So this is story of two young lads and their True Totally-Platonic Love. Allegedly.
But, I mean, it's Ancient Greece. It was probably at least a little gay.
Anyway, our two title characters, Damon and Pythias, were both young noble Sicilian men who lived in Syracuse.
Now, ever since they were children, these two were thick as thieves. Absolutely the very bestest of best friends.
They were inseparable in school, where they were students of the Pythagorean philosophy. They did everything together, and no one and nothing could come between them.
Unfortunately for the both of them, Syracuse was under the leadership of a selfish, paranoid and notoriously cruel leader named Donald Dionysius. He had come to power through treachery, and continued to spread his horribleness wherever he could. So petty and vindictive was this man, that he once dreamed of one of his subjects trying to kill him, and so put the man literally to death the next day in the waking world.
Dionysius did not agree with the Pythagorean school of thought, and one day, while in town, he overheard young Pythias espousing the ideas, and immediately accused the boy of trying to overthrow his leadership.
Try as he might, Pythias could not persuade Dionysius of his innocence, and so, he was sentenced to death for treason.
Pythias realized there was no way out of this situation, so he accepted the sentence, but pleaded that he might be allowed a few days to say his goodbyes and put his affairs in order prior to his execution. Dionysius, however, refused at first, certain that Pythias would take the excuse to run away and escape his fate.
So, to prove his good faith, Pythias would have to leave a hostage behind while taking care of business. Of course, who should immediately come to the young man's mind but his very dear and bestest best friend, Damon.
Thus, Damon was forthwith brought before the court, and so loving his dear friend, believed that it would be a small thing to hold his place as a final act of kindness before they were parted forever. Dionysius agreed to the deal, but made it very clear that if Pythias did not return to face his sentence by the appointed time, Damon would be put to death in his place. Damon was not afraid, however, because he trusted Pythias completely.
Dionysius figured this was a total sucker bet, but even he wondered at the sincerity of their bond as Pythias kissed his dear friend goodbye and left to take care of his final affairs.
Well, the days passed. And poor Pythias, he did all he could to be true to his word that he would return in time to face his execution, but it was just his luck that he became a victim of Murphy's Law: everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and at the worst possible time. Traffic, roadblocks, pirates, you name it. So he was significantly delayed in returning to Dionysius's court.
The day of the execution came, and still Pythias had not arrived. So, Damon was fetched from the dungeons to be brought before the executioner instead. Dionysius sneered at him, certain that Pythias had abandoned Damon like a coward, but still Damon held his head high, having unshakable faith in his beloved Pythias.\
Outside, most of the city had gathered, for the bond between Damon and Pythias was well-known to just about everyone as a paragon of True Love and the Power of Friendship. They couldn't believe that Pythias would abandon Damon either, and as Damon was led to the chopping block, they too cried out in sympathy for him.
And then, at the last minute, there was a cry from the back of the crowd, and a young man raced up to the platform, shoving his way through the crowd. Pythias had arrived, breathless, exhausted and weeping with grief and terror that he was too late to save his precious Damon.
He ran to Damon, flinging his arms around him, and sobbing and kissing him with relief that he had made it in time after all.
There wasn't a dry eye in the crowd either.
Even Dionysius could hardly believe what he was seeing, and his heart softened at the display of devotion. So astonished and pleased was he at the strength of their love, that he declared both of the young men pardoned and called off the execution for the both of them.
So impressed, even, was Dionysius, that he approached the pair and asked if he could be their friend too. Here, tellings vary, where some say that the young men agreed to the request and they became a Best Friend Trio until the end of their days, and some say they rebuffed the king's advances, staying true only to each other.
Some versions also have that the entire thing had been set-up by Dionysius as a test of proof to see if these two young Pythagoreans would live up to the reputation of moral strength and superiority their school of thought had, in which case, they passed the test with flying colors.
But regardless, Damon and Pythias became a timeless symbol for the Power of True Friendship that may or may not be at least somewhat gay.
Settle in, settle in, get comfy, polish up those pitchforks and torches, because if you don't hate this guy as much as I do when all is said and done, I have not done my job.
And like with any good Greek myth, we kick things off with Daddy Issues.
See, Theseus, the famous Attic prince, wasn't raised at home in Athens. His mother Aethra, daughter of Pittheus, the king of Troezen, didn't have a lot of courtship with King Aegeus of Athens. Things kicked off with a bang of dubious consent, and then was like, "Oop, well, you'll be a good mom, pretty sure."
