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by Alfred de Grazia




When Hephaestus roared out his anguish and humiliation at being cuckolded, he demanded that "Father Zeus and all you other eternal and blessed gods come here to see for yourself this laughable, this unyielding truth." But not all the gods came to gaze upon the trapped "embedded" couple at his copper-floored house. There came Poseidon, Hermes, and Apollo, all three being important Olympian sky gods.

From Father Zeus came only silence. He deigned neither to appear nor to return the bride-price that Hephaestus had paid him. The "gifts of wooing" were unlike the gifts of Ares to Aphrodite; they were injuries received, not injuries given. Most of the gods had "taken their lumps" from the Father, from time to time.

To imagine Zeus upon the scene could only occur to the raving Hephaestus. He is not to be called upon for a laughable matter. Indeed, the presumptuousness of calling upon him is comic. The scene would become too heavy, the literary critic would say, if Zeus should appear. Besides, Zeus was in truth absent. In the tragic setting of the Trojan War, Zeus had been engaged, acting to preserve the balance of power so as to work out the preordained plot, arbitrating, mediating. Still he is remarkably aloof, even there, his thunderbolts remembered by gods and men alike, but held in a kind of nuclear missiles reserve. His deeds were deeply etched upon human memory but physically he was receding into the far skies.

Why then, would Hermes, Apollo, and Poseidon make an appearance?


Hermes does not enter upon the action, As the planet Mercury, he may have been in a conjunction with one or more of the principles, in which event he may have vented some unusual expression. He may have presented an apparition at the time. For the scene may not have had the celestial clarity in the actuality that it achieved in the dancing circle. In a time of storm, of darkness and ashes, of lightning strokes, of different visual and acoustical perspectives - especially at the climax of the celestial disturbances - it is possible that a convocation of the gods was perceived.

Perhaps Mercury appeared as an optical illusion and also as a re-engagement of memory, as both crisis and the memory of crisis struck hammer blows upon the mind and, later on, made demands upon the unconscious to recreate the "pluperfect" along with the "perfect." Venus was there; Mercury had been there, too. The climax of tension produces in the mind both memories overlaid.

The fourth day of the month in Greece was sacred jointly to Aphrodite and Hermes, celebrating a game of dice between Moon and Hermes, the outcome of which added five days to the year, bringing it from 360 to 365 days. (The legend is probably of Egyptian origin.) In my book of Chaos and Creation (1981), Mercury was assigned a period of heavy worship between 2200 and 1500 B. C., that is, up to the Exodus, when Athena-Venus became the cynosure of Earthly eyes. M. Mandelkehr has more recently informed me of several additional authoritative sources who found Thoth active throughout the Old Kingdom of Egypt, and points out that his ibis symbol existed even before dynastic times [1] .

One should not be astonished by the implication that the planet Mercury had inflicted its presence upon Earth. Other volumes of the Quantavolution Series have explored this possibility in detail. The natural history of Mercury is significantly marked by its appearance earlier as a most prominent god in the succession of gods. Its physical composition and size resemble the Moon's; the two bodies possess, too, with one of Zeus' satellites, an odd angular momentum. Like the Moon, it has suffered heavy bombardment from space.

Called by different names in different cultures, he was represented often by various animals, especially by monkeys, in Egypt for instance, among the Gauls, and in India. Hanuman, the Indian monkey-god, once became as resplendent as the sun and moved whole mountains. The planet is suspected of having played a major role in the destruction of the Tower of Babel; there in Babylon it was called Nebo and emperors carried his name in theirs. A Jewish legend says that the survivors of the disaster and fire were turned into monkeys. The recollection may have arisen from a gibberish, the confounding of tongues, following upon mass electroshock; it may also have pertained to many physiognomic changes by mutations or congenital defects [2] .

As a god, Hermes has more than a touch of the Moon's irresponsibility. He is fleet, perhaps because his solar orbit is shortest of the planets. He is the lucky god of gamblers, the messenger, the robber, the friendly night. He leads downwards into Styx and upwards into heaven (as a planet rises and sets). He guides the flocks. He is a helper, a healer; he is - writes Otto - Priapus, Tychon, and Perseus. He may have inspired Moses as scientist and electrician. He caries a snake-entwined rod, nowadays the symbol of healing medicine. He is younger than Apollo, older than Athena.

