Five Things You Don’t Want to Know: Feet of Clay

Caitlin McLaren - 4A Chemical
Posted on: November 5, 2016

Hello to all my goodly readers! You who are reading this know who the next President of the United States is and, whoever it is, you probably aren’t entirely satisfied with the situation.

It may comfort you to know that many great cultural heroes of folklore weren’t exactly perfect. In fact, they ran the gamut from “buffoonish” to “sociopathic”. Most of the stories you read of them nowadays are propaganda to make them look good; if you look at original sources, you’ll find a lot of absurdities.

Fionn mac Cumhaill and his Thumb-Sucking
Fionn mac Cumhaill was a great hero of Irish mythology. His name is literally pronounced “Mac Cool”, which should tell you everything you need to know, both about Fionn and about the Irish language. He went around warring and building the Giant’s Causeway and doing other standard hero stuff. He was also incredibly wise, and that is a story in itself. In ancient Ireland, there was apparently a Salmon of Wisdom, which became wise from eating wise hazelnuts. A wise dude caught it, but he decided to tell Fionn (a small boy at the time) to cook it without eating any. The questionably wise man then took a nap. Fionn actually kept his word and didn’t sample the fish, but a drop of hot fat landed on his thumb and he quickly put it in his mouth from the pain. This made him wise, and the man decided to just give him the whole thing since the damage was done. From then on, Fionn could access magical wisdom by sucking on his thumb. Planning before battles, making important decisions, foretelling the future: Fionn could be seen doing all of these things while sucking his thumb.
Lemminkäinen was a Mama’s Boy, and an Idiot
You may not have heard of Lemminkäinen unless you are Finnish, but he was an important hero in Finnish mythology and played a large role in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. He was good at fighting but not much else, and his mom usually told him what to do. Once, he tried to capture the Swan of the Underworld to impress a girl and got himself killed doing so. His mom used sorcery to bring him back to life, whereupon Lemminkäinen still thought he had a chance with the girl and was all set to try again. His mother told him that it wasn’t going to happen, and that he was coming home, NOW. He sheepishly followed her back, but didn’t learn any lessons about common sense.

Later, Lemminkäinen was on a stealth mission with some other heroes to retrieve a magical artifact. They successfully charmed everyone to sleep and made off with it, when Lemminkäinen decided that it would be a good idea to start singing. Despite being told not to repeatedly, he was so overcome by joy at their success that he began singing loudly. Of course, the guards all woke up and he and his friends barely escaped with their lives.

First Man and First Woman Had Stupid Arguments
The founding figures of Navajo mythology were aptly called First Man and First Woman, and they got along fine until one day First Woman claimed that First Man only brought her food because he wanted to have sex with her. This started an argument that led to all the men and women in existence at the time declaring that they could live without each other, and they began living on separate sides of the river and taunting each other. What follows is a rather raunchy sequence of the “substitutes” they found for each other, and several women became pregnant from antlers or peeled cacti or some other random thing. They gave birth to fearsome monsters. The quarrel finally ended when one man attempting to have sex with a raw deer liver. An owl saw him doing that and told him: “This is wrong”, which is a memorable understatement. The owl scolded them for being idiots and told them to stop fighting, and the humans eventually made up. No word on whether the deer liver became pregnant.
Theseus and the Chair of Forgetfulness
Theseus was the great Greek hero, famous for slaying the Minotaur. That was all very well, but most people don’t realize that, after King Minos’ daughter Ariadne helped him do it, he repaid her by abandoning her on a desert island because he wasn’t really a very nice guy. He later married her sister, which wasn’t awkward at all. However, the sister, Phaedra, fell in love with her stepson Hippolytus, whom Theseus had had with another woman. Hippolytus was exactly as creeped out as you would expect, and rejected her quite rudely. Phaedra proceeded to kill herself after telling Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her, which led Theseus to curse his son and cause him to be killed by the god Poseidon. Poseidon didn’t have any involvement in the whole thing and really came out of nowhere, but hey, a curse is a curse.

However, all these Game of Thrones-level machinations don’t hold a candle to the sheer ridiculousness of the incident when Theseus and his friend Peirithous decided to kidnap Hades’ wife Persephone for shits and giggles. Hades, god of the underworld, was possibly unique among the Greek gods in not being a dumbass, and saw through them right away when they arrived in his court. He offered them a seat politely, but when they sat on the stone chair, a) it attached itself to their skin, and b) it caused them to forget their lives. They stayed in stasis like that until Hercules happened to be passing through the underworld for unrelated reasons, and ripped his cousin Theseus off the chair. Peirithous is still there to this day, sitting on the Chair of Forgetfulness next to Theseus’ detached butt skin.

King Arthur Murdered Babies

Everybody knows King Arthur as the righteous king who ran Camelot and protected the weak. However, people don’t usually talk about the time when he fathered an incestuous child with his half-sister Morgause. In fairness to King Arthur, he didn’t realize at the time that she was his sister (whether she knew or didn’t, and how consensual it was on Arthur’s part, depends on the version). He did know that he was sleeping with a woman who was married to his enemy, so don’t give him any points for common sense.

The result of this liaison was Mordred, whom Merlin foresaw would be Arthur’s eventual doom. Merlin’s magical powers did not extend to finding the kid, but he did know Mordred’s birthday. He and Arthur then promptly lost any claim to heroism by rounding up all the babies in the land with that birthday and putting them out on the stormy sea in a crappy boat, the logic being that he would be innocent; it was God who was drowning the babies. This worked out for Arthur precisely as well as it did for King Herod in the Bible, and Mordred managed to survive. At this point, I am rooting for him.