So Theseus was actually being raised in Troezen in the Peloponnesian region to the west. Aegeus didn't want him knowing who his Real Dad was until he came of age, so rumors were allowed to swirl. Some thought he was Poseidon's kid, some thought maybe Zeus's, because, y'know, that covered about 75% of most of the Greek heroes anyway. Also, something something Bad Juju, something something Prophecy, and "DEAR GODS, LISTEN, because we don't want this go sideways like it did for that Oedipus Guy.
To know when the Time Was Right, Aegeus stuck a sword under a big ol' rock, and decreed that once Theseus was old enough to get the sword out from under it, then he could return to Athens and claim his birthright.
Theseus was not as cool as King Arthur, though, however much he'd like you to think otherwise.
Still, even as a boy, Theseus was clearly an Exceptional Guy. So, like, this one time at band camp the mighty Hercules came to dinner and tossed his lion-skin over a chair. And apparently the kids there were all morons, because most of them mistook it for a Real Giant Lion and hid in fear, except one. Yup, Theseus. Tiny Theseus decided to try and attack the impermeable lion-skin because he was a special kind of special.
Well, eventually Theseus grew to manhood, being told that there was a Special Surprise for him waiting under a rock once he was big enough to retrieve it, and so finally he got a sword and a pair of sandals (pre-broken-in by being squished under a boulder for almost two decades), and was told to head to Athens where he would learn everything he needed to know.
And thus began Theseus' crime spree...er, journey.
As he approached the area of Epidaurus, he came across a guy named Periphetes, who was big and mean and liked to club to death anyone who came to his neck of the woods. But, soon, Periphetes realized that Theseus wasn't just any old hapless mook. Naw, this was the kid who looked up to Hercules and tried to kill an already-dead lion skin. But, he was faster than Periphetes and at least marginally smarter, so he was able to grab the bronze club away from Periphetes and beat him to death instead, and decided to keep the club as a trophy.
Way to be a role model, Herc.
Next up, on the edge of the Peloponnese, was another dude, Sinis, the Pine Bender. He, too, was a big, strong, mean guy who liked to employ violence for entertainment, because apparently Bronze Age Greece was just full of sociopathic weirdos.
Now, in Sinis's case, he liked to bend pine trees and tie people to them and basically make homemade catapults to launch people into the wild blue yonder, or rip them in half, depending on what he felt like that day.
So, when Theseus got there, Sinis was all, "Hey, hey, come see my awesome flying machine! It will TOTALLY make you fly like a bird!"
And Theseus was all, "REALLY? This I gotta see. I don't believe it's real."
And Sinis was like, "Oh, it's totally real, come see."
And Theseus was all, "Nah, bro, I don't believe that would EVER work. You gotta prove it to me first."
So Sinis, being a man of great douchery and very little brain, decided to prove it--by putting himself into the
homemade pine-tree trap.
...yeah, it went exactly as well as you can imagine.
So Theseus out-douched Sinis, killing him in the process, oh, and according to our buddy Plutarch, left behind a little souvenir with Sinis' daughter Perigune: a son named Melanippus. Classy.
It's not clear which came first here, but he also killed a large wild sow named Phaea (who wasn't any sow, but a daughter of Typhon and Echidna, so, y'know, Hogzilla's great-times-a-lot-grandma) that was causing a lot of issues, and then also came across a dude named Skiron as he crossed the Isthmus near Corinth.
Skiron had a weird foot fetish, you see, where he liked to make travelers wash his feet in a weird perversion of the hospitality of the day--and then kick the people at his feet into the ocean and drown them.
And if the sea didn't get them, a giant man-eating turtle hanging out below Skiron's haunts would eat them instead. Either way, not much fun for the poor hapless victims. Fortunately for him, Theseus also saw this particular trap coming a mile away, and when he bent down to wash Skiron's feet, instead grabbed him by the ankle and yeeted him down to the sea turtle to be eaten before continuing on his way to Athens.
Next up, near Eleusis, was a wrestler named Kerkyon, who took his hobby a little too seriously.
Kerkyon liked to enlist "students" to learn wrestling from him and then "accidentally" crush them to death as part of the lesson. Seeing Theseus as a promising "student," he enrolled him in said school of hard knocks. But, Theseus was such a good student that he beat Kerkyon at his own game, crushing him to death and thus closing the "wrestling school."
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE.
As he got closer to Athens, Theseus stopped by a little inn run by a guy named Procrustes, who took making his guests' stay perfect to a whole new level of crazy.
See, Procrustes wanted the bed his guests slept in to be just right, like some kind of demented Goldilocks. Except, instead of making the bed just the right size for the guest, he made the guest the right size for the bed. Bed too big? The bed became The Rack, to stretch the guest to the right height. Bed too small? Well, he could help you lose a foot or two--literally.
