Mythological Rambling

All posts in the Mythological Rambling category

The Trojan Horse

Published June 9, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

So, you may have noticed it’s been quite some time since my last Book Report.  That’s because I’m working on the challenge to read a book set more than 5000 miles from your location, and it’s been slow going for various reasons.  The book is The Story of Egypt, by Joann Fletcher, and I’ll talk about the book at length when I finish it.  (Obviously.)  But right now I want to quote you a passage I read about a week ago:

Having learned that the prince of Joppa wished to see ‘the great mace of King Tuthmosis’, Djehuti [Overseer of the Northern Foreign Lands] had invited him to his camp outside the town [which Djehuti had been besieging for some time], where he suddenly pulled out the mace, shouting ‘Look at me, Prince of Joppa!  This is the mace of King Tuthmosis the fierce lion, son of Sekhmet, and Amen his father has given him strength to wield it’.  Then he used it himself, to ‘smite the forehead of the Prince of Joppa, and he fell stretched out before him’.  Djehuti then put the rest of his plan into action.  He hid 200 of his soldiers, Ali-Baba-style, inside baskets, which he sent into Joppa on donkey-back with the claim that they contained tribute. The folk of Joppa, clearly as gullible as their prince, took in the baskets, from which the Egyptian troops emerged to capture their town, anticipating the Greek tale of the Trojan Horse by several centuries. [187-7]

Tuthmosis III reigned from 1479 BC to 1425 BC, so that didn’t just pre-date the story of the Trojan Horse:  it pre-dated any historical conflict that might have given rise to the myth of the Trojan War in the first place!  Now, I am, personally, disposed to think that the myth was, in fact, loosely inspired by a Mycenaean invasion of Troy that was in some way particularly noteworthy (if only for being the last major military undertaking before the end of the palatial era), which has always made me wonder where such a fanciful finale came from.

Despite the occasional divine intervention, most of the events of the Trojan War are very down-to-earth and realistic.  There are no monsters, and even most of the divine interventions took on the form of things we would now call “acts of God” like plagues and floods.  Well, that and wrapping people in a mist to spirit them away from danger, but…point is, the gods are much more subtle during the Trojan War than they are in the other myths.  But that just makes the giant wooden horse story all the weirder.

I’ve often (well, maybe not often, but certainly many times) sat around pondering the idea of just where the myth of the Trojan Horse comes from.  I came up with all sorts of possible explanations, from Odysseus-like clinging to the underside of horses to outright lying by returning warriors.  I think a gate marked with a horse has been a common device to explain away the myth, too.  (That one I’m pretty sure isn’t one of mine, though.  I don’t usually think that way.)

But so now let’s look at this Egyptian story from about two hundred years before the Trojan War’s likely date.  (Possibly three hundred years, depending on when you think it took place.  The traditional date of 1154 seems a bit late to me, personally.)  Unfortunately, the book doesn’t tell us where modern scholars learned the story from; the notes direct one to a 1925 article in a journal my university library doesn’t have access to, so I can’t find out the source, but the title of the article does specifically refer to it as a “legend,” so it probably is something that was passed down through oral culture for centuries, rather than something painted on the walls of Djehuti’s tomb.  (Okay, just looked around online, and it seems to come from a papyrus.  So it’s unclear just how well the story had spread in antiquity, but it sounds like the papyrus was a literary text so probably it had spread pretty well.)

First things first, is it possible this could have happened?  Well, actually, yes, I think it is.  It doesn’t seem improbable to me that a prince going to the enemy camp after a long siege could result in a peace treaty, and in the case of such treaties, the trading of goods wouldn’t be uncommon, particularly if the siege had been cutting off the flow of food into the city.  Take out the word “tribute” and replace it with “trade” or “provisions” and it becomes quite believable.  This would have been in the days of guest-friendship all throughout the Mediterranean region, so a peace treaty would surely have included quite an exchange of goods, so it’s not inconceivable that the people of Joppa would have let those baskets into the town.  200 warriors taking a fortified city by themselves doesn’t seem terribly probable, but they could have opened the gates to let in the rest of the army.

So, let’s just suppose that it did happen as told in the quote above.  It probably would have become quite the famous maneuver, at least for a while.  And the book has mentioned repeatedly that the Egyptians not only traded with the Mycenaeans (and one pharaoh had claimed Mycenaean Greece as tributary to him), but also that they hired Mycenaean mercenaries to serve in their armies.  That being the case, it would be very likely that the story of the siege of Joppa would spread to Mycenaean Greece.