He can laugh. His responsibility here is as spectator, apparition, and "extra" brought in to reinforce the climax of the story with more bodies. But he not only laughs. He speaks several significant lines. Asked by his older brother "would you really be willing, despite being tightly netted, to couch yourself alongside golden Aphrodite?" Hermes replies that he would gladly be witnessed by the gods and goddesses and suffer twice as many fetters for the pleasure of Aphrodite's love.

Perhaps, then, he is reminiscing; perhaps once upon a time he, too, had enjoyed the devastating experience.

"Again the laughter arose among the immortal gods." Unless Mercury was laughing at his own joke, Apollo must have been laughing alone. In two places, the poet has more gods laughing that appear to be present and in a laughing mood. It is possible that several dancers are emulating unidentified minor gods or the idea of collective divine laughter.


Apollo, himself, is always a character of ambiguity and mystery. We have an abundant mythology about Apollo, from several cultures, but he has never been placed among the heavenly bodies, except that, for lack of better, and because he is "shining", he is commonly identified with the Sun [3] . But most, if not all, of his Sun-identity comes later in the history of mythology, and much of this ascription is readily traceable to an effort to clear the skies of gods.

Apollo earlier commanded greater respect and fear than did the Sun. He was the god of prophecies, of music, the archer-god, the source and also healer of plagues. He showers rocks and poisonous airs as well as arrows upon humans who have incurred his enmity. He has an aloof, judicious temperament. He does not interfere in the Love Affair but plays the minimal role of lending his presence and posing a question to his younger brother. In the Iliad, at one point, he disdained a challenge to personal combat.

If Hermes is a subconscious memory of an apparition which itself is the subconscious memory of an earlier celestial appearance, Apollo may be the same. But he may be even more so, as I explain in Chaos and Creation. Unlike Hermes, who existed in the sky as the planet Mercury, Apollo most probably did not then exist in the sky at all. He may represent a lost planet, a destroyed planetary body of an earlier age. He may be the belt of asteroids between mars and Jupiter, whose existence has from time to time been premised upon a previously existing body that disintegrated upon the approach of Jupiter or another intersecting mass [4] .

Apollo's traits befit vanishing and disintegrated behavior. Plague, arrows and prophecies have in common a widespread incidence of discrete events upon individuals. In addition, Apollo acts from a distance. Murray, in one of his few interpellations, explains his translation of an Apollonian ephitet as "the archer god" by adding "or, possibly, 'the averter of ills. ' The word means literally, 'he who works afar. '" [5] Apollo is a retired and disoccupied god, Deus Otiosus; he is a god who works as a ghost presence.

Apollo has been moved in myth closer to the events of which we speak, for he is the slayer of the monster serpent Python. Python, says Graves, is none other than Typhon [6] , hence to us a form of Hephaestus. But Graves is probably mistaken, for the Python incident seems to have been an earlier analog, following the death of Saturn (Osiris). So we use it here to explain further how the presence of Apollo at the Love Affair climax was subconsciously prompted. The closeness of the names strengthened the suggestibility of Apollo's presence, and originally Typhon may have been named out of a wordplay with echo of the more ancient Python case.

There is yet another hint of Apollo's presence. If he does represent the asteroids, if he does pelt the earth with various small missiles and gases, then the disintegration of the cometary tail of Venus-Hephaestus, not to mention the material exchanges occurring among other bodies, would prompt the subconscious memories of Apollo and bring him into the climactic scene of the opera.


Poseidon is present, "yet did not laugh." He is disturbed, impatient, persistent. He wants Hephaestus to set Ares free. He offers to guarantee Ares' just debts as an adulterer.

Hephaestus at first refuses: "Don't ask this of me, Poseidon, You're sure to be sorry if you give bond for a miserable rascal. And how would it be among the gods, if Ares should escape both his fetters and his debt and I should have to bind you instead?"

Poseidon is etymologically "master of the earth." He is the sea and the mover of Earth. Here now, he insists. "Even should he avoid his debt and flee, I shall pay for him." Hephaestus cannot refuse. "It is not permitted me to say 'no', nor would it be proper."

Why? Is this mere politeness, to move the plot along? But a plot in literature is as determined by psychology as falling rock by gravity. Is it respect for a feared uncle, brother of Zeus? Hephaestus once sympathized with a rebellion against Zeus; he is clamorously angry at his parents now. No; the end is foreseen because that is the way it happened in nature. Hephaestus cannot command the planetary gods. They move ultimately in freedom according to their natures.

