A Little Collection of Light Verse
by Scott Emmons
illustrated by Chris Harding
Twisted Tales of Ancient Greece
by Scott Emmons
illustrated by Chris Harding
Theseus and the Minotaur
Smite 'em, Cowboy!
In Crete, where brazen goddesses wore all-revealing bodices,
Where wild and raucous rituals made palace rafters ring,
A man of inhumanity that bordered on insanity
Was known as mighty Minos, and he ran the place as king.
Malicious and deplorable, he harbored something horrible:
The Minotaur, a most bull-headed beast, to coin a phrase.
An ill-conceived atrocity of unsurpassed ferocity
Imprisoned in a Labyrinth – in other words, a maze.
It happened in that dismal time, that dreary, dark, abysmal time,
That Athens owed a debt to Crete and felt an awful crunch.
For rates were unbelievable. The payment deemed receivable
Was seven youths and seven maids to be the creature's lunch!
The pride of Athens' royalty, renowned for grit and loyalty,
Was Theseus, the dashing prince whose triumphs never ceased.
With courage most heroical and bearing almost stoical,
He volunteered to face the weird and savage Cretan beast.
His king and father Aegeus was moved by this egregious
Display of selfless sacrifice and proudly told him, "Son,
You'll either be victorious or die in battle glorious,
So let's devise a signal that will tell me if you've won.
"The method's no dilemma, for your sail can serve as semaphore.
We'll rig your ship with mournful sheets as black as moonless night.
But if your great abilities at hand-to-hand hostilities
Should best the beast, announce the news by hoisting sails of white."
With perfect intrepidity (or was it just stupidity?)
The prince then sped to Cretan shores to do his hero thing.
And as his ship was anchoring, his form aroused a hankering
In lovely Ariadne, who was daughter to the king.
The princess, stunned and amorous, could not allow this glamorous
And handsome youth to perish (as he would, without a doubt).
She tossed a spool of thread to him and in a whisper said to him,
"Unwind this as you're going in, and it will lead you out."
Then forth into the Labyrinth, the death-inducing Labyrinth,
The hero crept, unspooling thread and never looking back,
Till deep in the interior, in darkness ever eerier,
At last he met the monster, who was dying for a snack.
To test the fighter's fortitude, the Minotaur then snorted, "Dude,
Your kind is what's for dinner!" But the hero boldly said,
"No longer will you martyr us. I'll send you straight to Tartarus!"
With that he drew his trusty sword and struck the creature dead.
Exulting in his victory, he crowed a valedictory,
"I really hate to smite and run, but nonetheless, farewell!"
He grabbed his lifeline greedily and sought the exit speedily,
For deep inside, the Minotaur had now begun to smell.
Then wiping beads of sweat away and making good his getaway,
He reached the isle of Naxos, and the princess came along.
He lost no time in bedding her, but then, instead of wedding her,
He sailed away, forgetting her, which I regard as wrong.
At last, with utmost gratitude he made it to the latitude
And longitude of Athens, having lived to tell his tale.
But soon his joviality was checked by grim reality.
He'd been in such a hurry, he forgot to change the sail!
The king was inconsolable, his weeping uncontrollable
When first he spied the dusky sail approaching from the main.
Forsaking his metropolis, he jumped from the Acropolis,
For grief had left him spiritless and not so very sane.
And so the mighty Theseus, the sometimes flighty Theseus,
Became the king of Athens in a manner bittersweet.
He brought his town to prominence and regional predominance,
Which wouldn't be the case at all if he'd been killed in Crete!
Come On, Baby, Swipe My Fire
Prometheus the Titan
was a rebel through and through.
A wily and resourceful sort,
As all the ancient bards report,
with quite a high I.Q.
His life's a fascinating story,
Though some may find it rather gory.
He loved the race of mortal men,
though they were coarse and gritty;
And watching them from up on high,
This kind and sympathetic guy
was overcome with pity.
To make their lives a tad less squalid,
He thought he'd do them all a solid.
For mortals had it rough back then.
They couldn't get a break.
They couldn't light a cigarette,
Flambé a simple crepe suzette,
or even grill a steak.