Of course, that doesn’t tell us much.  The real question is how and when that affected the Trojan War.  Did it have an impact on the real conflict between Mycenaean Greeks and the people of Troy; did they attempt to emulate the tactic?  Or was it just brought in when the war was being mythologized, to give it a spectacular climax, perhaps because the actual war ended in a lackluster treaty in which the city never fell?  And either way, where did the giant wooden horse idea come from?

That last part is the one I can’t provide a decent answer for, of course.

It does seem like Troy was strongly associated with horses:  many of the epithets applied to Hector and the other Trojan warriors involved horse-taming and related skills, and of course there were the fabulous horses given to the King of Troy by Zeus in apology for carrying off his son Ganymede.  I don’t recall reading anything about any particularly significant horse-related objects being found in the excavations at Troy, though, so it’s unclear how much of that actually dated back to the Bronze Age, and how much of it was after the fact.

I feel like there’s a logical answer that’s dancing around just outside my reach.  Very frustrating.

There’s one other thing about this Egyptian tale that I feel like could be significant, though I’m not sure exactly how.  And that’d the fact that the city which fell was Joppa.  Joppa, as you may recall, was a Phoenician city, and the homeland of Andromeda, wife of Perseus.  And Perseus was the mythical founder of Mycenae.

I don’t know.  Maybe that’s totally irrelevant/coincidental.

But what if it isn’t, and I’m just too dumb to see what the connection is?

(This particular fall of Joppa would have been about two hundred years after Perseus and Andromeda’s time, btw.  In case anyone was wondering.)

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Movie Reaction: Wonder Woman

Published June 6, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

Yes, “reaction,” not “review.”  I wouldn’t know how to give the movie a proper review.  However, I will admit that — despite an opening that disgusted me (which will be the focus of this post) — I was really digging it until a scene that had me muttering under my breath “No, no, no, no, no!” and “Don’t do it!  Don’t you dare do it!”  (At which point my brother leaned over and told me he agreed with me 100%.)  Unfortunately, they didn’t listen to me about that scene, and it pretty much wrecked the entire movie for me.  Aside from that, it’s the first movie in this new wave of connected DC movies that is actually, you know, a well made, competent movie with a script that actually plays like a single, proper draft, and features a cast of characters you can actually like, as opposed to a few likable characters surrounded by a sea of “meh.”  And it strikes me as hilariously ironic that they shifted the time period from WWII to WWI in order to avoid comparisons to Captain America, and yet they still had a Captain named Steve (played by a guy named Chris) who gathered together a small crew of interesting and multi-cultural buddies to help him fight the Germans, and I don’t want to go into spoilers, but there was an aspect of the climax that was rolling out the red carpet for the comparisons they wanted so much to avoid.

But none of that is what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about is the astonishingly awful mutilation of Greek mythology.  (So, yes, feel free to dismiss this post as the whining of a mythology geek.  I really don’t care what anyone else thinks of me.)

Now, it’s not that I went in expecting the mythology to be handled with anything resembling accuracy.  I’ve seen a lot of episodes of the animated Justice League show that was on Cartoon Network…uh…whenever that was (I’m thinking early 2000s?), and my brother and father are both hugely into comic books, so I’ve heard a lot on the subject from them.  So I knew already that Ares was Wonder Woman’s biggest foe (and always had been), and that the reboot changed her very cool origin of a statue brought to life to the hyper-boring origin of being a daughter of Zeus.  So I knew what I was going to see was not going to be anything even remotely accurate to the myths or the personalities of the gods described therein.  But I wasn’t expecting anything this mutilated.

Very early in the picture (definitely in the first ten minutes), the child Diana is told a bedtime story about the gods and the duty of the Amazons by her mother, Hippolyte.  Given that it was so early in the picture, I feel like I can discuss it at great length without it being considered a spoiler, but just in case anyone feels differently, I’ll put it on the other side of the “Read More” tag.

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Subtitle Oopsy

Published September 6, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

I think I just won the “stupidest title for a blog post ever” award.

If there is such an award.

(I’m not sure if I’d actually want there to be one or not.)

Anyway, I just wanted to post about something stupid that actually tied in to my somewhat estranged “Greek mythology” theme.

So, I’m sorry to say that my birthday was last month, and as usual I couldn’t convince my family to pretend it wasn’t happening.  But at least they had the decency to only give me one present.  In this case, it was the Blu-Ray of the movie Iphigenia, based on the Euripides play Iphigenia at Aulis.  (But without the dea ex machina ending that scholars have been arguing about for centuries.)

I saw the movie years ago in a class, and I’d been trying to get my hands on it for a couple of years to see it again, but the DVD was long out of print, and apparently someone stole the Netflix lending copy.  (Seriously, it’s been on my brother’s queue for years.)  But it was finally released on Blu-ray recently by Olive Films (at least, I think that’s what the logo said) so I was finally able to see it again.

