tagChain StoriesGreek Myths: Zeus and Semele

Greek Myths: Zeus and Semele


"Zeus desired to lie with Semele, and when Hera found out, she changed her form to that of the nurse Beroe, came to Semele, and suggested that she ask Zeus to come to her as he came to Hera, 'that you may know,' she said, 'what pleasure it is to lie with a god.' And so Semele asked Zeus to come to her in this way. Her request was granted, and Zeus, coming with lightning and thunder, burned Semele to death." - Hyginus, Fabulae 179

The story of Semele really begins with the story of her father, Cadmus, who expected her to honor the family with a great political alliance through an advantageous marriage. For the man had a history of misfortune. It was Cadmus' burden that he had slain the sacred dragon, not knowing the beast was the favorite of Ares the war god, and as a result, Cadmus had suffered eight long years of indentured servitude to the god of war. The only bright spot in Cadmus' life was that, after his penance, he had been granted the hand of fair Harmonia in marriage.

All the gods attended the wedding, as if to say, "Cadmus, you've been an idiot. Here, now you have a good woman by your side. Don't screw it up."

Harmonia was the daughter of Ares, though, so now Cadmus had the war god as a father-in-law. It was not a happy situation, having to always be careful not to make such a relation angry. The matter was made worse by the fact that Cadmus had Aphrodite, a.k.a. Venus, for a mother-in-law. At every holiday, every family gathering, Cadmus had to be careful to avert his eyes, for his mother-in-law was so beautiful, and damned hawt, and the last thing he needed was to be caught staring at her gorgeous form.

And besides, Cadmus had now founded the city of Thebes, and enjoyed the power, and desired more power. And so the man pinned his hopes on his children, that they might change the luck of the seemingly ill-fated family, and while they were at it, expand his kingdom. And Semele, being the loveliest, seemed to be his best bet.

Of the children of the House of Cadmus, the youngest, Semele, was as fair as her grandmother, Venus; some said even more so. Semele's flowing hair grew dark as the surface of a black Cadillac, excepting a patch of silver that grew from above her left ear, and trailed a shining bolt of white.

Unfortunately, the girl had no interest in any of the suitors. "Why not?" asked her sister Ino. "Take Archimedes. He's kind of cute."

Semele looked thoughtful. "I don't think so, sister..." She looked as if she had more to tell, but was reluctant to give up her secrets.

Ino bounced on the bed. "Tell!" she demanded. "Who is he?"

"Promise you won't tell father."

"Okay! Okay," Ino figured this was going to be good.

Semele glanced again at the door, and seeing that it was firmly shut, leaned forward. "Zeus," she whispered.

Ino looked stricken. "Noooooo," she urged her sister, "you mustn't! You know what happened with Aunt Europa!"

That had been the start of the family's troubles. Zeus had carried off Europa, Cadmus' sister, and Cadmus had gone on a quest to find her. Every quest in history is nothing but a string of unfortunate adventures, and their father had most certainly been through the mill. As king of the gods, Zeus was much worshipped, in Thebes and abroad. Yet Cadmus bore a permanent grudge, so the name of Zeus was never uttered in the family palace.

Semele did not seem the least bit hesitant or repentant. "I think I am meant for him," she told her sister, and she sounded very certain. "I have made an appointment at the temple. I believe I would like to live out my days in devotion to him."

Ino began to cry. "You will break father's heart!"

Seeing the elder one's distress, Semele began to cry, too. The girls hugged. "Are you sure," whispered Ino into Semele's hair. Her lips brushed against the long band of silver.

"Yes," she nodded.

"When do you go?"

"Thor's Day, next week."

And so it came to pass that Semele entered the service of Zeus, god of thunder. The order was delighted to have her. It made them look good, that the fairest daughter of the ruler of the city would choose to become a priestess. Suddenly it was trendy again for a girl to consider such a life. The ranks of novitiates increased, and the temple rose in political power.

Cadmus was beside himself. He stormed at his daughter. He pleaded with her. He offered her jewels, gifts, travel abroad. But she would not be swayed. Harmonia intervened, trying to soften the domestic discord.

"Honey," she addressed her husband one night. They lay in bed, the room dark but for a single candle. Cadmus lay on his side, his back turned to his wife. He didn't want to hear her soft words. He knew she had the power to soothe; he had seen her make peace many times.

