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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Helen of Sparta has Cover Art!

And it's so beautiful, I can't stop staring at it!

Helen will be here April 1, 2015!! But in the meantime, you can pre-order the paperback from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or add it on Goodreads!

From the back cover:

Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Helen of Sparta is Coming!

Back in 2009, I was looking for something to write about for National Novel Writing Month. I wanted a topic I already knew something about, generally, so I wouldn't need to do a lot of prep work or research going in to November. A topic I felt confident exploring. Greek Myth seemed an obvious choice, all things considered, and from there, it was a pretty easy jump to Helen of Troy.

But I didn't want to tell the story everyone already knew. I wanted to look at Helen's life from a fresh perspective. And I definitely didn't want to cover the Trojan War. So I settled on her earlier days -- the days before she met Paris and even before her marriage to Menelaus. I settled on Helen of Sparta.

From that seed, the story grew, and after multiple rewrites and edits and more rewrites, I present to you:

HELEN will be released Spring 2015, and I cannot WAIT to share her story with the world!
(you can add it on Goodreads now!)

That said, for the time being, I'd like to ask you all to join me at my other blog -- Good to Begin Well, Better to End Well. While I'll still post HELEN-centric updates over here, chronicling her landmarks as we zoom to publication, as far as general blogging goes, I'm going to be focusing on Good to Begin Well until we get a little bit closer to release. (And you will definitely want to check out the Second Annual #NAMEthatBUTT tournament of sculptural backsides over yonder, I promise you!)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sorry for the Radio Silence! I'll be back in October!

Some personal/family stuff has cropped up which requires my attention and my absence from the blog, so I'm sorry to say I won't be posting again until October -- but when I do come back, we'll be taking about Mycenaean Greece! (Because it's the best!)

Stay tuned!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Editing Cave! And an Amazon!

I know I only just got back 5 weeks ago, but I'm afraid I must AWAY again, because I've got edits to edit and family invading (pretty much non-stop between now and the end of August -- it is kind of unbelievable how these things have all worked out) and then, probably, More Edits! So!

What I'm trying to say is that it might be a few weeks before I'm back on the blog.

And in the meantime, here is the most beautiful bronze of an Amazon you'll ever see:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Affairs of the Gods, or, How Could Their Victims Have Been So Clueless?

There are two ways to approach questions like this:
1) The Events of the Myths Really Happened
2) The Events of the Myths Are Stories/Propaganda/Explanations/Metaphors/etc

If you've been hanging around me or my blog(s) for any length of time, you probably now that the fiction writer in me favors the first approach -- and imagining these characters and trying to discover their motivations and understand the choices they might have made is where a lot of the fun of writing about them comes from. So with this question, it's only natural that I'd start with the more literal perspective. (It's more just more interesting guys!)

The Short Answer:
I suspect that they were less clueless and more just uninformed.

The Long Answer:
Here's the thing. Today, if some king's daughter were kidnapped by a really pretty bull, the whole world would know about it. Or at least the part of the world that pays attention to that kind of information, anyway. (She'd also be found and returned home, probably, rather than dumped in another country to marry into their royal bloodline, but I digress.) Back in Europa's time? It was probably more of a quiet, regional event. Why should she expect the bull of being a god in disguise, intent on stealing her away, if she'd never heard of Zeus pulling that kind of stunt?* Maybe, possibly, some kind of rumor of Zeus coming down as a shower of gold to... make sweet love? to Danae** might have been making the rounds somewhere in the Peloponnese, but it is REALLY unlikely the story would have made it as far as Phoenicia, where Europa was hanging out with her maiden friends, enjoying the attentions of a particularly tame bull.

Now maybe these two examples are cheating, because both of these women were earlier victims of Zeus' proclivities, but the fact remains that there are no guarantees that any one of the  importuned women who followed would have had extensive knowledge of the god's other exploits. There's a couple of exceptions of course. Alcmene, for example, was the granddaughter of Perseus, so the story of Great-Grandmother Danae could easily have been part of family lore before her run in with Zeus and the subsequent birth of Heracles. But since Zeus took the form of Alcmene's own husband, Amphitryon, there is really no possibly way that forewarning might have helped her avoid his attentions.