Now, Theseus, being a pretty big guy, he didn't fit so well into the little bed, so Procrustes was very eager to help him with that, and chop off a few bits here and there. But, again, Theseus outsmarted him with his own trap, making Procrustes test the bed out first. And dear, dear, the poor old man just didn't quite fit either, and Theseus was more than happy to get a head in this little game when Procrustes lost his.
Finally, with five bodies and some pork chops behind him, Theseus made it to Athens.
There he was greeted by Aegeus, who hadn't yet introduced himself as Dear Old Dad, and Aegeus's third or fourth wife, Medea.
Yes. That Medea.
Talk about your evil stepmother.
Now, see, Medea, she was a particular lady when it came to her kids, and she didn't want her own surviving kids to be supplanted on the Athenian throne by her husband's son from a previous relationship. So, she tried to convince Aegeus that Theseus was there to cause trouble--something Aegeus easily believed because he was very paranoid that his own older brothers would try to oust him because he had such a hard time securing his own legacy with a trueborn son. And, true to her usual form, Medea did everything she could to try and kill Theseus.
She sent him out on the most dangerous errands she could think of. She tried getting Theseus's cousins, the Pallantidae, to do him in. Didn't work. She tried sending Theseus to kill the Marathonian Bull. Nope, Theseus killed the bull and sacrificed it to Apollo. Also worth noting, this was the Cretan bull, highlighting what would soon be a stark indicator of the Athenian-Cretan relationship, which was Not Good. More on that here soon.
Heck, Theseus even went with Meleager to hunt the Calydonian Boar--interestingly enough, possibly the same boar Hercules tangled in his 7th Labor because, y'know, Herc is Theseus's heroic role model. And he hung out with Jason and his Argonauts for a while to help them with dangerous tasks, because Medea knew what a knucklehead Jason could be. Nope, still didn't manage to kill Theseus off.
Finally, Medea invited Theseus to dinner. With, of course, a special cup just for him.
But, before Theseus could drink from the poisoned cup, finally Aegeus recognized the sword Theseus was
carrying and the sandals he was wearing. So, he proclaimed Theseus his true-born heir at long last, and kicked Medea out.
So, now Theseus was Prince, and... being prince, he soon found out the dirty little secret about the relationship between Athens and Crete.
Now, see, the Cretan royal family wasn't entirely playing with a full deck either. King Minos had angered the gods by failing to properly sacrifice a great bull--the same bull that ended up terrorizing the Attic region, but not before the queen Pasiphae was made to fall in love with the bull, have one of the world's first recorded furry kinks, and give birth to the Minotaur that Minos had imprisoned in a great labyrinth.
To make matters worse, one of Minos's sons, Androgeus, had come to Athens to help deal with the bull and participate in some pan-Hellenic games, but it didn't go so well for Androgeus. He died, and Minos blamed the Athenians for it. He tried to attack Athens in revenge, but that didn't go so well, so instead, he decreed that every few years (every 7 in most versions), Athens would send 7 maidens and 7 youths to try and defeat the Minotaur in a cruel parody of Androgeus' death.
Generally, these Athenian kids were chosen by lottery, and wouldn't you know it, no sooner had Theseus gotten there than it was tribute time once more. In some versions, Theseus got picked at random, in others, he volunteered.
Either way, Aegeus wasn't happy about sending his heir, who had just gotten there after being gone for so many years, off to what was presumed certain death. But Theseus went anyway, and Aegeus figured if anyone could handle Minos' monster, it was Theseus. But it was not a sure bet, so he instructed that if Theseus survived and made it back, to have the ship fly white sails. If he failed and died, the ship was to have the usual black sails on the return journey.
So, Theseus and 13 other randos made it to Knossos in Crete. At first, they were treated as honored guests, but before long, they were to be forced into the Labyrinth to meet their dooms. Still, upon arrival, one of Minos's daughters, Ariadne, was immediately taken with the muscular, handsome Theseus.
Not wanting Theseus to meet the same fate as so many others, the princess went to the Labyrinth's architect, Daedalus, and made him tell her the secrets of the maze. Triumphant, she then snuck off to Theseus's room that night, presenting him with a ball of thread (in some cases, enchanted thread) to help him find his way through the maze. In repayment of this assistance, Theseus agreed to marry Ariadne if he was able to defeat both the monster and the maze, and finally put to rest the animosity between the two powers.
So, the fateful morning came, and Theseus and the others were all shoved into the Labyrinth, with Theseus hiding his secret weapon in a pocket.
The others got lost, doomed to starve to death or be killed by the Minotaur, but Theseus made his way to the innermost part of the maze, where he found the Minotaur, and battled it, ultimately killing it. And, thanks to his ball of thread, was also able to make it back out alive, where Ariadne was waiting.
In a not-douchebag story, this would normally be the part where the prince married the princess and they all lived happily ever after.
