How to Overthrow the Olympian Gods

The Olympic pantheon is full of implausibly powerful superbeings who stand astride the world from a position of unassailable power, looking down upon the puny mortals and generally ruling the universe. So naturally lots of people have had the thought, “I could take them.”

It’s not like they’re some permanent feature of the universe. Each round of immortals just lasts for so long before being deposed by the next one, usually in a very painful manner. Uranus is still up there being the sky, and he gets to enjoy having been hacked into pieces for the rest of his immortal life. Cronus is buried alive in Tartarus along with anyone else who might be a threat to Zeus, plus a few humans who offended him. Zeus has been in genuine danger of being deposed a couple of times, but he always won because he’s just that powerful. This line of Kings of the Universe is full of guys who take threats to their power seriously and are not nice people. But, and this is important, they can be overthrown.

How? I mean, unless you’ve got some big-time superpowers yourself, it’s not like you could compete against them, is it? Well kind of. You see, a human trying to take out the entire population of Olympus has one big advantage over them: they’ll never see it coming.

Do not start by approaching Olympus. There are plenty of Olympians around Olympus, they would notice you, and they have used their smite power on people for that. Besides, then you’d just be walking right up to them and helpless. No, first you need firepower.

Well, there isn’t very much firepower capable of threatening a god. A cousin of Zeus was disembowelled once and regenerated in hours. Oh, and that happened again every day for centuries. He’s fine now. And one of the less powerful Olympians was once (depending on which source you use) murdered, dismembered, and cannibalized, with only his heart remaining. Zeus brought him back. And of course all the first-generation Olympians have been swallowed whole with no permanent effects. Basically, these people are tough.

But there is one thing. Another cousin of Zeus, Atlas, is best known for the fact that he was forced to hold up the sky. (For millennia. See: tough.) He’s less well known for what happened to him afterward. See, on the way back flying across Africa, Perseus ran into him. And accidentally showed him the Gorgon’s head. He’s called the Atlas Mountains now.

Medusa used to be a pretty girl, but got turned into a Gorgon, a monster so ugly that anyone who saw her would turn to stone. Apparently, that works on high-level immortals as well. Like most ugly things in Greek mythology, she was eventually hunted down and killed by a “hero,” in this case Perseus. And Perseus kept the head afterward…but only long enough to hand it over to the gods. Apparently he thought it was too dangerous for a human to control, or something. Oh well.

But there are two other Gorgons, with the same power. (Probably. Reports are conflicted for understandable reasons.) The other two are immortal, which is unfortunate in this case, and they are also giant monsters with wings, boar tusks, scaly skin, and claws made of brass. They may or may not also have snakes for hair. They’re scary, is the point here.
Even aside from the stone thing, a Gorgon is pretty useful. Blood taken from the left side of a Gorgon is a very deadly poison that makes iocane look like iocane. But the useful part is that blood taken from the right side of a Gorgon can cure anything up to and including death. They must have a truly bizarre circulatory system.

First things first. You need some way to approach without being turned to stone. Perseus did it by never looking directly at the Gorgons and instead looking at their reflections. Apparently this works, but it seems a bit risky. You might be able to get a silversmith to set up some contraption according to your design so that everything you see is double-reflected. Like looking through a periscope all the time. It would probably be the worst set of glasses in history (also the first), but the terrible range of vision would be worth it to stay alive. Get these made for you and all your crew.

Yes, crew. You don’t have winged sandals like Perseus did (the wimp), so this first section is going to be an epic quest in its own right. What you do have is modern maps. The Gorgons live on islands called the Gorgades (duh) in the Aethiopican Sea. The Aethiopican Sea was a name for the Atlantic Ocean, at the extreme southwest of Greek geographical knowledge, and the islands in question are the ones we call Cape Verde. Probably. So invent the sextant, aim for 14 degrees 55 minutes North, and sail west. Then the hard part begins.

You need a Gorgon’s head. Since they’re immortal, that means you need one alive. Fortunately they spend a lot of time asleep. Chain them up by any means necessary; they’re strong but not supernaturally strong. Chains should hold them. Actually you probably have to invent the chain, but the Greeks have metalworking technology so this is doable. Maybe get a patent on it and get rich.

So, you’ve got a Gorgon or two. These ladies are famous for destroying whole civilizations, so be careful. Try to behead one if you can. They’re immortal, so it won’t kill it, but a head (even a living head made of live snakes) is much more portable. PETA would hate you for this, with good reason, but they’re not here. Also watch for any blood to turn into snakes when it hits the ground because mythology is weird.
By some early accounts, a strand of Medusa’s hair had the same effect as the whole head. Run some animal tests and if this works with the others then your job just got a lot easier. Make sure to keep the goggles on at all times. Restricted vision sucks but being a rock sucks worse.

So. You’ve got a Gorgon or a Gorgon head or some live hairs from it. Whatever you could get and still have it work. Now what? You can’t go waltzing up Olympus even armed like that; you’d get spotted right away and they would not hesitate to drop a rockslide on you.

