Zeus is not a god you can love. He is the boss you detest. The neighbor you hide from. The worst boyfriend you ever had. He’s arrogant, domineering, and mean, and has the biggest ego of anyone in the universe. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn things from him. Writers can gain a lot from being a little bit like Zeus.
Zeus is the sixth and final deity I’m exploring in my series on mythic archetypes. He’s also the least like most writers. It’s not hard to see our connection with Osirus in his dark, mysterious underworld. Or with Guanyin, the Goddess who can hear the voices of all creation. It’s easy to relate to the vibrant creative energy of the goddess Oshun and the contemplative focus of Saraswati. And most writers get the Trickster—the whole rule-breaking, shape-shifting, living-on-the-margins thing.
But Zeus demands obedience, rules with an iron fist, and has the unfortunate habit of hurling thunderbolts at anyone who crosses him. Do we really want to be anything like him? To some extent, yes.
Zeus is the most powerful deity in the Greek pantheon, greater than all the other gods put together. He was strong enough to conquer his rivals, the Titans, and from then on has ruled both gods and humans from the majestic heights of Mt. Olympus. It might be Oshun we turn to for inspiration, Guanyin for empathy, and the Trickster for creativity, but it is Zeus we turn to for success.
For one thing, Zeus is ambitious. How else would he become ruler of everything? We are like Zeus, says Jungian psychiatrist Jean Shinoda Bolen, when we desire to be in a position of honor or influence. The business side of the writing life requires Zeus’s drive: it's what enables writers to go out into the world and demand to be heard.
Second, Zeus procreates—a lot. He is the father of Apollo, Artemis, Athena and Aphrodite, not to mention the Graces, the Fates, the Seasons, and the Muses. Some sources list over fifty gods and mortals as his offspring.
Zeus’s urge to procreate has less to do with sexuality than with power. It represents something all writers want: the ability to insinuate yourself everywhere. Zeus had children for the same reason writers write: To extended his influence all over the universe. Want your name to become a household word? Dream of having a giant poster of your face hanging in Barnes and Noble? Think Zeus.
A third theme in the mythology of Zeus is his ability to create alliances. Zeus overthrew the Titans by forming coalitions with the Cyclopes, the evil goddess Styx, and others. He later worked with many deities to help the Greeks defeat Troy in the Trojan War. He operates on a quid-pro-quo basis: He’ll help you, but expect him to demand your aid when he needs it.
For writers, coalitions are essential. As every published writer knows, transforming your work from a manuscript to a well-marketed book takes working partnerships with agents, editors, publicists, journalists, radio-show hosts, bookstore owners, bloggers, and all those people following you on Twitter. Sure, most of us would like to remain comfortably in our own heads, but if you want success, you need partners.
Finally, Zeus is known for his rational, clear-eyed decisiveness. Unlike many of the archetypes we have worked with, Zeus isn’t engaged in the lives of humans. He rules dispassionately and from far away. From Mt. Olympus, he can see everything that goes on, but at a comfortable distance.
Couldn’t we writers use some of that cool rationality, especially when it comes to career planning? We should spend less time agonizing over rejections, worrying about whether we’re wasting our time, and wallowing in envy over the friend who just got a huge advance on her novel, and more looking at the big picture, making well-reasoned plans, and taking decisive action.
So, however obnoxious and downright loathsome Zeus’s behavior, we writers can learn a lot from the King of the Gods. Tomorrow: How you, too, can learn to hurl a thunderbolt.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...