The Different Interprentation of Zeus' and Poseidon's Personas in Rick Riordan's Fiction
Greek Gods have become a large part of pop culture within the last decade due to Rick Riordan and his young adult novels concerning the many Greek deities in modern times. Four of the most prominent deities from Greek mythology include Poseidon (god of the sea), Hades (god of death), Zeus (god of the sky), and Ares (god of war). These four deities played important roles in Ancient Greece and are surrounded by a multitude of myths. They also play pivotal roles in Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian, which is when these ancient deities really appeared on the pop culture scene. What is most interesting is not only the impact that these deities had on Ancient Greece, but also the way they were perceived by the Ancient Greeks versus how they’re perceived now.
Supreme ruler of the gods, lord of the sky and rain, king of thunder and lightning, and brother of Poseidon and Hades, Zeus was the eldest and most powerful Olympian. The Ancient Greeks painted Zeus as a leader and father figure who “watched over them with tender solicitude, rewarding truth, charity, and fairness, while severely punishing perjury and cruelty” (Megas). Ancient Greeks loved Zeus, and there are many myths, like the myth of Philemon and Baucis, where Zeus took a personal interest in human affairs. In this tale Zeus and Hermes take the form of traveling peasants looking for lodging. Everyone in town turns them away except the poor elderly couple Philemon and Baucis. The pair learn that the peasants are gods over the course of dinner, and in return for their hospitality Zeus turns their humble cottage into a beautiful temple and grants their wish that they would die at the same time, so they might never be apart. However, before granting this wish Zeus floods the valley destroying the town and all those that were inhospitable. This is an excellent example of Zeus’s character as mentioned above and truly exemplifies his interaction with mortals.
Despite his benevolence in the ancient myths, modern portrayals of Zeus show him to be an arrogant, almost ignorant, being who believes he does not need the help of his family. In Rick Riordans The Last Olympian Zeus is not speaking to either of his brothers and refuses to call on them as Typhon and Kronos’ forces march on Olympus. This bullheaded pride nearly causes the fall of Olympus, and only the quick actions of Percy and Nico who convince their fathers to come to the Olympians aid, prevents the fall of Olympus. Despite all this Zeus is still painstakingly formal and reluctant when recognizing the demigod heroes and his two brothers who helped save Olympus.
‘As for my brothers,’ Zeus said, ‘we are thankful’—he cleared his throat like the words were hard to get out—’erm, thankful for the aid of Hades.’ The lord of the dead nodded. He had a smug look on his face, but I figure he’d earned the right. He patted his son Nico on the shoulders, and Nico looked happier than I’d ever seen him. ‘And, of course,’ Zeus continued, though he looked like his pants were smoldering, ‘we must . . . um . . . thank Poseidon.’ ‘I’m sorry, brother,’ Poseidon said. ‘What was that?’ ‘We must thank Poseidon,’ Zeus growled. ‘Without whom . . . it would’ve been difficult—’ ‘Difficult?’ Poseidon asked innocently. ‘Impossible,’ Zeus said. ‘Impossible to defeat Typhon.’ The gods murmured agreement and pounded their weapons in approval. ‘Which leaves us,’ Zeus said, ‘only the matter of thanking our young demigod heroes, who defended Olympus so well—even if there are a few dents in my throne’ (Riordan 182). This prickly portrayal of Zeus is in direct contrast with the benevolent depictions of him recorded in ancient texts.
God of the sea, earth shaker, horse tamer, ship breaker, and the literal embodiment of the single most powerful natural force on earth; the ocean. Brother of Zeus and Hades, Poseidon is surrounded by myths concerning his power, greed, and penchant for mischief and conflict. Much like the sea, Ancient Greeks painted him as an emotional and wild character whose actions were dictated by often and startling changes of mood. Capable of both peace and violence, Poseidon was often portrayed as quarrelsome, promiscuous, and petty, once he was caught having sex with a woman in Athena’s temple to spite the goddess of wisdom. Though he was petty and quarrelsome, Poseidon was important to Ancient Greece due to many of the city states’ heavy dependence on trade and fishing and their proximity to the ocean. Offerings of bulls, boars, and horses often occurred to appease Poseidon’s volatility and need for recognition (Atsma).
