera, the Queen of Queens,
Mother, Wife, Goddess Supreme.
I have given birth to Gods, like my son,
ferocious Ares, whose equal is none.
Over marriages and fidelity I do so preside,
liars and cheats I will not abide.
For my wrath is as great as my benevolence kind,
those who are true, they will always find,
I, Hera, will be by their side.
But for those who cross me, tear down my faithfulness,
for fleeting affections and young nakedness,
their life is a misery I will make,
for those who dare to choose me to forsake.
An awkward silence followed her poem, all eyes directed to anywhere but Hera and Zeus. Zeus was smart enough to pick up his sister-wife’s barely veiled malice and he reached out to tentatively pat her hand. She stayed as cold and hard as marble.
Athena coughed, trying to break the tension.
“Thank you, Hera. Now, who is next?”
Aphrodite rose up, her tightly fitted, shimmering red dress clinging to her figure. Ares couldn’t keep his eyes off her and even Hephaestus paused in his tinkering to gaze at his wife.
Aphrodite, as always, only had eyes for Ares.
“I have done a collection of Haikus. I believe haikus should become the poetry of love,” she breathed.
She delicately held up a piece of her parchment and cleared her pretty little throat.
“Born of the sea foam
Slender, graceful body forms
Basks upon the waves.
“My cheeks are soft pink
Petals of a silken rose
“I set hearts aflame
Their passion is ignited
True love shines brightly
“My beauty shines bright
Resplendent to all who see
“Snowy white feathers
Regal heads upon long necks
Swans swim peacefully
“In their beaks are laurels
Soft voices and silent wings
Peace, unity, love”
“And this one is a special one, just for you my love,” she said, blowing Ares a kiss.
Now it was Hephaestus’ turn to glower.
“Dreams turned to nightmares
Shattered hearts and broken dreams
Love; the battlefield”
Ares gave the dopiest of smiles which did not fit with his hard cut, grim face. Aphrodite batted her eyelashes at him. Hephaestus’ trinket was long forgotten as he watched. Ares shot up from his seat, looking quite love drunk (literally) and scrambled to get his piece of parchment.
“This is a poem, about war,” he said.
“The burn of muscles, the aching of limbs
The sheen of sweat
Bodies used far beyond their known strength
The frantic look in eyes that know death is coming.
The sharpening of swords
The clang clang of metal
The blasts of heat from the burning forge
The stamping of heavy horses, impatient for war.
As the moons go by, the world gets darker
Muscles harden, as do minds and eyes
Hearts turn solid and die.”
Ares ended with a gleeful flourish, no doubt imaging the battlefields he loved so much.
Athena arched one delicate eyebrow in surprise. Ares was not a master of words. He was brutish, not poetic.
“I helped him with that,” she heard Hermes whisper to Dionysus. “He wanted to impress Aphrodite. Think I did good?”
Dionysus smiled sedately.
Aphrodite clapped her hands in delight.
“That was beautiful darling!” she crowed.
Hephaestus couldn’t take it anymore.
“I have written poetry for you too, Aphrodite!” he said, glowering at Ares. “A beautiful poem for my beautiful wife,” he emphasized.
Aphrodite cast him a slightly annoyed look but maintained her silence, allowing Hephaestus to begin.
“The flames are deep below the ground,
dancing deep and burning strong,
the fiercesome fire I have found,
beating out its primal song.
“I work my forge of burnished bronze,
hammer, hammer, blackened face,
from the fires with my tongs,
emerges a thing of grace.
A crown of pure firelight,
dancing golden-orange-red-deep blue,
all who see it bow before its sight,
in awed worship to you.
When he finished his poem, he offered that very crown to Aphrodite. Artemis gasped at the beauty of it and leaned forward on her throne.
“For you, dear wife,” Hephaestus said.
Aphrodite sat there for a moment, examining her nails, then reached out and plucked the crown from Hephaestus’ hand.
“Thank you, dear,” she said dismissively, still shooting looks at Ares.
Hephaestus’ face reddened in anger and Athena fervently hoped he didn’t cause a volcanic eruption. Hades hated it when disasters flooded the gates of the Underworld with dead souls. So much extra paperwork all at once.
“That was truly well done, Hephaestus,” Athena said with genuine warmth. “Now, next? Demeter?’ Athena asked.
The stiff goddess stood up, her wheat coloured hair rolling down her shoulders. Demeter’s voice had a deep, earthy quality about it, and although she had the personality of a chunk of marble, her voice was one that made you listen.
“In the loneliness of the fields
Of wheat, barley and oats
The watchful shepherd sits and watches
Over his sheep and goats.
When autumn comes the crops do wither,
until the spring when my daughter is returned.
Then in spring, the flowers will bloom,
and the soil is again plowed and turned.
The rolling fields of meadows green,
the growing flowers and the trees,
but all that grows soon must die
for the circle of life never ceases.”
“Bah! Fields and trees and livestock and shepherds. So predictable,” Zeus said from his chair, still annoyed from his brother’s insults and the unadoring reaction of his family.
Demeter didn’t rise to his goading, for she rarely got involved in Olympian squabbles.
“Dionysus? Surely the God of Wine and Revelry has a wonderful poem for us,” Athena said, trying to keep the ball rolling.
