Zeus was an old man. Still a god but not the indestructible lord everyone on Olympus and on earth thought he was. It happened all of a sudden. Last year, as he travelled to one of his temples in Sicily, Zeus passed out.
His son, Apollo, the god of music, truth and most importantly, prophecy, came to his father’s aid. Zeus was resting in the home of a woman in Sicily. This woman was said to be hundreds of years old even though she was only a mortal. Apollo came to visit his sick father, Zeus, and declared that the ailment that has stricken Zeus is old age.
Zeus was in shock. He refused to accept it. “I am the king of the gods. Lord of Olympus. I am immortal and immortals do not suffer from old age!”
But in his heart, Zeus knew this was true. Apollo, god of truth, never lied. Despite this, Zeus refused to change his busy life. His work required him to travel all over the world, sending thunder, rain and clouds where it was needed; he was also the head of a manic family, his siblings, sons and wife always turn to him to settle disputes, and it was a tiring, sickening job.
Zeus thought to himself: if I stopped doing my job, my family would fall apart.
But his family was falling apart anyway. Knowing of Zeus’ ailment added more stress on his family. Not least of all on Zeus’ youngest daughter, Elpis. She was the smartest of all Zeus’ children, smartest in all of Olympus, and she was also a goddess of humour. She had a gift of making all the gods and all mortals laugh, even though her jokes can sometimes be cruel.
Lately, however, Elpis had stopped her jokes. Elpis, like the rest of Olympus, had fallen into a well of sadness. Her jokes withered away like grey hairs, her intelligence became a burden for her, and happiness felt so far away.
One day Hermes came to speak to her. He was the messenger of the gods, a god who was, like Elpis, a jokester, wise and as fast as anyone else on Olympus. Hermes and Elpis were always close, despite their age difference. And although everyone in the Olympus family was sad, Elpis’ sadness hurt Hermes even more.
Whenever he saw her crying Hermes felt angry at the world. Why should a child like Elpis be made to cry? Couldn’t she be allowed to live like a child, happily and carefree? He also, though he wouldn’t dare admit it, felt angry at Zeus.
Why couldn’t Zeus delegate his work? Yes he’s the king of the gods but he has to accept he’s sick. I’ll work for him, Hermes thought. His other brothers could help out too! Where were Poseidon and Hades? They were cowards. Even though he’s the king of the gods doesn’t mean they should keep troubling him.
Zeus was not invincible.
“Tell me, Elpis, tell me your woes. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to help, but talking releases demons we would best be rid of.”
Elpis began talking, her mouth stiff, her eyes lowered. She was a slave to her sadness now. “My father is sick, Hermes. You know what Apollo told him; if he doesn’t slow down he will age even faster. I’m afraid if he keeps going like this, he will die. Can he die?”
“Everyone dies, Elpis. Even gods.”
“Then why won’t anyone else help him? Poseidon, his brother, keeps fighting with Hera, my mother, worrying her, forcing Zeus to take sides. He can’t handle it like he used to. And I’m hearing talk that Hades, his other brother, wants to kick him out of Olympus. Where would we go if we left here? Who would take us in? Gods without a home are just spirits. And.”
“And what Elpis, what else troubles you?”
“I feel like I’m failing everyone. Everyone knows me as the goddess of humour and wisdom. I should be the one cheering up the whole family. But I’m so clouded in sadness that I just can’t.” At this point, Elpis began to cry. She wasn’t sobbing, but tears flew down her cheeks as if they had wings. Hermes saw them and felt utterly helpless.
What can I do to help Elpis, he thought to himself? I’m so useless. Here she is trusting me with her problems and I can’t do a damn thing about them! I’m so sorry, Elpis.
It was as if, when Pandora opened her box, all the evils of the world landed on this girl’s shoulders. It’s not fair, it’s – wait a minute. Suddenly, Hermes felt touched by the Muse. He had an idea, a desperate one, but he would do anything in the world to help Elpis.
“Elpis, let me ask you something. Do you know what your name means?”
“My name? No, I don’t think I do.”
Hermes took hold of Elpis’ hand and he put on his winged sandals. In the blink of an eye they travelled down Olympus and across a whole continent until they arrived at a strange, abandoned house in the middle of the countryside.
Inside the broken-down house Hermes found a box. It wasn’t very big but somehow it looked important. It was the only item in the house that wasn’t dusty or rusted. The box was open and Hermes told Elpis to look inside.
When Elpis looked inside she found, to her surprise – nothing. “Hermes, there’s nothing here, why are you showing me this?”
“This, Elpis, is where you were born.”
“Born? Where – in a box!”
“You find that strange? Elpis your sister Athena was born from Zeus’ head – and your brother Hephaestus, well, he’s your half-brother, because Hera gave birth to him on her own.”
“No wonder he’s so ugly.” Elpis joked. It was her first joke in months. Hermes laughed happily. Maybe she was getting better. “You still haven’t told me why I was born in a box.”
“This is not just a box, Elpis. This is Pandora’s box.”
“The Pandora’s box?”
“That’s right. When Pandora opened this box she released all the evils into the world.”
“I know the story, Hermes. She released Polos, hardship, Algos, pain, Dysnomia, anarchy, Eris, discord, Amphilogiae, disputes, Phonoi, murder.”