NOT IN THIS STORY.
It varies a bit here. In some, Theseus married Ariadne in a quiet ceremony as they headed for Athens, in others, he promised the nuptials would take place upon arrival in Athens.
She never made it to Athens, though.
Naw, like three days into the return trip, they stopped at an island called Naxos, where Theseus just dumped her and sailed off without her.
Some try to be generous and say he forgot to do a headcount, some say he was already in love with another woman and never wanted to marry Ariadne anyway. A few try to blame Dionysus for it, as the god was the one who ultimately married Ariadne (talk about trading up). But either way, Prince Douchebag broke his promise to her.
Oh, yeah, and remember his promise to his dad about the sails? Yeah, Theseus conveniently "forgot" to change them from black to white. Upon seeing the black sails on the horizon and assuming his heir had died, Aegeus threw himself into the sea and drowned--which is why we call it the Aegean.
And now Theseus was King Jerkface.
Being king, keep in mind that Greece was pretty fragmented into lots of little city-states and mini-governments. And Theseus decided he was going to bring all of the nearby ones under Athenian rule. His rule. A process called synoecism. Now, this is usually considered one of Theseus's more laudable accomplishments, but honestly? I think it was a bit more... like a mob boss.
Now, one point in Theseus's favor, was that he actually didn't suck too badly at governing. Under him, the Attica region had a pretty prosperous and peaceful period. He even became best friends with the king of the Lapiths, Pirithous.
However, just hanging around and doing Government Stuff wasn't really Theseus's speed.
He still wanted Adventure and Excitement.
So, to liven things up, he instituted the festival of the Panathenaea and the Isthmian Games. But still not enough excitement for King Theseus.
At one point, Hercules, Theseus's childhood hero, remember, dropped by and Theseus immediately dropped everything to go and raid some Amazons along with his hero-buddy, in particular looking to steal the girdle of their queen.
Herc got to keep the girdle, and as for Theseus, well, he claimed Queen Hippolyta herself as his prize.
They got married, and had a son together, Hippolytus. ...yeah, Theseus wasn't exactly the most creative guy on the block.
Pirithous was along for a few Amazon adventures too, and also tried to take a wife from among them. However, his wedding didn't go as smoothly as his buddy's. Nope, centaurs came and crashed the party and made a real orgiastic mess of everything so... it was a very, very short marriage.
And now, you'd think that Theseus would be content. He was king, he'd gotten a fierce wife, an heir, he got to kill some centaurs, and had the entire Attica region sucking up to him. Life should be good, yes?
Naw, he still liked following around his hero buddies on adventures, and hunting boars, and one two-for-one deal off those involving the Calydonian Boar. But still, he got bored.
So, eventually he dismissed Hippolyta as his wife to trade her in for a newer model. AND GUESS WHERE KING DOUCHEFACE WENT LOOKING. Crete. Yeah, Wifey Number 2 was none other than Princess Phaedra, Ariadne's little sister.
Because clearly he didn't cause enough trouble with Crete the last time.
Now, at first things seemed OK. Phaedra had two kids by Theseus, Acamas and Demophon. But thing was, Phaedra was less into her husband and more into... her stepson, Hippolytus.
So, in a scene out of a badly-written porno, Phaedra tried hitting on Hippolytus. It did not go like it would have in a porno, however. He actually rejected her. Which... good on him, I guess, but that opened up a whole new can of worms.
Feeling hurt, Phaedra went to Theseus and claimed that Hippolytus had raped her. And Theseus, instead of being a good dad and maybe talking to his son or trying to get the whole story, instead went to Poseidon, his kinda-dad, to have Hippolytus cursed.
Poseidon, always glad to have an excuse to cause some mayhem, set wild horses on Hippolytus that ultimately dragged the boy to his death. Phaedra, meanwhile, ended up committing suicide by hanging in her grief over her boytoy stepson and fear that Theseus would turn on her if he knew the truth.
Side note that in some stories Hippolytus did get better thanks to another (and better) demigod named Asclepius, who was able to cure death with Gorgon blood, and did as Theseus asked... but that act ended up causing Asclepius's death because he wasn't supposed to bring people back from the dead anymore. Doing so pissed off both Hades and Zeus and got him struck dead by lightning. So... thanks for that too, Theseus.
(Don't worry, Asclepius got better, too, thanks to his dad Apollo, but that's another story.)
Well, you would think that by now, Theseus would have had enough excitement to last a lifetime. And again, you'd be wrong.
Now, Theseus's king-buddy Pirithous was still without a wife after that nasty business with the centaurs, and he and Theseus hatched what they thought would be an AWESOME plan: Abduct the goddess Persephone to marry Pirithous.
