Leo MR [Patreon cultist] asks:

So in the course of researching Heracles (particularly the Laomedon episode) I learned that Hera, Poseidon, and Apollo once tried to rebel against Zeus and had him chained (?) but Zeus was freed by Thetis, Achilles’s mother (?!) and then Poseidon and Apollo were punished by Zeus to work in Troy for a few years under human disguises (???) What the Hades was this whole story about and how did it come to be?! I tried looking up more details online but could only find a scant handful of information; do you know anything more about it?

Y’know, I think that is basically the entire story (although I think the business with Apollo and Poseidon working for Laomedon at Troy is a separate issue; the rebellion Thetis helped to stop involved Athena, not Apollo). I’ve only ever encountered it as part of the backstory of the Iliad, and it is there… well, pretty much because Homer needs a reason to have Zeus owe Thetis a favour. This is the memory she invokes when she goes to Zeus in Iliad I and asks him to punish Agamemnon for disrespecting her son by tipping the scales against the Greeks. If you run into the story outside of that context… yeah, you’re absolutely right, it’s bizarre! I don’t think there are any other references to it anywhere in Greek literature – I mean, there are texts I haven’t read and mythology isn’t really my specialty, but if there’s something else out there dealing at length with a rebellion against Zeus among the Olympians, it’s hella obscure. Most scholars working on Homer today think that the epics were originally produced by bards through oral composition-in-performance – that is, “Homer” (who wasn’t a real person, unless he was; readers who are new to my bull$#!t about this should Google “the Homeric Question”) made it up as he went along, knowing the broad strokes of the plot from centuries of tradition, but improvising on a lot of the details. And… honestly I think this bit might genuinely have been improv? The poet knows the way the story is supposed to go – Achilles leaves the battle, and the Greeks are met with disaster for the next several days until Agamemnon relents. He may know that this happens because Zeus is in Achilles’ corner on this one. He might not know exactly why Zeus is willing to step in. So… he goes back to what he does know, because it’s a fact of the tradition: Achilles has a divine mother, who presumably would be able to intercede on his behalf. He could narrate Thetis making a persuasive argument, either to Zeus or to a council of all the gods, but for the most part, characters in the Iliad and the Odyssey tend to get each other to do things by invoking existing relationships and outstanding favours, because that’s how politics works in Iron Age Greece. So the poet comes up with a reason why Zeus might owe Thetis something, and because he’s quite clever, he makes it a reason that has some applicability to the current situation: when Zeus’ authority and station were challenged, Thetis upheld them. He should do the same for her son.

I wish I had more, but I think that may genuinely be the beginning and end of this one.

5 thoughts on “Leo MR [Patreon cultist] asks:

  1. Aww man, there’s not more that we know about that? No extended version? Dang, and here I was hoping there was some lost text you knew of that would expand on that little bit.

    Oh yeah, Athena. Wait, so there were multiple different rebellion attempts against Zeus? I’ve heard of the Gigantes waging war against the Olympians but never other Olympians against Zeus! Spats, yes, but not outright mutiny. Are there other examples of this in Greek literature?


    1. Nothing else that I would call a rebellion, no. Occasionally a god might piss Zeus off and gets punished, but I don’t know of anything comparable to the Gigantomachy, or even to this weird incident from the backstory of the Iliad.

      As for Apollo and Poseidon… I’ve looked into it a bit more, and the primary texts that mention Apollo and Poseidon’s service to Laomedon never actually explain *why* they had to work for him. One might infer some kind of dispute with Zeus, but the main sources for it – Homer and Pindar – don’t say. There *are* scholia on Homer (margin notes by scribes and scholars, probably in the Byzantine era) which link this punishment to the same rebellion by Hera, Athena and Poseidon described in Iliad I. This could be conjecture on their part, or they could be getting it from some other text now lost to us. At any rate, that explains why a modern source might report that the two events are connected.


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