The God of Mistakes
It was dusk over the Aegean Sea. The sun had just set over the horizon, and the sky had metamorphosed into a dull green, revealing the evening’s first glimpse of twinkling white stars.
Homer, the great Greek poet, gazed at the night sky out the window of his study, overlooking the deep blue sea. A breeze ran through his gray curly hair like fingers, and he breathed in the salty air. He then lit a candle, dipped his quill into his inkwell, and put it to papyrus to pick up where he’d left off the previous evening. He was in the midst of transcribing his epic tale The Odyssey.
And Homer wrote:
…Ulysses, noble son of Laertes, what deed of daring will you undertake nest, that you venture down to the house of Hades among us silly dead…
Homer put down the stylus on his wooden desk and observed his work. He sighed at it happily, because what he’d just written was perfection…
Wait. Hold on a minute. Homer squinted.
He’d just realized he’d mistakenly written “nest” instead of “next.” He balled up his fist and punched at the air.
“Zeus in a bucket!” he cursed. “Now I have to start this page over!” With a face beet red, he grabbed the papyrus and wrinkled it up.
He then took one glance back out his window and gasped. There was the figure of a face there, darkened by night, staring at him just inches away from the window sill. Homer brought his candle closer to the window to illuminate the figure. It was the face of a young man who looked no older than 20, with brown eyes, curly brown hair and a long pointy nose. Homer recognized him immediately.
“Shoo!” Homer said to him. “I don’t want you here! Go away!”
Silently, the dejected young man looked down to his feet and slowly walked away.
That young man’s name was Iathi. He was the god of Mistakes. That man was me.
My story began with a shaving basin.
One evening my father Zeus was admiring himself in a mirror. In particular his big, white, fluffy, naturally flowing beard. But then a thought had occurred to him. As great as his beard looked in its own natural state, how much better would it look if he sculpted it?
Thus, Zeus went to work. He went into my older sister Aphrodite’s room and borrowed a pair of sewing scissors. With it, he started snipping, whittling, and scraping away—all the way till he was down to just a mustache. A chevron mustache, to be exact.
He stood at the mirror and admired his handiwork. However, his elation didn’t last 10 seconds. Whereas he’d expected to come out looking like Tom Selleck, he instead turned out more like John C. Reilly trying to look like Tom Selleck. He then hated the mustache. More than that, he loathed it. He despised it so much that he grabbed that shaving basin full of hair and hurled it out his palace window atop of Mt. Olympus like a frisbee. It flew for miles and miles.
And I’m sure you’ve heard what happens when Greek gods go about throwing their genetic material around.
The basin and its contents ended up landing in a field of hyacinth blossoms.
Thus I was born.
I showed up the next morning at the doorstep of the Mt. Olympus palace for breakfast. There I’d met my father for the first time. However, instead of a gleam in his eye and a Welcome home, son! he glared at me sourly as he stroked his newly minted chevron mustache. He shook his head and said to me: “What a mistake.”
Such is how I became the god of Mistakes.
One of the earliest examples of my handiwork occurred during Creation. My cousin Epimethus was in his laboratory creating animals for the continent of Australia. He was in the midst of forming what was supposed to have been the continent’s version of a beaver. But then I came in the room and caused the latch of a crate that contained a mallard to fail, allowing it to escape and cause mayhem around the laboratory. Epimethus got distracted and mistakenly created the duck-billed platypus. Epimethus looked upon that hideous, bizarre creature and was fuming. Not only did he ban me from his laboratory, he convinced my father to ban me from Mt. Olympus entirely.
Thus, I was doomed forever to roam the countryside from town to town—causing people to make mistakes—and everybody hating my guts.
The good thing that came out of that, at least, was that was how I met my best friend: a duck-billed platypus named Frikio. Given Frikio’s own unique biology, he’d set out with me in the world to document everything there is to know about the biology of other animals. Me and Frikio were inseparable.
We were standing in the living room of the sculptor Hypatos. He had been carving a bust of the king of Argos, Pheidon, when his hand slipped, and he accidentally chiseled off its nose.
“Errrgh! Son of a Minotaur!” Hypatos cried.
In a rage, the artisan picked up the broken bust of his sculpture and smashed it on the solid stone floor where it broke into a million pieces.
I felt something tug the hem of my knee-length toga. It was Frikio.
“Iathi,” he whispered. “We better get out of here before he notices us.”
As much as I felt bad about causing Hypatos to ruin his artwork, he would only go onto redo it, and it would turn out to be the best thing he’d ever created.