Yeahhhh. Definitely a genius plan right there.
These two knuckleheads went down to the Underworld where Persephone was hanging out with her husband with her husband Hades. You know, the guy already pissed off because of the whole "let's resurrect Hippolytus" bit. It didn't take long for the plan to go sideways, because Kings Tweedledee and Tweedledum saw two empty thrones that they thought were the Seats of the Underworld, and decided to park their keisters in them.
These were not, in fact, the thrones of the Underworld, but rather enchanted chairs that held the both of them in place, so nobody was going to be going anywhere, let alone Persephone and some mortal guy trying to abduct her.
As luck would have it, guess who also decided to pop by the Underworld? Yup, Theseus's favorite hero, Hercules, who was there trying to kidnap Hades's dog Cerberus. Poor Hades just could not catch a break with these jerks. Well, Hercules recognized Theseus, and with some persuasion got him out of the chair. But, that caused a major earthquake, and Herc didn't really want to deal with the whole Underworld caving in, so while Theseus got to go back topside, he left his mortal best buddy to languish forever strapped to a magic chair.
Upon getting back topside, Theseus was now wife-less and best-friend-less and it didn't take long for him to once again become bored and lonely. So, he figured now would be a great time to take a third wife.
And the lucky bachelorette he decided to set his sights on? The barely-pubescent young Helen. Yes. THAT Helen. She who would one day launch 10,000 ships.
Having apparently learned nothing about kidnapping women, Theseus went to Sparta, made nice with Tyndareus, the king of Larissa, Helen's dad... and kidnapped her in the dead of night and decided to hand her off to his mom until she was old enough for... wifely duties.
Some versions have this happening before trying to kidnap Persephone and so Pirithous was with him, but even so.
Well, this angered Helen's big brothers, the Dioscuri, who not only rescued their little sister, but they chased Theseus out of Attica entirely.
In the vacuum of power left behind, someone else became the new sheriff in Athens, a guy named Menestheus. Theseus was pretty much entirely without backup now, having no wife, no best friend, and a whole lot of people he'd pissed off. So, he decided to flee to the island of Scyros, hoping to persuade the local king Lycomedes to help him overthrow Menestheus and regain his seat as the king of Athens.
See, Lycomedes, who was normally a pretty decent guy (he even let Achilles hide out among his daughters to avoid the Trojan war), had heard plenty of stories about Theseus, his ambition, and his douchebaggery. He knew exactly why Theseus was there, even if he pretended otherwise. And, as it turned out, Lycomedes was also friends with Menestheus.
Now, Lycomedes wasn't stupid. He had a feeling that if he refused to help Theseus overthrow Menestheus, Theseus was just as likely to try and pull a hostile takeover of Scyros, and, well, he just couldn't have that.
So, Lycomedes decided to play nicey-nice and pretend to hear Theseus out and be his friend for a few days. He even offered to take Theseus on a nice tour of the island. The highlight of the tour would be a climb to the highest cliff on the island, perfect for a sunset bromance alliance.
Once they were up there, Lycomedes wasted no time in shoving Theseus off said cliff to his death.
Thus ended the reign of Theseus, who finally got out-douched after all those years.
The main story ends there, but we do have an epilogue.
Many generations passed, and Theseus the Douchebag was largely forgotten up into the Persian wars. Then, Athenian soldiers started claiming to see the ghost of their long-ago king in full armor, because, even dead, Theseus kept itching for a fight. But, they thought he was helping them to win, so the Athenian general Cimon received a command from the Oracle at Delphi to find Theseus' bones and return them to Athens. He did so, and the gigantic skeleton of Theseus (because this dude was quite literally believed to be larger than life--like 15 feet tall) was reburied in a magnificent tomb in the heart of Athens, which thereon, in a height of irony, served as a sanctuary for the defenseless and the oppressed of the world.
This is a tale of Chandra, god of the moon. He was married to 27 sisters, the daughters of Daksha, because he was 1000% the kind of cool playboy to pull off that kind of hat trick. But alas, even Chandra was not immune to playing favorites, and of all his 27 wives, he especially favored his fourth wife, Rohini, and spent far more time with her than the others.
Needless to say, the other 26 sisters were less-than-impressed by this.
Resentful that they weren't getting their fair share of attention, the other sisters complained to their father about the situation. Not brooking any disrespect toward his other daughters, Daksha cursed Chandra in a fit of pique, that his powers would decline with each passing day.
Pretty quickly, Chandra's other wives realized, "Oh no, we hecked up." They hadn't wanted him to be punished, just made to give them equal time and attention. They, and Chandra, began to worry. What if he just disappeared one day along with his powers?
