I have a lifelong interest in Russian culture and literature and have been a professional literary translator for seven years. I enjoy works that spark philosophical thought, particularly when they have a comedic or ironic undertone. As well as more academic work, I also translate genre fiction, such as science fiction and fantasy.
A Feast in Place of War
(a play in three parts)
The sacred Mount Meru 1 , where the gods live. The banquet hall serving Zeus’s palaces.
The feeling of tense expectation about the Council of Gods, which was called to put an end
to the feud between the gods and Titans 2 , has been replaced with exuberant anticipation of
a friendly banquet. The guests are acting in a relaxed way, without putting on any particular
airs or graces. Quite a number have gathered on this sacred mount: Zeus’s children with his
wives and offspring; Zeus’s sisters and former wives; the Thunderer’s forgotten and half-
forgotten progeny, who are always keen to remind their amorous father they exist. Only
Zeus and his wife, Hera, aren’t there, which has given rise to noisy chitchat and awakened
bold dreams in the young goddess’s hearts.
In Zeus and Hera’s absence, Hestia, goddess of the hearth, is most senior. She is tirelessly
scurrying between the door and the table, greeting the guests. As the daughter of Cronus 3
and Rhea 4 , Hestia is one of the senior goddesses and would be well within her rights to
expect her juniors to pamper her, but her kind nature means that she is bustling around the
feast table, making sure that there is enough of everything and no one feels at all left out.
There is no fixed seating plan, mainly because the gods rarely assemble en-masse on
Meru. Then again, everyone remembers that the space to Zeus’s right is reserved for
Athena 5 , and to his left for his wife, Hera. However, the capricious Hera is often late, or else
doesn’t turn up at all—as is the case this time.
Zeus’s throne sits at the head of the oval table. It is covered with purple fabric. The
surrounding chairs are simpler but still decorated with fine fabric. Next are comfortable
benches that invite you to recline on them, lying back on the plump cushions.
Sitting languidly on a wide bench is the radiant Helios, god of the Sun, who has come
with his sisters, the silver-faced Selene and the rosy-cheeked Eos. Hypnos, god of sleep, is
listening, rapt, to Helios, while Hymen, god of marriage ceremonies, is a bit further down.
The young Charites and Muses are flocking together in the hall. Some are dancing, while
others are giggling and discussing their friends’ outfits. Selene and Eos also want to dance,
but they’re waiting for the older brother’s permission. The banquet hall and ballroom are
joined, and they are watching their friends enviously.
On the Eve of War
Selene (dreamily): Oh, isn’t it wonderful to forget about our nightly cares and listen to
the Muses raise their sweet voices in song. And the kitharas’ 6 tender music calling you to
Helios: We are here with an important mission, my sisters. I would not have left my orbit
for even an instant, Selene, had I not hoped to persuade Zeus to reconcile with the Titans
and publicly admit his mistakes…
Eos (innocently): Come, come, Helios, my brother! You surely know better than that!
When has Zeus ever admitted his mistakes? Every morning I see him sneaking back from yet
another consort, only to then shamelessly lie to Hera, claiming he’s been off inspecting the
Selene (indignantly): Eos, my sister! What way is that to discuss your elders? And what
language! Where did you pick up expressions like that?!
Eos: At work, of course. While you’re lounging around above the clouds, I’m down on
Earth working my guts out. I hear things like that every morning, see them too. And when it
comes to dusk… (Eos falters, embarrassed by Hymen’s interested gaze. She continues,
pouting): Looks like Hera’s scarpered somewhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s to spite
Zeus. I saw her flying towards Eden 7 in the form of a raven.
Helios sighs with indignation. Selene tugs her sister’s sleeve.
Hypnos (flushes and covers his face with his hand): My dear Helios, could you dampen
down your radiance a bit? My eyes are hurting. I fully share your hopes, by the way. Zeus
loves showing off, demonstrating just how generous he is. He could well declare that he has
forgiven the Titans, even though they haven’t shown up…
Hymen: Where are they, by the way? The Council was announced with such fanfare, but
they were the main reason it was derailed. As far as I know, Hymen, they did actually show
up to Meru…
Helios: Zeus knows that relations between the gods and Titans have hit a brick wall, but
his pride is stopping him from offering an olive branch first. And now there’s that whole
Bacchus 8 affair too…
Eos (light-heartedly): Tell me about it! Only hope could lead you to replace a make-or-
break conference with the Titans with a formal dinner party! But more importantly, where is
his Highness? I won’t be surprised if he’s tracking down Hera!