It's easy for us to see all these stories laid out neatly and chronologically, with repeated themes of Zeus putting one over on some poor beautiful girl, and wonder why these people couldn't figure it out. But the truth is, those stories weren't assembled into the written word at all until centuries after the fact. If you consider that the Trojan War was basically the end of the Age of Heroes, and all the philandering that entailed, then the majority of these events would have taken place during the Greek Bronze Age -- the Mycenaean and Minoan periods. At the end of which, civilization kind of collapsed and the Greeks not-so-promptly forgot how to write for several hundred years.

Oral history is a lot more limited, regionally, though Homer provides us with evidence that even oral stories could be spread -- if the bard thought the audience would be interested. But if he didn't?

Well. It sure makes me appreciate the bounty of the internet for self-education, that's for sure.

*Europa was mother to Minos, which means she was at least one, maybe two generations before Theseus and Heracles.

**Danae was the mother of Perseus, who was himself the very FIRST of the Greek Heroes. He did not actually ride Pegasus, and the Kraken is a sea monster out of Scandinavia. Just for the record.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Heracles and Theseus in Contrast (and Euripides II)

Theseus attacking a Centaur
In the latter part of his play, Euripides illustrates the bond between Theseus and Heracles. They’re friends, of course, and why wouldn’t they be, being the two most celebrated heroes of their time, and it goes without saying that Theseus is indebted to Heracles for rescuing him from Hades and the chair of forgetfulness. But more than that, they’re cousins. Family. And in Heracles' most desperate hour of need, when he is contemplating for the first time the thought of suicide to revenge upon himself the murder of his wife and children, it’s Theseus* who comes to his aid.

But what’s more interesting to me is the differences in ideology between the two heroes. Heracles takes upon himself all the guilt for the death of his family, in spite of the fact that Hera drove him into madness, removing from him his ability to reason, his ability even to recognize his own children and wife. Theseus feels differently, placing the guilt upon the gods, and arguing that even the gods sin and suffer. Theseus says:
“I cannot counsel you to die rather than to go on suffering. There is not a man alive that hath wholly ‘scaped misfortune’s taint, nor any god either, if what the poets sing is true. Have they not intermarried in ways that law forbids? Have they not thrown fathers into ignominious chains to gain the sovereign power? Still they inhabit Olympus and brave the issue of their crimes.”
Farnese Hercules
(with his Apples)
It’s true. The gods are absolutely guilty of incest. Zeus and Hera are brother and sister, for starters. Plus there’s Heracles – a living example of weird family relationships.** And then there’s the whole gelding of Cronus. I mean, really.

But Heracles isn’t buying what Theseus is selling. Not in the slightest. He responds:
“For my part, I do not believe that the gods indulge in unholy unions; and as for putting fetters on parents’ hands, I have never thought that worthy of belief, nor will I now be so persuaded, nor again that one god is naturally lord and master of another. For the deity, if he be really such, has no wants; these are miserable fictions of the poets.”
And then, even more tellingly, in regard to Heracles’ own character:
“But I, for all my piteous plight, reflected whether I should let myself be branded as a coward for giving up my life.”
In the end, it isn’t Theseus’ argument that others have suffered what he has, or even the question of his guilt, at all. In the end, Heracles doesn’t kill himself because he doesn’t want anyone to think he was a coward. Because Heracles will not let anyone call him anything other than brave. In the end, all that matters to him is his reputation, and nothing the gods have done to him can even compare.

*my hero!
**First, some genealogy. Heracles is the son of Zeus and Alcmene, she herself a granddaughter of Perseus, who was, of course, a son of Zeus, thereby making Alcmene Zeus’s great-granddaughter, and Heracles both Zeus’s son, AND his great-great-grandson.
Just for the record.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Heracles (and Euripides)

Youthful Heracles at the Met. As Opposed to the older,
more bearded Heracles opposite him in the gallery.
As you may or may not realize by now, I like the demigods. They're tragic and sometimes incredibly jerky and unlikeable, but part of me thinks that's what makes them so fascinating, particularly when trying to reconcile them against the modern world, and what we consider to be heroic. And one of our most plentiful sources on myths and legends and the characters of these fine (or not so fine) heroes? Euripides!