“You always amaze me how smart you are. You know I’m proud of you, don’t you Elpis?”
Hermes thought to himself: I hope she really does know. And I hope she’ll remember me even when she grows up. It would mean the world to me.
“So tell me, my little genius, when all the evils were released out of the box, do you know what was left inside it?”
“Nothing, nothing was left right?”
“That’s not true, Elpis. You were left inside the box. You were put there by your father Zeus. And do you know what your name means, Elpis?”
Elpis shyly shook her head.
“It means hope.”
Elpis’ eyes lowered. She felt suddenly worse. If my name means hope, then I truly am a failure. What’s the point of me if I can’t even do what I was born to do? I’m so weak.
“Listen to me, Elpis. In this time of crisis for our family, you are our only hope. Our one and only Elpis.”
“But Hermes, I can’t do anything, I can’t solve my father’s problems. Every time I try he cuts me off. He barely talks to me and besides I barely ever see him. Even when my mother speaks to him he gets angry. There’s nothing I can do and I hate it.”
“Elpis for such a smart girl you can be dumb sometimes! Or maybe it’s your sadness that’s stopping you from thinking straight. Think about it: your name isn’t Problem-Solver, is it, it’s not Miracle Girl, or even Saviour. No, it’s Hope. Do you know what that means?”
Sad and curious, Elpis shook her head.
“It means making people happy despite the odds. We need you, Elpis, the whole family needs you, to make us happy, with your wisdom, your humour, you kindness. It won’t make the family’s problems go away but it will remind us that there are still good things around us.”
“But that sounds pointless to me.”
“You’re so wrong, Elpis. Look, the world will always have problems, a lot of them impossible to defeat. There’s nothing we can do about it – not even us gods. The Fates have willed it that way. But we can deal with them, we can fight all the world’s problems so long as we have hope. We need you, Elpis, now more than ever. You’re a child, no one expects you to solve anything, there’s no pressure on you to do that. But we do need your help.”
“Hermes, what if things get worse, what if my father and us are kicked out of Olympus, or worse, what if my father dies!” She spoke now with red-hot tears burning her cheeks.
“You will feel pain then, Elpis!” Hermes said almost shouting. Elpis recoiled. “Of course, you will cry, just like you are crying now, you’ll feel sad, stressed and depressed, just like the rest of us. But then, Elpis, you’re left with two choices: either end your life and condemn yourself to Hades, or find happiness!”
“I don’t want to end my life.” Elpis mumbled.
“I hope not, Elpis. You have no idea how sad that would make me. I care for you, Elpis, more than you know, and to even think of you having such dark thoughts makes me feel awful. Elpis,” Hermes knelt down and looked Elpis in the eye. “We need you to hope again. Drown out all the stress and learn to be happy again. It’s all you can do. It’s all anyone of us can do. But we can’t do it without you.”
“I’ll try, but,” she was speaking through her tears, her sobbing intensifying, and yet, through the mist of tears, a faint glimmer could be seen. “I don’t know how much more I can take. And I don’t know if I can joke around and be myself when I feel like this.”
“Elpis, you’re strong, you’re the strongest goddess I know. Zeus knows that too. He needs to be reminded how much you mean to him. So what if he loses Olympus, so what if he’s getting old, none of that matters as long as he has you. I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but you are the only thing worthwhile in his life. As long as he has you, there is hope.”
“You’re not going to be making puns with my name now are you?”
“I Elpis not.”
Elpis smiled even as she cried. “Hermes, do you know what you call a musician who gazes at Medusa?”
“No, what do you call him?”
“A rock star.” Hermes laughed and Elpis did too.
“Elpis, you are amazing. Tell me, right now, if there is one thing I can do for you to make you happy, what would it be?”
“Bring my family together.” She smiled reluctantly, sadness returning like a plague on her face.
“Don’t give up hope, Elpis. Stranger things have happened. In the meantime… what does your brother Apollo do when he’s sorry? He Apollogises.”
“That’s bad Hermes, that’s really bad!”
“Alright, let’s see what you can do then, Elpis.”
“Hermes… you’re so ugly you would turn Medusa to stone.”
“Alright, not bad, that’s 1 for you. Elpis, you’re so dumb you think the river Styx is the name of a glue!”
Elpis bit her lip and nodded slowly. “Alright, 1 – 1 now.”
Hermes and Elpis went on like this for the rest of the day. Even when they returned to Olympus all the other gods watched them laugh and make jokes and it made them all happy. None of the gods had known happiness for a long time. But hearing Elpis’ honest laughter was a heart-warming experience for them.
Deep down Hermes still felt sad. He wished there was a way to make Elpis’ dream come true, to bring Zeus and all her family together. But Zeus was the king of the gods. He didn’t do anything he didn’t want to do. And Hermes, in his heart, kept telling Elpis: I’m so sorry, so sorry that I can’t help. I wish I could.
But against all the odds, Hermes had hope, hope that perhaps, by talking with Elpis and hearing her out, he maybe helped her just a little bit. That’s all he wanted to do. To help Elpis. After all, she was his friend; her jokes, her company, her kindness, made him happy. If anyone were to ask him who in the whole of Olympus makes him happiest, he would answer Elpis, no question. And just maybe, he could make her happy too, if only a little bit.