I hadn’t read the play yet when I first saw the movie, so I was surprised at just how much material there was before the start of the play.  (Must have been at least ten to fifteen minutes.)

The point of this post, though, is to tell you about a little goof they made in the subtitles.  (And yes, I only just got around to watching it yesterday.  On account of I have a slight problem with my television, and currently have to take Blu-rays to my brother’s place to watch them.)  For those who don’t know the story of the play, the only pertinent detail you need for my anecdote is that Agamemnon sent a letter back to Mycenae, asking that his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, be sent alone to Aulis, in order to marry Achilles.  Of course, his wife, Clytemnestra, wasn’t about to let her daughter go off alone, so she’s come to Aulis with her.  And when she’s talking to Agamemnon about the proposed marriage, she’s asking about what kind of man Achilles is.

And Agamemnon tells her that he’s “descended from Aesop.”

And I’m sitting here going “Um, what?”

Because I know that’s not what it said in Euripides.  Because while Aesop is one of those writers that — like Homer — has a partially (or entirely) mythologized life story, he’s still a real person.  (Probably.)  And lived in historical times.  And was a slave.

But the movie was going on, and I forgot about the line until after the movie was over.

Then I was suddenly like “Oh, duh!”

What the line actually said was that Achilles was descended from Asopos, not Aesop.  Asopos, of course, being a river god and the father of Aegina, who was kidnapped/ravished/impregnated by Zeus, giving birth to Aiakos, who was the father of Peleus, father of Achilles.

Now, it still strikes me as weird to pick Asopos rather than Zeus in order to talk about Achilles’ divine lineage (not to mention what about his mother, Thetis, the most powerful of the Nereids?) but presumably that was either because pretty much everyone in the mythic nobility is descended from Zeus, or — more likely — for metrical reasons.

But writing Aesop instead of Asopos…

…it’s hard to find rhyme or reason for that one.

An odd thought about Heracles

Published June 21, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

This is coming totally out of the blue, but lately I’ve been looking at some posts talking about some of the less well-known exploits of Heracles (less well known in modern times, anyhow), and a few minutes ago I had a…well, it wouldn’t be right to call it an epiphany (especially as it’s rather odd and probably wrong) but it struck me with that kind of lightning-like speed, and at the moment I had the thought I was sure it explained everything.  (Though giving it a little more thought made me realize that it didn’t make a lick of sense.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share it, in case anyone else found it interesting, but I’ll put it in context first.

Heracles, as most Greek myth enthusiasts know, was either born in Thebes, or born in Tiryns and then his family moved to Thebes when he was an infant.  (The former is the standard version, I believe.)  Either way, the point is that Heracles was raised in Thebes, and was a Theban hero who protected the city.  Particularly he defended it against the Orchomenians, who had conquered the city earlier, and now were demanding a huge payment from Thebes each year.  In some versions, he received the hand of King Creon’s daughter, Megara, in repayment for his victory over the Orchomenians.

All well and good, yes?

Except if you look at Heracles’ interactions with the other major mythic cycles.

Heracles was an Argonaut.  Heracles sacked Troy when Priam was a youth (and called Podarces in some versions of the tale).  And Heracles has no interaction whatsoever with the Theban Cycle.  And yet, two of the Epigoni fought at Troy, placing the earlier actions of the Theban Cycle squarely during Heracles’ lifetime.  (A fact made all the more glaringly evident by the fact that the king of Thebes in Heracles’ day goes by the name of Creon…which is actually a generic name for a king in ancient Greece, but…)

So, the thought that occurred to me was that the Thebes in Greece is not the only Thebes.

What if Heracles was originally from the Egyptian Thebes?

Heracles bears considerable similarities to certain Middle Eastern figures, particularly Mesopotamian and Phoenician ones, and in classical times there was an Egyptian figure believed by the Greeks to be Heracles.  (Though the latter isn’t saying much, since it was the traditional Greek practice to assume that all foreign gods were actually the Greek gods by the wrong names, and the mortal Heracles was deified upon his “death.”  (Though it’s actually much more complicated than that, considering his Mesopotamian forebear was never mortal, and in the Odyssey, the shade of Heracles appears along with the other dead, implying that during the Archaic era, Heracles was not considered to have become an immortal after death.))  So what if originally his parents fled all the way to Egypt, instead of simply to Thebes?  Cadmos, after all, was both a Phoenician and the grandfather of Dionysos, so it’s not as though the Greeks couldn’t admit foreigners into their divine family.  And the Greeks admired the Egyptians, while the Phoenicians were still “barbarians” to them.  (Though obviously more acceptable “barbarians” than, say, the Persians.)