He wrote plays in Classical Athens, and we have a LOT of them, in bits and bobs and fragments, but also whole, and from these plays, we can tease out some of the cultural ideas of the time. For myself (and Heracles, who I am committed to getting a strong a handle on as I have Theseus, because he's a pretty complex dude for whom I am discovering new appreciation), I'm less interested in the politics and rhetoric than I am the mythology, and what Euripides' accounts are in regard to the various heroes and their stories. Sometimes he contradicts himself -- like with Helen of Troy: did she go to Troy or not? He has it both ways in two different plays. -- but that's okay, because those contradictions are places where I can start drawing my own conclusions and maybe twist the mythology in the direction I want it to go.

So far, I've picked up two important pieces of information on Heracles:
1) He had auburn hair, according to this play.
2) He had three sons by Megara.

The other fascinating thing about this particular play, is the fact that it begins while Heracles is in the Underworld, fetching Cerberus and rescuing Theseus from Hades -- the last of his 12 labors -- and Megara and his family are under threat of death at the hands of a usurper-king, waiting for his return. Now, my understanding of Heracles and Megara, was always that Heracles murdered Megara and their children in a fit of madness (set on him by Hera) and it was AFTER this, and to be cleansed of the blood on his hands, that he went about his Twelve Labors. This does not bode well for sorting out his timeline -- or maybe it just gives me the permission I need to sort things out into a chronology that will make for the best story.

When it comes to Mythology, you can only count on one thing: nothing is EVER conveniently linear!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The (modern?) Bull Dance (II)

To recap briefly: Bull Dancing is way awesomer than the modern day Bull Fight, so what happened?

Well. First of all, Crete fell and the Minoan civilization, such as it was,* collapsed. (Perhaps because Theseus slayed a Minotaur?) The long and the short of it is, we have no real idea or evidence for what happened. Mycenae seems to have conquered them, and then not long after that we have the Dark Ages where we know absolutely nothing about what went on outside of the oral history of Homer's epics.

Not that we really have a lot of information on Mycenaean Greece, either, outside of the palace life, but the major point of all this is that Bull Dancing did not make the LEAP to the mainland of Greece whereby it might have been preserved and passed on to common culture. There's some stylistic art representing it--Mycenae stole a lot of art from the Minoans--but no evidence that it ever took place within Greece itself.

Except the bull dance isn't really dead. Cow-Leaping (aka Course Landaise) is still practiced in modern day France, and Bull-Leaping (aka Recortes) takes place in parts of Spain (seriously, there's pole vaulting involved! and the bull totally survives to be leapt another day!). Wikipedia even suggests that there's a practice of bull leaping in India as well--though there obviously is no proof that any of this descends at all from the Minoans.

There are a few clips of bull-leaping in France online. That link will take you to some really crazy guys who tie their legs together before jumping. I'm not kidding. It's fantastic. But this is maybe my favorite youtube video-- it's about 5 minutes long, but has some great information.

and this video is pretty great at giving an overview of the array of stunts, from pole vaulting to leaping somersaults, and so on:

*Minoan and Mycenaean are Archaeological terms, really. We know there was a Palace at Knossos. We know there were a bunch of palaces on the Greek mainland, including a fantastic site in Mycenae. Did they refer to themselves as Minoans? HIGHLY unlikely. Minos was kind of cursed after all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Bull Dance (I)

Once upon a time, while surfing the web I came across this news article. Apparently a matador was arrested for fleeing from his bull in the ring. Now, I'm not really pro-bull fighting. When it comes down to it, it's a highly ritualized animal slaughter for the entertainment of those in the stands. Since, as a culture, we seem to frown on ANY kind of highly ritualized animal slaughter, even those for religious purposes (you'll notice that religions which require animal sacrifice have been forced to the fringe of society over the years), I'm not sure why we're still allowing bull fights. BUT, we do. And having recently reread and contemplated upon Mary Renault's opus on Theseus (please go read THE KING MUST DIE and THE BULL FROM THE SEA immediately -- but in truth, Theseus and Bronze Age Greece is never far from my mind), it occurred to me that this might be a remnant, passed down, warped, evolved, and inherited from the Minoan Bull Dance.