Cadmus didn't want everything to be all right. The ancient grudge gnawed at him. Zeus had insulted his family, had ill-used his sister. Part of his anger continued to burn, after all these years, because the god had gotten away with the dalliance. Cadmus had been unable to protect his sister, and this insulted him as a man.

Cadmus was especially aware that Harmonia's father, Ares, was the son of Hera, wife of Zeus. And so it was that however indirectly, Cadmus could trace his family line back to his most hated enemy.

Harmonia sensed her husband's smoldering emotions. She rolled toward him and propped herself on one elbow. "Hear me, baby."

"I'm listening," came the grudging reply.

Harmonia chose her words with care. "You want her to be happy, don't you?"

"Not with him."

"But he doesn't even know she exists. As far as he is concerned, the temple is one of many temples, and our daughter is one of many sisters religious. He will probably never even know her name, much less choose her as a consort."

Cadmus hadn't thought of that. His wife's words gave him a little ray of hope. He rolled to face her. "You think so?"

She nodded. "Think of it. Thousands of women serve. There is safety in numbers. Most likely, they will never even meet."

Cadmus kissed his wife. "You are a wise woman, and I am lucky to have you."

In the warm soft glow she smiled at him, and touched his face with her lips. She blew the candle out.

* * *

The day of Semele's ordination approached. Harmonia sent for her daughter.

"Be seated, my child."

On the mother's dressing table was an impressive carved wood box. Semele lifted her brows and looked a question.

Harmonia took her daughter's hand. For a brief moment, the woman looked a little sad, but then her features cleared.

She took a deep breath. "I always thought this moment would come on the day before your wedding," said Harmonia. "But this is still your life's turning point, and I want you to know I wish you every joy."

"Thank you, Mother." Semele's voice was quiet.

Harmonia opened the box. "The tradition is that you wear something old on your special day. And so from this sacred collection, I invite you to choose."

Nestled in the midnight velvet were jewels fit for a queen -- in fact, many of them had belonged to queens, and goddesses as well. There were rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Diamonds and pearls lay cheek to cheek. Ropes of gold intertwined with strands of copper and silver. There were earrings shaped like dolphins, from Atlantis. There were scarab beetle brooches from Egypt.

Semele marveled. Sunlight danced flirtatiously over the royal baubles. How to choose? Let the Fates decide.

Semele closed her eyes, seeing fiery reflections. She put out her hand.

Harmonia gasped. For the necklace her daughter's hand fell upon was the very one Harmonia had been given as a gift on her own wedding day. The necklace had been made by her uncle, Hephaestus, the god of the forge. The metal had been worked so cleverly that one could not tell where the links had been joined. Its dark gold gleamed with the fire in which it had been forged.

Emblazoned on the medallion was a two-headed serpent. In between the two heads was a golden eagle. The eagle's wings glistened with moonstone and yellow jasper. The serpent's jaws, on either side, held the eagle fast. Altogether, the spectacle was a fearsome one, worked in a series of sparkling jewels.

The necklace seemed to have its own power. The rumour was that whoever wore it would have eternal youth and beauty. The legend also whispered that it carried bad luck.

Semele opened her eyes. She was captivated by the intricate, beautiful necklace. She did not seem to notice her mother's face gone pale.

"This one, Mother," the young girl's voice was hushed. "This one."

* * *

Semele was ordained with a hundred other maidens. The day was clear and bright. Cadmus looked unhappy. He could see that his daughter's beauty outshone all the others. What man, or god, could fail to notice her?

But Harmonia squeezed his hand and offered a reassuring smile. "It will be all right," she whispered to him. Together they sat in the front row and watched the ceremony unfold. At last it was Semele's turn. The necklace gleamed like a living thing upon her lovely breast. Her voice was melodious as she said her vows; the look of joy was obvious on her face. The high priestess slipped the ring onto the girl's right hand. It was done. Her fate was decided.

A year rolled by, and another, without incident. Cadmus thought maybe his wife was right. Semele performed the rituals, and though some of them were pretty suggestive, no harm seemed to come of it. He wasn't exactly sure what the temple virgins did in there. He didn't really want to think about his daughter doing it, whatever it was.

But on their next visit, his hopes were dashed. Semele was all excited. Her faithful service had resulted in a promotion. "Father! Mother!" They listened as their sweet daughter described the task for which she had been chosen: the slaying of the sacrificial bull.