Modern portrayals of the sea god used for entertainment often paint him as a much tamer, almost fatherly figure instead of the wet, wild, and restless character of old. Particularly in the popular and critically acclaimed series Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. The main character of the series, Percy Jackson, is a son of Poseidon and can breathe underwater and speak to horses because of it. This also means that the reader sees several interactions between Percy and Poseidon throughout the series, and the image that is presented is much different than the original deity. The books hint at Poseidon’s wild and unruly nature; however, for most of the series Poseidon is presented as a caring, middle-aged, hippish fatherly figure who gives advice to his son. This side of Poseidon is best displayed in The Battle of the Labyrinth. Towards the end of the novel Percy is celebrating his fifteenth birthday with his mother and half-brother when Poseidon arrives to wish him a happy birthday. Poseidon pulls him aside shortly after his arrival to have a private conversation and says, “And you, Percy, are my favorite son” (Riordan 232). This caring side of Poseidon is in direct contrast with the ancient myths, and easily portrays the modern perception of a good father, powerful but not given to violence with a caring side.
Lord of the underworld, god of the dead, king of wealth, and brother to Poseidon and Zeus. The youngest of the three elder Olympians, Hades was often portrayed as greedy like his brother Posiedon, solely focused on expanding his domain. However, the Ancient Greeks feared Hades much more than his older brother, so much so that they called him by a different name, Pluton, to avoid incurring his wrath. Another major difference between Hades and his brother is in the myths Poseidon is ruled by the whims of his emotion and is constantly on the move, while Hades is portrayed as “stern and unyielding, unmoved by prayer and sacrifice” (Hades). Though he and Poseidon both preferred their palaces over Olympus, Hades stayed almost exclusively in his domain and was not welcomed by man or god alike.
In modern literature Hades is portrayed almost exactly like he is in the ancient myths. He is an outcast and in Percy Jackson and the Olympians is only allowed to visit Olympus during the winter solstice. He is regarded with disdain by the other gods and his greed for subjects leads him to try to keep Percy and his friends in the Underworld when they arrive there on a quest in The Lightning Thief. He only allows Percy and Annabeth to leave with his mother’s soul after Percy pays a steep price. Even today people are afraid of death, and the fact that Rick Riordan’s portrayal of the lord of the underworld mimics that of over 2000-year-old texts solidifies the continuity of people’s perception of death.
As the embodiment of violence, raw hatred, god of war, lord of lost causes, patron of Sparta, and son of Zeus, Ares was the most hated deity of Ancient Greece. He represented the atrocities and senseless violence of war and was constantly consumed by anger. His quick temper was easily triggered and he always recognized when he was wronged. Ares is often mentioned in myths; however, he rarely appeared himself, and when he did he was consistently humiliated (Ares). Just as his uncle Hades, Ares was often unwelcome in the land of men and gods because of his violent and unforgiving nature, yet nearly every city-state had a statue to him that they would make sacrifices to during times of war.
The portrayal of Ares in modern times mimics the portrayal of Hades in that how he is perceived is mostly unchanged. Much like his ancient self, he is seen as an arrogant, cruel, and vindictive being that often brings humiliation upon himself. In Rick Riordans The Lightning Thief, Ares takes the form of the antagonist, hounding Percy and Annabeth across the continental U.S. to cause a war between Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Though Kronos is partly responsible for Ares actions, it is the god of wars violent nature that allowed Kronos to manipulate him. Though throughout the rest of the series Ares does not attempt to harm Percy, he is openly hostile towards him. This is demonstrated in The Last Olympian when Percy is offered immortality and Ares says, “With the consensus of the entire Council, I can make you immortal. Then I will have to put up with you forever.’ ‘Hmm,’ Ares mused. ‘That means I can smash him to a pulp as often as I want, and he’ll just keep coming back for more. I like this idea”” (Riordan 185). Just as in Ancient Greece, modern populations despise war and its atrocities, thus allowing the continuity of Ares personality in Rick Riordans novels.
As times have changed and people’s involvement with nature has lessened, so has their perception of many ancient myths and deities. A chief example is Posiedon and Zeus. When people think of the sea today they think of warm sand, beaches, and family fun in the sun giving Poseidon a more fatherly and warm persona. When they think of Zeus they think of storms, cold, and rain personifying him in an arrogant and slightly destructive way. This is in direct contrast with their ancient personas yet is most likely a result of people’s change in interactions with these natural elements and heavy influence from pop culture sources such as Rick Riordans’ Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. However, not all perceptions have changed, and the constant fear of death and hatred of war has prevented a change in people’s perception of deities such as Hades and Ares gods of death and war. As a result, Hades and Ares have not changed in modern literature and the former remains stoic, cold, and greedy while the latter remains, violent, fickle, and cruel. Though these deities do still play a somewhat important role in pop culture, people no longer worship them or see them as the Ancient Greeks saw them.
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