Have you ever watched a Matador? The way they move? The way they dance with the bull, leading it and drawing it out, this way and that? Making the bull practically spin on a dime? But of course, the Minoan Bull Dance was never about the slaughter. It wasn't about killing the bull at all-- and that's a huge difference to set aside even after 3000 years.

Knossos bull
From Wikicommons, a "reconstructed" fresco from Knossos, Crete.
See THIS POST for more info on the reconstruction which took place during the excavation of Knossos.
No, seriously. Check out that post. And watch the presentation from the Met. Totally Worth It.

Mary Renault paints the Minoan Bull Dance as a cooperative showcase in THE KING MUST DIE -- man and bull together in harmony. A team of men and women worked together to keep themselves alive in the ring while they leaped and allowed the bull itself to throw them into the air. The bull, after a time, would know the dance as well as the team. It was a performance of skill which required perfect timing and a relationship (I would even go so far as to say a relationship of TRUST) to the animal they worked with. There are no swords or spears featured in the information we have left of the Bull Dance, but there is plenty of evidence for acrobatics.

Historians suspect that the Minoan Bull Dance was an integral part of the religion of ancient Crete, but we honestly don't know why or what it was for, and it's all further complicated by the fact that the Minoans seemed to emphasize the worship of goddesses over male gods, though they had both. We know it was important because Bull Leaping iconography was everywhere and kind of a lot of it survived in frescoes, figurines, etc. But it could have just as easily been a rite of passage for youths, too, religious in nature or not.

(Side note: This is kind of where I think about how we have all these super hero action figures that will never decompose, and someday, someone is going to dig them up and think Superman was the center of our lives. But generally speaking, when there's this much evidence of something all these years later, before the days of mass production, it did figure pretty centrally in the culture, or so much work and sweat--not to mention resources--wouldn't have gone into it.)

I wish I could tell you more about Bull Leaping and Bull Dancing in Minoan Civilization, but in spite of the fact that I have at least 5 text books on ancient Greece and the Aegean Bronze Age at my fingertips, information on the Bull Dance itself is scarce. (Trust me, I just searched through all of them.) When it comes down to it, we just don't know. We have no real written records outside of linear a and b tablets from that time, and those weren't exactly treatises on religious rites or culture. The Bull Dance is very much still a mystery. Which of course makes it great sport for fiction.

In my next post, I'll discuss the much more probable (in my most humble opinion) descendant of the Minoan Bull Dance-- and it isn't the Spanish Bull Fight.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Some Hard Truths and Gloria Victis

I don't discuss much of my personal anything on this blog, but there are some hard truths being revealed which necessitate me to take a bit of a hiatus again --

1) My cat is on the downward slope of a very wearing battle for her health, and we are pretty sure the end is coming in the next couple of weeks. What time I have that is not taken by deadlines or absolutely necessary work is now spent in her care -- making sure she eats what little we can get her to eat and is medicated, making sure she knows she's loved, making sure that when the day comes that there is nothing left to do to make her comfortable, I know I put her first and did right by her. She's only 10. We thought we'd have a lot longer with her.

For those of you who don't have pets, I just ask for understanding, because this is a really, really difficult time for us. Particularly as it has come on the heels of another loss, which leads me to the second event which necessitates my hiatus:

2) Earlier this year we lost El Husband's grandmother, and now that the weather is turning, the family is gathering for funeral services. Ourselves included.

The third item is a more positive "I've got a lot on my plate in April" bullet point, which I'm very grateful for, but means that the headspace I have left for blogging is pretty much burned up with all the OTHER words I need to be writing. So.

We'll see you on the other side of the writer-cave-tunnel, from which I hope to emerge in May! And in the meantime, allow me to share with you this fantastic bronze -- Gloria Victis, because regardless of what comes, or how hard things get, I believe that I will find the strength to triumph, if not gloriously, at least... somehow. At heart, I am very much the optimist.