So the fetters were loosed and the freed pair sprang up and off. Poseidon has reason to feel relieved, although he is still in bondage to Hephaestus.

Poseidon is here a representation of Earth. He is the masculine of the Earth-Goddess. Before the Olympians came the Earth-gods. The Earth Gods were female, as Erinyes in Aeschylus' Orestes. In Sophocle's Antigone, the chorus chants of Gaia, "the eldest of the gods, the eternal and inexhaustible earth".

Poseidon, says Graves, is lord of the seas and the Earth-shaker, but is always greedy to possess himself of land, if by no other way, then by loosing floods upon it.

The "Love Affair" threatens turbulence for both land and seas. Poseidon is the only god to fit the role, and the plot might have had to be completely redesigned if the role were absent. Besides, the evidence of the ancient accounts and of the calendrists and geologists lend confidence in the designation of Poseidon and Earth.

Michael G. Reade, in a brilliant study of perplexing perturbations registered in the famous "Ramesside Star Tables" of Egypt, has fixed the critical year to which they refer as around -700, about the time of our Love Affair. It would be the time of the Trojan War, too, when Homer says, as Lattimore translates the line (p. 405), Poseidon "shuddered all illimitable Earth, the sheer heads of mountains." We quote Reade's conclusions.

"... the axis of the earth was forced out of its hitherto normal alignment with the stars at a season shortly after the summer solstice... the displacing force was a sustained one rather than a shock... it was associated with an acceleration in the spin rate of the earth... the effects of the disturbance were in many respects only temporary... the axis of the earth did eventually drift back in the same attitude with respect to the fixed stars (subject to a minor discontinuity in the precession of the equinoxes)..." (IV S. I. S. R. 213 1979- 80, 49.)

Any such disturbance in the motion of the Earth would have caused earthquakes, volcanism, tidal movements, and atmospheric turbulence.

Poseidon has reason to feel surly and "put upon." It is Earth that has suffered devastation in these sky-battles. This is no laughing matter. Earth has had to change its calendars. Its cities have been battered, its plains flooded, its skies filled with poisons and ashes, its magnetic field has been reversed [7] . Earth will chance future disaster at the hands of cometary Venus if Venus will only deliver it from Mars. Besides, the Moon is with Earth. If Hephaestus-Venus lays claim to Moon, that is one thing, a claim long experienced. If Mars now claims Moon, that is another thing, a serious conflict indeed. Already, the Moon may have been drawn away from Earth. It would be noticeably smaller.

Earth-Poseidon is put in the sky, as a sky-god. This should not cause surprise. he was born brother of Zeus and son of Chronos (Saturn), and assigned Earth, when Zeus received Heaven and Hades the underground. Earth was immemorially conceived as an entity, a unity, a being. Further, even the idea of Earth as a space-ship, like the other gods, had been developed in a number of pre-Homeric cultures. The sense of the instability, the changeability, the restlessness of Earth affected Homeric and pre-Homeric humanity much more profoundly than it affected mankind more recently.

To the Greeks, as expressed in Plato's writing, the Earth was an organism, alive, as the planets and stars were alive. In conceiving of this state of affairs, modern man might not simply imagine that it was alive simply because it was covered with live plants and animals but that it was full of gods (as Thales said), alive as a whole, breathing and moving as the Mother Earth Goddess. Poseidon, her counterpart, was masculine, but so was the god-earth of Egypt, Geb. This conviction was a sensual impression, not a metaphor and was born out of thrashings, twistings and turnings, and from transformations for which people have today only the barest of sensitivity.

So the song has the Earth siding with the lesser of two evils to retain the Moon, to settle peace upon the Moon-path and thence to tranquillize its own way through the skies.


Helios is not present among the laughing gods and there is no reason why he must be. There are so many differences between the Sun and the sky gods that one must continually suspect mythological claims that assimilate their identities to him.

Helios is an everyday herald, a routine chariot-driver of the sunlight. Whatever importance late historical man may ascribe to his life-giving powers, he did not contribute significantly to the development of the human mind and soul in the Homeric age. A Homeric hymn begins "tireless Helios who is like the deathless gods," and ends, "now that I have begun with you, I will celebrate the race of mortal men, half-divine." [8]

Something of the passive incapacity of the Sun is revealed in another place in the Odyssey. Helios, when his cattle are stolen and eaten by the sailors of Odysseus, exclaims: "Father Zeus and you other happy and eternal gods, I call on you to punish the followers of Odysseus, son of Laertes. They have had the insolence to kill my cattle, the cattle that gave me such joy every day as I climbed the sky to put the stars to flight and as I dropped from heaven and sank once more to earth. If they do not repay me in full for my slaughtered cows, I will go down to Hades and shine among the dead."

