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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

M³ Cultural Assimilation

            Yes, it’s Wednesday, not Monday, but this is a special edition (which I meant to have up on Monday, but ran out of time). One of my readers has asked for an explanation regarding Helios and Apollo. Why are they both the sun god?
            Well, okay, here goes. Because Greeks.
            Yeah, I didn’t think that would satisfy anyone.
            So both Helios and Apollo are listed as the sun god in Greek mythology.
            The reason for this is because the Greeks—like DC and Marvel comics—didn’t care much about continuity. Most of the Greek gods weren’t originally Greek. Only a handful were. While we think of them collectively as the Ancient Greeks, they were anything but. Athens, Sparta, Rhodes, Ithaca, Crete, Argos, and all of the others were separate kingdoms or city-states that were more united by the assimilating mythology than by anything else. As some kingdoms and city-states began to create political alliances and conquer other places, they found these people had their own, local gods. The crafty Greeks realized there was no reason to strike these people down to get them to worship Zeus when they could win through guile. It might have gone something like this:

            “Have you heard the good news about Zeus?”
            “Well, sir, I’m sure he’s a fine god, but we worship Apollo.”
            “Do you? Well, that’s great! Apollo is the son of Zeus; the gods are all related, so really you worship Zeus anyway.”
            “Is that so? Well, come in and have some pie and tell me all about Zeus.”

            I might have made up the bit about pie.
            By explaining that all of these regional gods are related to Zeus, Greek culture spread without overwriting the existing culture. It also explains why Zeus slept around so much; he had to father the other gods.
            And so one island worshiped Helios as the sun god, and others worshiped Apollo. Now, two gods cannot hold the same job, so they fudged things a bit. The myth states that Helios is pulled across the sky, which actually makes him the sun.
            Apollo, on the other hand, is simply the god of the sun. it’s a subtle difference, but it allows both gods to exist in the same pantheon. Helios literally is the sun, and coasts across the sky every day, while Apollo takes all the credit for being the god of the sun. Apollo doesn’t like responsibilities, anyway, so he would be a poor choice to make sure that the sun goes across the sky everyday.
            So in the end the doubling (and even tripling) up of gods with similar jobs is because the Greeks kept assimilating new cultures. Instead of replacing gods, they simply added them to the mix and created a convoluted family tree with weird job assignments. It can make for difficult reading at times because the myths don’t come with complete historical notes telling when each god entered the mix. Add in the fact that there are regional variations to myths, and it becomes a soup in telling who is who and what is what.
            The big thing to remember, however, is that there is no such thing as a definitive version of the story. In some myths, Aphrodite is Zeus’s literal daughter, and her mother is Dione. In another, she is Zeus’s adopted daughter (Gaea is her mother Gaea and her father some pieces that Uranus no longer needed). Some versions are more popular than others, and most of them have specific regions where they were popular, but each of them tells something different about the values of the people.

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