(And if that isn't Athena-Nike, or at least Nike, I do not know what is.)

photos taken by and belong to me!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Even Older than the Bronze Age: Copper Age Artifacts

There's an exhibit in New York City going on, now, at NYU, which has put on display a number of artifacts from the Copper Age! What I think is really interesting, is that some of the pottery figures remind me a little bit of the bronze age/Minoan/Mycenaean figures I've seen -- but, in the immortal words of LeVar Burton, you don't have to take my word for it:

There's some more information about the exhibit on the NYU website -- and I'm not going to lie, it makes me want to take a trip down to the city to see these amazing artifacts with my own eyes!

And for your reference, here is some video of Mycenaean figures -- the resemblance could very well be just a passing "this is how figures must be constructed from pottery" thing, but, I don't know... it's just interesting to compare and contrast! Jump to about 40 seconds in to go directly to the figures themselves:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

For the Love of Artemis (Art post!)

Let's start with a song, because I recently had the pleasure of seeing Dar Williams live, and she's a great advocate for mythology, if you ask me, and her song CRYSTAL CREEK is totally about Artemis, and I absolutely love the way she brought this particular myth forward with a modern framing.

But this post is mostly an excuse to share this sculpture which I came across in the National Gallery of Art in DC, of Artemis/Diana. (And the photo I took which is not completely crooked! SHOCKING, I know!)

Diana and a Hound
(photo © me!)
There's just something about the images of Diana with her hounds, or on the hunt, that really grab me. This is from the 1920s, and it's absolutely stunning, if perhaps a bit art-deco-ish to my untrained eye.

(Yes, I'm still writing. But this sculpture totally deserved its own post, anyway.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stay Classy, Zeus (Zeus and Callisto)

Diana of the Tower
(yet another example of why I should
not be allowed to take photos.)
Pretty commonly, when Zeus wanted to get it on with a lady forbidden to him (either by his marriage to Hera or parental control), Zeus took the form of something else to disguise himself. Sometimes this disguise was for the benefit of those who might be watching for his next infidelity, but sometimes it was to deceive the woman he wanted, grant her a false sense of security, and then do the deed once she was in his power.

The story of Europa and the Bull is a good example of this particular device, which we have discussed at length elsewhere. But today, we're going to talk about that time that Zeus took it even further--too far, even. We're going to talk about Zeus's rape of Callisto.

Callisto, you see, was a sworn virgin, a nymph of Artemis, who herself was a virgin goddess. So what did Zeus do in order to get with his daughter's ladyfriend and devotee?

Apollodorus (3.8.2) presents the story this way:
Now Zeus loved her and, having assumed the likeness, as some say, of Artemis, or, as others say, of Apollo, he shared her bed against her will, and wishing to escape the notice of Hera, he turned her into a bear.
If Zeus took the form of Artemis herself in order to get close to Callisto, and then when he had her in his grasp, took her virginity and impregnated her, there is no excuse for it. He could have at least had the decency to present himself as a dude, so Callisto wouldn't have been caught completely unaware. But this is only the first half of the story -- the second half is what happened after. Because Callisto? she didn't get the Happily Ever-married-off-to-some-other-guy-and-leave-the-fruit-of-this-unwanted-labor-to-die-of-exposure After.

In the next breath, Apollodorus tells us:
But Hera persuaded Artemis to shoot her down as a wild beast. Some say, however, that Artemis shot her down because she did not keep her maidenhood. When Callisto perished, Zeus [...] turned [her] into a star and called it the Bear.
Now look. Zeus has power. He can give the gift of immortality when he wants to, and if he can turn a girl into a bear, he can darn well protect her from Artemis' bow, even from Hera's wrath, were he moved to give said girl just a moment more of his attention beyond the pleasure he's stolen from her body.  But he doesn't. He almost never does. And I really struggle to understand why. Is it to make these women cautionary tales? Even your virgin goddess won't protect you, if you catch the eye of a man? Your virgin goddess will turn on you, the moment you break your vows, whether you do so willfully or not? Are these stories meant to keep women in their place? Tied to men and the protection of fathers, brothers, and husbands? I can't decide. But I do know one thing:

This particular story is why, in my most humble of opinions, Poseidon will always be classier than Zeus.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Writer-Cave Calls, So Let Me Answer In Song

I'm still technically in the writer-cave, in spite of what the last couple of posts would have you believe -- but I wanted to take a short break from mythology posts (which require time I really should be spending on Hippodamia and Pirithous) to share what being in that cave feels like, sometimes.