There’s also one more Thebes, but I doubt it could ever have been Heracles’ homeland:  it’s a town near Troy, sacked by Achilles during the Trojan War (like so many others), and the birthplace of poor Andromache.

Of course, the Anatolian Thebes brings up another point:  just because in historical times there were only two Thebes, the Greek one and the Egyptian one, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been more of them in the Mycenaean era in which the myths began to form.  Perhaps there used to be another Thebes in Greece, and it was to that city that Amphitryon and Alcmene moved when they left Tiryns.

Given the utter disconnect between Heracles and the Theban Cycle (how could his entire life come in the gaps while Creon was ruling?), I think it seems most likely that he was not originally associated with the same Thebes as Oedipus and his family.  Maybe there used to be an Argive Thebes, which would make a lot more sense in many ways:  for good or ill, Heracles is always connected to Hera, and Argos was her region of Greece, plus then his family wouldn’t have fled so far.  On the other hand, if he was Peloponnesian, it would make less sense for him to be an Argonaut, since the Argo‘s crew was largely Thessalian — at least originally.

I’d have to check the Catalog of Ships in the Iliad to see if there are any other cities named Thebes listed, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t, so if I’m right and Heracles used to come from an entirely different Thebes, it was already lost and forgotten by the time the Catalog of Ships was first composed.  And that was a part of the Iliad that the poet inherited from generations of earlier bards, considering it’s describing the Mycenaean power landscape, not the Archaic one that was in place when the epic itself was composed.  So if there isn’t another Thebes in the Catalog of Ships, then for Heracles to have originally been associated with a different Thebes, his story would have to be really freakin’ old.  Unless he was originally from Egyptian Thebes.  That’s an entirely different matter…but I don’t know if the Greeks ever assumed that the Egyptian cities were city-states like their own, so…yeah, that’s a problem.

Another problem, of course, is that fact that Tiresias is lightly involved in the story of Heracles’ conception, at least in some versions, which rather requires him to have been born (and conceived) in that Thebes.

Ultimately, what bothers me about this little conundrum is how I’m going to handle the life of Heracles in my myth re-tellings.  I need to figure out what to do about that, because if he’s from the same Thebes as Oedipus, then why doesn’t he get involved in all of that?  What’s the timing?  If he’s from a different Thebes, then it’s a little easier to work out the chronology.  Or rather, the precise chronology is of little relevance, so I don’t have to stress about it.  (I just have to explain what Tiresias is doing in a Thebes other than the one he lives in.)

The “Best Friend”

Published May 17, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, this post is a mess.  But after writing more than a thousand words of it, I didn’t want to just let it shrivel up and die as an eternal “draft post”.  So I’m just releasing it into the web with the disclaimer that it sucks.

Read ahead at your own peril.


You may be wondering about the quotes in the title.  Well, that’s because I want to talk about the general socio-cultural phenomenon, not any specific, real-world best friend.

(Listens; hears people clicking away from this post with undue haste.)

Hey, c’mon, it’s not that bad!  Honest, I plan to go through my usual mythological, historical and even fictional examples!  And, in truth, this post was more inspired by a movie than by any work of literature.

See, at the end of the movie — given that it is at the end, I can’t say which, because it’d spoil the movie, but I will say it’s something I saw on Netflix, and it’s a comedy — the hero and his best friend, having had a brief romantic encounter earlier in the picture, talk about if they’re now going to become a couple, and the best friend points out that if they did, they’d only break up after a month or so, and it’d be much better if they stayed best friends in a relationship that will last forever, instead of a short-lived romantic relationship.

Very mature, but is it accurate?

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April A-to-Z Reflections

Published May 9, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

First Reflections

Well, my biggest reflection is that I chose a theme that was way too complicated.  As a result, I ended up getting lazier and lazier about it, and the comparisons started getting cheap, sloppy and almost exclusively stuff I knew well before starting the challenge.  (And this, of course, was while taking a class with heavy reading and a paper each week, so it was doubly poorly chosen as a theme.)  It actually started feeling like work in the final few days, to the extent where I had to promise myself a reward for finishing — and a bigger one than I’ve promised myself for finishing my classes for the semester!

Next year, I’m gonna do something much simpler.  I actually already have something in mind, though I don’t know if I’ll end up doing it or not.

had written a long bit here explaining why so many of my “first choice,” as it were, topics for posts were nixed and had to be replaced at the last minute.  It didn’t really have much to do with April A-to-Z, so I’ve moved it into a different post, so if you want to read about it in detail, please follow that link.  I’ll sum up briefly here by saying that my original sources proved unreliable…and as the month progressed, I realized one of my new sources was also somewhat unreliable.  Ugh.  (BTW, if you saw my “U” post and wondered about the other version of the story, it’s in that other post on the sources, so please check it out!)

