Thalia Sutton is an independent scholar and writer of fiction. She holds a Master’s in East Asian Studies from Columbia University in the City of New York, and is delighted every time a form has a box allocated in which to check “Master” as her legal title.
Welcome to the final installment of the Greek Myth in A Game of Thrones series. (Caution! Spoilers through book 3! Turn back now if you have not yet done your reading for Season 3!)
Even without assuming Robert Baratheon as Zeus and Cersei as Hera, Stannis Baratheon is immediately recognizable as Apollo.
Apollo is the god of light. Not the sun, per se, but light itself and precognition thereby. Academic evidence suggests, however, that this position is a stolen one: Worship of Apollo at Delphi (where his cult was strongest as the lord of light) came only after worship of an “indigenous” goddess there was booted out. (This appears in the myth of Apollo killing the snake at Delphi.) He also became, in reality, the god of light by his worship slowly subsuming that of Helios, the Titan god of the Sun.
Worship of the lord of light as a non-indigenous cult, and necessarily destroying worship of the other gods already present? Sound familiar, Stannis?
A second major similarity is that Apollo, like Stannis, is the rightful heir that no one wants. Apollo is Zeus’s eldest son, but as the god of Order, he’s stodgy and stern; he seems incapable of having fun. He does his duty to a fault, driving the sun chariot all day. He is properly cultured in music and athletics as a man of society, but he’s not interested in the charms of others, nor their opinions; he’s interested in knowing he is ruling, and that he is right. He is preoccupied with justice of his own fashioning, and in a strange way, is more interested in his children than Zeus ever was, not that he’s any better at it. Zeus, on the other hand, could care less about ruling, and enjoys the pleasures of company to a fault.
But that’s not all. Apollo has the power to rule, but in popular opinion his feats pale in comparison to the epic grandeur of Zeus’s battles. He has the most enormous father complex of any of Zeus’s sons; Stannis has a predominant grudge about what he feels due him from King Robert, our Zeus. As you can see, Stannis’s rigidity is a strong correlation to Apollo, as is his interaction with and contrast to Robert Baratheon.
Furthermore, Apollo is by far the strongest of Zeus’s sons — until Dionysus comes along. But who is our Dionysus? Why, the third Baratheon brother, of course: Renly.
Dionysus is the youngest of Zeus’s godly sons, the god of the vine and all that comes with it: personability, parties, insane courage, wild destruction, and altered states of consciousness.
Renly hosts the biggest and longest party in the entire series to date: taking his troops up the Roseroad in lavish fashion that, as Catelyn Stark describes, is arduously slow because it’s more feasting than fighting. The gathering of Renly’s host strongly recalls Dionysus’s ability to talk most anyone onto his side; the host’s movements likewise illustrate Dionysus’s long and lavish beach parties as he wanders from town to town with his horde of drunken women enchanted by his charismatic, and slightly dangerous, presence.
Dionysus has what everyone wants, and people love him for it. He is the ultimate connector to people, just as Apollo is ultimately disconnected. He can turn people against each other or make them best friends. Apollo knows that if Dionysus asked to rule, in a heartbeat, men and gods alike would let him. But Apollo is the only one who could hold the thunderbolt if Zeus left. Dionysus would never be able to hold it; he would keep it is locked away in a back room, a shadow to remind people that he has the throne. In practice, he would rule by love and generosity and the merit of the people around him. He’d govern by the fun of day and remind people, when he had to, that he was gatekeeper of death’s mysteries. To quote Colasso quoting Pindar, Dionysus is “the pure light of midsummer.” Apollo is the chill light of winter that demands its sacrifice before spring can be allowed in once more. These dynamics are easily visible between a Dionysian Renly and an Apollonian Stannis, and making the two of them brothers to Zeus is a fantastic twist.
If Apollo is light, Dionysus is shadow; Apollo takes light to divine the future, but Dionysus divines from darkness: the mysterious, “unknowable” underworld. Apollo burns mortals to ash with light like his father; Dionysus slowly afflicts mortals to doom by madness and their own hands. In A Song of Ice and Fire, we see an amusing response to this: it is Stannis-Apollo who turns to the dark side and slowly goes mad for it, and Renly-Dionysus who is pleasantly oblivious to the world’s troubles, living it up in the sun. Renly’s peaches, after all, are a signal to Stannis that “even if we fight, life is to be enjoyed.” It is the ultimate Dionysian thought. The whole concoction between Renly and Stannis is a brilliant “what-if” scenario for Apollo and his little brother Dionysus.
What about the other parts of Stannis’s crew: Melisandre, Stannis’s wife, or Patchface? I really don’t know. Davos seems a crafty Daedalus: helping at first on his own whim, then commissioned to help, and then shut up in a tower and forced to engineer help to a king nearly mad. He’s then exiled from said king for, ironically, not killing the other resident of the tower, Edric Storm, our innocent Icarus.
As for Melisandre, I’ll hazard a guess that she’s a reverse Medusa. Instead of turning people into stone, she rattles about the earth trying to revive dragons from stone. She’s beautiful, and fiery, and everything the Medusa myth embodies in the public consciousness while at the same time trying to illustrate the opposite. Yet Melisandre also fits a space inherent in many cultural traditions, of foreign prophet and Red Woman. If you want to stick with Greek, though, beyond Medusa, she could be a wonderful twist on an angry Cassandra getting revenge, or just the author’s fantasy woman from his D&D days (I’m taking liberty and a very small swatch of my imagination and assuming he had them). Cassandra was the priestess at Troy that was loved by Apollo, but whom rejected him. As a punishment, he gave her the power of foresight, but stipulated that no one would heed her. But what happened to Cassandra after the fall of Troy? No one knows.
Perhaps she went on to breathe fire into dragons.
This Series comes in 8 parts:
1. Introduction; Robert and Cersei as Zeus and Hera (spoilers through book 1)
2. Cersei, Jaime, as Aphrodite, Ares; Tywin Lannister and Gregor Clegane as Uranus and a Titan (spoilers through book 3)
3. Joffery, Myrcella, and Tommen as Eros, Harmonia, and Anteros (spoilers through book 3)
4. Tyrion as Odysseus (Spoilers through book 3)
5. Sansa as Psyche; Lysa Arryn and son as Demeter and Persephone; Littlefinger as Hermes (Spoilers through book 3)
6. Loras and Renly as Achilles and Patroclus (Spoilers through book 1)
7. Brienne and Margaery as Briseis and Helen of Troy (Spoilers through book 3)
8. Stannis and Renly as Apollo and Dionysus; Stannis’s Crew as Daedalus, Icarus, and Cassandra (Spoilers through book 2)