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N.S. Gill

Myth Monday - Zeus and Kampe

By December 7, 2009

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In a new graphic novel, published by First Second and coming out in January, Zeus has to fight his way into Tartarus to rescue his uncles the Hekatonchieres (Ἑκατόγχειρες) and Cyclops to help him in his battle against their brothers the Titans. They had been imprisoned there by their own father, Cronos. Tartarus served as an Underworld prison that was guarded by a female named Kampe. Kampe's role is one of the less commonly known details of Greek mythology that George O'Connor includes in his graphic novel, Zeus King of the Gods. It follows the story of the Titanomachy (Τιτανομαχία) from Apollodorus, the name of a second century B.C. Greek scholar credited with writing a compendium of Greek myth known as his Library or Bibliotheca. It is currently thought that the work was written in the second century A.D. and not by Apollodorus, but the attribution sticks:
[1.2.1] But when Zeus was full-grown, he took Metis, daughter of Ocean, to help him, and she gave Cronus a drug to swallow, which forced him to disgorge first the stone and then the children whom he had swallowed, and with their aid Zeus waged the war against Cronus and the Titans. They fought for ten years, and Earth prophesied victory to Zeus if he should have as allies those who had been hurled down to Tartarus. So he slew their jailoress Campe, and loosed their bonds. And the Cyclopes then gave Zeus thunder and lightning and a thunderbolt, and on Pluto they bestowed a helmet and on Poseidon a trident. Armed with these weapons the gods overcame the Titans, shut them up in Tartarus, and appointed the Hundred-handers their guards; but they themselves cast lots for the sovereignty, and to Zeus was allotted the dominion of the sky, to Poseidon the dominion of the sea, and to Pluto the dominion in Hades.

Apollodorus. The Library. Translated by Sir James George Frazer. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 121 & 122. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921.

In the graphic novel, Kampe is depicted as an enormous monster. She'd have to be to guard the hundred-handed and other monsters, but her shape is not mentioned by Apollodorus. For that, Nonnus is the source. Nonnus was a fifth century Greek poet from Egypt, who converted to Christianity towards the end of his life. Probably before his conversion, Nonnus wrote his Dionysiaca, an account of Dionysus with many miscellaneous bits of Greek mythology, in 48 books.
Zeus ruling in the heights destroyed highheaded Kampe with a thunderbolt, for all the many crooked shapes of her whole body. A thousand crawlers from her viperish feet, spitting poison afar, were fanning Enyo to a flame, a mass of misshapen coils. Round her neck flowered fifty various heads of wild beasts: some roared with lion's heads like the grim face of the riddling Sphinx; others were spluttering foam from the tusks of wild boars; her countenance was the very image of Skylla with a marshalled regiment of thronging dog's heads. Doubleshaped, she appeared a woman to the middle of her body, with clusters of poison-spitting serpents for hair. Her giant form, from the chest to the parting-point of the thighs, was covered all over with a bastard shape of hard sea-monsters' scales. The claws of her wide-scattering hands were curved like a crooktalon sickle. From her neck over her terrible shoulders, with tail raised high over her throat, a scorpion with an icy sting sharp-whetted crawled and coiled upon itself. Such was manifoldshaped Kampe as she rose writhing, and flew roaming about earth and air and briny deep, and flapping a couple of dusky wings, rousing tempests and arming gales, that blackwinged Nymphe of Tartaros: from her eyelids a flickering flame belched out far-travelling sparks.

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 18. 237 ff (trans. Rouse)

As far as I can remember, Zeus King of the Gods is the first graphic novel I have read. It tells the story of the Titanomachy through pictures more than words and shows the origin of the gods more clearly than genealogical charts. As is true of another popular visual medium, film, the author's vision may not be the one the reader would have conjured up, and to put into pictures the words of writers like Hesiod, Apollodorus, and Nonnus, the author must make very free adaptations, which can be positive or negative. I especially liked the fact that Cronus was shown as the son of Ouranos (Sky) by the visual aid of stars in his eyes. There are loose ends that bothered me, like Metis*, Zeus' helper throughout much, and a comment about Zeus' hair that was warranted but either unexplained or missed in my two readings. There were other sections I had to study over and over to understand, but I think this is to be expected in a comic. It is a well-researched version that should interest even those who find reading difficult and those who want a Titanomachy refresher.