Summaries and Scores

Overall, I feel like I changed most of my post’s topics within 24 hours of writing them.  So I thought I’d share with you what they were originally going to be about.  (I’ll get to a recap of what they ended up being about — and a tally of cultures — after this.) Read the rest of this entry →

Missing Letter Monday – No “X”

Published May 9, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Charybdis

Trapped in a spiral,
Spinning downwards,
Rushing, gushing
Drowning.

Boats floating,
Sinking,
Crushing.

Sailors frenzying,
Rowing,
Screaming,
Dying.

Scylla’s laughter,
Scylla’s feast,
Blood everywhere,
Turning the waters red.

It’s very salty,
But salt festooned with copper.
I don’t like it.
Blood doesn’t taste good.

That lying old man,
Quick-tongued,
Like his great-grandfather.
He convinced a lot of people.
Made them think they could get away.

There’s no getting away.
There’s no escape from this doom.
There’s no tree branch above my pool.

Odysseus passed this way but once,
Before his crew marooned him
On that island they thought was deserted.
(If they’d known about Calypso,
They would have stayed,
And forced him to sail on!)

I don’t like that he blames their deaths on me.
If he ever comes this way again,
I’ll eat him.

I don’t like the taste of old man flesh,
But if it’s his,
I’ll enjoy it.

Athene won’t like it,
But I don’t care.

Hermes probably won’t like it, either,
But I still don’t care.

Poseidon will love it.
I’m fine with that.
Maybe he’ll start hanging out here more often.
(Goodness knows, he’s not picky
When it comes to mistresses…
I might not mind
A little light adultery
And giving birth
To the child of a god…)

Scylla thinks she’s all that.
But she’s not as good as me.
She can only kill seven men at a time.
I can kill thousands,
If they sail close enough.

Though I’d rather they didn’t.
I’d rather they just stayed out of our strait.
Wood doesn’t taste too good,
And blood tastes worse.

Drinking half the sea
Is bad enough by itself.
Why do men have to get in the way?

Dying,
Screaming,
Panicking,
Rowing,
Chomped by Scylla,
Amid screams and laughter.

Life should be better than this.


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Well…that got weird.  And then it got creepy.  Pity; it actually started out pretty good.  I shouldn’t have gone inside her head…maybe I’ll do a version 2 someday where I don’t do that…

April A-to-Z and Sources

Published May 6, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

So, if you read all my April A-to-Z posts — or even just most of them — you may have noticed that from time to time I complained about having had to pick a new topic at the last minute, and other such complaints.  Well, there was a good reason for that, and I’d like to share it with you…in the form of a lengthy section of text originally intended to be part of the A-to-Z Reflections post, but I decided that since it didn’t actually have much to do with the experience of A-to-Z itself, I should probably put it elsewhere, so I made it into its own post.  Which would be this.  And now I’m stalling by writing nonsense because I don’t want to go back to reading the letters exchanged between Princess Elisabeth and Descartes, because argh.

*ahem*

Yes, I’ll just get on with the actual post now…

The comparative world mythology theme did drive something home for me:  the world needs a really good mythology reference resource.  My plan, when I decided to do this theme, was to look through a few “mythology encyclopedias” I had, jot down information about the candidates that sounded good, and then research them properly.  Well, the one that had the gall to call itself the “ultimate world mythology” encyclopedia only covered Eurasia, and some of what I found in the one on the Americas failed to come up in any other source I found, and almost everything in the book on African mythology failed to come up anywhere else.  I got several books from my university’s library to cover Oceanic myths, and another book on African myths, but then I discovered that the university library gave me access to two online encyclopedias, and I made the mistake of relying on them more heavily than I should have.  (It didn’t help that it turned out I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to dedicate to this project, because on top of class work, my volunteer work turned into employed work, starting with a time-intensive project.)

The first clue I got that there might be something seriously wrong with one of my online sources (the one with far more myths listed, naturally) was when I couldn’t help clicking on the entry for “Patroclus” because the thumbnail text (as it were) made the odd and untenable claim that his father had been king of “Opus” which makes it highly illogical that his father would join him when he was exiled from Opoeis for homicide.  (And yet his shade in the Iliad very clearly states that his family joined him in his exile…)  Anyway, like I said, I clicked on it because I’m such a Patroclos fangirl, and then to my surprise it soon said this:

Achilles, like all children of sea-creatures (his mother was the sea-nymph Thetis), was bisexual, and at Troy took Briseis as his mistress, sleeping with her and with Patroclus on alternate nights.