Frikio and I learned over time to be discrete with our travels, particularly after what had happened to us in the tiny mountain hamlet of Zagori. We walked right through the front gates just after nightfall, right when the taverns were starting to get busy (those were my peak hours). I didn’t get too far, however, until I was ambushed by an angry mob bearing torches and scythes.
“You!” screamed one particularly irate, torch wielding gentleman at the head of the noisy mob.
I knew this man well. His name was Ajax. He was a blacksmith with large shoulders, bushy black hair, and extremely clumsy. He apparently burned his foot one too many times with molten metal.
“Get out of our town, you god of Mistakes!” he cried. “We don’t want you or your weird beaver-friend here!”
I looked at him, which caused him to accidentally set his hair on fire with his torch. I really didn’t mean to do that.
“Arrgh!” he screamed, dropping the torch and frantically smacking his head till the flames were dampened out.
“Look at what he’s done to Ajax!” a townsperson cried.
“We cannot allow his reign of terror to continue here!” someone else yelled.
Ajax, head charred and breathing heavily, then pointed at me and screamed: “We will make sure you never hurt us again! Get him!”
That’s when they rushed us and carried us off into the town’s dungeon. The town’s sheriff, Eurydike, came into my cell to read us our sentence. We were to be beheaded by axe. After he finished, he turned around to leave when the iron cell door unexpectedly closed on him and slammed into his face. His nose became a bloody mess.
He looked at me pathetically as he tried to contain the bleeding by pinching his nose. Then he screamed at me: “Just for that, I’m going to make sure your blade is extra dull!”
I sighed and told him: “Look, I don’t want to rain on your parade or anything, but I’m immortal. I cannot be killed.”
I then grimaced when I saw how much blood he was losing.
“You might want to put your head back and get some cold meat on that, or something,” I told him sincerely. But he only widened his eyes at me impetuously.
“Cold meat causes typhoid!” he scoffed. “Everybody knows that!”
Huh? I thought to myself.
That was when I realized that must’ve been the latest rumor started by my uncle Dolos, the god of Trickery and Deception. One of his favorite activities was spreading false rumors about diseases.
“Well, actually, it just—“ I started
“Silence, prisoner!” he interrupted. “I don’t want to hear any more of your lies!”
The sheriff turned to exit the cell, making extra sure that the door wasn’t going to slam on him again, when he tripped on the floor and broke his arm.
I buried my face in my palm. Frikio did the same.
They had me restrained on a chopping block with my hands tied behind my back. They did the same to Frikio, except the block was far smaller. We were situated on an elevated platform, surrounded by an ever-thickening crowd of hot-tempered locals.
I was attempting to reason with the masked executioner standing over me who wielded an extra-large axe. Standing over Frikio was a similarly dressed executioner, except he was an eight-year-old child. I assumed that was the executioner’s son. Given my own father’s complete absence in my life, I’d always found it rather heartwarming to witness other fathers and sons bonding over certain shared activities. That apparently even held true when it involved them trying to put me and my best friend to death.
“I’m serious,” I said to him, “I’m a god. A son of Zeus. I cannot be killed. Neither can Frikio.”
“Quiet!” screamed Sheriff Eurydike. He was standing in front of me on the platform, ready to address the crowd. The execution ceremony was about to begin. I noticed Eurydike had somehow gotten two black eyes and whiplash in addition to that broken nose and arm that I’d unintentionally left him with the evening before.
He unraveled a yellow papyrus scroll and started to read from it. The crowd hushed.
“From the power vested in me by Zeus and the townspeople of Zagori, I sentence you, Iathi, the god of Mistakes, to death by beheading! And the same goes for that fuzzy duck!”
The crowd cheered raucously.
Nonetheless, I still tried to use my reasoning skills with the executioner.
“I mean, I just don’t want to damage your axes,” I said. “Those things don't look cheap…”
“Executioners,” yelled the sheriff. “Are you ready?”
The executioner and his eight-year-old son gave one simultaneous nod.
“Raise your axes!”
They both raised their axes.
“Off with their heads!”
And with that, the executioners plunked down their blades across my and Frikio’s necks. However, instead of the blade going through our necks, our necks cut through the blades like warm butter. The axe blades were then gnarled to oblivion.
“I don’t want to say I told you so…” I started.
Then all of a sudden, there was an earsplitting bang of thunder. The sky darkened with black storm clouds riddled with strobed lightening. That could only mean one thing: Zeus was approaching.
The townspeople immediately screamed and dispersed in a panic. I, however, was starting to tear up, because I hadn’t heard from my father since I was banished from Mt. Olympus. I guess it took angry townspeople trying to chop my head off for my father to finally notice me.
Then I saw the image of his face to form out of the clouds.