Selene (kicking her sister): You’ve made it to a party for a change, sis, so just enjoy
yourself, why don’t you? And don’t let me hear any more of that nonsense from you!
Laughter and a hubbub of voices can be heard outside. Aphrodite appears in the
doorway, shining with beauty. The goddess of love is accompanied by Hephaestus, her
former husband, and Hermes, who is totally enchanted by her beauty and cannot tear his
eyes away from her.
Aphrodite (bestowing a smile on all present): Welcome all, my dear friends! I didn’t want
to come, but I’m glad that I let my spouse (nods at Hephaestus) convince me to take a short
break from the daily grind.
The divine blacksmith is so taken aback by this admission that he lets out a hearty
chuckle—they’ve been long divorced, after all. Hermes looks up in total bewilderment, full
in the knowledge that Aphrodite has never worked a day in her life.
Deimos and Phobos stop their aimless fooling around in search of adventure and rush
over to the goddess (jostling and talking over each other): Aphrodite! Aphrodite! You
incomparable, peerless goddess! Please liven up this boooring event, we beg you! In the
absence of your trusty guard, let us protect and keep you safe. We’ll join forces with our
father, Ares! By the way, you don’t happen to know where he’s got to, do you?
Aphrodite (gives a little shrug and smirks): Deimos, Phobos, first you should decide who’s
guarding who—me Ares, or him me?
Selene (enviously): How does she manage to keep all her husbands and love interests
under her sway? That betrayed hubby of hers, Hephaestus, has forgiven absolutely
everything—and Hermes won’t take his eyes off her either. He joined her retinue almost as
soon as he got back from the Nile. Then there’s Apollo… Usually so serious, but he turns to
putty in Aphrodite’s presence. Once as I was flying over them I heard him showering
compliments on her, convincing her to give the people a statue in her likeness that they
could bow down to it in prayer. By the way, her intolerable son Eros was hanging around
nearby, so Apollo sent him off to Hyperborea 9 for some reason.
Hymen (speaking with authority): My dear Selene, it’s quite clear why he did that.
Children are usually envious of their mother’s love interests. Mind you, that cunning
Aphrodite has acquainted her son with her affairs. And Eros is now duty bound to encourage
all lovers. But it’s plain to see that all children view their mothers as theirs alone.
Eos (enviously): It’s fine for Aphrodite, she doesn’t even have a mother—and Uranus
dotes on his daughter. He bestowed both beauty and brains on her. It seems like only Ares
has got enough to him to withstand her charms. He hasn’t come to the ball, even though he
was almost certainly invited.
Helios (smirking): Don’t be envious, Eos my sister, you have your fair share of beauty,
and, as everyone knows, intelligence only brings suffering. Go dance, rather than trouble
yourself with this.
Eos (with irritation): You go dance!!! Everyone will be twirling round Aphrodite, trying to
find favour with the Foam Born One. Just as long as those imbeciles Deimos and Phobos,
Ares’ sons, don’t scare off her admirers. Ugh, how everything goes to rack and ruin when
father isn’t here!
The number of admirers, however, increases. Hypnos gets up as well. He goes over to
Aphrodite and timidly offers her a small bouquet of scarlet poppies, not expecting the
goddess of love to accept the gift.
Aphrodite (bathing her shy suitor in a charming smile, she expertly plucks a flower from
the bouquet and adorns her luxurious locks with it): You’re such a sweetheart, Hypnos! And
these poppies of yours are simply delightful! May your love be just as bright!