To sum it up, their straits were dire,
For Zeus refused to give them fire.
Prometheus went straight to work.
He swiped a spark and stowed it
Inside a hollow fennel stalk,
Then nonchalantly took a walk
and hurried to unload it.
The mortals cheered his daring plot.
They knew the merchandise was hot!
That little spark began a trend
that spread like – well, like fire.
And soon its golden glow was seen
From coast to coast and in between,
which kindled Zeus's ire.
"Prometheus!" he cried, incensed,
And vowed, "I shall be recompensed!"
He bound him in the Caucasus
or somewhere thereabout.
To amplify his great despair,
He sent a hungry eagle there
to peck his liver out.
That organ, in its tiresome way,
Regenerated every day.
This torment lasted centuries
(or so it seemed, at least),
And no one heard his anguished pleas
Until the hero Heracles,
while trekking in the East,
Brought down the eagle with his bow
And let the tortured Titan go.
So ends this grand and gruesome tale
of crime and retribution,
Of strife and tension unsurpassed,
A war of wills that comes at last
to peaceful resolution.
It moves us to this very day.
I think someone should write a play!
Who Let the Plagues Out?
Zeus's wrath had not
Still he fumed and fulminated
Once he'd fixed Prometheus
for bringing fire to man.
"Humankind," he said severely,
"Has to pay, and pay most dearly!"
So, with vengeance in his heart,
he made a cunning plan.
Seething in his agitation,
Bent on swift retaliation,
Judging that for vexing men
there's nothing like a dame,
He had Hephaestus do his duty,
Fabricate a buxom beauty
Just to rock the boat a bit.
Pandora was her name.
Warmly welcomed by the mortals,
Much to Zeus's grins and chortles,
Down she came, and brought along
a giant earthen jar.
At once she opened this container.
(Sadly, no one could restrain her.)
Then all earthly ills escaped
and scattered near and far.
Out flew every foul affliction:
War and famine, drug addiction,
Not to mention static cling
and weak domestic beers,
Paper cuts and pigeon droppings,
"Fun and different" pizza toppings,
Ragweed pollen, freezer burn,
and songs by Britney Spears;
and diet soda,
Yappy dogs that look like Yoda,
Poison ivy, hanging chads,
and insufficient RAM,
Morning people, rising taxes,
Men who get bikini waxes,
Paparazzi, shedding cats,
and either kind of SPAM!
Like a leak from faulty plumbing,
Still the evils kept on coming.
Hope alone remained inside,
for good or else for ill.
And so our race is doomed to suffer.
Life is tough and getting tougher.
That's the lot of humankind,
and Zeus is laughing still!
Demeter and Persephone
Grain, Grain, Go Away!
The Greeks had their gods of the sky, earth, and water.
Demeter was hailed as the goddess of grain.
The pride of her life was her tender young daughter
Persephone, truly no plain-looking Jane.
The two, as all classical scholars agree,
Were as close as a mother and daughter could be.
Now one day the girl was out gathering roses
Beneath the majestic Olympian sky,
And there she unwittingly struck a few poses
That caught a much older god's lecherous eye.
That lusty old coot was none other than Hades,
Who wasn't so smooth when it came to the ladies.
As Persephone reached for a tiny narcissus,
The earth opened up and a carriage appeared.
The god was approaching and blowing her kisses,
Which struck her as just a bit creepy and weird.
He dragged her on board in a manner quite callous
And carried her down to his underworld palace.
Her cries reached the ears of her mother Demeter,
Who flew to the field, but the girl wasn't there.
Aware that the Fates were determined to cheat her,
She wailed in her anguish and utter despair.
She wandered nine days without food or a bath,
Which was rather distressing to those in her path.
She begged all the gods to provide information,
But no one could offer so much as a clue.
She searched every valley and hill in creation
And ran a few pictures on milk cartons too.
At last she dropped in on the all-seeing Sun,
Who told her exactly what Hades had done.
"Aha!" cried Demeter, her face like a Fury,
For now she was livid as well as depressed.
"So craven a crime can't be left to a jury.