“IATHI,” Zeus said to me amidst clangs of thunder.
“Father!” I said to him back, grinning widely.
“I’VE JUST COME TO TELL YOU I’M HAVING A LITTLE PARTY IN A COUPLE OF DAYS FOR MY 1,000th BIRTHDAY. I WANT ALL MY CHILDREN TO BE THERE. EVEN YOU. I’M HAVING IT CATERED.”
Oh, I thought to myself a bit dejectedly. I thought he was going to smite the townspeople of Zagori for trying to put one of his kids to death. Instead he just wanted to invite me to a dang old party.
I nonetheless honestly felt pretty excited about being invited.
I beamed up at him and said: “I will be there, father! You can count on me!”
It was then that Zeus noticed I was restrained to a chopping block with my hands tied behind my back. He furrowed his brow.
“SAY, WHY ARE YOU TIED UP LIKE THAT?” he said.
“Oh this?” I said, chuckling a bit, twisting my cuffed hands and wiggling my shoulders awkwardly. “The townspeople just tried to have me and my friend Frikio executed. I guess they’re tired of making mistakes all the time.”
Zeus then glanced at my friend Frikio. He then said “I GUESS I DON’T BLAME THEM.”
Zeus’ 1000th birthday party was an occasion that certainly matched the milestone. Mt. Olympus was bustling with dancers, entertainers, exotic animals, carnival rides, and all the food from around the world that you could possibly imagine. Frikio and I stayed in a suite in the palace usually reserved for major heads of states. Frikio in particular loved the heated tub.
The keystone event was a great banquet, with all his children seated at a long table. My older sister, Aphrodite, stood up to give a toast. That was the first time I’d ever seen her in person. She had steely eyes, a strong chin, and long, silky strands of red hair.
“This toast is to my father, Zeus,” she said, “for the momentous occasion of his 1000th birthday and for many more to come. And this is also to all of my wonderful siblings seated at this table. Despite some of our differences, I love you all!”
I felt my neck get tingly, even though I doubted Aphrodite knew I existed, much less seated at the table.
But later in the day, during a champagne reception, Aphrodite actually came over and talked to me. When I saw her looking at me so close up, I felt my knees start to buckle.
“Iathi,” she said to me. The edges of her lips were curled up, giving me a somewhat bemused look. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you here, little brother.”
I gasped. “Yeah, the feeling’s mutual, let me assure you,” I said back to her, barely able to breathe.
A waiter came by with a tray of champagne glasses. She took one and then signaled with her eyes that I should take one as well. So I did.
“So what have you been up to lately?”
I shared her my story, albeit awkwardly, as I was never particularly proud of what I do. Then another waiter came by with oysters and we both grabbed one.
She put the oyster shell to her lips and drained its contents into her mouth. When she went to chew on it, however, she bit into something hard.
“Owww!” she cried. “Something just chipped my tooth!”
I sighed and felt a lump accumulate in my throat. I’d done it again. I caused someone to make a mistake. Even someone as powerful as my sister Aphrodite wasn’t impervious to my wrath.
She spit out the thing that chipped her tooth. It was a perfect sphere, smooth, white and lustrous.
“What is this thing?” Aphrodite said, gazing at it, astonished.
With my head looking dejectedly at the floor, I shrugged. But then I felt something tug at the hem of my toga. It was Frikio.
“Iathi, I think I know what that is,” he said. “I think a foreign particle had gotten trapped inside of that mollusk shell, and the oyster tried to protect itself from it by coating it with that smooth material. It’s an imperfection.”
Imperfection. Whenever I heard that word, it always felt like I was being personally attacked.
“Look, Aphrodite,” I said to her, apologetically, “I am sorry—“
But she wasn’t listening to me. She was too busy admiring the object.
“How come I’ve never heard of this before?”
“I’ve never either,” Frikio admitted. “Perhaps this is the first time that has ever happened?”
As much as that might seem unlikely, Frikio had a point. I’ve been known to affect the biology of animals. Not only the creation of Frikio himself, but I’d once accompanied him on a trip to North America to study polecats when I looked at one funny and inadvertently created the skunk.
“Well, it’s beautiful!” she cried. She looked at it, then looked at me, and she smiled so radiantly that I swear the entire room got brighter.
Aphrodite would go onto name the object a pearl, a jewel that she would forever be associated with. She had that particular one made into a necklace and would never be seen without it. The world's first pearl.
Frikio and I would continue to wander from town to town, staring into window after window, doorway after doorway. If you ever find me one day looking at you, I ask you, please don’t get angry with me. Take your mistake in stride, and go make yourself a pearl.