Zeus action figure, at a heavy discount! It WAS $5.24 but the price was slashed to a mere $1.31 when my spouse bought it for me. In the marketplace of deities, it’s good to be frugal.

A major deity in decline dictates his epic and sensational life to a modern-day ghost writer. That’s the premise of my completed novel, Zeus: The Autobiography, a satire with heart about family, gender, sexual politics, romance, loss, and middle age.

What prompted this?

Bronze statuette in bronze, only a few inches high. 1st-2nd Century A.D. (or, okay, B.C.E.). Photo taken by me from a visiting exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. This pose imitates that of the 43-foot tall statue by Phidias in Zeus’ temple in Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This was only a few inches high.

Memoirs from artists, celebrities, political figures, and any human being are always flawed even when interesting. Our human memories are imperfect and our intentions often unclear, even to ourselves. When the memoir’s author is someone contemporary with us, or a person we have studied, as a reader we often identify what is not said among the details the writer has decided to share. Reading the memoir becomes an ongoing exercise to compare established facts we know to speculate why the writer has either forgotten, politely set aside, or strains to swerve around these facts.

Gee, why does Julius Caesar write so much about bridges he made than how he established the Roman Empire?

Why does [celebrity name] glide past why [insert scandalous incident] which utterly ruined [insert names of psycho-emotional or physical human wreckage] when that’s why I largely got this book in the first place?

This gets amplified when books written by very flawed humans claim to have been divinely inspired, or even written by a divine hand itself. Inspired? When a Muse or a sky god or ancestral ghost or of the spirit of a beloved artist figuratively sets a hand on the author’s shoulder, whispering guidancer? Relatable and not too sketchy.

But when it becomes “I was magically directed to write this book in this way and you must believe it because I am right and otherwise you will be eternally damned in the afterlife and our enemy in this life” then “inspired” becomes ridiculous. Primates write these books, primates read them. If done in the present, we tend to dismiss such claims. If done in the past and previous generations fell for it? We lend it more credence as a tradition and a likely path to trouble and misery.

So I thought telling the story of Zeus, a preeminent sky god from 3,000 years ago and thus preceding any of the supposedly “divinely inspired” stories of sky gods swirling around, would be amusing.

The Greek gods were exaggeratedly flawed versions of ourselves. What would this god’s tale of himself be like if he needed to pretend to all-knowing and all-powerful status while clearly he was neither omniscient nor omnipotent, and inwardly knew that? Though the mightiest of the gods, what if his male will was thwarted by forces often larger or more sly than his own? Who among us isn’t thwarted by things beyond our understanding every day?

“Jupiter et Thétis” by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1811. Ingres is such a wonderful weirdo! This is a scene from The Iliad where Thetis begs Zeus to intervene on behalf of her son, Achilles. Jupiter is the Roman name for Zeus. The spouse of Zeus, Hera, is on the far left as a distant spectator. In my book, Zeus and Hera sit right next to each other. But, really, Ingres is weird! I mean, look at Zeus’ toes!

Since we could all end each day with a list of minor and major ways we were thwarted by things beyond our comprehension, I thought this would be fun, too.

Since many of the currently prevailing “divinely inspired” sky god stories are often filtered through a variety of editors and translators, where a mistranslated word can lead to an entire spinoff of new branches of devoted cults, I thought putting a translation process and a ghost writer with muddled motivations would also be fun and make it a mirror image of what is often studied and believed and causes bewilderment to billions.

Mostly, though, this book is funny.

Novel summary

Zeus tells of the creation of the universe and a celestial love scene between the earth and sky. The godly Titans then emerge, followed by the Olympian gods (including Zeus) who violently overthrow the Titans. Then Zeus tells of the devastating sacrifice of his first romance, of the creation of mortals, his fatherhood, and the ongoing melodrama of immortals struggling with spouses, affairs with immortals and mortals, and the hassles of rival gods. Zeus’s tale takes us through Greek history, Roman history, early Christianity, and his hope for humanity.

I chose not to bring Zeus anywhere near modern times. To have him witness the internet and say “What is this wondrous thing where you may transmit a message through electricity faster than Hermes himself? What marvels!” Perhaps I’ve seen the Schwarzenegger movie Hercules in New York too many times where his dubbed voice says with awe at a sandwich vending machine “This fine food, for only a few small coins. Those who run this place must be public benefactors!”

“Jupiter Rebuked by Venus” by Abraham Janssens, 1612/13. Photo by me taken at my beloved Art Institute of Chicago. Note, well, lots of things. Like the head of Zeus’ eagle, a totem often nearby in depictions, here strains curving upward from his loins with a mind of its own and taking measure of Venus (the Roman name for Aphrodite, goddess of love) despite Zeus looking SO HASSLED. Like even put-upon sitcom dads would go “Dude, lighten up. It’s not that bad.”

Background & bibliography

I have studied the Classical period and Christianity for decades. This writing is fueled by a grave concern that unthinking belief in magic forces harms our politics, slows down fixing our planet, and impairs human happiness and cooperation. Yet all that undergirds what is primarily a comedic novel. I want a reader to close this book amused with a tickling in the back of their mind whether books that claim a divine hand are totally on-the-level.