More or less prepared by reading Stephen Fry’s books on Greek mythology and the Iliad, I had made a certain order in addressing the gods on Olympus, hoping it would suit them which in turn, should lead to sensible answers, not some vague Oracle of Delphi stuff.
Of course, as they all would understand, me – as a traveler – had to ask the first question to him that personally grants us safe passage, whenever and wherever we go: Hermes. I asked him: ‘Dear Hermes, as someone that knows all there is to know about this topic, what is the best way of traveling?’ He shook his head, threw his eyes up and replied: ‘Seriously? Is this the question that interrupts me from the most important task of protecting travelers? With all the careless driving that happens on the roads these days? You’ve got to be kidding me. But… Now that I am here, I might as well answer. Without a doubt, cycling is the best way of traveling.’ I smiled. ‘Why, Hermes, is cycling the best way of traveling?’ There was a heavy sigh. ‘Really? You, a cyclist for Zeus’ sake – of all the mortals, asks why cycling is the best way of traveling. You know perfectly well why cycling is the best way of traveling. I peeked at your notes when Zeus was sending a thunderstorm in your direction. You’ll find enough there to convince the people. I have to go now but we will meet again somewhere down the road. I know how you ride, I know how you steer and you are going to need my help one day, I am sure of it.’ And off he went, swift and light footed as he is.
The next question I prepared was for Hera, goddess of family life and the welfare of women and children. In my mind, she was one of the most jealous and vengeful gods. Addressing her early on seemed a thoughtful pick. ‘Hera, you lovely and caring mother, how do we get more women in positions where the decisions are being made? With all these insurmountable challenges ahead, I think every mortal and all other beings on this planet would benefit a lot when there are more women in key decision making spots.’ She appeared, wearing her cylindrical crown, scepter with pomegranate and cuckoo in hand. ‘Well, well, well! Now that is actually an interesting question, my dear. A question, however, I am not going to answer since Zeus had an affair again. I’m livid, still fuming. I will give you a hint though: the solution lies in top down, bottom up.’ I was puzzled. ‘What do you exactly mean, Hera, you great queen of the Olympus, with top down and bottom up? I mean, you are not someone. You are Hera, the most powerful female god I can think of. Your answers should be accordingly. Or is it that you are maybe afraid that the other female gods take your place next to Zeus when they eavesdrop on this conversation and know the ins and outs of your power game?’ Trying the flatter technique in combination with the everpresent feuds among the gods, a strategy often used by the gods themselves, I hoped Hera would be more straightforward. ‘Look, if you think blunt flattering will help you, or that I am somehow afraid of Athena, Artemis, Hestia or any other god, female or male, then you are completely mistaken. Let me give you a second hint: your approach is an exquisite example of how not to deal with this problem. Okay, I have to come up with a list for my husband, so if you would pardon me.’ And there she went, head held high, clearly frowning – thinking how she could make Zeus beg for mercy.
The third question was for the most hated among the gods: Ares, god of senseless war, brutality and violence. ‘Ares, why? Why are there so many unnecessary conflicts, so much violence, that many wars? You know a war has no winners, never. Why then, fight?’ Storming down the Olympus in his battle chariot, he appeared. ‘Mortal. Good afternoon! All good over there?’ I was taken aback by his friendliness. ‘Yeah, personally everything is going very well. Seeing Olympus, cycling all day, exploring the world, nature, all it has to offer, meeting hospitable people. So yeah, all seems wonderful to me. But others are less fortunate. I mean, there are so many conflicts going on. It’s tearing us apart, you know.’ Ares put on a serious face. ‘You think this is many? Wait what the future holds for you weaklings. The battle of Troy, it is nothing compared to the coming years. And concerning the ‘not good, you know’. Let me give it to you straight. I think you mortals for once should be looking in the mirror. It is not me that’s creating all these conflicts… it’s you, your insecurity, your hunger for power, your insatiable greed, your unfounded suspicion, letting fear reign, choosing anxiety over communion, foe over fellow. That’s what’s causing fire, fury, drama all around. It is not I who is responsible. As the god of war, I can only thrive if you self-absorbed mortals keep on shouting to one another, from one side of the Styx to the other. Not listening, no ‘pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating’, no dialogue, safely staying in your own bubble, sticking to your comfortable opinions, views and truths, not looking beyond, widening the gap with every utterance. You are the fertile ground out of which these nasty conflicts, violent clashes, ugly impingement and what not grow.’ Ares was irritable, I could tell. But I also knew he was right. ‘Ares, is there any way of making sure less war will be our future faith?’ He rode his chariot a little closer. ‘Start behaving like responsible beings.’ He pulled the reins and commanded his horses back to where he came from.