I'll get my own justice, for my way is best.
Since hardball's the game that these jerks seem to like,
I'll throw them a curve. As of now, I'm on strike!"
And all of a sudden the grain crops were failing.
The wheat was all withered, the barley was dead.
And everywhere mortals were hungrily wailing,
"I'd give my left bun for a good hunk of bread!"
Demeter, as if in some low-budget thriller,
Had taken the role of the "cereal killer."
Now Zeus was aghast at the whole situation.
"We've blundered!" he thundered and started to cuss.
"If every last human should die of starvation,
Then who's going to offer their tidbits to us?
Those mortals may not be good-looking or wise,
But no one can slaughter a goat like those guys!"
He then sent his messenger Hermes, commanding
The Lord of the Dead to surrender his bride.
Surprisingly, Hades was quite understanding
And said to the girl as he swallowed his pride,
"Return, if you must, to the face of the planet,
But first have a bite of this nice pomegranate!"
She took just a seed, being quite a light eater,
Then up to the arms of her mother she flew.
The grain was restored by the joy of Demeter,
But Hades had worked out a Catch –22.
His bride, having eaten, was legally bound
To spend half the year in his realm underground.
And that's why the grain disappears for a season,
When Hades reclaims his reluctant young wife.
The myth packs a punch for an obvious reason:
It speaks to the constant renewal of life.
Demeter was worshipped through all of Greek history,
Though frankly her cult is a bit of a mystery.
Echo and Narcissus
I Only Have Eyes for Me
Quite often in a fairy tale
A maiden meets a macho male
and soon becomes his missus.
But myths are apt to culminate
In sorrows like the tragic fate
of Echo and Narcissus.
Now Echo was a nymph, they say,
As sweet and mild as creme brulée
and also nearly mute.
She'd parrot back the final word
(Or two or three) of all she heard,
which in its way was cute.
Narcissus was a comely youth,
A pretty boy to tell the truth,
well-built but not too burly.
Surprisingly, this handsome hunk
Was chaste enough to be a monk,
though centuries too early.
One day the youth was hunting deer
When Echo glimpsed him from the rear
and felt the flame of passion.
She thought the words she couldn't say:
"I'd pluck his bowstring any day!"
or something in that fashion.
She threw herself into his arms,
Bedazzled by his boyish charms
and badly overheated.
"What makes you think I want you?" said
Narcissus, quickly turning red.
"I want you," she repeated.
Narcissus sneered in sheer disgust
At Echo's raw, unbridled lust.
"Control yourself!" he sputtered.
"My striking looks, which should delight me,
Just keep coming back to bite me!"
"Bite me!" Echo muttered.
With that she slunk away to hide.
She felt as if she could have died,
which would have been her choice.
Her body shriveled as she pined,
Then disappeared and left behind
her disembodied voice.
Now many girls had been through hell
(And truth to tell, some men as well)
for love of proud Narcissus.
They called upon the gods above,
"May he soon feel the sting of love,
so cruelly does he diss us!"
The gods of vengeance heard their prayer.
Narcissus passed a pond, and there
he saw himself reflected.
"By Zeus!" he said, "I never thought
A bod could be so firm, so taut,
but now I stand corrected!"
He couldn't pry his eyes away,
And so he lingered all that day
beside the placid pool.
"Don't torture me, don't turn aside,
Just kiss me, fool!" he fondly cried.
And Echo whispered, "Fool!"
Attempting then a close embrace,
He tried to kiss that godlike face,
which only brought him woe.
Instead of touching tender lips,
He ended up imbibing sips
of tepid H2O.
He languished in his lovesick mood
And wouldn't eat a speck of food
or even take a shower.
At last, it's rather strange to say,
He morphed, and to this very day
Narcissus is a flower.
Before the change, he beat his breast
And wailed, "I'm ruined like the rest
by passion for Yours Truly.
I've come to see my pride was wrong.
I can't believe it took so long!"
"So long!" said Echo coolly.
Myth-Demeanors, an illustrated
twenty-five Greek myths in light verse, is available for
publication. Publishers or agents wishing to see more,
please e-mail me.