I’m a third of the way through National Poetry Month. Touch wood, but I haven’t missed a day yet. Nor have I slacked much on this blog. But today I have a repost for you. It’s a story I first wrote about thirty years ago. I’ve tweaked it repeatedly in the decades since, but the original kernel, the story of Metis, is largely unchanged.
Metis is the daughter of the Titan gods, Oceanus (river-waters) and Tethys (spring-waters), deities that rule the life-giving fresh waters. Metis stands outside the Pantheon. She is considered neither Titan nor Olympian. She is sometimes credited with aiding the young Zeus in slaying Chronos, and in some myths she becomes Zeus’ wife. But she is also said to have raised Hera, Demeter, and Hestia far from the other children of Chronos. She is evidently older than the Olympic gods, and she seems to prefer her own solitude to their company, going to some lengths to avoid Zeus in particular.
Metis is personified as wisdom, but her name is more properly translated as ‘cunning’, an honored trait in Ancient Greece. Odysseus was cunning, a trickster who could read a situation and quickly respond in unexpected ways. It is significant that his patron was grey-eyed Athena, daughter of Metis, the trickster goddess. If I were to pick a patron from the Ancient world, I would choose Metis.
Ça tourne, Old Man
Wise Metis, Sea-Dark Metis, Metis of Fair Judgement, Metis lived on the mountain far from her mother. Far, yet near a cold stream that flowed to Tethys whereby they could converse. For Tethys was in all the springing waters. Metis lived in solitude on the mount, desiring none. But in time she grew to wish for a child, and so she went to the spring and asked her mother for advice.
Tethys answered with a laugh, for she was delighted that her daughter wanted to conceive. She instructed Metis in the ways, but warned her to be wary of roving Zeus. For Zeus wanted to possess Metis as he did all fair things. And yet it was foretold that if Metis were to bear children, one would arise that would destroy the son of Chronos. So Metis left the mountain, making her new home near the sea where she could play with her sisters and dance with her cousins, but where Zeus, being far off, would surely forget her. And there she began to create her child.
But Zeus did not forget. Striding across the sky he sought out Metis in her new home and demanded her love. Metis turned him away. He laughed in scorn and said he would give her time to reconsider, for such was his mind that he believed none would deny him long. Metis shrugged and returned to her creating.
Two moons passed and twice Zeus returned, telling Metis that she would now come with him back to the mountain. But Metis refused again and yet again, and Zeus became vexed. On his third attempt, he swore that he would have her, but in benevolence, he would give her one more chance to think on joining with him willingly. Metis merely shook her dark head and turned away.
This time Zeus saw what he had not before, that Metis was with child. Knowing the prophecy he grew agitated in his fear of the child of Metis, for he knew the ways of patricide intimately. But he carefully governed his countenance so that he did not reveal his mind to perceptive Metis and then went away swiftly to think on this new misfortune.
One moon passed. Then two. Then twice two more. Metis was absorbed in her child-making and perhaps her judgement was less than it was, for she believed the long time showed that Zeus’s interest had waned and that he would not return. But all knew that Zeus was not to be denied and that he was sure to come for Metis again. And come he did.
This time he came with honeyed words and sweet promises. Metis paid him little heed, so absorbed was she in creation. Zeus persevered, calling Metis wise beyond all, asking her to lend her counsel to him for all time so that he could be as fair a judge as she. Metis paid him no heed. Zeus continued, begging her to be his wife and advisor, his queen and equal in all things. Metis paid him no heed. Zeus fell before her, feigning anguish, proclaiming that she alone could assuage his pain. Metis paid him no heed.
But at that moment the time came for the birth of her child and a spasm bent her body in double. Zeus, seeing his chance, grew as large as the heavens, seized Metis while she was weak, curled around her swollen abdomen. And Zeus swallowed her whole. Tethys, perceiving this, smiled grimly, for she remembered what happened to those who consumed the next generation. But Zeus, recalling naught of his own youth, thought he had averted disaster. He left the home of Metis in good spirits, already set on new pursuits.
Metis, meanwhile, remained in the belly of Zeus. There she brought her child into the world. And there she raised her child, instructing this girl-child in wisdom and in justice. Metis mothered her child in the belly of the rapacious god, the greedy god. The creation of Metis grew in the belly of the god who could not create, the god who could only corrupt and consume. The child of Metis grew in the belly of Zeus the Patriarch.
In time the growth in his belly set Zeus to groaning and stomping about in distemper. Finally, he instructed his son, malformed Hephaestus, crouching Hephaestus, to cleave his gut with an axe and wrench out the offending Wisdom. Hephaestus, being not overfond of his father, swung the axe rather above the belly of Zeus and cleaved the skull instead. But this did not end Zeus. Wondrously, the child of Metis, now full grown and fully armed, sprang up from the wound. And before she could help her mother from within Zeus, the god seized this new woman-child by the arms and roared in delight. For this was a girl-child and as such no mortal threat to mighty Zeus, armed though she may be.
“Look what I have done!” he proclaimed to all. “This is my child, daughter of Zeus, Mind of God, Athena.”
And Wise Athena, Dark Counselor Athena, Daughter of Wisdom, blinked grey eyes slowly, owlishly, and smiled in cold unforgiving judgement. But she knew the time was not ripe. So she swallowed her vengeance and called Zeus Father, hiding her own mind, keeping her own counsel.
Time passed and time passes. Men hail Athena as a wonder, the perfect daughter, the virtuous goddess. For she came not from woman and she changed not with time. Always and constant and pure, hale and hearty and wise, the Virgin Queen, the miraculous child from the mind of Zeus All-Father. And Metis, Mother Wisdom, became forgotten among men. And indeed she was forgotten by Zeus himself though he still contained her within.
But Athena, Grey-Eyed Goddess, Daughter of Wisdom, Grandchild of the Deep Waters, Athena did not forget. She bided her time. She watched and thought and plotted, nursing no child but revenge. And thus she remains, abiding still, abiding long the dark days of men.
But this time is not forever. Soon, so soon, she will rise in righteous wrath. Soon, so soon, she will wield her natal sword of justice, sweeping off the smooth head of the all-consuming god, severing great maw from imprisoning gut, setting Metis free of long confinement. Soon, so soon, Athena will revive her true mother, and Wisdom will live on the Earth. Soon, so soon, the false father will fall, and the age of folly with him.
Soon, very soon, the Daughter of Metis will fulfill her fate.
Soon, very soon, the hand of Wisdom will strike.
Soon, very soon, the age of men will end.
Ça tourne, old man, your time will come.
©Elizabeth Anker 2023