GODS GET POETIC – When junk-food obesity stalks the streets, why bother about a Neanderthal tooth…

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I doubt I’ll ever understand these people, these Gibraltarians’, said Zeus, pointing at the spread of city streets and buildings stretched out below the Rock. It was a gesture which any student of Classical sculpture would have recognised – the moment when the Father of the Gods loses his hallmark thunderbolt, recorded by sculptors and painters down the centuries, though in this instance, it held no threat for it was made with a finger of toast on which egg-yolk and Rose’s Lime Marmalade melded into a mush of colour and a conflict of flavours.

Soft-boiled egg and marmalade replaced traditional nectar and ambrosia as Zeus’ favourite breakfast – now the only meal at which, on Hera’s insistence, all of the gods and goddesses sat down together, sharing news of each other’s doings, and discussing the behavioural oddities and foibles of the mortals in the city spread below them. This was a limitless topic, fed as it was, by first-hand experience. Robes and tunics replaced by modern clothing, and accepted by the community as rather quaint foreigners, most of the Olympian brood had formed friendships and found work in the city.

And in the six months since the Pantheon had fled to Gibraltar from the dire economic plight Greece, and the incessant Babel of passing refugees, all of the family – other than Zeus and Hera – had not only adopted 21st century dress but had absorbed many local attitudes… and even picked up a smattering of Llanito.

‘I’ll never understand these Gibraltarians,’ Zeus repeated, thumping a copy of the Chronicle spread beside his plate, and splattering driblets of egg and marmalade across the table onto Artemis’ cocoa-pops and Hermes’ kedgeree. The paper was several weeks old and had reached the top of the Rock the previous evening as part of the wrappings of Zeus’ fish and chips supper.

‘There’s a government press release here about the discovery of a Neanderthal child’s upper right canine milk tooth, which they reckon to be at least 50,000 years old and has “set the archaeological world agog”. All this ridiculous to-do about a too…’

‘So what’s to understand, Pa? ‘Dionysus interjected with the casual familiarity which so infuriated his parent, and which, along with ‘Daddy-oh’ and ‘Pop’, were part of the slang-ridden vocabulary that his children had assimilated, among it less respectful terms they now used to address the Father of the Gods.

‘Well, it should be obvious,’ came the reply. ‘Have you seen their children – not just those standing around sharing a cigarette…school uniform or not, big and small, in prams or push-chairs, on foot or those dreadful skate things, they’re constantly shovelling sugar-laden rubbish into their mouths, wreaking ruin on their teeth – yet no-one says a word about that! But find a 50,000-year-old milk tooth and the world goes wild,’ said Zeus with his customary exaggeration. ‘It’s a public disgrace; I would never have allowed that sort of thing when you were growing up.’

An assertion which prompted Hera to raise a quizzical eyebrow and a mix of amused disbelief among those seated at the table. All recalled his cavalier approach to paternal duties and his own overwhelming appetite for all things sweet.

Athene, scrolling through Google on a smart-phone hidden in a fold of the tablecloth, saw from her father’s frown of concentration that he was about to launch another ill-tempered tirade and attempted to change the subject before the verbal tsunami began; ‘How’re your poetic efforts coming along?’, she called down the table to Hermes – who wriggled his shoulders uncomfortably. Embarrassed.

‘He’s turned from messages to verse?’ chortled Dionysus. His siblings shared his amusement as Hermes slumped awkwardly in his chair.

‘Oops. I shouldn’t have said that’, she apologised. ‘But there’s no reason they shouldn’t be told. They’ll know soon enough if you win. The Ministry of Culture is holding an autumn poetry competition with a £300 prize and our brothers going to enter with a sonnet,’ she explained.

More mirth.

‘A sonnet? Poseidon guffawed. ‘Gods don’t write poems – and certainly not sonnets. Inspire them, yes, but write them? No. We leave the versifying to mortals, like that Shakespeare chap, or Keats, or John Masefield. I inspired one of John’s poems y’ know. Something call “Sea Fever”…’

Even Zeus was silenced by Athene’s disclosure. Other than Aristophanes (who had mocked him) and Sappho (who should have remained on Lesbos, keeping her ideas to herself) the Father of the Gods knew little of poets and would be happy to remain in ignorance. But the silence was broken by Hebe. ‘I could write a poem,’ she said. In fact, I’ve just thought of one. It goes like this:

‘When customers at Hambros Bank

ask for a drink, it’s me they thank

for coffee, tea and sometimes wine

(or whisky, if they’re friends of mine.)’

Hera smiled with delight and clapped, the others joined in, even Zeus’ lips twitched.

I could write one, too,’ said Poseidon. ‘Listen:

‘All the creatures in the sea

flap their fins and follow me.

Salmon, tuna, bass or cod

worship me, for I’m their god.’

And – mockery of Hermes forgotten – soon all of the Olympians were a-buzz, vying for their verses to be heard. Most were no better than Hebe’s or Poseidon’s and several were too vulgar or salacious to be repeated in a family magazine, but – duly printed on a sheet of A4 paper, accompanied by name and telephone number, and handed in at John MacIntosh Hall – this was Hermes’ sonnet:

Nostalgia

Here is no scent of balsam on the air,

no marble pillars mellow in the dawn,

no murmured sounds of doves to greet the morn.

Instead, a screech of gulls; the rip and tear

of tyre on tarmac; and a daily fare

of noxious fumes, of fuel-fed farts – unseen

but deadly. Set against a man-made screen,

exotic trees whose boughs, though leafless, bare,

point to crass blocks of tasteless glass and brick

and concrete canyons clogged with truck and car,

where junk-fed teen-agers are sometimes sick

spewing a night’s excesses on the tar…

And thus Olympus – long since left behind –

looms large with longing in my wistful mind.

It did not win the £300 prize, nor was it one of the runners-up printed in the Chronicle. But Hermes hopes it may amuse those readers who reach the last few pages of the Gibraltar Magazine…

illustrations | Lisa Montegriffo