Mountain of Potential
For most of us, the abodes of the super powerful beings that inhabit the mythologies and stories of folk lore live in imaginary places: the ice castle-like setting to which Superman returns; the deep dark and technologically equipped cave of Batman; even the time traveling telephone booth of Dr. Who. These places stir our creative juices and light the fire of our imaginations. None look like what we see outside out windows. Most are able to be visited only in theme parks that attempt to create them to encourage visitors and continue the myths.
Mount Olympus may very well be proof of the old adage: If you can dream it, it can become real. It is unknown who first wove the original tale of Gaia emerging from the Chaos. Known as Mother Earth, Gaia is given credit for giving birth to the rest of the world and its features. Other Greek myths give that place to Eurynome, often portrayed in the form of a dove. What we do know is that Greek mythology speaks of Ourea as being the mountains, a child of the earliest deities.
But there are many mountains so how were the stories to account for this? In true storytelling format, the one birthing of the Mountain deity Ourea became ten. Known as some of the primordial gods and goddesses, these original spirits were called “ourea” and named Aitna, Athos, Helikon, Kithairon, Nysos, Olympus 1, Olympus 2, Oreios, Parnes, and Tmolus. Timolus, like Uranus and Pontus were considered parthenogenetic children of Gaia. It may seem unlikely that one female could alone give birth but there is scientific basis for such which is actually rather common in lower vertebrates and some plants.
We also do not know which came first – the legend or the naming. Most believe the mountain we now today as Mount Olympus was named after the stories. It makes sense. Olympus is the tallest mountain in all of Greece. The most concise stories of the Greek gods and goddesses are found in the writing of Homer. His early epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, give no exact location for Mount Olympus and several mountain ranges actually are named such.
It makes sense, however, that Mount Olympus we visit today is the one of which Homer wrote. The highest peak, Mytikas, is at a height of 9750 feet or 2918 meters. Visible above the cloud line, Homer described it as being free from storms. Second tallest of the Balkan Mountains, the rocks of Olympus are relatively new in terms of earth’s geographical history and today is a World Biosphere Reserve.
The Mount Olympus in Greece is not the only Mount Olympus, though. Washington State, in the United States of America, also boasts a Mount Olympus, one with an international history. For centuries, the American Indians of the area, the Quileute tribe, called the mountain something sounding like “o-Sky”. Some speculate they were saying “Oh-El-Ski”; others believe it to perhaps be “Oh-Sky”. The name has never been translated and the similarity to the mountain rising up to the sky, an English word, is merely coincidence most likely.
In 1774 a Spaniard named Juan Perez saw the mountain in Washington from aboard his ship in the Pacific Ocean. He named the mountain El Cerro de la Santa Rosalia after a Spanish saint who lived in the mountains alone. Perez would have been unable to know just how isolated his “Peak of Santa Rosalia” actually was but his name fit. Alas, it only stood as the name for four years.
On July 4th, 1778, a British explorer saw the same mountain aboard another ship in the area. This explorer, John Meares, called the mountain Mount Olympus and remarked that it looked like a home to the gods. In 1792 Captain George Vancouver officially named the mountain on an official map. Attempts in the ensuing years to rename the mountain have failed and the name stands today.
The Olympus of the Greeks boasts fifty-two gorges, and dozens of smooth peaks. Once lions roamed its lands but today even the deer have mostly disappeared. Thirty-two species of mammals have been documented on Olympus with twenty-two species of reptiles. Over 1700 types of flora call Olympus home and, although it is known as the home of the gods, few really were said to live there.
The Greeks used their mythologies to idealize aspects of mankind and their worship was to emphasize, explain, and enlighten various features and characteristics of mankind. The website sacredsite.com explains: “The deities believed to have dwelled upon the mythic mount were Zeus, the king of the gods; his wife Hera; his brothers Poseidon and Hades; his sisters Demeter and Hestia; and his children, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Athena, Hermes and Hephaestus. It is interesting to note that these Olympian gods and goddesses were understood in ancient times as archetypes representing idealized aspects of the multi-faceted human psyche. Worship of the deities was a method of invoking and amplifying those aspects in the behavior and personality of the human worshipper. Zeus was the god of mind and the intellect, and a protector of strangers and the sanctity of oaths; Hera was a goddess of fertility, the stages of a woman’s life and marriage; Apollo represented law and order, and the principles of moderation in moral, social and intellectual matters; Aphrodite was a goddess of love and the overwhelming passions that drove humans to irrational behavior; Hermes was the god of travellers, of sleep and dreams and prophecy; Athena was spiritual wisdom incarnate; Hephaestus was the god of the arts and fire; and Ares represented the dark, bloodthirsty aspect of human nature.”
The word dwell is often used in discussing these Greek deities but it should be noted that where they dwelled was not exactly their home. Much like many in today’s busy world spend more time at the office than in their own abodes, the gods and goddesses used Olympus as an office rather than a place of comfort and relaxation. Mount Olympus was more of a metaphor for the power of the mountain and perhaps the power of home to all of us.
Olympus today represents potential – potential of the power of stories but also potential of the power of mankind working together with the natural world. Once considered a holy place, today Olympus still offers sanctuary for those who seek its power. What we need to learn is that, for the Greeks and their gods, just like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz”, there really is “no place like home”.
Home should be a human right and today so many have become refugees who must flee their home. Our world is really our Olympus – the earth and the universe. The International Space Station has become the one place where diversity meets science and basic human dignity in the cooperation of nations and mankind. If we can do it in space, we must be able to do it on earth. After all, no one ever reached the summit of Olympus without first taking a step at the bottom. Potential is reached by slowing taking each step as it comes. The journey leads to success and the mountain summit reached in glory.