Boogalooga! BOOGALOOGA!’ Zeus spat out the word in a roar that set the multi-coloured champagne flutes trembling on the shelves of the new cocktail cabinet.
‘Booga-what?’ asked Hera and Athena in chorus – Hera through the hatch to the kitchen where she was attempting to come to terms with a Spanish recipe for a chestnut-flavoured chocolate mousse that listed ingredients but not their quantities; and Artemis from the iPad on which she had been searching – unsuccessfully, so far – for statistics on gender equality in the GHA’s nursing services.
‘Boogalooga dancing, that’s what,’ said the Father of the Gods, voice dripping with outraged contempt. ‘There is talk of making it an official event at next year’s Tokyo Olympics. What is the mortal world coming to! Women’s football… skateboarding… ping-pong… now this. Soon it’ll be tiddlywinks and snakes and ladders…. A travesty.’
The gods had been dismayed by the introduction of the modern games thirteen decades earlier, comparing them – and many of their ‘new’ events – unfavourably to the games of the Ancient World. First held soon after the founding of the early city-states, these quadrennial celebrations had seen the men of Athens, Sparta, Corinth and Thebes put aside their spears and battle-axes to meet peacefully and honour the gods at the foot of their ancestral home.
For more than a millennium – until the traditions of ancient Attica were swept aside by the dominance of Rome – thousands of proto-Greeks had gathered in the shadow of Olympus to support competitors in foot races, wrestling, javelin and discus, and to laud the winners crowned with wreaths of olive and myrtle.
They put aside their spears and battle-axes to meet peacefully.
And Hera was convinced that, but for the persuasiveness of Jupiter and Juno – and Zeus’ distraction in abducting the King of Tyre’s daughter – the tradition would have continued. The crowds would have gathered each fourth year; the immortals would have maintained their hold on the affairs of men; and with Olympians deciding the fates of nations, there would have been no exodus from Mount Olympus… no need for it. The world of gods and man would have been a better place.
But, the Roman Senate’s decision to deify a dead Caesar, followed by the moves of subsequent dictators to declare themselves to be gods had wrecked Jupiter’s self-confidence. In panic, the Roman Paterfamilias and his consort had persuaded a besotted Zeus – busily planning Europa’s abduction – to sign an accord never again to interfere in ‘matters mortal’. And it was not until Zeus had un-zipped himself from the bull’s costume that he realised how damaging to immortal rule the accord could prove.
He had to act.
Jupiter, the Father of the Gods decided, had broken his earlier undertaking on co-existence so Olympus would be justified in breaking the accord, Zeus – who never bothered to justify any of his actions – declared.
The agreement, Hera ever the realist admitted, had merely hastened the decline of the gods’ influence. As Rome conquered the temporal world it was no longer safe for the gods to move among mortals and no longer actually influenced the day-to-day affairs even of those who still worshipped them.
‘If they do not see us – at least from time to time – they will no longer believe that we exist,’ she had warned Zeus. ‘Statues, however grand and however much gold and ivory are used, will not be enough.’
Time had proved her right. Within a century of the Roman conquest the lavish gifts which had once accompanied pleas for Olympic intercession had begun to diminish. And in less than half a millennium, temples fell into disrepair, statues were neglected and when columns or pediments fell.
And it had all hinged on the distant arrival in the Mediterranean of the Jupiter clan. Though annoyed by the arrival of the upstart newcomers from Rome, the Olympian family had accepted there was ample empty space in the heavens to house both families of immortals and, as long as the newcomers kept to their part of the known world, did not attempt to proselytise, and (as a backstop) maintained a closed frontier in the Underworld they would be welcome as neighbours.
It was not until Zeus had un-zipped himself from the bull’s costume that he realised.
Hermes was sent to Rome with a brief message laying down these conditions; and two moons later – for Jupiter had no wish to appear over-anxious to accept Zeus’ terms – Mercury brought a formal letter of acceptance to cloud-shrouded Olympus. The two pantheons had co-existed comfortably for several centuries.
‘Boogalooga. Why not call it booga-lover?’ Hera snapped out of her reverie. ‘You, the booga lover whose affaires have always ended badly, brought us grief. If you hadn’t abducted Europa, had kept the Jupiters more tightly controlled we could still have stepped in… blocked the Caesar Augustus and Hadrian and the rest of the Roman challengers… we would still have games that had meaning, purpose…’
Zeus put his hands over his ears, pretending not to listen.
‘It’s no good crying over spilt milk,’ he muttered. Softly, for once, so that no-one heard him.
‘If you can’t beat ‘em – join ‘em,’ said Hermes, who had finished his postal delivery round. ‘Don’t bother about boogalooga in Tokyo. Find an alternative closer to home. Perhaps you could even call it “The Island Games”…’
Zeus nodded thoughtfully. Gibraltar already attracted hundreds to its chess tournaments and literary festivals. How would a lightning and bolt-hurling contest play with the electorate, he wondered?
He could even compete himself. And with his expertise in thunder-bolts would be certain to win. And a gold medal – or any medal – would look good on the CV he was preparing for the year-end general election.