"Sun," the Cloud-gatherer answered him, "Shine on for the immortals and for mortal men on the fruitful earth. As for the culprits, I will soon strike their ship with a blinding bolt out of the dark-wine sea and break it to bits." That is, the Sun must keep to his course. Only the great gods fly freely. Helios must use the gods for his needs. Graves reminds us that "Helios was not even an Olympian, but a mere Titan's son; and, although Zeus later borrowed certain solar characteristics from the Hittite and Corinthian god Tesup and other oriental sungods, these were unimportant compared with his command of thunder and lightning."

Further, Graves tells us, "The Sun's subordination to the Moon, until Apollo usurped Helius's place and made an intellectual deity of him, is a remarkable feature of early Greek myth [9] . It appears that the herds of Helios are numbered by lunar multiples, that "cattle are lunar rather than solar animals in early European myth", and that "Helius's mother, the coweyed Euryphaessa, is the Moon-goddess herself." [10] "Thessalian witches used to threaten the Sun, in the Moon's name, with being engulfed by perpetual night." [11]


When the gods are no longer near enough to be recognized as dwellers in their celestial homes, the age of philosophy begins. They are assigned to a mundane abode or relegated to astrology and denigrated. A Mount Olympus is provided, together with such local vacation places, you might say, that they favor for rest, recreation, rehabilitation, and retreat. The gods must be kept nearby. It is well enough for astrologers to watch remote planets and to bank their fears and hope thereupon, but for most people, displacement of the gods upon more familiar grounds is preferable.

For humanity can suffer great fear, but it is an animal with a formidable physiology for converting fear into intelligence and power. Much of the complexity of theology is the rationalization of how the powerless, the misbehaving and the ashamed can nevertheless infiltrate their will into the almighty and the all-knowing, living a successful perennial paradox. By the time of Homer, men are beginning to strut, to smile grimly, to mutter innuendoes. Hybris?

This laughter of the gods has puzzled ages of scholars and schoolboys. However, the gods jest with each other. They do not laugh at pathetic, troubled, insubordinate, vicious or the occasionally happy human beings. Nor do humans indirectly laugh at the gods. The sight of the gods in good humor is still a sacred sight. One of the means that enable the plot of the Love Affair to come off so well is the absence of humans in the cast. This precludes a dangerous conflict of interests; one need not fear the overstepping of bounds.

Which is not to say that the audience is not laughing at the gods. It is, but by the completely safe psychological technique of displacement and projection. The Greek sense of humor, itself derived from the way its theomachy is constructed, writes into the gods' behavior what they would laugh at in themselves and at the same time feels dissociated from that behavior by its imputation to sacred character. Therefore, the audience may have laughed as the dancers and singer spun out the humor; more likely they marveled, were fascinated, and thought of themselves as receiving moral instruction from the gods.

The humor itself - the laughing at the discomfiture of Ares and Aphrodite, at the insulted dignity of the insultable Hephaestus, and at the desirability of committing the same crime if one could (spoken in the very presence of the injured party) - this falls readily into the category of sadistic and savage humor. Except that we do not understand the genesis of humor very well yet.

Two major contributors to the theory of humor are Sigmund Freud and Arthur Koestler. Freud's Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious explains a joke as the subconscious prevention of a wish from completing its natural aim. For that aim is tabooed or aggressively hostile or tragic. Hence the mind switches onto a parallel track that unexpectedly carries it to a conclusion of minimal threat.

In Act of Creation, Koestler insists, besides, that both humor and creativity rest upon hidden associations. These associations are inharmonious. They are wrestled into contact with one another in a double frame of meanings that resolve into a synthesized single frame with a new more acceptable meaning.

Since the whole of the Love Affair proceeds on a double level of meanings, two sets of mental events that lead to humorous resolutions may occur, or six in all, because there are three mentions of laughter.

For the Love Affair, Hephaestus is first to confess the laughable. It is that he should be victimized for his born disabilities. On the overt level, the threat is that he will prove false assurances of fidelity had been given him when he married Aphrodite. The expected and feared result is that he will prove these false assurances and gain an undeserved right. The situation is to be resolved humorously, laughably, as Hephaestus himself confesses in advance, because other people actually will see that he has been denied his rights despite his assurances.