Harmonia's face twisted. "Are you sure you want to do that? Isn't it kind of, uh, ... gross?"

But Semele looked so happy. "Oh, Mother," she chuckled. "The bull is drugged ahead of time. It's really very easy."

Cadmus put his face in his hands.

* * *

The night before the sacrifice, Semele knelt before the shrine in her cell. This evening, in celebration of the holy chore ahead, she wore her special necklace. With one hand on the medallion, she prayed to Zeus, as she had every night for years. She prayed to find favor in his eyes, and that she would be a good servant, faithful and true. She made a wish that the sacrifice would please her master, and that he might notice her, the humble maiden devoted to his service.

Little did she know, her prayers were about to be answered.

* * *

Semele could not stop smiling. The sacrifice had gone perfectly. The volcanic glass knife was sharper than any razor, and had cut the jugular cleanly. The only thing she hadn't expected -- and why not, she thought in retrospect -- was the volume of blood. There was an awful lot of it.

And so upon completion of the ritual, she had gone down to the river. She stripped herself of the red-splashed robes. There would be no passers-by; this section of the river Asopus belonged to the temple. She was assured of privacy.

Flat stones supported her feet as she stepped, entirely naked, into the water. She walked into the deeper places a little at a time. The water rose around her thighs in a sensuous caress. She paused there for a moment, enjoying the sensations around her hips, the tickling at her pubic hair. Almost like human hands, the waves rose to touch her curves, slipping along the base of her butt cheeks, then retreating and leaving a wet kiss.

Semele waded a little deeper. In her left hand she held a cake of soap. She ran it over her skin, concentrating on the places where the blood was. The gliding feeling was pleasant and encouraging. Semele found herself rubbing faster, especially between her legs. She worked up a lather there.

The cry of an eagle startled her. She dropped the soap, and dove for it. When she came up, the bird still circled overhead, and she took this as a good omen. She knew that sometimes Zeus took the form of an eagle. Seeing one like this, right after the sacrifice, undoubtedly was good luck.

She waved a friendly greeting.

Zeus looked down on the beautiful young woman. Her dark hair streamed down her back. Her nipples, wet with the river's kiss, stood erect in the breeze. He admired her womanly curves, circling around to see as much as he could.

He had first noticed her earlier in the day, when she conducted the sacrifice. It was her hair that caught his attention: long and dark, but for a streak of silver that jolted, like one of his own lightning bolts, down from her left temple. He looked at her face, her brow as fair as Venus. How had he missed this beauty? The way her hair grew ... made her seem marked for him ...

Now he watched as the maiden lay on her back, floating in the river. Her eyes were closed against the sun. Her breasts protruded above the water. Zeus saw her, and knew desire.

He landed on a nearby branch, and called again in an effort to get her attention. It worked. The woman jerked from her lazing pose and came upright.

To his delight, she swam toward him. Zeus noticed her grace of movement. Her lithe muscles cut through the water smoothly. Again he sounded his piercing cry.

Semele swam to where the tree branch extended over the river. The water was shallow here, enough to stand. She held out her hand, wading slowly, so as not to frighten the magnificent creature that was made in her master's image.

"I won't hurt you." Semele tried to make her voice low and reassuring. "We share a common master."

The eagle spoke again, less loudly this time.

"Why, I believe you're trying to talk to me." Semele felt a sense of wonder, and a little awe. "What are you trying to say?"

A silver light began to shimmer around the eagle's form. It was bright as lightning. The light grew so intense that the woman had to cover her eyes, even though she wanted to witness the strange event.

Then the glow erupted in a sudden flash, and cleared. Semele removed her hand from her face. In place of the eagle was a man.

She inhaled sharply, for the man looked exactly like the icon of Zeus in her shrine. His physique was magnificent. His face was handsomely tanned. And his endowment was ... was ...

"My god!" she gasped.

"Yes," said the man with evident pleasure. "I am your god. I am Zeus."

Semele fainted.

When she came to her senses, the gorgeous man who claimed to be her lord was carrying her up the river bank. She hadn't lost consciousness for long.

With care, Zeus laid the priestess down in the grass.

"You're surprised to see me." His statement seemed like a question.

"Yes." But Semele could think of nothing else to say. She sat up, suddenly aware of her nudity. He was looking her over with frank appreciation.