Hestia (aside): Hypnos couldn’t ask for anything more. He’s fruitlessly courted Zeus’s
daughter Pasithea for ages, never quite resolving to admit his feelings, but that carefree
Charite hasn’t ever noticed his torments. And even just now she was twirling in a circle
dance with her friends and missed such an important moment as the goddess of love’s
appearance. That infuriated Aphrodite a bit, and she proudly proceeded into the banquet
Aphrodite’s appearance noticeably livens up the plainly bored guests. Each one offers her
the seat next to them, but Aphrodite heads straight to Zeus’s throne. Deimos and Phobos sit
at her feet.
Hephaestus shakes his head disapprovingly, anticipating the Thunderer’s dislike of this
arrangement, but he maintains a judicious silence. He and Hermes take a seat at the end of
the table, so they can continue their conversation without any interruptions.
1 In Ancient Indian mythology, Meru was an enormous golden mountain, the centre of the
Earth and the Universe. The Sun, the Moon, the planets and stars spin around Meru, and it
is the abode of gods and other divine beings. The sacred River Ganges flows from the
heavens onto Meru, and then down on to the Earth. Meru is surrounded by the continents,
which vary in different myths from 4 to 18 (most often 9). Although Meru cannot be tied to
a specific geographic location, it is believed to be located somewhere to the north of India,
beyond the Himalayas.
2 The Titans were the first generation of gods sired by Gaia and Uranus. Their offspring are
also called Titans, except the children of the youngest, Cronus. Cronus’s son, Zeus,
overthrew his father (just as Cronus had done to his own father, Uranus) and began ruling
his brothers and sisters, who voluntarily allowed him to do so. The Titans supported Cronus
in a battle against Zeus known as the Titanomachy, which lasted 10 years until the Titans
were defeated. Following the victory, the Cronides (Cronus’s children) divided the Universe
by drawing lots. Zeus gained the sky, Poseidon the sea and Hades the underworld.
3 In Ancient Greek mythology, Cronus (also Kronos), was the youngest son of Uranus and
Gaia; he castrated and overthrew his father. Having been warned by Gaia that his son would
overthrow him just as he had done to his father, Cronus swallowed the children born to him
by the Titaness Rhea. Rhea tricked her husband by giving him a stone swaddled in blankets
instead of the newly born Zeus. When Zeus grew up, he fed his father a magic potion,
causing Cronus to disgorge the children he had swallowed. Headed by Zeus, the Cronides
defeated their father and the Titans, becoming the Olympian gods.
4 In Ancient Greek mythology, Rhea was a Titaness, the daughter of Uranus and Gaia, and
Cronus’s sister and wife. She fed her husband a stone instead of the baby Zeus, hiding her
son in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete.
5 Athena had many roles in Ancient Greek mythology. First and foremost she was the
goddess of wisdom and just warfare. The daughter of Zeus and Metis, Athena was the
guardian and patron of civilian life, the polis democracy and particularly the Athenian state,
which was dedicated to her. She was also the patron of potters, weavers (primarily female
ones), seamstresses, shipbuilders and craftsmen. In addition, Athena was considered the
patron of scholars and anyone whose work involved thought. During the Hellenic period,
she becomes a symbol of the Cosmic mind that governs the Universe.
Notes to Part One: On the Eve of War
6 A kithara was an Ancient Greek plucked string instrument; a type of lyre.
7 Eden is a paradisiacal garden in biblical mythology; it was the earthly paradise where Adam
and Eve lived before the Fall.
8 Bacchus is one of the names for Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest and winemaking in
Ancient Greek mythology. One myth holds that he travelled across the whole of Hellas and
Asia Minor with a group of Thyiad devotees, reaching India. According to both classical
writers and contemporary scholars, the theatrical tradition was born out of celebrations and
festivities in Dionysus’s honour. Mummers clothed in goatskins and depicting Bacchus’s
followers would sing various songs. This was called “goat singing”, which formed the Greek
antecedent to our word “tragedy”.
9 In Ancient Greek mythology, Hyperborea was a country in the far North, beyond Boreas
(the North Wind). It was a land where there was eternal summer and an eternal day. The
gods, particularly Apollo, offer special patronage to the Hyperboreans, the race who
inhabited this land. The Hyperboreans are incredibly wise, with abundant knowledge. They
live in a state of permanent joy, singing and playing music, and also die voluntarily, having
enjoyed life to the fullest.