Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Pan, Rhea and the Rest of the Gang

How Does One Become a God?

Apparently you must begin before the Beginning.
Here's how:
Hold your Breath. Plug your nose. Gargle the Mouthwash of Pure Nothingness. Pour colorless wax in your ears 'til they are vacumn sealed. Keep holding your breath. Let a millennium go by. Then an eon. Then let the very concept of time slip away. That's a start.

The Titans

Eventually something just sort of arrives. The Greeks called it Gaia. She had a husband named Uranus. They got bored and started creating things. The Titans Cronus and his wife Rhea came along. Cronus was, of course, a cannibal and would have eaten his son Zeus if Rhea hadn't tricked him.

Side note: Rhea also happens to be the name of the Chelsea ship's clock my dad gave me when I got my first sailboat, Shinobi. She's brass, solid state steel on the inside with an eight day wind. She's also mentioned in a book by famed boat designer L. Francis Herreschoff as surviving ninety mile an hour winds. Reliable. That's Rhea. Now I understand her namesake.


Meanwhile there's this country God who comes along. He basically stays out of the way of the Olympians. He's kind of used as their court jester. His name is Pan. One day he's sleeping in the afternoon- the Greeks love their siesta- and a stranger wakes him up. He lets out a terrible shriek and that's where we get the word "panic". Pan turns mockery into an art form. A bad review is still called a "pan". He later falls in love with this nymph named Syrinx. To avoid him she turns herself into a reed. The trick works and Pan bores holes in every reed he sees and blows through them to find her. We have Syrinx to thank (blame) for the pan pipe.

The Olympians

Zeus had a couple older brothers: Poseidon and Hades. Here they come. There are Twelve of them. The Olympians.

And yesterday we took a long running leap off a short pier like the one pictured and endeavored to become them. The play was called The Tale and was written by Tom Smith. The play is a kind of primer featuring the twelve major arcana. Why is it always the number twelve with these things? Months, astrological signs, always twelve. No wonder 13 is an unlucky number. And I was cast in the role of Dionysius. Why? Maybe because I've already exhibited a gregarious nature or because I seem to be drinking more than my share of retsina, the tangy pine-tinged wine they quaff here by the barrel full, or because they wanted to see the American crash and burn, I don't know, but they assigned the God of Wine and Theatre and who knows what else to me. But these are Gods. And you're on their turf now. So you're not so much cast as entrusted with the role. Selected to embody the guardian of mirth and revelry, I dove off the pier of relative safety with relative abandon.

But these are Olympians we're playing, and doing my typically OTT (Over The Top) first choice instinct, all bluster and bombast, seemed too on the nose. Neither was pulling back the right course. It is suggested to play him with a kind of Jamaican raggae accent. Luckily I had just closed Pericles at The California Shakespeare Theatre and one of my roles was the 1st Fisherman. The Pentapolean accent we created for the show seemed to fit. The slightly frenchified vowels and laid back cadence seemed to gel well with Dionysus' "let it all hang out" aspect.


One thing is certain: The Gods all seem to love themselves. They are unapologetic. Conflicted, silly, driven, petty, divisive, eager, petulant and powerful but never apologetic. They seem to be saying "This is me. I'm here to represent but I'm not representational. I'm full of flaws and foibles but I'm not sorry."

So as I see it the lesson of the Gods is clear. Just as the Gods have human qualities, we mortals have all the pantheon of God's qualities to choose from. As we navigate these blue restless waters of possibility, we can be as curious as Pandora, as unctuous as Prometheus, as argumentative as Ares and as profane as Dionysus. Its up to us, as individual humans to steer the little fragile boat of our selves on this funny, fertile, festive thing called life.

And the Gods seem to be saying Bon Voyage!

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