Instead, go down. And by down I mean underworld. There are several entrances. Odysseus got there by sailing west from Circe’s island to where the sun sets (since the Gorgons’ island is already past the Greek western horizon this one might be your best bet, but you are too far south and might have to do some looking). Heracles got in there through an entrance in Taenarum (at the southernmost point of mainland Greece) and out through a cavern called Acherusia in a swamp in Thesprotia. (In the northwest of what Greece is now, but I don’t know what the borders are like when you are.) Aeneas entered through a crater called Avernus near Cumae, Italy. People have gone in and come out before; you could probably just literally ask for directions.

Take your Gorgon (heavily restrained I hope, if you had to bring the whole thing, and definitely concealed) into the Underworld. The guard dog is programmed not to let  people out, but you can bribe him with food to let you in. I recommend not turning him to stone because if all goes according to plan you won’t need to and if it doesn’t, well, you haven’t actually done anything wrong yet and I don’t think those judges take intent into account when judging people for the afterlife.

Walk right in to Hades’ throne room. He lets people do that. This part is tricky, though.
Hades is clever: not as smart as the deities who specifically have “intelligence” as one of the things they’re gods of but smarter than most who don’t. Do not accept any offers of food, drink, or sitting down. He’ll know something is up, but he has no way of knowing what. Luckily, you don’t have to convince him of anything. You just need him curious.

Try something like “it is unjust and offensive how though you are among the greatest of the gods you are the least worshipped. People avoid even speaking your name in fear of you. And since you rule a domain greater than any except only Zeus’, I brought you the greatest gift I could.” The god of death is vulnerable to flattery (admittedly that may have been an underling and not Hades himself), and Hades will probably look.

Make sure you’re doing this during summer. Depending on the season, Persephone might be there, and you don’t want Hades talking with an equal here. You unveil the gift and suddenly where Hades himself used to be there is now only the most valuable statue in existence. Too bad you don’t have time to take it.

You need to find Hades’ palace. It’s separate from the throne room and soul holding facility part of the underworld, and no living human has ever been there. I can’t tell you where to go from here, but you can probably buffalo some bystander into telling you. Or cow them into telling you. The exact species of bovine is irrelevant. Anyway, once you reach the palace, find his helmet. It’s not just any helmet; this thing turns you invisible. And it’s maybe the third-most powerful artifact in existence. If you’re wearing it, the gods themselves can’t see you. Now you can go to Olympus.

Make sure you never even think of taking the goggles off from now on. I can think of like three things that will kill you if you look at them, and all of them will be somewhere on Olympus. One is your piece of Gorgon. You’re used to that by now. One is Medusa’s head. It is mounted on Athena’s shield. The third is Zeus himself. When he appears in his Mighty Zeus Who Thunders From On High form (capital letters not optional) he is so impressive that he has fried people who looked at him. Even while he was intentionally trying not to. Don’t look directly at him.

By the time you get there, everyone will have heard that Hades has been turned into stone. They won’t know how yet, hopefully. You’re hanging around invisible. Your next target still isn’t Zeus. It’s Hermes. Why? Because he’s got the next magic item you need. Wait around his chambers, invisible, and turn him to stone the first time he’s alone. Unlace the sandals from the statue’s feet and put them on. You can now travel faster than any bird. Why Hermes needed those, seeing as he can teleport, I have no idea, but you definitely want them.

Now go for Athena’s shield. If Medusa’s head still works, then a Gorgon head that isn’t constantly making noise and trying to attack you would be an improvement. After Athena, you can go in whatever order is easiest. Since you’re invisible, fast-moving, and have demonstrated powers that clearly no mortal could have, they’ll take a while to figure out what is going on. Especially since three of their best members for this kind of thing are currently statues. By now you’ve almost won. Resist the temptation to pick up any thunderbolts you might see lying around. It’s the most powerful weapon ever made but also may or may not kill you on contact.

When you got to Olympus, there were thirteen of the fourteen Twelve Great Gods remaining. Once you’ve turned as many of them as possible to stone, announce your victory and all the lesser gods will have no choice but to accept that you won. Except for the apotheosized heroes. You might still need to deal with them, but now that you’ve beaten Zeus they’ll know they have no chance. The only other issue is Poseidon. He doesn’t live on Olympus, and going to the bottom of the ocean is probably difficult for you. He might respond to a direct challenge (dangerous), or you could just wait until he shows up to check on what happened to everyone. He could cause some major problems, but ultimately the odds are in your favor.

Beating the Olympians was supposed to be impossible. Oops.


5 thoughts on “How to Overthrow the Olympian Gods

  1. Anders Sandberg

    I am somewhat reminded of the scheme going on in Dan Simmon’s duology Illium/Olympos to subdue Zeus.

    I would also secretly get the Palladium and bring it to my city. Since it makes it impossible to lose a war, it is good to have when running an anti-God war. Aphrodite’s magical girdle might also be a priority target on Olympus to acquire local allies.


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