Greek mythology

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IWSG – Massive Rewrites Ahead

Published September 2, 2020 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, pre-writing this post even more in advance than usual (today is the 21st!), because right now the situation is freshly in my mind and I haven’t been distracted by the other, much smaller rewriting project I’m about to start (and which I will be eyeballs deep in by the time this post goes up).

So, for the past week(ish), I’ve been rereading the series of quasi-Young Adult novels I wrote in 2104, set 17-20 years after the Trojan War, starring the illegitimate daughters of Achilles and Odysseus (both characters I made up) and the (equally illegitimate) son of Aias (who is a genuine mythological character whose actions as an adult have been lost to time but undoubtedly do not resemble my version in any way).  This wasn’t a simple reread, however.  This was a detailed reread, leaving myself a lot of notes using the “Comment” feature on the word processor.  Because I had a look at these already, back in July (or was it June?), and realized that hey, they were actually a lot better than I had remembered them being.  And so I kind of wanted to polish them up for release (for free via LeanPub and itch.io, naturally), which promises to be a much faster endeavor (sort of) than finishing the world-building to polish up that low-fantasy-with-steampunk-elements novel that also needs rewriting and releasing.

Of course, there are a lot of associated works that would also want fixing up.  The whole novel series started out as a spin-off of my Trojan War novel Ilios, which I had temporarily published via LeanPub and then eventually took down because I was quite ashamed of how bad it was.  (I have not at the moment revisited it to see if I want to try to fix it up, because I know that would be even more work.  Plus it is not aimed at the same audience.)  On top of that, there’s a novella called “Patroclos and Achilles” which was also a spin-off of Ilios, and which I directly referenced in the new introduction for Ariadne, the daughter of Odysseus.  I just reread that one this morning, and overall it’s actually pretty good (which is good, since it’s currently floating around the internet already…I think…or was it the other thing about them in the afterlife that’s already up…?) except that the ending makes me cringe, because it got a lot of things flat-out backwards, because there was a lot I didn’t understand about same-sex relationships in ancient Greece before reading The Greeks and Greek Love by James Davidson, and now that I do understand those things (and consequently a lot of ancient Greek culture makes more sense!) I want to fix anything and everything that I’ve written that gets it wrong.  So the novella probably needs to get the first rewrite, before I move on to the Atalanta and Ariadne books.  There will need to be a lot of work done on every reference to same-sex love in those books, naturally.  The mindset I gave the characters was appallingly modern in that for some reason too many people found it funny to think that Achilles had been the boyfriend of his friend and “squire” Patroclos.  There is no reason anyone in classical Greece would have found that funny…though there is the question of if we have any freaking way of guessing what the Greek attitudes towards such relationships would have been in the Late Bronze Age, since we have no written texts from the Mycenaeans other than clerical documents like inventory lists and notes on court cases.  (Though considering some lines of the Iliad have to be aged back to the Mycenaean era in order for the lines to be restored to their proper dactylic hexameter, it does seem possible, if not probable, that enough of the mythic aspects of the culture were unchanged by the end of the Bronze Age that they can be taken to reflect many of the cultural details of the era in which they were set.  Possibly.)

Anyway, the same-sex stuff is pretty minor in the Atalanta and Ariadne books (which really need a series title, but I’m not sure what the heck it would be, considering the early books give no indication just what a massive foe they’re eventually going to go up against, even though at foe’s servants have been targeting them at least since book one, if not from several years before it) compared to a lot of the other things that need fixing.  Matters of clothing for non-Greek peoples at the time (though at least I did learn at some point post-writing them that they would absolutely know what trousers are, so I can dispense with the absurd descriptions of “leg sleeves”) are one of the things that need a thorough fixing, but at least that’s something that will be relatively easily dealt with.

The biggest problem is how to handle the lack of money.

And no, I don’t mean I’m broke.  (Though I do have less of it than I’d like since I lost my job.)  And I don’t mean my heroic trio is broke, either.

I mean the fact that they didn’t have coinage yet in the Late Bronze Age.

I apparently didn’t know that when I was writing these books, especially the first one, which (among other things) has a fairly lengthy and important sequence in a marketplace.

How do you write a marketplace in a barter economy?

I mean, I know they had them.  The Mexica (aka Aztecs) had marketplaces, but in their case it was made simpler because they used cacao beans as a form of proto-currency (which even led to a form of counterfeiting, because some people would hollow out the beans and be trading with empty husks!), but that’s the only case I’m aware of in which there are written records of a non-money-based market.  (The written records being the accounts of the conquistadores seeing said market, so they are not the greatest of records, being essentially tourist accounts written by people of lesser education and not scholarly analyses.)  Based on the Iliad, the main way things seem to have been “valued” was by how many oxen they were worth, but I can’t really have two teenage girls and an early twenties young man carrying oxen about to trade with.  (Though it would be amusing to see them try it!  Goodness knows Atalanta would probably be able to carry a small ox a short distance, as could Eurysakes…maybe.  Ariadne, no.  Just no.  A very small calf, maybe.  A lamb or a kid, definitely.  But I don’t recall measurements of value in sheep and goats, just oxen.  Though I’m ashamed to admit that it’s been years at this point since I last read the Iliad.)