It was not going very well, I said to myself. The answers were anything but plain or self-explanatory. Hoping the celestial artificer would share a lucid answer with me, I addressed Hephaestus. ‘Hephaestus, you crafting artist. Oh, how I like a fire after a day of cycling. I can sit for hours next to it, motionless, watching wood turn into glowing charcoal. Not any longer without some discomfort, though, if I am honest. I mean, the climate, the environment, all the emissions, you probably know – it’s no good. Tell me, there must be a more eco-friendly way of creating and using heat than burning wood, gas, oil or other fossil fuels. What are you using up there when you forge the pieces of art that captivate even the gods?’ With an uneasy yet confident step, the lame one appeared. ‘It took you mortals some time, nuh? To figure out how to harness the sun? I have been using its force for millenia already in a sustainable way, shortly after Prometheus stole the fire from my workplace. And through my own observations I can tell you that I so far have not come across a better method for creating heat.’ Again a vague answer. ‘What do you mean by a sustainable way, you divine craftsman? Are you trying to say that you use solar panels and wind turbines as well for creating heat?’ He looked into the far distance. ‘No, no, no… It goes without saying electricity generated in a renewable way will be a part of your sustainable future. However, you need more than that. I noticed that the whizzkids in Switzerland at CERN recently had a breakthrough. A few more steps like that and you will solve the biggest threat for the time being. That is, if you can get it organized. What must be evidently clear by now is that your fossil days are over, I can assure you that. But again, that is if you do not wanna end up like those dinosaurs you are currently blazing into the sky. The last time I used those methods, I met Aphrodite and you were hunting the last wooly mammoth.’ His warning was the last I heard of him.
I had Athena in my mind as the next Olympian. On second thoughts however, choosing Aphrodite would maybe be better: it was time for a more personal question. So I asked her: ‘Goddess of love, beauty, sexual plasure and fertility, we have a serious problem down here. I have been traveling for about eight weeks now, and fell in love at least twenty times. All were unanswered, though. The last one in Ioannina, she was so beautiful she came close to your standards. Now, a lot of them look, I see them stare, I see how they smile. But for some reason, genuine intimacy or affection has not crossed my path. What’s the deal here?’ When she appeared on that slope, I fell in love for the 21st time. Perfect, enchanting, so desirable – yet so out of reach. ‘I have observed you, young man. And talked about it with some of the others up here. And it’s a simple thing. As you say yourself, the ones interested in you give clear signs, but you don’t respond. My question to you is: why?’ She pinned me down. ‘Weak as I am, I think it’s the feeling that I am afraid I will stop cycling when I give into disarming smiles, resulting in not reaching Bhutan.’ She laughed. ‘You cannot have it both ways, my dear. Meeting someone new, sharing deep intimacy and at the same time on the road each day and every day, traveling and being separated from through an ever growing distance. But what is wrong with a single night of good old passion? Please do not think you break their hearts: all women are, have been and will always be strong mortals. As you will find out, if you have not already by meeting Athena, Hera, Artemis, Hestia… Just let it go, trust yourself and read the signs. Can’t be that hard, right? Try it. I will help you when the next opportunity comes around the corner. I have to go now, I can hear Ares calling for me. He found a cave high up the Olympus, unknown to all the other gods. Don’t tell Hephaestus!’.