Dionysus sat up from his slumped position on his chair and stood up, wobbling slightly, his wreath of ivy slightly askew.
“Of course. I wrote this during one of my revelries with the lovely Maenads.”
“Upon the night,
we all decided to gather.
We brought the wine,
fauns brought the dance
and the lovely Maenads.
They danced in firelight, lightly flushed skin,
they danced and spun in drunken delight,
for wondrous, glorious night.
Each was clothed in trailing vines,
it was a sight most divine!”
“I see you decided to do your own free verse,” Athena commented. “Very brave of you.”
Dionysus gave a clumsy bow.
“My life has no rhyme or rhythm,” he drawled.
“Who’s next out of you three?” Athena continued, looking at Hermes, Artemis and Apollo.
“I would like to go next, Athena,” came Artemis’ soft voice.
She stood up, her almost diaphanous silver robes twirling around her young, lithe figure.
“My poem is short but I feel it captures part of who I am quite well,” she preluded.
“High on a hill, a lone wolf howls
Through rocky mountains and winding trees he prowls
Down by the creek the lithe deer hears
The wolf’s angry, hungry cry as it nears
The trees all whisper
as the stars watch above
As the heavens gaze down, their essence full of love.”
“Why sister, that was actually not too bad. I mean, nowhere near as good as me, but I think some of my talent may have rubbed off on you,” Apollo said to her.
“How kind of you, brother, to have shared some of your talent with me,” she said drily.
“Just a tiny, little bit,” he reiterated.
Artemis smiled and sat down again, motioning to him to take the floor.
Apollo stood up. As the inventor of music and song, Apollo knew he was unmatched by anyone on Olympus. He always got such a rush when he was the center of attention – as he should be.
Apollo grinned his best, most winning grin and started off.
“I have many poems for you here today….”
Athena cut him off.
“You may read one only, Apollo. This circle is not about competition. It is about learning more about each other and enjoying the art of writing,” she reminded him.
Apollo heaved a huge, dramatic sigh.
“I suppose you are right. Any more than one poem from me would probably overwhelm you all.”
Athena leveled him with her cool, stormy gaze.
Apollo cleared his throat a tad nervously and began.
“The sun’s golden rays shine across the land,
the beauty of golden light mine to command.
In my chariot I stand, of beaten bronze and gold,
bringing light to the dark and warm to the cold.
The beauty of music, its dulcet tones,
its painting of beauty and wild unknowns.
With gentle hands I pluck at my lyre,
sweet sounds fulfil your every desire.
When an ailment does afflict mere mortals,
I am always there, their golden immortal.”
“You have proven yourself a master of your craft,” Athena said, bowing her head slightly, “and you did well too, Artemis.”
The twins both smiled and Apollo took another gallant bow.
Athena’s gaze finally settled on the languid form of Hermes. Hermes, the mischief maker.
Hermes sat up straight, stretched, then cracked his knuckles.
“Lucky last – me! I have a few of those funny poems you taught us. Limericks, I think they were?” he began.
Athena should’ve known he’d pick those.
“So, I have created a few limericks for all of us here. The first one is about…well let’s see if you can guess!”
“There is someone who’s a goose,
Who’s really quite good at being loose.
He’s got a beautiful wife,
Who threatens his life,
For every woman he does seduce.”
Shocked silence met him and Poseidon barely contained his laughter.
Thunder rumbled up above and Zeus’ fist turned white from clenching it so hard.
“Hermes…” he rumbled warningly.
A small snicker escaped Poseidon and Zeus glared at him. A lightning bolt streaked across the sky.
“Oh, oh, I have another one!” Hermes crowed.
“There was an old guy who lived in the sea,
Who was, alas, one brother of three,
He was robbed from his throne,
By his brother overthrown
And thus a revenge he’ll guarantee.”
Now it was Poseidon’s turn to grumble warningly at Hermes, his eyes turning stormy grey.
“Oh! This one is for you Ares!” Hermes said, pointing at the God of War – the very temperamental God of War.
“There was a dumb god called Ares,
Who liked to run off with fairies,
All brawn and no brain…”
Hermes was cut off by a fist to his face – Ares’ fist.
“Oh my goodness! Are you okay sweetie?” Aphrodite asked, rushing over to Ares.
Everything seemed to happen at once.
Now that Hermes was unconscious and dealt with, Zeus was glaring with deathly intent at his brother who had laughed at him.
“Thought that was funny did you!?” he bellowed.
“It’s only the truth!” Poseidon growled back.
Zeus lunged for him and Hera struggled to hold them back.
Hephaestus, seeing Aphrodite fussing over Ares, exploded as well.
“Get away from my wife!” he bellowed.
Ares, his blood always near boiling point, exploded too and fists were raised, Aphrodite shouting uselessly at them both.
Seeing Hephaestus being attacked, the twins, who liked him and the gifts he often gave to them, raced to his rescue.
Dionysus and Demeter just sat there watching, sipping goblets of wine Dionysus had conjured.
Meanwhile, Athena simply watched from the shadows as, within moments, the entire Olympian hall rang with enraged shouts, the hammering of fists and a deep rumbling of thunder that vibrated through the room.
She closed her eyes, heaved a massive sigh and opened them again.
“This is why we don’t have family nights,” she muttered.