I read my first book of Greek myths as a fourth grader, and even in tales watered down for middle-grade consumption, I was incensed at how unfair many of them were. I still remember the illustration of Daphne’s horrified face as her arms sprouted leaves and branches, and her feet became rooted to the ground. Consequently, I took a little (okay, a lot of) relish in using TD to holler at the Greek gods for their misbehavior!
Many of the mythological figures referenced in Purgatory Playhouse have more than one and/or conflicting stories about them. This list contains the details that I’ve selected (and in some cases embellished) for my own nefarious purposes.
CW: The Greek gods imposed some pretty grisly fates on their victims, so please proceed with caution.
Dramatis Personae (The Greeks)
Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty; wife of Hephaestus; mother of Eros
Apollo, god of the sun and light; also music; son of Zeus; twin brother of Artemis
Artemis, goddess of the hunt; daughter of Zeus; twin sister of Apollo
Athena, goddess of wisdom, war strategy, arts, crafts, mathematics, law and justice; daughter of Zeus (via springing full-grown from his head)
Atropos, eldest of the three Fates (Moirai); chooses the mechanism of a mortal’s death and cuts their life thread
Boreas, god of the north wind
Clotho, youngest of the three Fates (Moirai); spins the thread of a mortal’s life
Demeter, goddess of the harvest, agriculture, fertility; mother of Persephone; sister of Zeus, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Hestia
Dionysus, god of wine and theater; son of Zeus
Euterpe, muse of music and lyric poetry
Hades, god of the dead, ruler of the Underworld; brother of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hestia, and Demeter
Hephaestus, god of fire and metalworking; son of Zeus and Hera; husband of Aphrodite
Hera, goddess of marriage and birth, queen of Olympus; sister of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hestia, and Demeter; married to Zeus (unfortunately for both of them)
Hermes, god of travelers, trade, and thieves; messenger of the gods; son of Zeus; grandson of the titan Atlas
Hestia, goddess of the hearth and domestic life; sister of Zeus, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Demeter
Lachesis, second eldest of the Fates (Moirai); measures a mortal’s life thread, determining their destiny
Poseidon, god of the sea; brother of Zeus, Hera, Hades, Hestia, and Demeter
Terpsichore, muse of dance
Tyche, goddess of prosperity and fortune
Zeus, god of the sky, thunder, lightning; king of the gods; incapable of keeping it in his pants
Actaeon, victim of Artemis. While hunting, he came across her bathing in a river; she turned him into a stag, and his own dogs pursued him and tore him apart.
Atalanta, victim of Aphrodite (and maybe Zeus). A kickass hunter and athlete with no desire to marry, she told her father she would only marry a man who could outrun her in a footrace. Poseidon’s grandson, Hippomenes, asked Aphrodite to intercede for him, and she helped him cheat (by way of three golden apples to distract Atalanta during the race). Later she and Hippomenes were turned into lions, either by Aphrodite or Zeus.
Cassandra, victim of Apollo. Cassandra was a Trojan princess, daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. She caught Apollo’s obsessive eye. He granted her the gift of true prophecies in exchange for sexual favors, which she refused to grant. Whether she “went back on her word” or the gift was supposed to be an enticement that failed is subject to debate, but hardly the point—Apollo didn’t take no for an answer gracefully, and decreed that nobody would believe her prophecies (even though they were always true—she warned the Trojans about that horse, but did they listen?).
Daphne, victim of Apollo and Eros (and her own father). Daphne was a nymph, the daughter of a minor river god, and collateral damage in a tiff between Apollo and Eros. Apollo, whose divine domain included archery, mocked Eros’s skill. In retaliation, Eros shot Apollo with an arrow that made him fall in love with Daphne, and Daphne with one that made her hate Apollo. When she fled from attempted rape at Apollo’s hands, she begged her father to help her—and he turned her into a laurel tree. Thanks, Dad.
Echo, victim of Hera. A chatty nymph who tried to distract Hera from discovering Zeus’s infidelities by engaging her in conversation. Hera punished her by making her only able to repeat the last few words spoken to her.
Eurydice, victim of Hades (and a technicality). The wife of Orpheus, she was bitten by a viper (possibly while being pursued by a minor god, Aristaeus) and died. Orpheus, by his performance for Hades and Persephone, won Eurydice’s return to the living. However, the deal was he had to walk in front of her and not look back. When he passed the threshold into the living world, he looked back—but she hadn’t passed the threshold yet, so back she went.
Ganymede, victim of Zeus. Ganymede was a young shepherd, “the most beautiful of mortals,” who caught Zeus’s roving eye. Zeus abducted Ganymede and transported him to Olympus and immortality as the cupbearer either for the gods or for Zeus personally, depending on the storyteller. Apparently Zeus compensated Ganymede’s father for the abduction with a gift of horses—but never actually compensated Ganymede himself.
Heracles, victim of Hera. A son of Zeus by another woman (not exactly an unusual occurrence), Heracles for some reason attracted an unreasonable amount of ire from Hera. She delayed his birth to rob him of his rightful kingdom, sent venomous snakes to his bed when he was a baby, caused him to go mad and kill his own children—which he then had to atone for by performing the Twelve Labors (no easy feats).