Next up, the goddess of wisdom. ‘Athena, I have been traveling for quite some time now and I begin to see a pattern. A lot of people in the countries I have crossed so far crave for the western lifestyle, whatever that may be. And I think I get it, at least a little since it would give them benefits such as traveling as I do at the moment. But how do we make it clear it is not all sunshine, rainbows and butterflies over there? I mean, the materialistic outlook on society, appearance getting the upper hand on substance, people barely able to talk to each other in a constructive way. Even worse, I notice valuable things of their own culture beginning to lose importance: knowing how and when to grow their own food, a sound understanding about how their direct environment works, being crafty and creative in repairing things, using effectively the transportation means and goods they have. These are aspects and an attitude our grandparents once had and regret losing since they are an important part of a sustainable future. In other words: can and if so, how can we help them not make the same mistakes we once made?’ Stern countenance, her full lips straight as an arrow, majestic pace, wearing her full body armor, shield in one hand, spear in the other and on top of that, an owl landing in a pine tree. What an entrance! ‘Brave traveler, good afternoon. In a sense, it’s an ancient question you are asking there. The great civilizations of history all faced this problem in their own respective way. It’s up to you to draw lessons from their faults and do better. Global solidarity, sincere brother- and sisterhood, showing you are willing to set a step aside so that the less fortunate get a equal chance at a good life, more focus on what is really important… I can go on and on, what I will not do because you all down there, deep down in your hearts and minds, know perfectly well what has to be done. What I can assure you, however, is the following: we are watching you closely from Olympus. In the beginning we thought your muddling through was funny. This has changed. At the moment a lot of us have serious concerns whether you will be able to cope with the challenges ahead. This is all I can say. I wish you all the best and until we meet again.’ With her graceful body radiating authority, she turned around and walked up Olympus, the owl flying just behind her.
Six had passed, six left to go. It was time for Poseidon. ‘God of Seas, Creator of Tides, Ruler of Oceans. I need to know: will you help me cross the Irianan desert once I get there? One of the main reasons for leaving the job that I loved is the feeling that I will not be able to travel by bike through areas like that in the near future. The fact that it is already a freaking oven over there when it’s not even summer says enough. Therefore I need your help: I cannot go without water. Sweet like wine for drinking, salty and fresh for cooling down.’ Poseidon, just as Ares, came down in his chariot pulled by four stunning horses, trident proudly raising in the air. ‘You need me? Of course you need the Savior of Sailors. What would you be without the Averter of Earthquakes? Don’t bother answering it, it’s a rhetorical question. So you are asking for water throughout your journey? I might be able to help you in that, partly. I can provide calm seas, a refreshing ocean for a cool dive and I can even make sure enough water will evaporate so, if Zeus wants it, heavy rains full of fresh water will come your way at some point. Now, in return I want you to praise me en plein public whenever you use water, sweet or salt. People should know not Zeus but I, Poseidon – Lord of the Oceans and Seas, are the one that allows them to live. Not only by providing you with water, but also in getting a shit ton of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere. Emissions you are producing, you, the people.’ It was the first time one of the Olympians asked for a favor in return. I thought for a few seconds. ‘Poseidon, if I start publicly praising you, and don’t praise all the others in the same manner, you know what happens. You start to fight and big trouble will come my way. I know about your feud with Odysseus. I don’t wanna get in a situation like that. What I can promise though, is that I will praise you in such a way that all fellow travelers I meet, know it’s you they should be thanking when using water. Concerning taking the emissions out of the air, you should deserve all the credits. I bow to you and cannot thank you enough, you legend, you absolute mighty Olympian.’ He plucked his beard, his heavy eyebrows taking the form of rolling waves. ‘Consider it a deal. First the travelers, the others will follow. I am off. I need to go to the Gulf of Hormuz, making sure I hold up my end of the bargain.’ He and his four horses stormed right past me, heading straight for the Aegean sea.