In song!

(You might remember Dar Williams from one of my posts before Christmas -- her latest Album, IN THE TIME OF GODS is mostly songs inspired by Classical Myth.)

And of course, there's this entirely awful feeling of desperation, sometimes, that comes with being a writer -- I'd advise us all not to take the route suggested in this Beatles song, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't felt this way, at some point or another during the process of getting where I am today.

Don't worry, we'll be back to regularly scheduled mythology posts next week! (And hopefully by then, I'll have sorted out what comes next in this manuscript, and the words will be flying from my fingers!)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Poseidon is Classier than Zeus (Poseidon and Tyro)

Neptune with a Hippocamp
Yes it is crooked. I suck at photography.
So here's the thing. I kind of like Poseidon. There's something about him that captures my heart in spite of the fact that he shares MANY of Zeus's flaws -- particularly in the way he uses women to slake his lust. It's possible my appreciate for Poseidon might just be the reflected glory of my absolute adoration of Theseus, his son, but then there's also the story of his affair with Tyro, which could kind of almost be considered romantic maybe if one overlooks the fact that it's all done under false pretenses.

According to Apollodorus (1.9.8):
Now Tyro, daughter of Salmoneus and Alcidice, was brought up by Cretheus, brother of Salmoneus, and conceived a passion for the river Enipeus, and often would she hie to its running waters and utter her plaint to them. But Poseidon in the likeness of Enipeus lay with her, and she secretly gave birth to twin sons, whom she exposed.

But Homer! Oh, the way Homer tells this story, in the Odyssey makes me really appreciate Poseidon's class:
She [Tyro] fell in love with the river Enipeus who is much the most beautiful river in the whole world. Once when she was taking a walk by his side as usual, Neptune, disguised as her lover, lay with her at the mouth of the river, and a huge blue wave arched itself like a mountain over them to hide both woman and god, whereon he loosed her virgin girdle and laid her in a deep slumber. When the god had accomplished the deed of love, he took her hand in his own and said, 'Tyro, rejoice in all good will; the embraces of the gods are not fruitless, and you will have fine twins about this time twelve months. Take great care of them. I am Neptune, so now go home, but hold your tongue and do not tell any one.'

The problem with all of this, of course, is that it's still incredibly deceitful. But I suppose if she thought she was making love with the River (or did he put her to sleep and then make love to her? I'm going to hope that wasn't the situation) then at least she must have rejoiced in her unrequited love being fulfilled at last, maybe. Until Poseidon revealed himself, anyway. But even then. The way this particular translation presents it feels very... Old Testament Word of God to Mary regarding Jesus. And of course, if we're to believe Apollodorus, it seems that Tyro wastes no time in discarding the fruits of that union, but that could very well have been because of other pressures -- her father, perhaps, who wanted to see her married, and feared anyone worth anything as a match would refuse if she came with twin bastard sons of Poseidon. And let's face it, that was bound to be a consideration. Unlike the Aegeus/Poseidon/Aethra business which resulted in Theseus, these twins weren't coming with a kingdom for their future inheritance. They were just coming.

But I've got to admit that I do love the image of the giant blue wave arching itself over the two of them as a little love shack. And, wonder of wonders, aside from being knocked up, Tyro didn't get smote by any other gods or goddesses for the trouble Poseidon brought her! (In this instance, I think Tyro won the lottery--Poseidon's consort/wife Amphitrite did not seem NEARLY as interested in taking revenge on the women he seduced.) She just went on to be married to Cretheus -- father of Aeson, and as a result, grandfather of that Jason.

