30 June 2022
Macron, the Crippled God
From Jupiter to Hephaistos.
By Neil Tidmarsh
President Macron was quick to admit, following the loss of his parliamentary majority in last week’s elections, that he could no longer identify with Jupiter, the distant, aloof, all powerful chief of the gods (the much-derided identification he’d adopted to define his presidential style during his first term). But then he added “I will become Hephaistos” – the ingenious, inventive and brilliantly skilled craftsman god, the blacksmith, armourer and jeweller to his fellow Olympians – instead. “I will forge!” he announced grandly.
Mocking laughter followed. What, yet more hubris? Even more arrogance? Has he learnt nothing? Surely he realises that the electorate has had enough of his distant, superior, god-like pretentions? They want him to be human, not divine! So what does he do? Discard the mantle of one god – only to wrap himself in the mantle of another!
But Hephaistos is a rather odd role-model for a politician. A metal-worker, a manual labourer, is an unlikely figure for an ambitious and power-hungry leader to identify with. Could the dapper and immaculately-groomed Macron really see himself as a sweaty, sooty, bare-armed and dishevelled blacksmith? And Hephaistos has a complex and unenviable history and personality which make it even less likely. A man of President Macron’s intelligence and education must know this, so perhaps a closer look at this creator god might throw a fresh light on the French president’s position, opinions and intentions.
First of all, Hephaistos – far from being all-powerful – was a cripple. He was so ugly and deformed at birth that his mother, the chief goddess Hera, threw him away from the top of Olympus. The poor baby plummeted from the mountain’s summit to plunge into the ocean, which can’t have improved his disabilities. Later in life he was thrown off the top of Mount Olympus yet again, this time by an angry Zeus for trying to interfere in a domestic spat between Zeus and Hera, Mr and Mrs Top God. He fell to earth on the island of Lemnos, a crash-landing which broke both his legs.
Indeed, Hephaistos’s story is largely one of rejection and humiliation. In spite of his skill as a metal-worker, he was a figure of fun to the other gods because of his cripple’s limp, his manual labour, his dour manner, his sooty, scruffy and singed appearance and his erotic misfortunes.
Second, then, he was a cuckolded husband. Zeus married him off to Aphrodite, but Aphrodite had no interest in her ugly, gruff and unglamorous husband. She led him a merry dance with the other gods of Olympus. One day he did catch her in bed with her lover the war god Ares and managed to trap them both there in a cunningly-wrought metal net; but when he summoned the other gods to bear witness and judgment on the adulterous couple, they simply laughed at Hephaistos’s humiliation as a husband and applauded Ares’s success with the beautiful goddess of love.
Third, he was a rejected lover. He fell in love with the goddess Athena and, tricked by Zeus into thinking that she would welcome his advances, he forced himself upon her. But she managed to escape his embrace just before the critical moment of climax and he ejaculated into thin air. His seed fell to the earth and gave birth to a half-human, half-snake monster, bitter symbol of his frustrated passion.
So what might Macron be trying to tell us with this apparently unlikely and even embarrassing identification?
Could this be his way of admitting that he’s been humiliated at the polls, spurned and rejected by the electorate? That voters have cast him down from the highest peak of Mount Olympus as punishment for unwelcome policies and unpalatable attitudes? That his metaphorical wife, La République Française, has climbed into his rivals’ beds? That he is now crippled politically, having lost his majority in parliament? Could it be intended as an expression not of hubris and arrogance but in fact of their opposites – humility and modesty?
His declaration “I will forge!” – could that be his realisation that he can no longer hold himself aloof from the grubby horse-trading of political business, that he must descend from the pure and rarefied heights he occupied in his first term and get busy at the hot and smoky furnace of realpolitik, hammering out new alliances and fresh initiatives on his presidential anvil, getting his immaculate suits and manicured hands dirty with the unsavoury game of give and take, punishment and reward, attack and retreat, to be played as ingeniously and strenuously as he can if he is to govern without a majority?
Lastly, the master craftsman Hephaistos, the creator and inventor god, might be a puzzling role model for a politician, but he’s an obvious one for an artist. It’s well known that Macron’s first vocation was not politics but literature; Mrs Macron has admitted that she’d always assumed that he’d find fame and success as a novelist or poet or playwright. Could this defection from Jupiter to Hephaistos be a signal – unconscious if not conscious – that he is tired of politics and yearns to devote himself to his first passion, literature? Would he rather be writing the roman that has perhaps been germinating in his imagination – or sitting in a drawer as an unfinished manuscript – for the last few decades, rather than wrestling with the tricky task of trying to cobble together and then manage some sort of coalition government? A resignation to follow his muse is unlikely, but he could well be already looking forward to a creative life as a literary artist, far from politics, once this second term as president is over.