9564 BCE — Atlantis sinks

It’s Atlantis. Everyone knows the basics: an advanced civilisation on a large island or small continent in the Atlantic Ocean, sunk beneath the ocean in a single day.

The Atlantis story originated in two works by Plato, the Critias and the Timaeus. These tell the story of Atlantis – created by the sons of Poseidon, ruled the world as an economic superpower, and finally destroyed by the gods of Olympus for its hubris.

Of course, so far as anyone can tell, Atlantis never truly existed. It was a myth, a parable regarding the dangers of arrogance and pride.

Pity, really.

circa 3500 BCE — Aphrodite born from the blood of castrated Uranus

Legend has it that Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was born in a most unusual way: when Cronus led his fellow Titans in a rebellion against their father, Uranus, the final victory was achieved when the son castrated his father, and cast his genitals into the ocean (accounts vary as to whether this was offshore from Paphos in Cyprus or the island of Cythera). Aphrodite sprung fully formed and already an adult from the foaming waves of the wine dark sea.

Aphrodite was known to the Romans as Venus, and it was under this name that she became popular with later Europeans, notably as the subject of the painting “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli, and numerous surviving sculptures, such as the Venus de Milo.

Referenced in:

Tales Of Brave Ulysses — Cream

circa 2500 BCE — Gilgamesh ends his reign as King of Uruk

Gilgamesh was the king of Uruk for many years, but was not well-loved by his subjects, as he was an oppressive ruler, who insisted of the privilege of sleeping with the young women of the city on their wedding nights. The goddess Arura, seeking to humble Gilgamesh, created a man named Enkidu, who was his opposite in all ways: wild where he was civilised.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu became fast friends, and the two journeyed together from Uruk to the Cedar Forest, where they faced and slew Humbaba. Later, after the gods slew Enkidu, Gilgamesh pleaded for his return, and later journeyed to the underworld to rescue him. Gilgamesh prays to the gods to restore Enkidu’s life, and moved by his humility, they accede.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants

circa 2600 BCE — Gilgamesh becomes King of Uruk

Gilgamesh is the title character of one of the oldest known literary works, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates from approximately 2150 BCE. The most complete surviving version of the Epic was recorded on twelve clay tablets in the library of Ashurbanipal, a later Mesopotamian king.

Gilgamesh was the fifth king of Uruk, an early Sumerian realm that encompassed what is now Kuwait and southern Iraq. His parentage was partially divine – he was two thirds god and one third man. As a result of this, he was abnormally strong and long-lived – some sources describe him as immortal. He seems to have been based on actual historical figure, and several details in the Epic appear to derive from historical figures who were his contemporaries. However, despite his reality, it is unlikely that he reigned for the 126 years attributed to him by Sumerian historians.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants

circa 1677 BCE — Zeus seduces Metis

Apparently determined to prove that he would sleep with anyone or anything, the Greek God Zeus seduced the Titan Metis in his youth, prior to his marriage to Hera. In fact, he went so far as to marry her, even though she was his aunt. Metis was a patron of wisdom, and it was known that her gifts in this area would be inherited by her offspring. In fact, it was prophesised that the union of Metis and Zeus would produce a son even more powerful than Zeus himself, and to forestall this, Zeus swallowed Metis whole.

Demonstrating the importance of chewing one’s food, Metis carried her child to term inside Zeus, which caused him a terrible headache. When his head was split open to relieve the pressure, the child of Zeus and Metic, grey-eyed Athena, new patron of wisdom, burst forth fully grown and fully armoured.

It’s best not to think about the mechanics of all this too much.

Referenced in:

When You Sleep — Cake

circa 1677 BCE — Zeus seduces Leto

Leto was a cousin of Zeus – the daughter of his uncle Coeus and aunt Phoebe, Titans like his own parents. Not that this – or indeed, anything else – would have stopped the god of sleeping with anyone, anytime. Unusually, he didn’t take the form of anything on this occasion – he was just his godly self.

Hera, as usual, was unimpressed, and also as usual, took it out on the woman rather than her husband. She proclaimed that Leto would not be allowed to give birth on “terra firma”, the mainland, any island at sea, or any place under the sun. She eventually gave birth to the twins Artemis and Apollo on the isle of Delos.

Referenced in:

When You Sleep — Cake

circa 1677 BCE — Zeus seduces Maia

The eldest and most beautiful of the seven Pleiades (also known as the Atlantides), Maia had a tryst with Zeus in a cave of Cyllene (where Maia herself had been born) in the middle of the night – Zeus was trying to avoid the jealous attentions of Hera, and the protectiveness of Maia’s father, the Titan Atlas.

Maia gave birth to Hermes, who would become one of the twelve great Olympians. She also cared for another of Zeus’ offspring, Arcas, the son of Callisto – Callisto herself had been transformed into a bear by Hera and could not raise her own child.