Chandra begged Daksha to lift the curse. "Yeah.... about that...." Daksha shrugged. "Once a curse is uttered, it can't be taken back. There is nothing I can do about it," he explained. Chandra was crushed. "But, tell you what," Daksha continued, "I can't do anything, but maybe try talking to Shiva. See if he can help you out."
So Chandra went to the shrine of Shiva at Prabhas Patan, and there prayed earnestly to him, begging him to lift the curse. Pleased by Chandra's pious devotion, Shiva appeared to him. "Hey, I appreciate the situation you're in, buddy," Shiva told him, "So, bad news first: I can't lift the curse either. But, good news, I can soften it. From here on out, your power will wane for 14 days, and then it will wax for 14 days. You will fill the world with your radiance on full moon days and disappear on new moon days."
Chandra wasn't exactly happy about this. The crescent moon shape would be a permanent reminder of the curse and his reduced strength. But Shiva said, "Hey, cheer up, little buddy. Don't think of the crescent as a sign of a loss of power, but that you still have some strength left! Glass half full! In fact, I will wear your crescent in my hair so that you will be my constant companion--you can fit me in along with your wives, right?--and show all of my devotees that they are dear to me, even in their lowest moments."
Chandra figured it would have to do. And thus Shiva came to be known as Chandrasekhar, or ‘the one with Chandra mounted on his head’.
And that is why the moon waxes and wanes.
It all starts in the far North with the god Baldr.
Baldr was the fairest and kindest of the Norse gods, beloved by just about everyone, and the maker of many fine and wonderful things throughout the world. He was always happy and sunny and cheerful, until he started having nightmares. Terrible dark dreams about meeting an awful fate.
Night after night, they plagued him, until his cheerfulness began to diminish and dark circles were under his eyes, and his face seemed always worried, and the other gods, and especially his mother Frigga asked him what was wrong. So, he told them about the nightmares, and everyone agreed that this seemed like some super bad juju going on, so they went to his father Odin for counsel and told him about the nightmares.
Odin agreed that this very much seemed like a Bad Thing, though he didn't have an answer yet as to what was going on. So, Odin mounted Sleipnir and rode through the world to find an answer. Nothing on earth could explain it, so finally he journeyed into the underworld to consult with a seeress there.
Normally, Hel's realm isn't a very happy place, unless you're in Valhalla, so imagine Odin's surprise when he arrived to see the place all decked out with lights and decorations and a great feast laid out in welcome. Odin was pretty sure it wasn't meant for him. He hadn't exactly called ahead to let them know about his visit. He found the seeress there and woke her and asked her what was going on, what's up with the feast, who are they expecting? And the seeress told him that it was for Baldr, who was to be the guest of honor.
Odin was very much dismayed to hear about his son's impending doom, and what she foretold matched up with Baldr's nightmares, so it was with a heavy heart that Odin returned to Asgard and told Frigga what he'd found out. Needless to say, Frigga wasn't exactly thrilled by this either.
Frigga couldn't imagine who would want to hurt Baldr. Everyone liked him, it seemed--he was easily the most popular person in all creation. But she didn't want to take any chances. So she set out on her own ride, demanding oaths from everyone and everything she could find, living and non-living alike, animal, vegetable and mineral, that they would never cause harm to Baldr. And they all gave their promise, everything and everyone everywhere, except for one tiny, baby, innocent plant: the mistletoe.
In some versions, Frigga overlooks the mistletoe, the youngest thing in creation, thinking it was too small and innocent to ever hurt Baldr so there was no point in asking. In others, the mistletoe, being so small and young, never having seen the sun as it grew in the shadow of the mighty oak and having no idea who Baldr even was, that it doesn't give a promise, wondering what the heck this weirdo lady is going on about.
Still, satisfied with her mission, Frigga returned to Asgard, confident that now her son would be safe. She showed the recorded oaths to Odin and Baldr, and everyone thinks it should all be hunky dory now. In fact, to test these promises, people started throwing things at Baldr, and they either just harmlessly bounced right off him, or missed him entirely, no matter how true the shot was. It didn't take long before Throwing Things At Baldr became the hot new popular game on Asgard.
Well, about this time, Loki, who had morphed from "playful, clever and sometimes obnoxious prankster" into Full-Fledged Jerkface Who Hates Everyone, figured he could really have some fun with this. So, putting on his best innocent face, he went to Frigga and was like, "Gee, did you really get the oaths of EVERYTHING not to hurt Baldr?"
And Frigga was like, "Yup, sure did."
"You mean everything everything?" Loki asked.
"Well, yeah," Frigga answered, "Except for the mistletoe, but it's just a baby, so nobody's worried about it."
And finally, Loki had his ammunition. Figuratively and literally.
