HeroesBy: Stephen Fry
Heroes can be regarded as a continuation to my book Mythos, which told the story of the beginning of everything, the birth of the Titans and gods and the creation of mankind. You don’t need to have read Mythos to follow – and I hope enjoy – this book, but plenty of footnotes will point you, by paperback page number, to stories, characters and mythical events that were covered in Mythos and which can be encountered there in fuller detail. Some people find footnotes a distraction, but I have been told that plenty of readers enjoyed them last time round, so I hope you will navigate them with pleasure as and when the mood takes you.
I know how off-putting for some Greek names can be – all those Ys, Ks and PHs. Where possible I have suggested the easiest way for our English-speaking mouths to form them. Modern Greeks will be astonished by what we do to their wonderful names, and German, French, American and other readers – who have their own ways with Ancient Greek – will wonder at some of my suggestions. But that is all they are, suggestions … whether you like to say Eddipus or Eedipus, Epidaurus or Ebeethavros, Philoctetes or Philocteetees, the characters and stories remain the same.
ZEUS sits on his throne. He rules the sky and the world. His sister-wife HERA rules him. Duties and domains in the mortal sphere are parcelled out to his family, the other ten Olympian gods. In the early days of gods and men, the divine trod the earth with mortals, befriended them, ravished them, coupled with them, punished them, tormented them, transformed them into flowers, trees, birds and bugs and in all ways interacted, intersected, intertwined, interbred, interpenetrated and interfered with us. But over time, as age has succeeded age and humankind has grown and prospered, the intensity of these interrelations has slowly diminished.
In the age we have entered now, the gods are still very much around, favouring, disfavouring, directing and disturbing, but PROMETHEUS’s gift of fire has given humankind the ability to run its own affairs, build up its distinct city states, kingdoms and dynasties. The fire is real and hot in the world and has given mankind the power to smelt, forge, fabricate and make, but it is an inner fire too; thanks to Prometheus we are now endowed with the divine spark, the creative fire, the consciousness that once belonged only to gods.
The Golden Age has become an Age of Heroes – men and women who grasp their destinies, use their human qualities of courage, cunning, ambition, speed and strength to perform astonishing deeds, vanquish terrible monsters and establish great cultures and lineages that change the world. The divine fire stolen from heaven by their champion Prometheus burns within them. They fear, respect and worship their parental gods, but somewhere inside they know they are a match for them. Humanity has entered its teenage years.
Prometheus himself – the Titan who made us, befriended us and championed us – continues to endure his terrible punishment: shackled to the side of a mountain he is visited each day by a bird of prey that soars down out of the sun to tear open his side, pull out his liver and eat it before his very eyes. Since he is immortal the liver regenerates overnight, only for the torment to repeat the next day. And the next.
Prometheus, whose name means Forethought, has prophesied that now fire is in the world of man, the days of the gods are numbered. Zeus’s rage at his friend’s disobedience derives as much from a deep-buried but persistent fear that man will outgrow the gods as from his deep sense of hurt and betrayal.
Prometheus has also seen that the time will come when he will be released. A mortal human hero will arrive at the mountain, shatter his manacles and set the Titan free. Together they will save the Olympians.
But why should the gods need saving?
For hundreds of generations a deep resentment has smouldered beneath the earth. When kronos the Titan castrated his father, the primordial sky god ouranos, and hurled his genitals across Greece, a race of giants sprang from where the drops of blood and seed fell. These ‘chthonic’ beings, these creatures sprung from the earth, believe that the time will come when they can wrest power from the arrogant upstart children of Kronos, the Olympian gods. The giants await the day when they can rise up to conquer Olympus and begin their own rule.
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