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Zeus was King of the Gods. Well, not the King of all the Gods. But he was King of the Greek Gods, and you might have thought that that would be enough to satisfy anyone.

After all, Zeus got to live in a beautiful palace on top of Mt. Olympus. The view was tremendous. At night, the clear mountain air revealed a sky full of bright stars. But, being immortal has its downside. Even though the stars were spectacular, they appeared to travel in the same circles, night after night, month after month, year after year, century after century, millennium after millennium. Zeus was bored.

Zeus complained, as he often did these days, to his wife Hera, “Hera, don’t you get sick of watching the starts go round and round every night? And, they move so slowly. And, then, the next night the same basically. And every year, the same circles at the same time.” 

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Now, you might think, since Hera was also immortal, that she would be just as bored as Zeus. The difference was not that Hera was more powerful or more immortal or the she got to eat better quality potato chips or higher quality dip. 

No, the difference was that Hera had a much better imagination. If things “out there” were boring, she’d make up stories about the things “out there” that made them much more interesting. She was astounded that Zeus, who had also lived forever, had never figured this out for himself, but he apparently hadn’t so she thought she’d share some of the stories with him. Perhaps then, he would eventually learn to make up his own stories and never really be bored again. She could then spend less time listening to Zeus complain and more time eating pomegranates and planning elaborate weddings for some of her human friends. Win/Win.

So, she said to Zeus, “Actually, my dear husband, if you watch more carefully, you’ll see that most of the stars go around and around in the same circles just as you say. But some of the stars are wanderers. They don’t go round and round and come back to the exact same place.  Instead, if you watch long enough, they also go this way and that way. And some of them are actually the brightest stars in the sky. But they aren’t really stars at all. They are planets. 

Zeus’s giant jaw dropped all the way to his chest. “What?! What are you talking about Hera. That can’t be right! I would have noticed. I’ve been staring at the sky every night for years and years. There aren’t any wanderers.” 

“Oh, yes. You don’t notice because, after all, they appear to move slowly. They are far away and even though they are actually moving much faster than horses can run, they seem to move slowly. So, it’s not surprising you didn’t notice. To tell you the truth, I didn’t notice either until your daughter, Athena pointed them out to me.”

Zeus’s face darkened at the mention of Athena. “I still have a splitting headache from the spot where she came out of my forehead! I don’t see why she can’t have been born the normal way.” 

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Hera nodded. “Yes, well, let me tell you, Zeus, the normal way isn’t all that comfortable either! But that’s beside the point. It doesn’t matter who first discovered it. The point is that some of those things that appear to be stars are actually planets. They are not glowing globs of nuclear fusion at all. They are giant rocks — somewhat like earth — and they reflect the sun’s light. They go in orbit around the sun just as does earth. When we watch from here, it appears that they are wandering. There aren’t very many of them. Anyway, Athena and I decided to name them and make up stories about them so we would not be bored.”

“Name them? How did you name them? Why wasn’t I consulted?” Little thunderclouds orbited around the head of Zeus much as sharks will circle their prey. {And, actually, now we think about it, isn’t ‘sharks circling their prey’ a good metaphor for anger? It’s easy for you to become the actual prey for your own anger. Anyway, back to Hera.}

“Well, Zeus, we did look for you in order to get your opinion. But it turned out you were busy being overly friendly with a Swan named Leda. Or, maybe it was Dione. Honestly, you have so many kids from so many different wives, it’s hard to keep track. But again, not the point. We named many of these so-called planets after your kids. But to avoid confusion, we used the Roman names.”

“Roman names?” Zeus was puzzled. “What is Roman? What does that mean?” 

Hera sighed. “Really Zeus, I’ve explained the Romans before. You really should go visit the Oracle at Delphi. They can tell the future. In the future, not so long from now, the Romans will take over much of the world and they will still make people worship us but with different names — their names. You, for example, will be known as ‘Jupiter’ among the Romans.”

“What?! ‘Jupiter’! What kind of name is that?!” Now, the dark rainclouds circling the head of Zeus began to flash and sparkle with lightening. 

Hera sighed again, somewhat more exasperated. “I told you, Zeus. It’s a Roman name. In a few hundred years, we’ll all get Roman names. Anyway, the planet that apparently wanders back and forth the most, we named after Hermes. The Roman name for Hermes is Mercury. The one that has the prettiest blue color and shines the brightest reminded us of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty so we named the next planet after the Roman name for Aphrodite, Venus.” 

“Do I get one?” Asked Zeus. 

“Of course! We named the biggest planet after you. After your Roman, name “Jupiter.” Your planet is big and golden, just like you.” 

“Good!” Shouted Zeus. 

“Good!” Shouted Hera. “Now, tonight, when the stars come out, you watch carefully. Keep careful track and after a few weeks, you’ll see that some of the stars do not keep going in exactly the same circles every night. You’ll see the ones we call ‘wanderers’ or ‘planets.” And if you see a big golden one, that’s named after you. Jupiter. Now, you rest up while I go fix tonight’s feast of ambrosia.”

Hera left. Soon, Zeus forgot all about getting a rest and instead decided to try his luck at a game of “Jolt the Dolt with a Bolt.” In this game, he would throw lightening bolts all the way down to the beach and fields and roads way below Mt. Olympus and try to Jolt humans with a lightening bolt. It was hit and miss. More often, in fact, it was miss, miss, miss, and finally hit. Lightening bolts were hard to control. Often, he not only jolted the human, he fried them to a crisp. He grew bored. 

