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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stay Classy, Zeus (Zeus and Callisto)

Diana of the Tower
(yet another example of why I should
not be allowed to take photos.)
Pretty commonly, when Zeus wanted to get it on with a lady forbidden to him (either by his marriage to Hera or parental control), Zeus took the form of something else to disguise himself. Sometimes this disguise was for the benefit of those who might be watching for his next infidelity, but sometimes it was to deceive the woman he wanted, grant her a false sense of security, and then do the deed once she was in his power.

The story of Europa and the Bull is a good example of this particular device, which we have discussed at length elsewhere. But today, we're going to talk about that time that Zeus took it even further--too far, even. We're going to talk about Zeus's rape of Callisto.

Callisto, you see, was a sworn virgin, a nymph of Artemis, who herself was a virgin goddess. So what did Zeus do in order to get with his daughter's ladyfriend and devotee?

Apollodorus (3.8.2) presents the story this way:
Now Zeus loved her and, having assumed the likeness, as some say, of Artemis, or, as others say, of Apollo, he shared her bed against her will, and wishing to escape the notice of Hera, he turned her into a bear.
If Zeus took the form of Artemis herself in order to get close to Callisto, and then when he had her in his grasp, took her virginity and impregnated her, there is no excuse for it. He could have at least had the decency to present himself as a dude, so Callisto wouldn't have been caught completely unaware. But this is only the first half of the story -- the second half is what happened after. Because Callisto? she didn't get the Happily Ever-married-off-to-some-other-guy-and-leave-the-fruit-of-this-unwanted-labor-to-die-of-exposure After.

In the next breath, Apollodorus tells us:
But Hera persuaded Artemis to shoot her down as a wild beast. Some say, however, that Artemis shot her down because she did not keep her maidenhood. When Callisto perished, Zeus [...] turned [her] into a star and called it the Bear.
Now look. Zeus has power. He can give the gift of immortality when he wants to, and if he can turn a girl into a bear, he can darn well protect her from Artemis' bow, even from Hera's wrath, were he moved to give said girl just a moment more of his attention beyond the pleasure he's stolen from her body.  But he doesn't. He almost never does. And I really struggle to understand why. Is it to make these women cautionary tales? Even your virgin goddess won't protect you, if you catch the eye of a man? Your virgin goddess will turn on you, the moment you break your vows, whether you do so willfully or not? Are these stories meant to keep women in their place? Tied to men and the protection of fathers, brothers, and husbands? I can't decide. But I do know one thing:

This particular story is why, in my most humble of opinions, Poseidon will always be classier than Zeus.

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