The Gods Must Be Petty
April 11, 2006 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on a boardgame in which gods punish mortals, and am looking for examples from throughout mythology that demonstrate divinely disproportionate responses to human action. Can someone point me to particularly useful references, or offer up good examples? The game will probably be Greek mythology-themed, but I'm curious about examples of the phenomenon from any culture.
posted by blueshammer to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My favorite is the story of Actaeon, turned into a stag and torn apart by his own dogs, because he happened to see Artemis bathing.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:19 AM on April 11, 2006

My favorite: Elisha and the bears.

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them (2 Kings 2:23-24).
posted by agropyron at 11:20 AM on April 11, 2006

The Encyclopedia Mythica is a good reference. Do a search for "punish" and you get several pages of results.
posted by Galvatron at 11:22 AM on April 11, 2006

Job would seem to be the most glaring example.
posted by occhiblu at 11:32 AM on April 11, 2006

Wouldn't an eternity in hell for the most minor of infractions as outlined in the Christian mythos count?
posted by sourwookie at 11:33 AM on April 11, 2006

The Flood seems like a no-brainer.
posted by designbot at 11:37 AM on April 11, 2006

It's killing me because I don't remember the name of the guy who was chained to a rock and each day vultures would come and eat his organs and each night they would grow back so that the next day the torture could be repeated. Definitely one of the punishment stories that stuck out in my mind.
posted by catfood at 11:39 AM on April 11, 2006

Prometheus, thief of fire.
posted by Gamblor at 11:43 AM on April 11, 2006

catfood: Prometheus. For carrying fire to humans, I think. Though he was a demigod or something so it sortof muddies the waters.
posted by weston at 11:45 AM on April 11, 2006

Ovid - Metamorphoses - good source

Prometheus would be the vultures eating liver guy - punished for bringing fire to the mortals.

Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill day in, day out.
posted by clarkstonian at 11:45 AM on April 11, 2006

Arachne, so good at doing her job as a weaver that Athena came down, lost a challenge to Arachne, then forced guilt into her emotions so strongly that Arachne killed herself. Then Athena started to feel bad about that, so she resurrected Arachne as a bug, rather than a human.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:52 AM on April 11, 2006

These are all valuable responses, and thank you for them. I should have indicated in the question that, if considering both the punishment and the crime, it's the crime that I'm most interested it. (The game takes care of the creative punishment aspect.) Prometheus, Tantalus, Sisyphus -- all good punishments, and interesting crimes -- respectively, "information about combustion wants to be free;" either eating the gods' food or feeding the gods his son; and trying to trick his way out of the underworld. But even if the infractions don't warrant Promethean levels of punishment, I'm still interested.
posted by blueshammer at 11:54 AM on April 11, 2006

Pretty much anything God did in the old testament.

Also, the Odyssey.
posted by knave at 11:54 AM on April 11, 2006

How about Cassandra getting cursed for not letting Apollo get it on with her.

Or Io getting even worse treatment from Zeus for the same offense.

Like New Yorker cartoons, most Greek myths can be summed up with, "Christ, what an asshole."
posted by Gamblor at 11:54 AM on April 11, 2006

2 Samuel 6:6
And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. 8 And David became angry because of the LORD’s outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah[c] to this day.
Leviticus 10:1,2
Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
posted by caddis at 11:57 AM on April 11, 2006

One of the biggest crimes in Greek myth seems to be "being born". If there's some sort of prophecy about you, the moment you come into this world you'll have gods tossing snakes in your crib or worse.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:05 PM on April 11, 2006

Job would be a terrible example then, since he wasn't being punished.
posted by artifarce at 12:08 PM on April 11, 2006

Sort of off-topic, but I owned a board game like this as a kid in the 80's called "By Jove!" which was entirely based on Greek mythology. Might be an interesting point of research for your own game; I always thought the "Oracle" and "Potluck" cards were supremely cool.
posted by junkbox at 12:19 PM on April 11, 2006

oh, and Lot, of course. Even the faithful get punished.
posted by boo_radley at 12:33 PM on April 11, 2006

One of the biggest crimes in Greek myth seems to be "being born".

Especially if you have the misfortune of being born an attractive female. The gods want to touch your pink parts (and won't take 'no' for an answer), and the goddesses have serious jealousy issues.
posted by Gamblor at 12:37 PM on April 11, 2006

Prometheus wouldn't count. He was a god and was punished by the gods. I think the original post was looking for god or gods punishing humans.
posted by Gungho at 12:39 PM on April 11, 2006

Moses: "C'mon, God, it's hot in this desert, and everybody's thirsty!"
God: "Okay, just tap that rock gently with your staff, and you'll get water out of it."
Moses: *tap, tap* "Where's the water? Stupid rock!" *WHACK!*
God: "Here's that water, but you're going to die of old age in the desert instead of getting into the Promised Land like everyone else."
Moses: "OMGWTF."
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:41 PM on April 11, 2006

Incidentally, I think I'd like to play this boardgame. Keep us posted, please.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:42 PM on April 11, 2006

No one's mentioned Onan.
posted by kimota at 1:02 PM on April 11, 2006

I'm also interested in the game. Drop me a line if you'd like a playtester.
posted by boo_radley at 3:05 PM on April 11, 2006

I appreciate the interest, and if we get a good electronic prototype made up, I'll be happy to share it with the willing playtesters (unless they plan on being at Origins or GenCon, in which case we can skip the electronic part). But what's being discussed here is really only a theme we're attaching to the front end of the game -- there's not a lot of hardcore vengeful-god action, so don't get your hopes up ... although Deus Ex Mousetrap does sound like an excellent game idea.
posted by blueshammer at 4:49 PM on April 11, 2006

Well, there's the case of Hermaphroditos. I forget if they started off male or female. They annoyed a passing god (I forget what they did) so the god changed them to the opposite sex to punish them.
posted by Ken McE at 8:20 PM on April 11, 2006

OffTopicFilter: I had By Jove as a kid. Really beautiful graphics, tragically low playability. It took forever to end, because of its Monopoly-like circular motion and its un-Monopoly-like omission of any powerful way to swing your odds toward victory or defeat. "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11), until finally someone's rare run of exceptionally bad luck strikes a mercy blow. But a very pretty game, and the cards probably have all kinds of capricious-gods situations just as requested.

Off-OffTopic: Ecclesiastes 9:11?!!! Now I'm gonna have to look up chapter 9, verse 11 in the rest of the Bible. There's gotta be one sweet mother of a wacko conspiracy theory lurking in there somewhere. TimeCube guy's gonna have nothing on this.
posted by eritain at 12:02 AM on April 12, 2006

Everybody punished Callisto!
posted by Carol Anne at 5:13 AM on April 12, 2006

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