5 Greek Curses That Show the Gods Needed to Chill
We’ve all made poor decisions in our life. Unless, I suppose, you are some sort of absolutely perfect angel that’s done nothing in your life but bottlefeed abandoned kittens and invest in Apple early. In which case, get back to receiving your sainthood in an expensive suit, you morally sterling goody two-shoes. We can at least say this about most modern mistakes, though: None of them drew the ire of an angry Greek god with a penchant for poetic justice. For that, we have to be thankful.
See, of all the people and entities you could piss off in Ancient Greece, the gods were possibly the worst. Getting on Zeus’ bad side makes pissing off BTS stans on Twitter seem like a relaxing Sunday afternoon. Not only were the gods, as the name implies, all-powerful, but they much preferred fury to forgiveness. As such, their punishments were usually the kind of thing that would make Pinhead say, “That’s a little much.” On one hand, you would probably receive the gift of immortality. On the other, it was usually just so the gods could wreck your shit indefinitely.
Here are five Greeks in particular who found out firsthand that you don’t want to piss off the pantheon.
Maybe one of the most well-known recipients of literary torture is Prometheus. To be honest, if you believe the stories, the whole human race owes him a big-time solid. Per Greek legend, every cooked meal and roasted marshmallow you’ve ever had is directly thanks to our boy Prometheus. That’s because, Zeus, in one of his classic moods, took fire away from humankind and hid it up on Mount Olympus. Prometheus was the one who went and stole it back, returning it to the mortals. An absolute lad.
Unfortunately, the gods do not smile upon thievery or trickery. Prometheus paid for this bit of Oceanus Elevenus hijinks, and according to myth, is still paying for it today. If you think the old idea of an eye for an eye is brutal, consider this trade — fire for violent excision of your liver for eternity. Prometheus was chained to a mountain, where an eagle gets to rip into his stomach and eat his delicious liver every day. A liver which then magically regenerates just in time for eagle lunch tomorrow.
You may know the name Tantalus from this tale, or you may recognize it from the similarity to the modern word “tantalizing.” Now, tantalizing may just sound like the sort of word you’d find in an English professor’s leaked sexts, but let me tell you, no good times were had in its origin. Tantalus actually pissed off the gods three separate times, at which point there’s not much anybody can do for you. You know the rules: Three strikes, and you’re going to receive a horrific, unending curse.
Tantalus’ trio of ill-advised stunts were: 1) revealing godly secrets to mortals (nobody likes a snitch); 2) killing his son and attempting to feed him to the gods as a trick (got em?); and 3) giving mortals nectar and ambrosia (okay, solid). The gods seemed to take the last offense as inspiration for his unending sentence. For stealing food and drink from Olympus, Tantalus was imprisoned in a pool of fresh water, with branches of delicious fruit directly above him. Sounds like a nice spa day, except that any time he bent down to drink, the water would recede, and any time he tried to grab a fruit, the branches rose away from him. Bet he wishes he still had all that delicious son meat right now.
The wheel is one of the most important inventions in the history of humankind. It’s a go-to reference for a world-changing discovery, and a stalwart of many idiomatic sayings because of its sheer impact. However, I can name at least one person that is not a fan of a wheel, and that is the ancient King Ixion. Mostly because instead of getting to enjoy its convenience at the bottom of a chariot or a cart, he is spending eternity strapped to one that is perpetually on fire. Motion sickness and third-degree burns, two things I don’t think anyone has on their Christmas list this year.
So what did Ixion do to earn a lifetime ticket to the world’s worst carnival ride? He started out as a run-of-the-mill dickhead, culminating in him killing the father of his wife-to-be to get out of having to pay him a promised dowry. Somehow, after burning the guy to death, he received a godly pardon for his crimes, direct from Zeus, who also invited him to dinner at Mount Olympus. The newly forgiven Ixion showed up to the godly banquet and thanked Zeus by immediately trying to fuck his wife. Hence, wheel of fire forever. How did you think that was gonna play out, my dude?
Zeus’ punishment of Ixion was just a little bit hypocritical, however (Zeus do not read this). Mainly because Zeus was well-known for going horizontal with pretty much anybody within earshot, probably telling them some bullshit about being “ethically non-monogamous.” While Zeus was sweatily pumping his way across the blue marble, a mountain nymph named Echo had the unlucky job of being the one to distract his wife Hera with conversation.
After what I imagine was about the 200th time Echo asked Hera, “Uh, so how are the kids?” while standing between Hera and a loud bedroom door, she’d had about enough. Hera cursed Echo by taking away her ability to talk, outside of being able to repeat the last thing said to her. So the next time you’re shouting “hello” into a canyon, know that the name of that phenomenon comes from the needs of Zeus’ insatiable, godly loins.
If Tantalus thought he had it bad, he just needed someone to fill him in on what Erysichthon got wrapped up in. Erysichthon was a king with an eye on some land. The only inconvenience was that the land was occupied by a forest. More specifically, a sacred grove, one that belonged to the god of the harvest, Demeter. He ordered the grove chopped down anyway, to which his men replied, “Hey man, that seems like a really bad idea.” His response was to basically go “Fuck Demeter” and chop down the trees himself.
To which Demeter responded, “Oh word?” and planted a spirit named Limos in Erysichthon’s stomach. Limos was the spirit of unrelenting hunger, so you can deduce what that living in your stomach might do. Unlike Tantalus, Erysichthon could physically still obtain and eat food, but every bit of food he ate made him hungrier. Desperate to feel full again for once in his soon-to-be-brief life, he even sold his own daughter for food, which, unsurprisingly, didn’t scratch the itch. As the legend goes, Erysichthon ended up eating himself. Which probably wasn’t a great idea in the first place, given how skinny he must have been by that point.