Loki went and got himself a sprig of mistletoe, and fashioned it into a weapon. Some say a dart, some say a spear, some say an arrow, but regardless, it was now a Sharp and Pointy Thing.
Now, there was one god, Hodr, who wasn't joining in with the reindeer games of Throw Stuff At Baldr, because he was blind and therefore his aim sucked and he was just as likely to hit someone else with throwing things as he would Baldr. Loki knew this, but still went up to Hodr and was like, "Hey, buddy, don't you want to play too?"
And Hodr shrugged and was like, "I'd like to, but I'm blind. I don't exactly have hand-eye coordination here."
And Loki was like, "Aww, that's too bad. Tell you what, why don't you take this thing here, and I'll guide your hand so you can play too!" And he handed Hodr the mistletoe. Hodr, having no idea what he was holding or what harm it could do, thought this sounded like a great idea. So, off they went to play the game.
...it went exactly as well as you think it did.
With Loki guiding him, Hodr launched the mistletoe at Baldr, and sure enough, it struck true. And struck Baldr dead. And everyone FREAKED THE HECK OUT. Hodr and everyone else was horrified by the "accident" Loki had engineered. Loki did his best "surprise" face.
Frigga was like, "OK, clearly there's been a mistake here. Maybe it's not too late. Is anyone willing to go to Hel and see if we can figure out a way to fix this?" Hermod, Baldr's brother, volunteered for the job. Odin loaned him Sleipnir, and off he raced.
Hermod went up to Hel and was like, "So...... pretty sure this was a mistake. He's not supposed to be dead. Do you mind giving him back to us?"
And Hel was all, "Nope, sorry, he's mine now. He's gonna stay here FOREVER. Daddy said I could keep him." 'Daddy,' of course, being Loki himself.
And Hermod was all, "Aw, come on, lady, help a brother out." So she was like, "OK, OK. Everything and everyone promised not to hurt him? If everyone and everything is willing to weep and mourn Baldr, I'll let him go."
Hermod figured this shouldn't be too hard. Everyone loved Baldr and would miss him, right? So he reported back with Hel's condition. And all the gods mourned. Even Sunna, the sun, turned her face away, and the world became cold and dark, and leaves fell from the trees. And they went forth and told all creation what had happened, so that they would mourn too.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan, and it seemed like they'd have Baldr back in no time. And then they came across a giantess named Tock. And when they told her about Baldr's death, she just shrugged and went, "Meh." And the gods were shocked.
"Why aren't you crying and mourning?" they asked.
And Tock, who was actually Loki in disguise was like, "Didn't really know him. Didn't really care for him, all high-falutin' and being Little Mister Perfect. Why should I cry over him? His death doesn't mean anything to me." And because of her refusal to weep for Baldr, Hel's condition could not be met, and Baldr could not be saved.
When Frigga found out about this, her grief turned to rage, and if she could not have her son back, then that which killed him must be punished and wiped from the earth. No one blamed Hodr; he was blind and it was an accident, after all. But the mistletoe, well. That was another story.
Now, during all this, the poor mistletoe didn't really understand what all the fuss was about. Sure, it felt bad for the accident, but it didn't know why it warranted such grief from everyone. So, for the first time, the mistletoe went out into the world, and saw many wondrous things and when it asked, "who made this?" The answer kept coming back: "Baldr made it." And slowly the mistletoe realized the magnitude of the loss of Baldr, and it too began to weep and grieve, as deeply as anything else in all creation, unaware that the gods were hunting for it on Frigga's orders.
It was Freyja who found it first. And when she heard the little plant weeping, she asked it why it was crying so, and it wailed about how sorry it was and how it too grieved the loss of Baldr and all the light and love he had been. So, Freyja asked if it would be willing to pay a wergild, a blood-price, to Baldr's grieving family, and the mistletoe promised it would.
So, Freyja gently brought it before Frigga, who demanded to know why the mistletoe was still alive when Baldr and Baldr's wife Nanna (who had also died in her grief over him) were not. Freyja explained that the mistletoe wished to offer a wergild in an effort to repay for Baldr's life, if only Frigga would accept it. The mistletoe, so moved by what it had learned about Baldr, and by Freyja's kindness to it, offered that, in honor of the love lost, and the love it had been shown, that it, too, would strive to kindle love. Would that not have been what Baldr would have wanted? To be memorialized in love, after all? And so, from that day forward, all who would meet beneath the mistletoe would come together in peace and love and share a kiss. Frigga accepted this wergild, weeping tears of gratitude that became the plant's white berries, and Freyja herself accepted the mistletoe's allegiance.
And that is the story of the mistletoe, and why enemies who meet under it must be in peace, and why lovers kiss beneath it.