That was the point I stopped reading, because “um, what?” is the only way to respond to that.  In what text, exactly, did it make the bizarre claim that Achilles’ bisexuality had anything to do with his mother’s aquatic nature?  That was normal in ancient Greece!  There would have been more need to explain it if he had expressly refused ever to enter into relationships with one sex or the other!  (Furthermore, what other child of a “sea-creature” do they have in mind as being expressly bisexual?  Most of the other individuals I can think of who have myths about them pursuing romances with both men and women are decidedly not descended from “sea-creatures”:  Patroclos, Apollo, Heracles, Zeus, possibly Poseidon (who is himself a “sea-creature” of sorts, but isn’t the son of one) and Orpheus, for a handful of easily summoned up examples.  Zephyros is the only one I can think of who is descended from a “sea-creature,” but Pontos was his great-grandfather, not father.)

And what text ever made such precise claims about Achilles’ sexual habits?  The ancient Greeks didn’t actually like to get that specific.  We know that Aischylos portrayed them as lovers, and that Phaedrus in Plato’s Symposium was enthusiastically in favor of that opinion (though he reversed Aischylos’ opinion of which one was “in love” and which was was “loved”), but all surviving texts tended to be pretty vague about such things, and the fact that Phaedrus had to specifically single out Aischylos (several decades out of date by the time of the Symposium‘s events, and even older by the time Plato actually wrote it) indicates that there weren’t that many other texts that talked about the relationship that openly.  (And keep in mind that the Symposium was set in the home of Agathon, the fourth most popular tragic playwright of ancient Athens, who was famous for being in a life-long same sex relationship.  If he never portrayed Achilles and Patroclos as being lovers, then surely it was pretty rare to talk about it!)  Not because no one thought of them that way, but because no one wanted to write about it.  Like religious matters, you just didn’t go there.  It wasn’t done.  And it particularly wouldn’t be done about someone who was both one of the greatest heroes of the ancient world (despite his desperately flawed personality) and was actively being worshiped in several places.

The point where I realized I had a serious problem was actually when I was working on the “U” post, though.  I made the mistake of basing my post on the entry from that same e-book, the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth, which said this about Uaica:

Uaica, in the myths of the Juruña people of the Xingu river, was given healing powers by Sinaa the creator, and used them to help his people. He brewed potions, made poultices from herbs and insects, set bones and sang spells to keep mortality at bay. But his powers depended on sexual abstinence, and they waned, first when his people gave him a wife and then when the wife took a lover. Finally the lover tried to kill Uaica, and Uaica disappeared into the ground forever, taking his healing powers with him. Before he went, he offered his people one last chance, if they followed him to the shadow-world; but they refused, and from that day on, human beings have been plagued by disease and death.

Then, late in the post, I realized I’d forgotten to check if it was listed in the other book, the Oxford Dictionary of World Mythology, which had so many fewer entries.  Well, it was listed, and this is what that book had to say about Uaica:

The Asclepius of the Juruna, an Indian tribe living along the Xingu River in Brazil. One day Uaica, out hunting in the forest, noticed a lot of dead animals under a large tree. When he approached the heap of beasts, he felt dizzy, fell down, and went to sleep. In his deep dream he saw Sinaa, the jaguar ancestor of the Juruna, who talked to him. This happened on several occasions till the deity told him to keep away.

Uaica obeyed. He also made a drink from the bark of the tree: from this potent brew he acquired many powers. Uaica became a great medicineman who could take away disease with the touch of his hand. Sinaa would come into his dreams again, and through their conversation all the needs of the people were supplied. Pressed by the Juruna, Uaica consented to marry, but his wife was unfaithful to him. Through this shortcoming and the attempt of her lover on Uaica’s life the Juruna lost the medicine-man. It happened that Uaica, who had eyes in the back of his head, saw the swinging club, and instantly he disappeared into the hole it made on striking the ground. Uaica said: ‘I shall not return. Arrows and clubs will be your lot. I tried to teach what Sinaa wished, but now I go.’ Later the medicine-man is said to have beckoned the Juruna to follow him underground, but they were too baffled and frightened to do so.

Just from that short summary, I can tell the latter version is more accurate, because of the natural, folkloric structure of the story.  More importantly — for my A-to-Z post — it was totally different in the key areas, especially in that in the accurate version, he was never commanded to abstain from sexual relations, so my post was completely screwed up, but it was late enough that I didn’t want to fix it, so I had to post it with the disclaimer that it was wrong.

hated having to do that.

But if I’d fixed it, I’d have lost the comparisons I’d prepared, and would have had to spend time I didn’t have searching out new ones.

