Greek mythology, in its entire eccentric glory, stands as the foundation for all we understand in the world today. Sam Hopkins explores this and the captivating story of Zeus and Melissa.
After slaying his titan-king father, Zeus placed himself on a throne in the skies above Mount Olympus. Thus, he made himself king of the gods. At his sides sat his siblings: his fellow Olympians. One of them was Hera, his sister and consort. By her (and by other women), Zeus’s offspring filled the remaining of the twelve seats above that mountain. Together, they ruled and shaped Greek mythology. But none other did so more than Zeus, the lightning-bearing All-Father. His later exploits in the art of cheating and avoiding Hera, who would represent marriage and family as his faithful wife, would lead to some of the most well-known stories in myth. Before all this, there had to be a wedding. And it was celebrated like nothing ever had been.
Imagine Olympian MasterChef. Hundreds of nymphs brought the heavenly couple wedding gifts to try and taste. A hall packed with the gaudiest lauding of wealth and heritage – any way they could steal attention. Not one of them was righteous enough to ignore Zeus’s power and generosity in a good mood: give to him, and he will give to you what you could never have otherwise. However, one nymph stood with no embellishment. Round and furry with small, translucent wings that made the most incessant noise, she offered only a golden goop in a plain bowl. Her name was Melissa.
She was strange, even by nymph standards. When Zeus and Hera tried her food, it was a courtesy of a king and queen. A sign of good faith. What they were not expecting was the most sensational tasting food they had ever come across in their boundless lives. Zeus raised the bowl, and blessed it as Ambrosia, the food of the gods forevermore. For mortality, this food was called honey. In reward for her contribution to the gods, Zeus promised to grant Melissa anything she wanted.
The key struggle in Melissa’s life was… everything. She was too round, her wings too small and the ingredients for her honey too widespread to maintain any consistency in its production. Hurdle after hurdle escalated the process: animals far larger and terrifying reaped the fruits of her labours, stealing her stores until only a puddle remained. All she asked of the All-Father was the ability to defend what she had suffered the effort to make. She had no weapon, not like the scorpion had a sting or a wolf had canines. Attempting to manipulate the fabric of creation, Melissa’s wish was to bear her own weapon.
Zeus was infuriated. This creature, blessed by the king of Olympus to exist and roam in peace, asked for something to wreak violence. All to ensure she could not share. It was the greatest offence one could imagine on a king’s wedding day: a day meant to celebrate unity, a connection that ought to exist amongst all manner of life. And she threw it in his face before everyone. It would not be so.
Although dealt by the god of justice, Melissa’s punishment was hideous. First, he gifted her a colony of bees to help her gather ingredients and she would lead them as their queen – to ease her effort. Disappointment slumped her, but the king had not finished. Second: her weapon. The hall watched as she shrieked, a giant, black sting slowly protruding from her belly. At its end was a barb, to latch onto what and all she would use it on. As promised, Zeus had given her what was asked for, and more. In doing so, he condemned her. For Melissa could not use that sting without ripping out her very innards in the process.
The stories in Greek mythology are abundant, but there are always the nuggets which linger in one’s mind. This is not one often told, and it should be. Everyone knows of the fate a honeybee bears should you rile one up. It is bewildering how these stories have lingered so long, buried in our everyday. ‘Mélis’ remains to be the Greek word for honey to this day. And Hymenoptera, the order of insects which includes wasps, bees and ants, is roughly – and aptly – derived from the Ancient Greek translation for ‘wedding wings’.
Above all, the stories of Greek mythology are lessons. The fate of Melissa teaches all who hear or read it that it is all too easy to view the world through the lens of our own shortcomings. We do not realise that we sometimes place ourselves in the centre of that world. If Melissa had shared her honey willingly and selflessly, she would not have been cursed by Zeus. The loyalty she may have earned from her thieves could have resolved the issues she could otherwise not see past the peak of Mount Olympus. It is worth taking the time to stop and think every now and then: are we being the best version of ourselves, or simply pretending?
Article written by Sam Hopkins
You can read Sam’s short story about Melissa and her godly honey, Wedding Wings, here.
Featured Image: © Elizabeth Alba