The twins she bore Poseidon were Pelias and Neleus. As you might imagine, they survived their exposure to grow up and cause trouble in the usual heroic style. Learning their true heritage and killing some people while earning the enmity of the gods. Pelias in particular seemed to get on Hera's bad side, which isn't typically the BEST idea.

According to Apollodorus, Neleus founded Pylos, and was the father of Nestor, a hero/wise-old-king from the Iliad.*  At the opposite end of Greece, Pelias wound up in Thessaly where he became King of Iolcus and eventually sent Jason (his half-brother, Aeson's son) on his famous quest for the Golden Fleece with the Argonauts.

Like I said. Trouble in the usual heroic style.

*Pretty sure this means that Nestor is Theseus's nephew, since Theseus would have been a half-brother of  Neleus. Which is pretty fascinating. All these guys are related like weirdy/awesome, and I really find it strange that it doesn't get pointed out more in our modern retellings. I get that the Greeks might not have cared, or even considered it a true relation, but for a modern audience, it might be a useful framing.
Crooked and non-crooked photographs belong to me.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Theseus Is Not Your Typical Bronze Age Hero

In the Bronze Age, the definition of Hero was very different. The raiding and the stealing women and the warlording, the pirating. It's something we've touched on quite a bit on the blog in relation to Pirithous, particularly. But what about Theseus?

At a later age, Theseus was known both for his kindness to women and his kindness to slaves and the weak, and I've always felt that Theseus' myths reveal a great contradiction, even inside his own character, between what was considered heroic in that time period, and how he behaved -- for example, his abandonment of Ariadne (while perfectly in line with heroics of the time) doesn't really jive with his creation of this feast day to honor the woman who lent him her cow in order to tame the bull at Marathon, and the way he continued to honor her in perpetuity for her help. Would a man who repays that small help from a woman so grandly repay Ariadne for HER sacrifice and aid so cruelly as to abandon her without a moment's thought or regret?

I have a hard time reconciling it, personally, which is why I think keeping the gods in these myths is so important. Without the hands of the gods manipulating and abusing these heroes, their actions make so much less sense. Their *characters* make so much less sense.

Yes, Theseus must prove himself, and there are plenty of ways in which he does so in a way that is related more to self-sacrifice than self-service. Yes, his primary motivation is to preserve the memory of his name, to build reputation and be known. But Theseus takes up this call differently than, say, Heracles. He doesn't just go about looting and pirating for the sake of looting and pirating. He clears the Isthmus road of the monstrous villains who lurk upon it, making the way safe for travelers and trade. He goes to Crete to liberate Athens. He even gives up some small measure of his power as king to allow for his people to have a say in their governance, if the Theseus as the Father of Democracy is to be believed. These are the things Theseus is known for, the way in which his name is remembered.

No matter what the meaning of hero was in the bronze age (or the Homeric age), these are all still remarkable achievements, and it opens the door to allow for a slightly different KIND of hero, for that period. (With Pirithous at his side to remind us of all the less savory meanings of the word Hero, of course. The braggarting, the swagger, the arrogance and righteous belief that anything you had the strength to take was yours to make off with, the glory without consideration for anyone else, at the expense of everyone else.) Theseus would NEVER have sat out during the Trojan war, and let his fellow soldiers die just because his prize was stolen from him, and the slight to his honor as a result. But then again, Theseus would probably not have served under Agamemnon to begin with. (Would Agamemnon even have been able to hold so much influence, to be the warlord he was, if Theseus had still been King of Athens?)

But is it any wonder that the Athenians would latch on to these virtues? That Theseus would possess the seeds for them, when he is THEIR hero, particularly. The answer to Heracles. I mean, we can sit here and debate the chicken or the egg -- which came first, and what does it mean for the actuality and historicity of Theseus, King of Athens. Did the Athenians read all of these virtues back into their hypothetical founding father, or did he possess these virtues to begin with, and those ideals carried forward through the ages, a lasting mark of his reign?

For myself, I want to believe the latter. I want to believe that Athens developed as it did (in contrast to Sparta and the other city-states) BECAUSE there was some seed planted by those early kings. That Theseus came first, and the rest followed.