The moment of quiet shyness hung in the air and threatened to stretch into awkwardness.

"Do you desire me?" Zeus asked suddenly.

"Yes, oh, god, yes," and the pun made her laugh. "I've loved you always. For as long as I have known what love is."

"Then love me now," said the god, and he laid his mouth to hers.

* * *

Semele was smiling when she awoke the next day. It seemed an unbelievable dream, to be chosen by Zeus as his lover. His lover, she repeated to herself. The language was sensuous in her mouth.

As he had been. She had no idea how many partners he had enjoyed, but he certainly knew a woman's body. Semele had never expected to lose her virginity, because she was pledged to one who was basically unattainable. The dream she had never really expected to appear had been made manifest.

Semele lay still in her bed, remembering how sweetly he had taken her. It was as if she could still feel his mouth on her breasts, his hands on her hips. She blushed, looking down at the change he had made on her body.

"I want you to be naked before me," he had said.

"But I am naked," she was confused.

"More so," and with a wicked grin he touched her mound. He asked her permission, and Semele gave her breathless assent. She opened her legs for him.

Zeus flicked his wrist, and a brief flash of light sparked from his hand. Then he pressed his fingertips to her delicate skin. As he dragged his fingers down, they shaved away her dark curls. Gently he handled her crevices. He worked until she was bald.

"Oh..." she breathed. The cool air tickled her sex into hot arousal. Semele felt so exposed, he was right, this was more naked than naked. Suddenly she was ravenous to be touched.

"Touch yourself," he commanded. "Tell me if you like it."

She laid her hand on the smooth fresh peach, moaning at how good it felt. Semele was unable to keep herself from slipping her fingers into her rapidly dampening valley. Her nipples stood up high, proud and excited.

Zeus watched Semele touch herself, his own desire growing. "Tell me," he repeated.

"Thank you." Her voice was husky with passion. "I love it."

Then he had pressed his face to her flesh, his tongue diving in, exploring and tasting her womanhood. The cry that burst from her lips was not unlike that of the eagle. He made her cry out again, and again, her body gushing and shaking beneath him. He did not stop until she pushed him away.

The look on his face was like nothing she had ever seen. All at once, he looked warm and caring, clearly glad to bring her pleasure. At the same time his lust was fearsomely evident. She dared to place a hand on her lover's face. His power flowed through her like an electric current.

Now Semele lay in her bed, a changed woman. She knew more than ever that she would love him all of her life. She just didn't know how right she was.

* * *

Their affair was hot as a meteor, streaking across a summer sky. Zeus insisted on secrecy, for his wife, Hera, was incredibly jealous. He had gotten into trouble for fooling around before, and had no wish to suffer her fury again.

But he had fallen in love with the young priestess who worshipped him. He met Semele as often as he could manage. Ironically, in order to avoid suspicion, he dared not interfere with her duties at the temple. Zeus laughed. He, the god being worshipped, could not appear before his flock to say, "Everybody go home. This service is canceled."

So it was that their meetings tended to be brief. He left her notes almost every day, and they stole away an hour here or there. On rare occasions they spent an entire afternoon together, or sometimes a day.

Zeus did appear to Semele once immediately after a ritual had ended. She was alone in the sacred space, folding the linens and putting away the candles.

Zeus came up behind her, surprising her in a sudden embrace.

"What!" Her struggle was brief as he clapped a hand over her mouth. In an instant she knew who it was. A smile appeared as she felt his bearded face nuzzle her jaw.

"Semele," he whispered.

Turning in his arms, she met his mouth. "Where can we go?"

"Here." His eyes glinted.

Shocked, she giggled. They lay on the floor behind the altar. He opened her robe. She started to shrug it off completely, but he stopped her.

"Leave it on," he directed. "I want you to wear it while you worship me."

And that night she spent the evening washing their cum stains out of the holy silk.

A couple of months later, Semele woke feeling strange. She couldn't say exactly what was different. There was a metallic taste in her mouth.

In the following days and weeks, little changes became evident. Some foods didn't taste right any more. Others, like berries with honey, she couldn't seem to get enough of. Semele noticed her breasts becoming fuller, heavier. And her energy levels dropped. "What is wrong with me?" she wondered.

At last she went to see the physician. That one laughed. "You're pregnant."

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