Still thinking about what I had gotten myself into, Apollo appeared out of the blue. ‘Hello there. How are we doing? What do you think of our backyard? I know you summoned all the Olympians so far, but I thought it better to present myself on my own terms. After all, am I not the god of the sun, of music and poetry, of knowledge and prophecy? Indeed, I am. I know when to appear, this is the right moment.’ To say I was flabbergasted by Apollo’s appearance is an understatement. ‘Apollo…’ I stammered. ‘I hadn’t expected you this early. But then again, I am not the blessed one, or maybe the cursed one, with clear eyes, eyes that see what no one else can see.’ He smiled. ‘You sound brighter than you look, young man. Now, let’s cut down to the chase. You would like to know what mankind’s future looks like isn’t it? Yeah, you do. The honest answer: it’s unclear, it’s undecided. You, as a species, can still either choose to fall, or to heal. Until this moment, it’s up to you. But you must hurry, favours are shifting rapidly from a positive outcome, with some imagination, towards an undeniable horror scenario that even violent Ares or Hades dare not dream of.’ The only thing I could think of when I heard Apollo’s answer: damn, I am beginning to see a pattern here. Ares till a degree, Hephaestus, Athena and now Apollo, they are all warning me, warning us. ‘Mmm, you are not the first, bright one. Your fellow Olympians, all in their own words, tell me the same. Either we learn and prosper, or we don’t and the endgame starts tomorrow.’ Apollo sat down and looked into the far distance. ‘Glad to hear our message finds willing ears. Let it be clear, however. We gave other mortals like you the same message, the same warning, many centuries ago. At least three times. As you can observe by yourself, it didn’t help.’ He came even closer, started whispering. ‘Look, I, and with me, many Olympians up there are rooting for you, you stubborn donkeys. So after this tête-à-tête with us, go… Cycle fast and swiftly to Bhutan, follow our signs and get back to work. Remember: talk the talk, walk the walk. No excuses!’ He rose again, looked down with a severe face, piercing eyes. ‘Ay, ay. Of course,’ is what I said, not able to utter anything else. ‘I do whatever is in my power, which is not much, I believe, but I’ll give it everything.’ His countenance turned soft. ‘That’s the spirit. Many like yourself are trying or have been trying to change mankind’s course. Find them and grow. When you have reached your destination, and the perfect night has fallen, look up to the sky. The first falling star, my own arrow, will guide you in the right direction. Now, hurry with Artemis, Hades and Hestia, pay more attention to Zeus of course, jump on Ziggy and pedal till your legs get sore. There’s no time to be wasted!’ Apollo started walking up Olympus. After a few steps, he stopped and turned around. ‘Never, never, never, never ever give up. Remember, there is always a way.’ He smiled, gave a friendly wink and continued his path.
Apollo’s message had an immediate impact. I couldn’t spend as much time with Artemis, goddess of the hunt, the forest and one of my favorite Olympians, as I wanted. She came running down Mytikas in a way… My oh, my… only those who know the wilderness like the back of their hand are able to run, swerve, jump and fly like her. Shy as she was, she hid behind a big pine tree, only revealing some of the wild, chestnut brown, curly hair and an emerald dress. After posing her my question, I heard someone, or something (Artemis can communicate with and command animals) scribble. Two minutes later not a falling star but an arrow made of bronze and wood shot through the air, shot through the air, right before my eyes and landed in a tree trunk close by. It had a note attached to it. ‘The answer to your question is simple: if the forest is vast enough, it better be untouched. Like the forests of your destination. They are among the most pure, pristine and vital beings still remaining. They can take care of themselves if you let them and make sure no pollution or other harmful things may enter. I often go to that lovely place. However, if the forest is tiny, it needs help. The place you are thinking of owning one day, it needs help, it needs maintenance. It’s too small to take care of itself. Maybe when other mortals join and you all move from an agricultural use of land to wild forest, then, in time, through flourishing ecological connections, it may be able to support itself and who knows, maybe we can even one day hunt there together. But it takes many years, patience, clear eyes and listening to what the plants and animals are telling you in their own way. This is it. Only Apollo knows, but maybe I will see you again in the lush and green wilderness of your destination or in your own little forest. Take care, curious traveler.’ While reading her note, she escaped my attention. Nowhere to be seen, she must have found her way back up through the pines, silent as the wind, stealthy like the beings of the forest.