Metis is the Oceanid mother of Athena whom Zeus swallowed before she gave birth.
Disclosure: Review PDF was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.


December 8, 2009 at 1:28 pm
(1) RJ says:

This is very nice work. It would be very beneficial to be given information always about the correct (or various acceptable) pronunciations of the names of gods, goddesses, etc., and other classical vocabulary.

December 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm
(2) ancienthistory says:

For the pronunciation of Greek names, in general and for English speakers, please see the pronunciation entry for Encyclopedia Mythica. Wikipedia provides a phonetic pronunciation of the obvious term in need of help (all the others seem pretty obvious: just sound them out as in English) /ˌhɛkətɒnˈkaɪriːz/. I don’t know what are considered acceptable and unacceptable pronunciations. To my recollection of hearing it, it was ,heck-uh-ton-’khy-race, which is pretty much what wiki says, although there is a gamma (g) in the Greek that a stickler might want pronounced. I’d probably need to use the IPA, which would limit utility, and I’m not at all sure that writing out an acceptable pronunciation would do much good and might make people think their own, perfectly acceptable ones were wrong. When I tried doing just this for sophrosyne, a commenter disagreed, which is fine, since the pronunciation is not that static. Kampe, for instance, I pronounce cam-pee; Cronus, I pronounce crow-nus; Zeus, zoos; titanomachy, tie-’tan-no-,mac-ee; Metis, either ‘mee-tis or ‘me’-is, depending on how I feel. By default, I stress the second to last syllable in Greek names. Perhaps I could try to put the [more phonetic] Greek spelling in. (Now, done for a couple.) Also, I found an article that may explain why this is so hard:

“The Pronunciation of Classical Names and Words in English,” by Gerald F. Else.
The Classical Journal, Vol. 62, No. 5 (Feb., 1967), pp. 210-214

December 9, 2009 at 11:45 pm
(3) heliosmou says:

Um. Am I missing something here? Is there a link to the graphic novel? Like a preview available for the potential buyer? A link to review the graphic novel? And buy?

December 10, 2009 at 12:29 am
(4) PaulG says:

As much as I love history, I also love comics! Graphic Novels are a great way to enjoy them, and they also expand out to include several historical versions.

Here are some great Historical Graphic Novels:

The Odessy, The Illiad, The Trojan War (published by Marvel Comics)….they also have versions of Moby Dick, Three Musketeers, etc.

Northlanders (published by Vertigo) is a monthly comic which also is released in Graphic Novel format every few months. It is entertaining and historically accurate.

Larry Gonick’s “Cartoon History of the Universe” (3 volumes), “C.H. of the Modern World” (2 volumes), “C.H. of the United States” (1 volume). They have a lot of great facts and stories not often written about, and I learned more history from them then all the high school and college courses I ever took.

Although Graphic Novels are geeky (& I am a geek), and stereo-typical of the nerdy guy w/ glasses, jeans, and Green Lantern t-shirt (see: any episode of “The Big Bang Theory”)……they also offer much in the way of learning!

December 10, 2009 at 7:49 am
(5) NS Gill says:

heliosmou asks about a link. This is the first time I have had a PDF instead of a book to review. I didn’t see any more publication information than what I provided, author, title, and publishing company. I suppose I could have Googled it, but I didn’t. I just did, however, and added a picture of the cover with a credit that goes to a site that lets you pre-order.

There are sequels coming out.

December 10, 2009 at 1:01 pm
(6) George O'Connor says:

Wow, what a nice surprise to see Zeus reviewed here. This is a fascinating site, lot’s of great information. I posted a link to here from my own blog so people can see it.

Regarding my design of Kampe– I did indeed get the general reptilian theme from Nonnus, but I find that he tends to repeat himself a bit in the monster-description department. My research revealed that Kampe transliterates as “winding” or “crooked” so I re-envisioned her as a enormous, bloated serpent whose body literally and completely fills the winding, crooked path to Tartaros.

You should also be pleased to know that the Metis loose end gets wrapped up promptly in book 2, Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess, which goes on sale in April.

For those interested in a preview, there’s a ten page excerpt up on the Graphic Novel Reporter at http://graphicnovelreporter.com/blog/see-sneak-preview-zeus-king-gods, or they can check out my blog at geooco.blogspot.com for, like a million pictures from Zeus, Athena and the rest.

Thanks again! I’ll be back often!

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