Ixion, victim of Zeus. By some accounts, Ixion was no prize to begin with—he never paid his father-in-law the negotiated bride-price for his wife and subsequently murdered him. But Zeus hand-waved that, and invited Ixion to Olympus, where his crime was…flirting with Hera. Zeus, although a serial cheater himself, wasn’t about to grant his wife the same license. He created a simulacrum of Hera made of clouds, and tricked Ixion into getting busy with the false Hera. For that, Ixion was sentenced to be tied to a fiery wheel for eternity. (BTW, Ixion’s coupling with the cloud bank resulted in the race of centaurs.)
Leucates, victim of Apollo. He jumped off a cliff to escape from Apollo, who wanted to carry him off to Olympus (and we know what that means).
Marsyas, victim of Apollo. Marsyas (who may have been a satyr, although he’s portrayed as human in most art depicting him) was an outstanding flute player. He challenged Apollo to a music contest—and lost. After which Apollo flayed him alive and nailed his skin to a pine tree.
Medusa, victim of Poseidon and Athena. Medusa was a priestess of Athena until Poseidon sexually assaulted her in the temple. Athena, enraged at the desecration, punished…Medusa, turning her hair to venomous snakes and her face/glare so dreadful that it turned people to stone. When her sisters, Stheno and Euryale, tried to protect her, they got slapped with the same fate. As if that weren’t bad enough, Athena eventually helped Perseus behead Medusa.
Niobe and her fourteen children, victims of Apollo and Artemis (and their mom). Niobe presumably insulted Leto, Apollo and Artemis’s mother, by boasting about her children. To punish her hubris, Leto sent Apollo and Artemis to kill Niobe’s kids (Apollo took the boys; Artemis took the girls). Since Niobe’s husband was a son of Zeus, and Niobe Zeus’s granddaughter, Apollo and Artemis essentially slaughtered their nieces and nephews/cousins.
Orpheus, victim of Hades and Dionysus. Orpheus’s skill as a musician was such that, when his wife Eurydice died from a snakebite, his laments were moving enough for Hades to grant Eurydice a return to the land of the living. There was a catch—he had to walk ahead of her and couldn’t look back. Of course, he did, and because she hadn’t crossed the threshold from the Underworld at the time…well, you get the picture. Later, Orpheus ran afoul of Dionysus and was torn apart by the maenads.
Pandora, victim of Zeus (etc.). To punish humanity after Prometheus returned the gift of fire to them, Zeus had Hephaestus create the first woman. The other gods gave her back-handed gifts (“a shameless mind and deceitful nature” from Hermes, for instance), and loaded her with that jar (not a box) filled with plagues. Pandora, being an inquisitive sort, opened the jar and let the nasties escape. So Pandora (and through her, all women generally) gets the blame for all the evil in the world—even though the gods had created her for precisely that reason.
Pentheus, victim of Dionysus. Pentheus, the king of Thebes, was actually Dionysus’s cousin—his mother, Agave, was sister to Dionysus’s mother, Semele. Pentheus outlawed Dionysian rites (which were getting a little out of hand), and Dionysus retaliated by tricking Pentheus into spying on the rites in question. This didn’t work out well for him. The maenads (Dionysus’s frenzied followers, including Agave) spotted Pentheus hiding in a tree and, mistaking him for a wild animal, tore him limb from limb.
Persephone, victim of Hades. Although usually classed with the pantheon as queen of the Underworld, she was a victim first. The daughter of Zeus and Demeter, she was abducted by Hades. Zeus intervened after Demeter went into such a tailspin searching for her daughter that the world was threatened with extinction, but because Persephone had consumed several pomegranate seeds (!!) before her rescue, she thereafter had to spend part of each year in the Underworld with Hades.
Prometheus, victim of Zeus. Prometheus was a titan, descended from the pre-Olympian immortals (as were Zeus and his siblings), and a champion of humanity against the Olympians. He tricked Zeus into choosing a less appetizing form of animal sacrifice (bones and hide rather than meat), and as a result, Zeus stole fire from the humans. Prometheus promptly stole it back, and as punishment, he was chained to a rock where the Caucasian Eagle (not your garden variety eagle—a really big one that may or may not have been the child of monstrous parents and/or an automaton constructed by Hephaestus) showed up to eat his liver every day at the same time. Since Prometheus was immortal, his liver grew back overnight, providing the Caucasian Eagle with perpetual job security.
Stheno, victim of Athena. For standing by her sister, Medusa, Stheno was also transformed into a Gorgon, along with the third sister, Euryale.
Tantalus, victim of Zeus. Tantalus was Zeus’s son and the father of Niobe. The accepted myth about Tantalus is that, in order to test the gods’ divinity, he killed his own son and served him in a stew to the Olympians. For this, he was sentenced to Tartarus, to stand in a pool of water that receded whenever he tried to drink, and under a tree whose branches blew out of reach whenever he tried to pluck its fruit. There may have been a rock suspended overhead as well.