Before sadness of not seeing Artemis anymore could enter, Hades, god of the underworld and therefore technically not living on Olympus but still an Olympian, was there. ‘How has it been so far, meeting all the Olympians? You saved the best for the last, isn’t it? You must know, it took effort to get here. I had to cross the Styx, made Charon peddle an extra time and walked even further than you did. All to meet you. Case in point: you better have an interesting question for me.’ Not as surprised as with Apollo, I was not at ease. ‘Good afternoon, Hades. I hope you are in good health and in even better spirits. To be honest, I don’t have a specific question for you. I mean, I don’t know what dying feels like, nor do I have the faintest idea how it is to be death and live in your realm. Of course, I could ask but it would probably unveil too much, even if you’d come up with some oracle-like answers. So let’s turn the tables and if you feel like it, ask me a question.’ Hades folded his arms over his chest and began plucking his beard. ‘Mmm, I see. You are either stupid or you just don’t give a damn. Give me a minute.’ While Hades contemplated, I thought by myself: are there any questions that I don’t like? Before finding one, Hades had made up his mind. ‘Alright, you daring, little mortal. I have one. My hypothetical question to you: if you had powers like me, or one of my brothers and sisters for instance, and you could single-handedly decide between giving mankind a bright future or promise all other life on this planet a forthcoming paradise, who would you choose? You can’t have it both ways: choosing one means the other will cripple and suffer into oblivion.’ He chuckled, knowing he had me. ‘How can I choose in this dilemma, Hades? You know goddamn well half of the time I hate mankind with each fiber in my body, half of the time I love it with all my heart.’ His nostrils became bigger, he breathed heavier. ‘Watch your language!’ I listened, choose my words more carefully. ‘What I do know for sure: the animals of the forest, the creatures of the oceans, the beings of the earth other than men, they deserve better fellow inhabitants than us at the moment. But maybe it’s arrogance. Take for instance the dinosaurs… I mean, who are we as a species in the grand span of time? Nevertheless, with our by nature given capacities, all other life deserves a species that is thoughtful and caring so all can flourish, in good harmony, in a sustainable balance. At this point, obviously, we are far from that. I would love to help nature, but to erase mankind… I don’t know. I have to think about it. How much time do I have?’ Hades kept looking not amused. ‘I want an answer within a minute.’ ‘Not possible,’ I boldly replied, trying to hide my fear of him and Thalamus. ‘Then you are coming with me!’
‘Stop arguing, you two. The mortal will promise you an answer, Hades, before he reaches his destination.’ Hestia showed up, directing her words to her brother. ‘Zeus himself sent me down. You know you cannot argue with Zeus. Return to your own world and wait there for an answer.’ With an angry face Hades obeyed and left.
‘Think before you speak. Let it be a lesson.’ Hestia to save the day. Oh, how glad I was that she appeared. ‘I bow to you, Hestia. I heard your advice loud and clear. It will not be forgotten, I promise. In fact, if we would have met in Bosnia or before, things would be worse. Along the way, I try to learn. It needs time – I come from far – but I am moving in the right direction.’ In a graceful way and with a serene countenance, she sat down. ‘I have seen you grow. And indeed, there is still a long way ahead of you. Now dear, tell me. What is it you would like to know? Maybe I can provide you with an answer.’ Hestia folded her virgin white dress straight. ‘Well, it is maybe not the best moment for asking you this… Yet, when will another opportunity come? I have been thinking lately what to do after reaching Bhutan. Of course, I have to find my way back, I know where home is. Nevertheless, there are many options for my return. I can take the long way home or, as Apollo told me, cycle back as fast as possible and begin working like I used to do. You must know, on the one hand, I look forward to working again, although knowing my attempts to change the world for the better will only have a minor impact. On the other hand I am thinking of making a little detour and seeing more of the world because I noticed the world… it changes soooo fast. Maybe I lack a historical perspective and therefore give my own time on this planet too much weight. The world has since the beginning undergone change, slow and fwst. Or maybe I am making this decision thing bigger than strictly necessary, as I do with many things, so please enlighten me with your wisdom, Hestia. I am clueless… What to do?’ Hestia looked to the ground. It was only for her calm breathing that I knew a living god and not a statue was a few feet away from me. Then she started to speak. ‘Again, you have many more roads ahead of you to figure out what your path will be after Bhutan. I can imagine, however, seeing you as the doubter and thinker you are, you might not have any idea when you eventually will reach the Himalayan mountains. In that case, I recommend you follow your heart. It’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. It’s all about listening to yourself. I know your trick with the coin flip… It’s a solution to a certain degree but it won’t work for big questions like this one you are asking me. I am well aware it is not the advice you were hoping for, but it is the best I can give for the moment. Be not disappointed, though. We can talk more along the way. I, as Hermes, will be watching you closely from a distance.’ She rose, telling me in her own way it was time to say ‘until we meet again.’ I thanked Hestia by bowing, she walked gracefully up the slope.
