Welcome to Madeleine Rose Jones’ third short story, called ‘History, By The Gods.’
What nightmares could you conjure that are worse than a World War?
Melinoë, you told me you were the master of madness. Yet I remain unconvinced. You may know me as Hades, the God of the Underworld. I am your father, telling you this story in Persephone’s garden. Yet I feel less like a God and more like an undertaker. I am doomed to roam the fields of the dead, as I will after. Know that I tell this story with melancholy and dread. How mighty the humans fall!
Our last fight made your intentions clear. You wish to inject human minds with nightmarish misery. Here’s why you shouldn’t. I tell this story knowing that I was once like you. I, too, wanted the skies of Dresden to burn and for chaos in Cairo. But I saw those things happen without my help. Did I enjoy the destruction of our own creation? No, and you won’t either.
This is the hymn of love and hatred, of peace and war, of intelligence and weakness. It does not belong in a bookstore, on an album, on a sheet of music or in an obscure gallery. To my daughter, I’ll tell you the accords of humans high and low. I do not promise you a tale with a happy ending, as there is none. All I can give you is blood, grit, and pain.
I am your teacher, and I will teach you the machinery of mankind. As we gaze over the star-studded skies and look down from the clouds, we must observe humans as pictures in a painting without glazing.
Let’s begin this story.
To tell this story, I must urge you to look beyond the pillars of Greece. We see an abundance of beauty with democracy and philosophy. Yet the Greeks are only a minor part of humankind. I could discuss Turkey, Somalia, or even Australia. Time may be linear for humans, but for us, it is constant. What happened in the past is just as urgent as the future. Our dreams haunt human action and experience. Because we are more powerful, that makes us more responsible for what unfolds.
I know, Melinoë, that your knowledge is advanced, sophisticated like the finest technology. You know the turmoils that plague humans, and why I’m recounting the accord of human nature. It is to remind you: humans require no more madness.
Although their Gods differ to the Greeks look in the blood-stained history pages of Italy.
Yes, we will start with the glory of Ancient Rome. Fond of gladiators and triumphant soldiers, the Colosseum is a marriage of blood and empire. Historians adore Rome because of The Caesars, tragedy, lies, politics and battles. Not because of sport. Yes, the Romans, although early in human history, perfected the art of sport. Men, clad with armour, battle each other to the death. It’s brutal, it’s bloody, it’s brilliant. It’s how sport should be.
The deranged future Olympic organisers cannot comprehend this. People fighting over their own lives are far more spectacular than fighting over a rubber ball.
Look closer, Melinoë. Use your senses and see the dying warrior in the Colosseum. His bloody lip aches and his shield shatters around him. A dead gladiator lying in combat. With the dry heat of Rome scorching his dull skin, he mutters words with no one to hear or listen to them. And thus, his life ends with silence, as the spectators in the crowd do not care for him or his story.
True, raw, vitriol human nature reveals itself in the walls of Rome. Not in the modern world. However, there is one exception. Warfare. That reveals what makes an individual, as Ares told me after I witnessed the killing fields of Cambodia. But do not believe that humans are all blood and war. It’s through those experiences they become artists, fathers, lawyers, priests, and politicians. It attracts us to studying humanity as opposed to demons because despite the bleakness; we have hope.
Lights shine stronger in a gloomy room than in a bright one. That belief is transformative, yet few humans acknowledge that.
Now we are in medieval China, and she awaits the Mongol invasion. You know this story, Melinoë. It is your favourite. For once, China is not dragon-ruled, but a foreigner leads. The Mongols spare a young physician from death, because they value medicine. But his friend, a nearby scientist, is not. He dies by the sword, and the doctor wonders why he lives. However, he dies later on the road to Northern China, and his bones rest under the lands of the Orient.
Remember: we have thousands of years of human history before us. We know that this is not the only time that China bleeds.
China boasts that foreigners rarely rule. And that is true. But remember your history. Even the most loyal of patriots can burn down nations. China’s rebellions and revolutions are more bloodthirsty and destructive than I’ve ever been. Forgive me, Melinoë, for choosing to talk to you as opposed to killing you. I do not see you as a fully fleshed out God capable of wrath. I know that you have reason, and capacity for doubt. Why? Because you are your mother’s daughter.
It was Persephone who talked me out of burning London, three hundred years ago. I remember seeing the plazas of England’s capital. The people walked on without observing me. Did they know that I could blaze them all away within seconds? No. But I did, and so did Persephone. She told me about the cherry blossoms that grow in Hangzhou, and how they symbolise renewal and rebirth. Humans deserve that, Persephone said.
It’s fitting that Gods control weather and land, but not human nature. We are the water, while humans are the soil. For flowers to bloom, we must allow for humanity to grow. Nurture is not our nature, Melinoë. But it is Persephone’s, and as we talk in her garden, we must admire her, and her willingness to see beauty in a premature sprout.
She also told me what I’m telling you now. Humanity is an extreme species. For every being that creates bombs, there is one that defuses them. They are unpredictable and whimsical. And no God can ever out-master a human in both creation and destruction. That’s why I didn’t burn London that day, because it is not my choice.
Let’s observe China again.
Watch how China burns itself through history. The Boxer Rebellion. The Great Leap Forward. The Tiananmen Square Massacre. The Rule of Xi Jinping. All done by those who profess to love China. Yet as a rebel places his sword on the neck of a six-year-old girl. He tells the child to reject her God, the Christian one. She refuses, and in her last moment, looks at her weeping mother.
That is what you’ll get, Melinoë. Humans resisting. Do you really expect to march onto earth, with all of your armies, and cause destruction? And that humans will accept their deaths and calmly disappear into the night? You petty tyrants make me tired. You expect no resistance to your actions. Defiance shocks you. Do not go onto Earth expecting worship.