Anyway, the frustration made me realize that I really want to see a proper, accurate, and comprehensive encyclopedia out there.  Maybe there already is one, but if there’s one online, I don’t know about it, and if it’s a book, it’s not in my university’s library system.  More importantly, even those online encyclopedias I was consulting — flawed as they were — were only accessible within an academic server (I seriously had to put in my password every single time I wanted to look at the texts) and thus only to a limited few, but a resource like the one I’m describing should be open and available to everyone, because there’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there.  (Especially on movie screens…)

So I plan on working on one myself.

I’m going to go through every primary text available in English (and in other languages once I learn other languages), and I’m going to write entries summarizing each text, and summing up who each character is, and I’m going to do theme-based entries, too.  The characters and themes will start out as just notes, getting fleshed out as I go along, obviously.  All entries — the fleshed out ones, I mean — will have notes explaining where each point comes from, so people can check them out for themselves.  I’m going to do it on LeanPub, so that once there’s enough to be worth others’ time, I can make it available (for free, obviously!) but can keep updating it as I go.  (Then if it’s ever actually completed, it can be moved to more popular places like Amazon.  But still for free, or it would negate the purpose of the project.)  This is one of the projects I’m going to work on over the summer break, as I talked about earlier.  (If anyone would like to help with this, btw, please let me know!  It’s going to be a crazy-slow process, so if anyone wants to tackle primary texts other than the ones I’m starting with (the Iliad, of course, and the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes) then that would be heavenly.)

I know this sounds like a crazy amount of work — and it’s going to be — and it may look like a waste of time, “because there’s Wikipedia.”  But the thing about Wikipedia is that anyone can go in and change things.  (Though admittedly most of the less well-known mythological figures probably don’t get the types who would maliciously/ignorantly enter false data even visiting them, much less bothering to change them.)  And information can go up without being checked, and without any citations.  And there’s just plain a lot of stuff not present there.  (Though I’m ashamed to admit that I consulted it as well during April…)

More importantly, I want to make a resource that could actually be cited academically if need be.  No college would ever accept a paper that cited Wikipedia (I hope!), but I’d like to make a resource that could be cited in a paper without the student losing credit.

It may be crazy, and maybe I’ll never even get it one tenth done, but…I really want to do this project, and I want to do it right.

Z is for Zurvan Akarana

Published May 1, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Z

Zurvan Akarana existed before there was existence.

He was female, and she was male, and she got himself pregnant with twins.

These twins were no ordinary twins, and the time of their pregnancy seemed eternal, even to a being as infinite as Zurvan Akarana.

As they began to be aware that they were carrying twins, Zurvan Akarana began to wonder which twin would be more powerful, which would be preeminent over the other.  For to single beings such as their children, one must be above another.  (Zurvan Akarana themselves, of course, being two-in-one, did not feel such a desire to excel over others.  After all, they were the center and the core of the beginning of time and existence.  When they began — if they began — there were no others for them to compete with.)

“Which shall be the greater?” they wondered aloud, then shook their head.  “The first born — ” they started, but the words had no sooner passed their lips than one of the twins began to rip his way out of the womb, desperate to be the first born and the most powerful.  ” — for a thousand times a thousand years,” Zurvan Akarana added, with hasty concern, on seeing the nature of the first born twin, “but then he shall be destroyed.”

The first born, Ahriman, neither cared for nor believed the addition to his mother-father’s prophecy, and decided that he must destroy his brother before his brother could destroy him.  After all, he would preeminent for thousands upon thousands of years!

His brother, Ahura Mazda, shook his head sadly, knowing that his would be a long battle to keep the light from being swallowed by Ahriman’s darkness.


I was all the way up to “His brother, Ahura Mazda,” before I thought to check the Shin Megami Tensei wiki to make sure that Zurvan hadn’t been included in any of the MegaTen games.  I don’t think it was unreasonable of me to assume it hadn’t been:  it’s the hermaphroditic, primordial being from which the dual gods of Zoroastrianism were born, and how do you put that in a video game?  Well, they found a way; it was a boss in one part of Shin Megami Tensei:  if…, which is more noteworthy as the forerunner of the Persona sub-series (to the extent of introducing Tamaki, AKA Tammy, a character in the first Persona and both Persona 2 games) than it is for its own merits as a game.

For a minute, I was just like “screw it, I’m posting this anyway!”  But then I told myself that since I made up my own extra rules, I had to follow them.  Especially if I was going to reward myself with a new doll for getting through these last few days where my enthusiasm had entirely vanished.

Aaaaaaanyway, I was primarily going to make the rather inept comparison of Ahriman’s rushed birth to rule over Ahura Mazda to Hera’s act of delaying Heracles’ birth so that Eurystheus could be born first and rule over his more powerful cousin, so…maybe it’s better that I had to put this off.

