Wednesday, December 28, 2011


If you're wondering if the title is a word, no it isn't. Hepa or hepar is the Greek word for liver and a myth is a myth. It's simply the best I could come up with to describe a story from mythology. Every now and then, I encounter certain truths that simply astound me. A sort of real life Twilight Zone moment that cannot be explained logically but that just is. It's my very knowledgeable husband that would make me aware of this interesting yet crazy trivia.

A poet from the 8th century BC named Hesiod, wrote a very long and intricate poem  called Theogony about powerful deities. As far as we know, these deities or Titans had never been mentioned before then. In Theogony, the first generation of Titans consists of six males and six females. I'm not going to go into all the names because it gets too complicated. Suffice it to say that cousins married cousins. Lapetus, a Titan, was married to Clymene (a daughter of a Titan). They had several children, one of which was Prometheus. Two other Titans, Cronus and Rhea also had children, the youngest of which was Zeus.

I'd heard the name Prometheus mentioned many times but only vaguely knew who he was. It turns out, he was smart and a real prankster. He was also the god closest to mankind. But before I get to that, let me explain what went down. Talk about family feud, this was the ultimate example. The Titans were powerful deities, but apparently not powerful enough since they were defeated and overthrown by their own children, the Olympians. Out with the Titans, in with the Olympians. They now had all the power, especially Zeus (you know, the one holding the lightening bolt). He sat on his throne in Mount Olympus and ruled over the other gods and men. If he was the most powerful, just like some presidents of ours, he certainly wasn't the smartest. Zeus, the mightiest of the mighty was about to be tricked.

There was a matter of settling accounts between men and gods. Zeus had to decide what the sacrificial meal to the gods would be. Prometheus, the witty but lowly Olympian, wanted to help mankind. After all, we were his best creation. Per Zeus' order, he had fashioned us out of water and clay and loved us much more than Zeus did. Prometheus presented Zeus with two options of sacrificial meals. Whatever Zeus chose would be for the gods, the other for humans. The first meal looked badly but was actually tasty meat once you pealed away the unappetizing exterior. The other looked delicious but inside was only bones. Zeus went straight for the looks. You would think Supergod would know better than to judge a book by its cover...I'm starting to think he came from Hollywood...

Since Zeus chose bones as the sacrificial meal, this meant humans could keep the meat for themselves and honor the gods with...bones. Like a mortal who won't own up to his stupid mistake, Zeus was furious and took it out on Prometheus' beloved humans. The god of gods took fire away from us. We couldn't even cook our food anymore. Prometheus wasn't going to stand for this. He snuck fire from Zeus' lightening bolt, hid it in a stalk and brought it to man. That really infuriated Zeus and, since he was the god of gods, he punished Prometheus. He had him tied to a rock in the Caucasus mountains and every day a vulture ate his liver. The organ would grow back during the night, and the next day the vulture would eat it again.

This absolutely fascinates me. Why did the writer, Hesiod, choose the liver to be eaten and re-grown? How can a story, written by man 700 years BC, full of fantastic characters and events about Titans, Olympians and humans created from clay, get this particular fact right? The vulture ate Prometheus' liver during the day, and it grew back at night. Of course the liver doesn't grow back in a night, but it is the ONLY organ to grow back at all. If cut in half, within several months, it will reach its normal size again. The author could have chosen any organ in our body, especially since he's talking about gods. Why then, did he choose the liver and not the stomach, the heart, the lungs and so on? Back then there was no accurate knowledge of our inner workings. Or was there? And if so, what did we miss in our archeological findings? The point is, somehow, an innate intuition or a seventh sense, or perhaps real knowledge by the ancients we aren't aware of, prompted the author to choose the correct organ, the one that grows back.

By now, you all know that livers are my life long thread. It seems that the fascination with this organ goes back to the beginnings of civilization. I find that amazing. This is my Twilight Zone moment, my head scratching, wide-eyed, mouth agape bewilderment with this... hepamyth.  

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