Study Guide

The Lightning Thief Traditions and Customs

By Rick Riordan

Traditions and Customs

Chapter 1

"Zeus did indeed feed Kronos a mixture of mustard and wine, which made him disgorge his other five children, who, of course, being immortal gods, had been living and growing up completely undigested in the Titan's stomach. The gods defeated their father, sliced him to pieces with his own scythe, and scattered his remains in Tartarus, the darkest part of the Underworld." (1.56)

The history of the gods, their ancestry, is pretty violent. The entire belief system of the Greek gods seems to be built upon great violence and bloody events.

Percy Jackson

"But if you recognize yourself in these pages—if you feel something stirring inside—stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it's only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they'll come for you." (1.5)

By talking directly to us, the readers, Percy initiates us and involves us in the action and in the immortal world. Believing in the gods means great danger for us, Percy seems to say. And it means even more danger if you are a half-god.

Chapter 3

As we got closer to Montauk, she seemed to grow younger, years of worry and work disappearing from her face. Her eyes turned the color of the sea. (3.86)

Sally Jackson is not just any mortal. Throughout the story, we see instances and moments in which she is almost seems like a half-blood herself. She understands the ways of the immortal world really well. Her eyes in this moment reflect her love for and history with Poseidon. Can you think of or dig up examples of gods who had flings with mortals? What happened to the mortal after the fling?

Watching him lumber back toward the apartment building, I got so mad I did something I can't explain. As Gabe reached the doorway, I made the hand gesture I'd seen Grover make on the bus, a sort of warding-off-evil gesture, a clawed hand over my heart, then a shoving movement toward Gabe. The screen door slammed shut so hard it whacked him in the butt and sent him flying up the staircase as if he'd been shot from a cannon. Maybe it was just the wind, or some freak accident with the hinges, but I didn't stay long enough to find out. (3.81)

Without knowing what it means or what it is, Percy absorbs this hand gesture from Grover and uses it on a mortal. The tradition and abilities of the gods are in his blood so deeply that he uses powers he doesn't even yet recognize as powers. Because he's spent his life witnessing abnormal events and having no one believe him, Percy is able to dismiss this encounter with Gabe.

Chapter 4
Grover Underwood

"Those weren't old ladies," Grover said. "Those were the Fates. Do you know what it means—the fact that they appeared in front of you? They only do that when you're about to…when someone's about to die." (4.37)

Fate is deeply ingrained in the tradition of the Greek gods. Because they are immortal, knowing what is going to happen in the future is really important. But even the gods can't just know their Fate all the time. The Oracle that speaks to Percy speaks almost in code or in riddles, making it really easy for him to misinterpret the Oracle.

Chapter 5

"Percy," Chiron said, "you may choose to believe or not, but the fact is that immortal means immortal. Can you imagine that for a moment, never dying? Never fading? Existing, just as you are, for all time?" (5.123)

Our encounters with immortality in this story come in the form of monsters who can be killed but who can never die, gods who have been around for thousands of years, and beings locked in the pit of Tartarus who have been around for way longer than that. Without fear of death, how do these gods behave? Do they value human life? What do the gods seem to value?

"What you may not know is that great powers are at work in your life. Gods—the forces you call the Greek gods—are very much alive." (5.105)

It's kind of eerie hearing Chiron say that there are "great powers" at work in Percy's life. Can you imagine someone telling you there are great powers at work in your life? How would it make you feel? This is the moment when Chiron really lays it out for Percy: the gods exist and they are active. Percy's world is completely rocked at this moment and his understanding of the world completely changes.

"Come now, Percy. What you call 'Western civilization.' Do you think it's just an abstract concept? No, it's a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of years. The gods are part of it. You might even say they are the source of it, or at least, they are tied so tightly to it they couldn't possibly fade, not unless all of Western civilization were obliterated. The fire started in Greece. Then, as you well know—or as I hope you know, since you passed my course—the heart of the fire moved to Rome, and so did the gods. Oh, different names, perhaps—Jupiter for Zeus, Venus for Aphrodite, and so on—but the same forces, the same gods."

"And then they died."

"Died? No. Did the West die? The gods simply moved, to Germany, to France, to Spain, for a while. Wherever the flame was brightest, the gods were there. They spent several centuries in England. All you need to do is look at the architecture. People do not forget the gods. Every place they've ruled, for the past three thousand years, you can see them in paintings, in statues, on the most important buildings. And yes, Percy, they are now in your United States." (5.189-191)

The gods are a bit nomadic and aren't tied to one particular part of the world. The fact that they move wherever "the flame was brightest," suggests that the gods are kind of dependent upon humans. They depend on humans to remember them and to keep them alive through things like architecture and paintings. So, maybe the gods aren't as all-powerful as we imagined them to be. Maybe they need humans more than they let on in this story.

Chapter 7

As I got closer, I saw that everyone was taking a portion of their meal and dropping it into the fire, the ripest strawberry, the juiciest slice of beef, the warmest, most buttery roll.

Luke murmured in my ear, "Burnt offerings for the gods. They like the smell." (7.127-128)

We don't know about you, but there are certain rituals of the Greek gods that really do seem wonderful. Like this one. The gods and those in the immortal world seem to revere the senses. Think of all the times smell is important (smelling monsters), taste is important (eating Aunty Em's burgers), touch is important (holding a balanced sword like Riptide or making things in the water dry), sound is important (listening for hissing snakes or for whispered chanting), and seeing/observing is important (everything that an attention deficit disorder helps you notice).

"What's the most common thing gods did in the old stories? They ran around falling in love with humans and having kids with them. Do you think they've changed their habits in the last few millennia?" (7.26)

For as much as the gods whine about how stupid humans are (remember Mr. D talking about humans and their idea of "science" and progress?), they sure do love to hang out with them and make babies with them. Consider an entire camp full of half-blooded children, products of gods who have fallen for humans. Gods and humans seem destined to interact.

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