Covertly, Hephaestus is threatening to possess the Moon himself, though rather impotently. The danger is nevertheless that the Moon will go beyond all bounds in losing its free and irrepressible spirit. However, all will gather to see that the assurances are denied of their validity.

There was probably also amusement, though not named as laughter, in calling upon all the gods to appear. Nothing would be less funny in the play or more tragic in reality than the coming of Zeus, the father of gods. Fortunately "everyone knows" that Zeus is not likely to intervene in such a ridiculous affair. Hence, humor. In fact, Zeus does not appear. Again, comic relief.

Next, the gods laugh as they see how "swiftness," speeding to its rendezvous, is unexpectedly and ignominiously trapped by "craft." Here the overt thrust of the action is that Ares is bound to steal a love. It is expected that he will succeed. But he is in fact trapped. Covertly, Mars is moving towards the ravaging of Moon and Earth. The fear is that he will succeed. The comic release follows when he is trapped and exposed to view by the public of gods.

Then the gods laugh because Hermes gives an unexpected and amoral answer to a question about himself. Apollo asks whether he would agree to such fetters if he might lie with Aphrodite and Hermes answers that he would accept thrice as many bonds for the pleasure it would give him. Here the thrust is towards repeating the adultery. The expectation is that he will falsely deny it. Instead he affirms it, but does so "harmlessly." The covert parallels are that Mercury too now (as once) is invited to ravage Moon and Earth. The result expected is that the disasters will continue; instead the memory is affirmed while the future possibility is dismissed. There are here, in effect, four types of joke. But in all there are four overt thrusts leading to expected disappointments; four covert thrusts leading to subconsciously feared disasters; and eight triumphs of evasion leading to laughter.

So then a conclusion is manifest, in general, regarding laughter: that the formula of laughter is ipso facto satisfied when laughter occurs, but an audience will laugh only when a threshold of anxiety has been reached. Also, laughability (and its companion, the plotting of laughability by a jester) is moral one in which criteria of savagery, vulgarity, virtuosity, and sophistication enter. To know when to joke is to know when to harm; to know how to joke is to know how to dodge the larger harm - which is to say that high wit and laughter become a property of morals and genius.

Notes (Chapter 12: The Laughing Gods)

1. E. A. W. Budge: Osiris, The Egyptian Religion of Resurrection, (Univ. Books, 1961), pp. 81-3; J. Bonwick: Egyptian Belief and Modern Thought, (Falcon's Wing Press, 1956), pp. 101-2; R. T. R. Clark: Myth & Symbol in Ancient Egypt, (Thames & Hudson, 1959), pp. 124-6; D. B. Redford: "The Sun-Disc in Akneton's Program: Its Worship & Antecedents I", Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 13 (1976), p. 57; Cambridge Ancient History, Third Edition, Vol. 1, Part 2 Early History of the Middle East, p. 53.

2. Hugh Eggleton, "Mercury and the Tower of Babel," V Society for Interdisciplinary Studies Workshop 2 (1982-3) 10- 1; and see the present author's God's Fire, Chaos and Creation, and The Lately Tortured Earth.

3. See discussion by R. A. Herring and others in 2 Society Interdisc. Stud. Workshop 4 (april, 1980) and subsequent issues.

4. Cf. Fritz Heide, Meteorites, 1957, trans. by E. Anders and E. Dufrense. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1946), p. 130, and Solaria Binaria.

5. Op. Cit., p. 281.

6. Op. cit., Apollo used a bow and arrows fabricated by Hephaestus, ibid., 21. a. We must suppose this is an incidental mythical reversal of time. for Hephaestus, we reason, is active later than, unless he earlier participated in, the events of Apollo's life and death.

7. Science News (Penguin Publications, July 1949). Manley discusses the reversal of the Earth's magnetic field as evidenced in Attic and Etruscan pottery of the eight century. The reversals, cited in Velikovsky, Earth in Upheaval (1955) p. 283, seem to have been a temporary phenomenon resulting from "The Battle of the Space Sheaths;" See below pages 265ff.

8. "Homeric Hymns," no. XXXI, contained in the Loeb edition of Hesiod, p. 459.

9. Graves, I. 156.

10. Ibid., 156-7.

11. Ibid., I, 13 citing Apuleius, Metamorphoses iii, 16.

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