Then, finally, the last question, meant, of course, for no other than the king of mortals and Gods, Zeus. Here is how it went. ‘Ruler of the heavens, governor of the weather, inexhaustible source of wisdom, power, awareness, authority and destiny, how are we doing today?’ Wearing his mighty aegis on his back, scepter in one hand, thunderbolt in the other, a crown of oak-leaves on his head, Zeus proudly showed up. A giant golden eagle landed beside him on a rock. ‘There you are, here I am. As the three faiths will have it, as it should be. Do tell me, mortal. What is it you want to know? You get one question. One! So be prudent!’
‘I see,’ I said. ‘I have actually two questions: one about your wife and a personal one. But if you give me only one, the question about Hera, I will leave it be. You probably will find out yourself anyway soon.’ Zeus looked rather surprised. ‘Is she up to something? Does she already know? You see, I had an amorous affair with a nymph the other day… Poeh, poeh, poeh! I am not getting into details with you but I can assure you, she was quite amazing. Damn, how did she find out?’ The thunderbolt in his left hand sparked. ‘I don’t know but be cautious,’ I told him. I got his attention. ‘Now, my personal question. You are well aware we are making a complete mess of the world down here. But as I am told, if we give it everything, we can still fix it. Right?’ He nodded. ‘Okay, I would like to ask for a favor. I think we cannot do the healing all by ourselves. We can do a lot but we need a little help. I was thinking about the following proposal: if I find you a higher throne, a mountain so high, you can make love over there with anyone and be seen by no one, so high… if I can find you a place like that, will you unchain Prometheus so he can help us putting out the fire he once gave us and find us a better alternative? I will cover some ground on my way to Bhutan, I will travel through mountainous regions with thrones, they make Olympus look like an ant hill. If I can agree with the locals you can sit on the highest one, do we get the much needed help with our situation?’ The thunderbolt had stopped sparking. He clearly was thinking. ‘I hadn’t expected such a proposal. Aren’t you mankind and after us, the best history has produced? Don’t you think you are the very best, the summon of creation?’
‘Maybe some of us think like that but I don’t. I think we are not above nor below anything. We are only a part of the whole.’ Again he looked surprised. ‘Most of the mortals we hear say differently. But, okay. It’s a deal. However, there is one small thing. As the god of destiny I summon you to go to Kazbegi. I chained Prometheus to that mountain. You have to ask personally if he wants to help you. His punishment was severe so I don’t know if he wants to risk his own well-being for you guys. The more since you created such a mess of your home with the fire he stole for you.’
‘It’s a deal. I cycle to Georgia and ask him myself,’ I answered. ‘Alright then, we have a pact. Go back and start cycling. You will hear from me again after Georgia. I go now, trying to figure out what my wife is up to.’ He commanded his eagle up the mountain, looked one more time over his shoulder, gave a wink and disappeared.
I stayed for an hour on Olympus, trying to make sense of all the answers the gods had given. They had given me advice, no doubt about that but there were many news questions already dancing in my head. ‘I could have foreseen this,’ I said to myself. I said goodbye to Olympus and descended with a lot of stuff to think about on my way to Bhutan.