Regarding the way I told the story, I have no idea how actual Zoroastrian texts handle talking about Zurvan Akarana, but I thought that rather than use “it” to describe Zurvan, I’d use the plural.  Seemed appropriate, given the dualistic nature of Zoroastrianism.

Speaking of Zoroaster, or rather of the 19th century misunderstanding of his name as Zarathustra, the weirdest thing happened.  I was watching Season 2 of Daredevil, and a character quoted Nietzsche — not that he said who he was quoting, and quite frankly given who he was, I don’t know if he even knew where the quote came from — and I was immediately struck with a sense of deja vu.  As soon as the episode was over, I picked up Also Sprach Zarathustra (which was the assigned reading that week for class) and began leafing through it.  And, sure enough, I had read that passage the day before.  How freaky a coincidence is that?  And stuff like that happens all the time.  (Maybe that means this is really the matrix?)

Z is for @#$$%!#@$!!

Published April 30, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Z

No, that’s not some kind of riddle, nor is it attempting to write down non-verbal sounds or something.  That’s me not liking to swear in public.  ‘Cause I was most of the way through a post when I found out it broke one of my own personal rules for this year’s challenge.  (I wasn’t about to scrap it after I’d written that much of it, of course, so I’m going to post it tomorrow, if you’re curious.)

So I’ve had to throw together a new post at the last moment.  Uh, okay, actually, I’m pre-writing this two days ago, so it’s not really “the last moment,” by any definition, but…yesterday when I was really struggling, I told myself I could buy a nice new doll as a reward if I managed to get through the rest of the challenge, and I was looking around today and found one I really want, so…I want to get this finished as quickly as possible so I can buy it.  *shame*

Anyway!  Moving on to “Z is for Zorya” which is also “Z is for Zvezda”…


In Slavic myth, there were two sisters named Zorya:  Morning and Evening.  There are, of course, many Slavic tongues, and their names vary wildly, from Zorya to Zvezda, and hitting many points in between.  But no matter what their names were, they served the sun god, Dazbog, whose own name also exhibits some variations across the Slavic regions.

They tended to his horses, and the Morning sister opened the gates to let him out in the morning, while the Evening sister opened them again to let him back in.  During the night, they watched over Simargl, the monstrous dog chained up among the stars (whether he’s chained to Ursa Minor or is Ursa Minor is not clear to me from my sources, but I suspect the latter) to make sure he didn’t escape, because if he did, he would begin to devour everything he could, and cause chaos everywhere.

Morning Zorya — at least in some regions — was married to Pyerun (remember him?) and rode out to battle beside him, lowering her veil to protect warriors who had her favor.  Because of this (and no doubt because people were much more eager for the sun to come up than they were for it to go down again) she eventually eclipsed her sister in popularity, until her sister was nearly forgotten.

And there’s really not a lot more to say about them than that.

So, comparisons…well, Morning Zorya and Eos, goddess of the dawn are an obvious comparison — as, in fact, is every other dawn goddess ever — but there’s not really anything significant to make them like each other, apart from their roles as goddesses of dawn.  Zorya was associated with the planet Venus, which I don’t think Eos ever was.  (Presumably, Aphrodite was…)

Now, I do have a comparison for tending to the horses of the sun:  the daughters of Helios tended to his horses, at least in some versions of the story.  (Though as with many myths, we have mostly only summaries, and not much in the way of full texts.)  Of course, the Zorya sisters were only sometimes described as the daughters of Dazbog, so that’s not an entirely apt comparison.

Simargl can be almost too easily compared to Skoll, who daily chased the sun in Norse mythology, and would catch and devour it during Ragnarok.  Of course — as I pointed out in the earlier post on Pyerun — the Norse and Slavic regions are close enough that influence is extremely possible, and perhaps even quite probable.  (Though both could have developed from an earlier tradition before their ancestors arrived in the region, of course.)

Finally, I just have to wonder if there was any influence from this myth to the depiction of Thor’s traditional wife, Sif, as a warrior in the Marvel properties…  (The mythic Sif, of course, was decidedly not a warrior.  I definitely like the movie version better…)

.

..

And with that, April A-to-Z is finished!  Yay!

Time to go e-shopping!

(Wow, that was a selfish ending…)

..

.

Okay, I’m going to make the ending less selfish by reminding you that today’s Independent Bookstore Day!  If you’ve got an indie bookstore in your area, try to visit them today!  Even if they’re not part of the event (apparently, only 400 bookstores, all in the US, are signed up with it) I’m sure they’ll appreciate the business.

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