This week’s prompt asks us to write about beef, so let’s talk about beef. Ancient beef. Mythic beef. God-sized beef.
The beef that comes between a god and a goddess when the transfer of power between generations is on the table. Serious beef.
The kind of beef that makes the name of the god, Zeus, live on through the ages, and renders the name of goddess, Metis, forgotten. Tragic beef.
That very particular type of beef that brings out the worst in a powerful man when he realizes that the woman is harder, better, stronger, faster than he is. Nasty beef.
Metis was born a Titan. Her name used to be synonymous with magical cunning. Practical wisdom. Some might call it intuition. The kind of clever thinking that inspired Hermes to attach cow horns to a tortoise shell to create a lyre. Or the resourcefulness that Odysseus employed when he plugged the ears of his crew with wax, allowing his ship to sail safely past the island of sirens while he listened to their song while tethered to the ship’s mast.
It was the name of a Titan. It was the name of a goddess. It was decidedly feminine.
Metis comes from a time when the gods were still emerging, changing, and overthrowing one another. She comes from a time when fathers were terrified that their sons would steal their power and their thrones. It was a time when a father could swallow a son. And this is exactly what Cronos did to his progeny. All the Olympians were in there. Cronus was swallowing children just like his father had swallowed him. It’s all he knew how to do.
The Olympians were trapped, and Zeus consulted with Metis because she knew what to do. She tricked Cronus into drinking a potion of her own design that made him throw up. Out came the gods. A war between Titans and Olympians was started, raged for 10 years, and then finished. Think about the feelings of exhilaration, confidence, and invincibility that come after a huge victory; this was what Zeus was running on when he came back to Metis.
She was beautiful. Powerful. Accomplished. She was Zeus’s equal in every way, and possibly his better. She was the one who was able to release the Olympians from Cronus’s stomach prision, after all. Zeus needed her.
Zeus was young, handsome, and in his prime. He had enticing confidence, rippling muscle, and commanding thunder. He was a leader who had proven himself in battle and a newly crowned king of the gods. And he had his eyes on her. Metis fell in love. She became wife number one.
One night, as they lay in bed, arms and legs entwined, oxytocin flowing, Metis felt safe. She opened her heart to this god and trusted him with a secret, and now she’s going to share this secret with you.
I told him about a prophecy, one that I had never told anyone before. I told Zeus about my vision of the future, how my children, our son, was going to be so powerful that he would become king of all the gods, heaven and earth.
Imagine, it my darling, the very best of you and the very best of me coming together to create something that outshines us all. Imagine how magnificent it will be, my love, the very best of you and the very best of me coming together to create something better than either of us could be alone.”
I didn’t know this at the time, but Zeus was deeply threatened by the thought of someone being better than him. Two seeds had been planted that night: one was a child in my womb and the other was jealousy in the heart of my husband.
And in that moment, something shifted between us. Zeus grew more and more paranoid, fearing the babe that would tumble his kingdom, just like he had done to his own father. I fell deeper into vulnerability, letting myself soften, losing my edge to a hazy cloud of love. I felt only the pleasure of new love, blissfully unaware of the red flags as they popped up in the periphery.
He decided he would swallow me. He tricked me into doing it to myself. I was helpless against him, would have done anything to be close to him. I was intoxicated with his love and needed that feeling more than anything. I sensed him pulling away from me, as he was determined to protect his throne at all costs. I was desperate to be close to him, to have the electricity of his attention running through my body again.
I would have done anything for him. When he asked me to come closer, I did. When he opened his mouth, I flew in. I did it to myself. I lost my power, wisdom, cleverness, and cunning to a man who was threatened by my greatness. I let myself become small, almost to the point of invisibility, because this man was so challenged by the idea that the fruit of our love would be better than he was on his own.
He told me he needed me. That was the trick. He told me that he was nothing without me and that he needed my advice, and would I please advise me in this council meeting? No one can know you are there, no one else brings their wives to these kinds of meetings, he told me. I don’t want them to look down on me. But I am nothing without you. Would you please become a fly so that you can hide in my hair and whisper just the right words in my ear.
I became small and he swallowed me. I was already pregnant. The child grew in my womb even as I was trapped inside him. I forged her a helmet, I crafted her armour. I gave her all of my wisdom. I gave her my grey eyes. And out she came. Athena.
Some say that she had no mother because she emerged fully grown from Zeus’s head. It was so easy to forget about me because of how small I had become. A man stole credit for the birth of my daughter—though she’s more like me than like him—just like men stole the use of my name.
I don’t regret the events that led to the birth of my daughter. Earth is a better planet because she’s touched it.
Once I get out of here, however, I will never let myself become that small ever again.