Referenced in:

When You Sleep — Cake

circa 1667 BCE — Zeus seduces Io

One of the less lucky of Zeus’s conquests, Io was a nymph, daughter of the river god Inachus and the tree nymph Melia. One of the reasons for Io’s unluckiness was that she was a priestess of Hera – wife of Zeus and known to take a dim view of her husband’s philandering. When the two were surprised in the act of love by Hera’s approach, Zeus transformed Io into a cow (although she was later transformed back).

Her son by Zeus was Ephapus, a king of Egypt whose daughter in turn was Libya, who later slept with her grand-uncle Posiedon (brother of Zeus), and whose grand-daughter Europa, great-grand-daughter Semele and great-great-great-grand-daughter Danae would also, in their turns, be loved by Zeus and produce children by him.

Referenced in:

When You Sleep — Cake

1628 BCE — Zeus seduces Niobe

There are two Niobes in Greek Myth: one was the daughter of Tantalus, and a prideful mother whose children were slain by Apollo and Artemis. The other, less well-known, was the daughter of Phorenus, and the mother, by Zeus of Argus – for whom the city of Argos was named.

It should be noted also, that thus Argus was not any of the other figures in Greek Myth named either Argos or Argus – he was not the shipwright who built the Argo, nor the son of Jason and Medea named for that shipwright. Neither was he a legendarily faithful dog whose master was Odysseus, nor the hundred-eyed giant known as Argus Panoptes. He was just this guy, who happened to be the third king of Argos, and the first child Zeus had by a mortal woman. He would have lots of half-siblings, mostly posthumously.

Referenced in:

When You Sleep — Cake

1438 BCE — Zeus seduces Europa

Europa was the daughter of the Phoenician King and Queen, Aegnor and Telephassa. But one day, she was kidnapped by Zeus, who had taken the form of a white bull, and carried off to Crete. Here, Zeus seduced her (accounts differ as to whether he was still in the form of a bull at the time). Europa became the first Queen of Crete, and bore three sons: Minos (her heir), Sarpedon and Rhadamanthis.

So myth tells us. The truth of the matter may never be known, but from what we know of Minoan culture (named for Europa’s son), the bull was an important part of it, featuring in their religious and cultural ceremonies. The myth seems than an attempt to rationalise curious aspects of Cretan culture by mainland Greeks.

Europa’s three sons, in the myth, all became kings, Minos in Crete, Sarpedon in Lycia and Rhadamanthus in Boetia. Europa herself gave her name to the entire continent of Europe. Myth is with us, always.

Referenced in:

When You Sleep — Cake

circa 1428 BCE — Zeus seduces Semele

Semele was, according to some versions of the story, a priestess of Zeus. As per usual, Zeus’s wife Hera was mad at him for cheating, and took it out on the woman. In Semele’s case, she planted doubt in Semele’s mind that her lover truly was Zeus, which led to Semele demanding that Zeus show himself to her in all his divine glory. Unfortunately, mortals cannot survive such a display of godly power, and Semele was incinerated by Zeus’s radiance.

But the child she bore was saved by Zeus, who sewed the fetus into his thigh and carried it to term. The infant would become the god Dionysus, who would rescue his mother’s shade from Hades when he grew up, and bring her to Olympus, where she too would become a god.

Referenced in:

When You Sleep — Cake

circa 1368 BCE — Zeus seduces Danae

Zeus, king of the gods, came to Danae, princess of Argos, in the form of a shower of gold. They shagged, and she became pregnant with the fetus that in due course would become Perseus, slayer of the Medusa and one of the earliest heroes of Mythic Greece.

This caused problems for Danae’s father, King Acrisius, since it had been prophesised that he would be slain by the son of his daughter, not least of which was that the prophecy eventually came true. But who was Acrisius to set his will against that of the Fates or of Zeus Panhellenios? To be fair to Perseus, he didn’t mean to kill the old man – he accidentally struck him in the head with a thrown discus in an athletics contest. From this tale, we can draw two morals: never try to thwart the will of the gods, and always stay in the marked spectator area at sporting events.

Referenced in:

When You Sleep — Cake

1286 BCE — Zeus seduces Alcmene

Alcmene was the grand-daughter of Perseus, one of the earliest Greek heroes, and himself a son of Zeus. Perhaps this is why Zeus, in seducing his great grand-daughter, chose to do do by assuming the form of her husband, although it’s likely that Alcmene’s famed fidelity had something to do with that.

Be that as it may, Zeus (in the form of Amphitryon, Alcmene’s husband) lay with her for three nights (in contrast to his usual “wham-bam-thank-me-ma’am” style), and the product of their union was the mighty Herakles (or Hercules, to use the better known Latin spelling), greatest and most-famed of all the heroes of Greece.

Referenced in:

When You Sleep — Cake