On my next accord, I could talk about a religious figure. It would apply to my point: how humans respond to situations is unpredictable. But I won’t. This is because religion is a concurring, ever-lasting theme in history. Humans require spirituality, like they need food for their bodies. Religion nourishes the soul. If God does not fill that role, then the human will find another source. I forgive the preachers for their bickering of hell.
They would stop if they visited The Underworld itself. It’s long spanning a labyrinth to get lost in a nightmare that never ends. There is a pond that flows in the middle, using my tears for water. Similar to Lake Baikal in Siberia, it runs deep.
History is a spiderweb, and at the centre is the human soul. Us Gods have no souls, but we can perceive time. You remind me of a certain time, Melinoë. Where a Cold War never erupted. But the human misery goes on and on.
Here is the story that after hearing it, I wept for days, sitting on my Underworld throne. Yes, Melinoë. Your history of violence tells me you pay little attention to anyone’s tears. Yet the complex vulnerability of tears reveals plenty. I’ve studied the weeping of victims and villains. What they reveal in those five minutes of privacy is far more evocative than a lifetime of emotionlessness.
It is shocking when I tell people how often I cry. Why waste water over the deaths of a human? Why care and cry? Because no other God will. That is why I cry. Keep that in mind, Melinoë, when I tell you this story.
But it was not always like that. I remember seeing you for the first time, and I smiled. Now, when I think about a school shooting, I do not feel warm or like smiling. It’s because the shooters remind me of a daughter, I thought I once knew. I see you in the shooter. As we look into a puddle on a rainy day, we notice that our reflection has the unlikely features of a human.
Here is another tale.
We’re in the 1990s. A teenager, by the name of Roger, listens to Nirvana, Elliott Smith, the Manic Street Preachers, the Cranberries and Soundgarden. All have members that will commit suicide. Life is not a beautiful Pre-Raphaelite dream. Roger takes his life, and it’s not without piercing bullets into his classmates.
This is not entertainment. There is something pathetic about it. The disgruntled student, the helpless classmates, and the media and parents that blame guns and Marilyn Manson. I study human history from my throne. And we comprehend human’s urge to blame someone. But why? Little has blame lessened pain or angst. Like a hamster stuck on an everlasting wheel, the destructive instincts of humanity will never end.
You, Melinoë, blame me for how you turned out. Maybe there is righteous truth in your judgement. But do not be so naïve to think that blame will lessen the severity of your actions, or cause less hurt.
Blame does not heal the nature of both Gods and humans. Not a single moment in history is less horrific from the act of blaming: from the sacking of Constantinople to the Holodomor itself, the blood that humans shed can never restore. We can only mourn it.
School shootings and massacres teach us little about human nature. It’s the fallout, the chaos and the disruption, and the inability of humans to comprehend tragedy that does. Students ought to study this. Neither Zeus, Apollo, or Athena can answer the question of why misery still occurs.
But I can. Melinoë, the underground is my lair. I make my throne from bones, and the air stinks of death. I learn misery. It has always existed, and even death knows that it cannot die.
Melinoë, you are miserable. As are the humans. The only option you have is to share the hurt and turmoil with each other.
So, how is the world beautiful, if there is senseless pain? For centuries, I wondered. Yet the answers never came. Until one did. Humans and the world are extraordinary, because they capture the eyes of the Gods.
I’ve roamed the galaxies, gone to the edges of the universe, and canvassed the stars. Yet no supernova is as captivating as the human heart, Melinoë. And your nightmares are child’s play compared to what humanity is capable of.
Pretend, you are one of them, Melinoë. Humans. I know you hate them, because I’ve seen your expression when they enter the afterlife. Your face is of scorn and disgust. That’s why you want more dangerous dreams to disrupt the minds of humans. You seek to punish and control, but have the power of an exterminated fly.
Imagine you are not up here on the clouds, but you are with the humans whilst the skies burn above. You are in Tokyo, and its World War II. The Allies are firebombing your city, and you watch your fellow humans burn and perish. You have two options: try to run, or spend your last moments with a loved one that is old and nearly immobile. It’s such choices that are brutal yet evocative. They reveal the spark of humanity.
Look closer, Melinoë. You sense the two lovers, high in the Tokyo sky. Flames adorn the skyline, dressing it with ash. Inside a compact building, the Japanese lovers look at each other. You know I love you, right? Like how a gardener adores the rich flowers of spring. This is our last day on earth. They hold hands, and close their eyes: tonight, I will die. Fire circles their home, and before they perish, they think of each other, living in a time without war.
Once you understand that humans are neither our friends nor enemies, but the beings that help us become better scholars of the earth, you’ll learn to appreciate, or even love them. As we look through this kaleidoscope of human history, wonder why we feel so small, despite the power we have. Let them be, Melinoë. The greatest act of love or revenge on a human you can do is to accept them, with their strengths and flaws.
Persephone taught that to me, and I’m teaching it to my daughter now. There’s a reason in the Christian faith, God builds land, waters, forests and planets. But there is one thing that God did not build: civilization. The same applies to us. We did not build the noble cities of Paris, Sydney, Mumbai and Cairo. Humans did.
Go to Moscow and observe St. Basil’s Cathedral. Walk along the snow-covered Red Square on a New Year’s Day. It is easy for Gods to create a planet, but it is difficult for a human to build a society worth living in. That’s why the greatest creations of the universe belong to humans.
They put in the toil and tears. What did I do to create my throne? Snap my fingers with ease. It’s difficult for humans to build a world, as opposed to destroying it.
Whereas a hard choice for us Gods is what history to study next. Melinoë my daughter. What will you do now, knowing that you are more alike to the humans you seek to destroy?
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