Then, Zeus had a great idea. He decided to have a competition. It would be more fun if he were Jolting and Bolting with someone else. And, he knew just the person! Ares, the Greek God of War. But how to get hold of him? Cellphones, of course, hadn’t yet been invented. “I know,” mumbled Zeus to himself, “I’ll have Hermes go get him.”

Zeus buzzed the intercom on Hermes’s desk. “Hey! Hey, Hermes! Come on over to my balcony. I challenge you to a came of ‘Jolt the Dolt with a Bolt!’ You up for it? I’ll wager you 20 drachmas a dolt. Oh, and pick up Ares on the way over.”

Hermes replied quickly. “You’re on! I’ll be there in a flash. But do me a favor. Call me by my Roman name, ‘Mercury.’”

Zeus opened his mouth to say something, but before he could utter a word, Mercury (aka Hermes) appeared right beside him. 

“Wow, you’re fast!” Remarked Zeus. 

“Yes,” said Hermes. “That’s why you made me the messenger of the Gods, remember? Any way, who else is playing? Where’s Hera?” 

“Hera went off to cook up some ambrosia. She doesn’t really like it when I jolt people with lightening. Something about ethics.”

Hermes shook his head. “Ambrosia? Again! What about a snack first. Potato chips and dip for example? Or some nice fresh raspberries? Oh, I know! What was that thing Athena invented? Olives! Yes. Olives, Chips and Dips. I really have to have that every time I play Jolt and Bolts. I call it OCD for short. Any of that around?” Suddenly, Hermes struck himself in the middle of his forehead, as though he had forgotten V-8 rather than Ares, and V-8 had not even been invented yet. “I forgot Ares!”

Zeus was thunderstruck. “How could you forget war? It’s never far from my mind? How else can we get mere mortals to fight each other rather than us? After all, that’s half the fun of Bolt the Dolts! When you Bolt a Dolt, if they survive, they blame another human! As though humans could throw lightening bolts. Pathetic, really. Anyway, I’ll make snacks.” 

Zeus went to the mini-fridge on the deck and quickly arranged a snack. When he brought the plate back, however, Hermes was gone. “What the … ?” 

A moment later, Hermes reappeared with Ares. The Greek God of War. 

Ares spoke up, “Hail to thee, Zeus! I hear we’re going to play a game of Jolt with Bolts. I’m teaming up with Hermes. Who else is on your side? Oh, hey! Nice snacks. If only we had a some grapes to go with it. Or, some grape juice. Hey, I know! How about Dionysus! He can be on your team. Have him bring some wine for us! It’ll be a blast!” 

Zeus liked Dionysus but he wasn’t sure he would be a very good teammate at Bolts and Jolts. Dionysus had been drinking so much wine over such a long time, he sometimes had trouble remembering the rules. When that happened, as it always must, the game was ruined. 

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Then, Zeus had an idea. 

“I’ll tell you what. I’ve been hanging out all day — well, maybe all year, actually — here on Mt. Olympus. I’ll just borrow your chariot, Hermes, and go get Dionysus myself. We’ll be back in a jiffy.”

When he arrived at the house of Dionysus, he was rather surprised to find Dionysus completely sober. Though he had just poured himself a large flagon of wine, he had yet to drink a drop. “Hold on!” Cautioned Zeus and he stuck his hand out to block Dionysus. “No wine yet! You and I are having a contest and here’s the deal. I want you to bring a gallon of wine for our opponents Ares and Hermes. You and I are going to drink grape juice instead.”

Dionysus tilted his head. “Well, OK. I guess. But when can we start with the real wine?” 

Zeus rolled his eyes. “Dionysus, it won’t be long. We’re going to hit a few humans with lightening bolts and call it a day. Hey, by the way, how’s your mom, Persephone, doing? Are she and Hades getting along in — where was it they relocated to? Hell?” 

Dionysus frowned at Zeus. “You want me not to drink? Don’t bring up my Mom! I mean how in Hades do you think they’re doing? What is hell, after all, but lack of love and truth?”

Now it was Zeus who frowned. “I’m surprised to hear that. Hades seemed quite taken with her.”

Dionysus shook his head. “Zeus. That was lust, not love. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s focus on our strategy. Say, I forgot to ask. What are the stakes?” 

When Zeus arrived back at his lavishly appointed deck, he could see that the sun was already beginning to sink. Okay, folks, let’s go. Let the games begin! Everyone quickly pick a human to defend. Each team will have two humans to defend and two that they are trying to pierce with a lightening bolt. Every contestant will be allowed one and only one throw each time the gong sounds. If there is a tie at any point, We’ll keep playing till another human is killed. Any questions? We’ll play nine rounds in all. Let’s go and let the best God win!”

Before the first gong, Dionysus pulled Zeus aside and said, “I don’t get it. We’re playing but we don’t really lose anything. Do we really care which humans are killed? We don’t really have a stake in the game. What’s the point?” 

Zeus laughed. “We’re immortal. Don’t you see? That’s our curse. We’re immortal — so nothing really has a point.” 

With that, Zeus strode over to his array of lightening bolts. He chose a jagged orange one. He hefted it a few times. He loved the feel of the steel. He couldn’t help but smile, remembering the nice feeling it gave him when he really nailed a human being. 

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