So, the legend of Savitri comes to us from India. The oldest version we know of comes from the Vana Parva, or book of the forest.
It began with the childless king of Madra Kingdom, Ashwapati, who lived ascetically for many years and offered oblations to Sun God Savitr, along with his consort, Malavika. Finally, pleased by the prayers, the God Savitr appeared to him and granted him a boon: he would soon have a daughter. The king was overjoyed at the prospect of a child. She was born and named Savitri in honor of the god. Savitri was born out of devotion and asceticism, traits she would herself practice.
Young Savitri was so beautiful and so pure that she intimidated all the men around her, enough that none dared to ask for her hand in marriage. Worried that she may never marry, when she was old enough and no proposals had come, her father told Savitri that she may go out into the world and find a husband of her own choosing.
Savitri searched far and wide for a worthy suitor, and eventually came across a handsome young woodcutter named Satyavan. As it turned out, he was actually a prince by birth, but his father the king had become blind and was forced out of his kingdom, where they now resided in the forest in exile. Savitri was so touched by his honor, nobility and modesty that she declared him a worthy husband, and they agreed to marry.
Overjoyed with her seeming good fortune, she brought him and his family home to meet her father and have the local sage bless the marriage. There was just one problem. While in almost every way, Satyavan seemed like a perfect choice, he carried with him a dark fate, in that he was destined to die one year from his wedding day.
This, of course, was a bad thing, because tradition dictated that upon her husband's death, a wife must also join him on the funeral pyre. Not wanting his daughter to die so young from such an unfortunate fate, Ashwapati begged Savitri to choose someone--anyone--else. But, she refused. She loved Satyavan and would only choose a husband once. So, finally, Ashwapati agreed to allow the marriage, and the two were united and went to live in the forest.
For a whole year, they were very happy, living in bliss, devoted to the gods, and Savitri was a good and dedicated wife. But, as the fateful day drew near, Savitri took a vow of fasting and vigil. Her father-in-law said she didn't need to perform such harsh measures, but Savitri said she was oath-bound to perform these austerities, and won her father-in-law's support.
Finally, the dreaded fateful day came, and Savitri asked to accompany her husband into the woods. Seeing as she had never asked for anything really during the past year, her in-laws saw no reason to deny her request, and the two went off together. While chopping wood, Satyavan suddenly felt weak and dizzy and laid his head in Savitri's lap, and soon after died in her arms.
Servants of Yama, the god of death, came to claim Satyavan's soul, but Savitri quietly asked for more time. Awed by her purity and devotion, the servants left, empty-handed. Finally, Yama himself came to claim the young man's soul.
Unable to deny Death his due, Savitri let him take Satyavan's soul... but she got up to follow Yama through the woods on his way to the Underworld.
At first, Yama ignored her, figuring she would eventually give up. She didn't. She kept on behind him, following devotedly.
Finally, weirded out deeply by this young woman trying to re-enact It Follows, Yama stopped and asked her what she was doing. Savitri replied that she could not leave her husband, even in the arms of Death. She then praised Yama for his dutifulness, and obedience to Dharma and following the rules strictly, but still she followed him. Hoping to get her to go away, Yama offered to fulfill for her any wish she would like, except to bring her husband back to life. Savitri humbly asked for her father-in-law's sight to be restored. Yama agreed, thinking that was that.
He was wrong.
Yep, Savitri kept right on following at his heels. Even more creeped-out, Yama offered her a second wish, anything she could want. Savitri asked that her in-laws' fortune be returned to her father-in-law, and a hundred more children for her own father, that both kingdoms might be prosperous for generations, and again, Yama agreed, once again thinking that would be enough to get rid of her.
...he was still wrong.
Confused, dismayed and now thoroughly annoyed by Savitri's doggedness, Yama offered her one final wish, but warned her that, as they were near the gates of the Underworld now, she must take this wish and be satisfied and let him claim his due, or else he would take her soul as well. Savitri said she understood and Yama asked her what she wanted, and if there was anything she wanted for herself, since all her wishes so far had been for others.
But again, the caveat was that she could not ask for the life of her husband back.
Humbly, Savitri said that she wanted only to live a long life with many children and grandchildren. Yama agreed it was a good wish, and granted it.
And now, it was Savitri's turn to smile, as she reminded Yama that a widow could not remarry by the laws of the land.
Yama quickly realized her cleverness and that he had been tricked. After all, as she had no children, the only way to grant the wish was to restore Satyavan to life. Which he did, as his promise was law. Satyavan reawoke in the forest, and Savitri went to her husband's side, but not before Yama warned that he did not to expect to see either of them again for a very long time
And so, to the astonishment of all, they went home, no longer needing to live in the forest as exiles, and they were all happy and prosperous to the end of their days.