Perhaps you are of the opinion that Superman is just some fantastical character created for the entertainment of youngsters with nothing better to do than flick through comic books and graphic novels as they lay around their bedrooms between bouts of Game of Thrones and Call of Duty on their state of the art games console.
We believe and have believed for many, many generations that there are entities possessed of superhuman powers that act in ways which alter the course of our lives. And we are right. The very idea of Superman and all his super hero chums changes our lives. A pursuit of and interest in characters with superpowers occupies a massive amount of physical, financial and emotional resources in our modern society. Ask anyone who reads Harry Potter or the Twilight books let alone the innumerable lesser entertainment events which seek to satisfy this phenomenon.
But is it a phenomenon? Try this before you declare that human like creatures with super powers are not a fundamental element in our beliefs.
Before the Gods, Titans ruled the universe but they are defeated by the father of all Gods, Cronus.
Cronus is usurped by his own son, Zeus, who also defeats and banishes his brothers Poseidon and Hades. Zeus becomes the supreme god. He rules the sky. He hurls thunderbolts at those who displease him. He marries Hera but has many affairs. He is above the expected behaviour of ordinary men.
Poseidon is lord of the sea, married to Amphitrite, a granddaughter of the Titan Oceanus. Poisedon is reputedly second only to Zeus in power amongst the gods. His trident can shake the earth and shatter any object. He is quarrelsome and greedy.
One day he is enchanted by the 'femme fatale' Demeter. To deter him, Demeter asks Poseidon to create the most beautiful animal on earth and thus Poseidon created the first horse. The effort exhausts his passion and he returns to his quarrelsome ways.
Poseidon's brother, Hades, is banished to the underworld to rule over the dead. He is a greedy god, greatly concerned with increasing his dominion. He is the god of wealth and the underworld is considered the place to find gold and silver and jewels and precious stones. His helmet can make him invisible but he rarely leaves the underworld. He is unpitying and terrible, but not capricious. He may rule the dead but another god, Thanatos, is death.
Hestia is Zeus's sister. Hestia is a virgin. She is the Goddess of the Hearth where a new born child is carried before becoming part of the family. There was a public hearth sacred to Hestia in every city where the fire was never allowed to go out.
Hera is wife and sister to Zues. Raised by the Titans, Ocean and Tethys, she is the benefactor of marriage and married women. At first Zeus was unsuccessful in winning her. He turned to trickery, changing himself into a bird, a wounded cuckoo. Feeling sorry for the cuckoo, Hera cradled it to her breast. Zeus suddenly reappeared and raped her. Hera was forced to marry him to cover her shame but she did not submit meekly and persuaded the other Gods to revolt. She drugged Zeus. The gods tied the sleeping Zeus with many knots then started quarrelling amongst themselves. Briareus overheard them, slipped in and was able to free Zeus, who sprang up and grabbed up his thunderbolt. The gods fell to their knees begging and pleaded for mercy. He imprisoned Hera in gold chains. She wept in pain all night but, none of the others would help. The next morning Zeus agreed to release her if she would swear never to rebel again. Although she kept her word, she never stopped trying to thwart him.
Ares, the son of Zeus and Hera, was disliked by both parents. A murderous, bloodstained, coward, he is compromised by adultery with Aphrodite.
Athena, is the daughter of Zeus, but Athena has no mother. She emerged full grown in armour from his forehead. Goddess of the city, handicrafts, and agriculture, she defends the state and home from outside enemies. She invents the bridle, the trumpet, the flute, the pot, the rake, the plow, the yoke, the ship, and the chariot. She is wise, reasonable and pure. A virgin godess, she is Zeus's favorite child. She was allowed to use his weapons including his thunderbolt.
Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, with a twin sister, Artemis. Appollo is the god of music. He plays a golden lyre and carries a silver bow. He taught man medicine and could not speak a lie. Each day he harnessed his chariot with four horses and carried the Sun across the sky.
The goddess of love, desire and beauty, Aphrodite has a magical girdle that compels anyone she wishes to desire her. There are two accounts of her birth. A few believe she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione but most believe that when Cronus castrated Uranus and tossed his severed testicles into the sea, Aphrodite arose from the foam on a giant scallop and walked to shore.
Hermes is the son of Zeus and Maia. Hermes is the messenger of Zeus. The fastest of the gods, he wears winged sandals, a winged hat, and carries a wand. He is the god of thieves and god of commerce and guides the dead to the underworld. He invented the lyre, the pipes, the musical scale, astronomy , weights and measures, boxing, gymnastics, and the care of olive trees.
Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, Artemis is the twin brother to Apollo. She is the huntress of the gods. She is the matron of the wild things and protector of the young. She hunts with silver arrows. A virgin goddess, she is associated with the moon and presides over childbirth.
Hephaestus is the son of Zeus and Hera. Hephaestus is the only god to be physically ugly and lame. Upset by the prospect of being the mother of an ugly child, Hera flung him from Mount Olympus breaking his legs. He is the god of fire and the forge. He is the smith and armorer of the gods. He uses a volcano as his forge. He is the patron god of both smiths and weavers. Married to Aphrodite he is kind and peace loving.
And there they are. Gods, humans, superhumans? The Greeks may have created these characters for us centuries ago but probably did not create them out of thin air for no reason. They created them because they believed they should be there, just as we believe they should be there and keep them there. We know about them, we study them, we pay people to study them, we read about them incessently, we refer to them all the time. Does it matter if we say we don't believe in them?
And here is an apocryphal story of someone who tried not to...
Under a burning midday sun,a brilliantly armoured soldier on a magnificent stallion is picking his way through the narrow streets of a village in mountainous Macedonia.
A berserk little man carrying a lamp jumps out of a barrel and startles the horse. It skitters on the cobbles of the street coming dangerously close to dismounting the soldier.
'I should like that horse!' shouts the wizened old man. 'You must give him to me.'
'Don't be absurd,' the soldier responds, goading the impressive steed forward with his heels. 'Get out of our way before he tramples you.'
'Ha!' insists the little man, 'You dress as a man who can afford to part with a mere horse, but obviously you are not as rich as you appear.'
'Obviously you are an idiot,' the soldier retorts, still having some difficulty reigning in the nervous beast.
'You have the look of a man with sufficient honour and dignity to respect an elder,' the little man barks in response, 'but obviously you are not.'
'Desist and take that lamp from my pathway,' the soldier demands through clenched teeth, now urging the huge horse menacingly close to the feeble, little fellow. 'And why in the brilliance of midday are you carrying a lighted lamp?'
'I am seeking the last man of virtue. Whomsoever shall reflect the light cast from this lamp, shall be the last man of virtue.'
'No man can reflect a light that does not outshine the brilliance of the sun.'
'Ha! You may not be a man of wealth. You may not be a man of dignity. And you are certainly not a man of wisdom for you cannot see that the light from this lamp does indeed reflect from the brilliant polish on the breastplate that covers your heart.'
The soldier looked down at his breastplate and indeed he could see the reflection of the lamp in it. His anger seemed to leak away to nothing and his horse just as suddenly stopped stamping and snorting.
'Am I who have no wealth, no dignity and no wisdom the last man of virtue?' asks the soldier.
'So you must be,' says the wizened old man,' but doesn't that tell us something about virtue?'
The man living in the barrel was no superhuman and had no fear of superhumans. His name was Diogenes, a mad philosopher who had followers called cynics who wandered Greece and Macedonia ridiculing Alexander the Great, a superhuman. He was a cynic.