Does anyone know of any books — fiction or non-fiction — about how people might hold a market in a place without money?

I could really use some examples, whether how other people handle it in fiction or how people in reality dealt with things before there was money.  (I mean, realistically, how did food get shared about?  Did the nobles gather up the food from the farmers and then redistribute it to the people, or did the farmers take it to a market to trade it for other things they needed, like clothes, new animals or hired hands?)  Outside of the first book, it’s not going to be a huge issue, since they mostly get what they need in the later books via guest-friendship as they spend a lot of time visiting (and often going on quests for) kings who had fought alongside their fathers at Troy, but wow, is that first book hamstrung until I know how to handle the marketplace!

Additionally, there are various other concerns, mostly around trying to make the books line up better with history/archaeology.  There are a lot of books I read in the two years after writing the books that dealt with the subject of that area in the Late Bronze Age, like The Ahhiyawa Texts, but that was years ago now, and I’ve forgotten a lot of the details, and some of them were gotten out of the university library that I no longer have access to now that I’ve graduated, while others are probably in this house somewhere but I have no freaking idea where because my life is a pigsty.  For two of the books, I’d also need to do a lot of research into what Babylon looked like at the time, and what the court of Ramses II would have looked like, but those shouldn’t be too difficult with non-academic sources…I hope.

Speaking of other things that need fixing up, you may have noticed the word “squire” in quotes up above.  The translation of the Iliad that I’m fond of (it’s prose instead of trying to force the translation into English verse, and it uses the proper Greek names instead of Roman ones) is from like 1913 (give or take a decade), so it does use some awkward things like describing Meriones as “nephew and squire” of Idomeneus, and describing people as “knightly” and so on.  That means those things got into my books, too.  😦  It is so annoying, and decidedly anachronistic, but I have no idea what the period-appropriate term would be.  While I’m sure most readers would probably accept using the anachronistic medieval term “squire” since it’s quite easy for modern people to understand what it means about the person’s professional role, I dislike it for its extreme anachronism.  I should probably have a look at the most recent translation(s) of the Iliad and see how they handled whatever term was being replaced with “squire”.  Mostly, this is only going to impact the prologues (each book has a prologue set during the war) and when they meet certain Trojan War veterans (including the aforementioned Meriones), but it’s something I want to be able to fix on general principles.

A more wide-ranging problem is that I have to figure out how much a sixteen-year-old slave girl in the Late Bronze Age who had somehow kept herself entirely chaste would typically have known about sex.  Because one of the ways I wanted Atalanta and Ariadne to be different from their fathers is that they remain virgins, unlike Atalanta’s father who was quite lusty (the number of his accomplished/potential/desired conquests at Troy seems to grow every time I read a new book on the subject) and unlike Ariadne’s father who slept his way around the Mediterranean for ten years before finally going home to his all-too-faithful wife.  For some reason, when I was first writing these, I decided to accomplish that by having Atalanta nearly kill a man to stop him from raping her, following which Athene erased all her memories of the very concept of sex, and nothing can ever make her remember that sex even exists.

I have no idea why I did something so mind-bogglingly stupid.

My new version is much more simple:  she’s asexual.

I think the reason for the bizarre backstory gymnastics is that I wrote these books about a year and a half before I came to understand that I myself am asexual, so…I don’t know.  As an explanation, it doesn’t entirely make sense, but it’s the best one I can come up with, honestly.

Whatever the reason I originally wrote it, it has to go.  Now, I do want Atalanta to retain a childlike innocence (including on sexual matters), but there’s not going to be anything supernatural or traumatic about it.  She’s just not terribly bright and doesn’t pick up on subtext and subtle details of situations, and the classical Greeks certainly didn’t like to…well, they didn’t like to write about sex, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t like to talk about it and doesn’t necessarily mean the same was the case about their Late Bronze Age ancestors, but one does tend to fill in the gaps with the historical culture when one is dealing with the Greek Heroic Age.  Anyway, I have to decide just how much she knows, and how much she suspects of what she doesn’t know, and how she would interpret any mentions of things she doesn’t know.  That will have to be figured out before I can start writing, and it will be a lot of work making sure to catch every single absurd instance and replace it with something more simple and believable.  Atalanta spent all seven books sort of traipsing back and forth across the line from “possessing the mind of an absurdly stupid child” to “just a little bit dim and very innocent”, and that’s generally something I need to fix.  I also need to fix Ariadne’s side of their relationship; they’re very co-dependent, in an entirely platonic, non-romantic way on Atalanta’s part, whereas I realized late in the game that Ariadne is actually in love with Atalanta and refusing to admit it even to herself, so I need to work that in and make it more obvious throughout and yet in a way that makes it clear that Ariadne will never be willing to act on her feelings.  (That may be a more subtle task than I’m capable of, but we’ll just have to see what happens in the new drafts!)

I also have various other things I have to decide on, too.  Like, I don’t want to use the Aeneid‘s version of the immediate post-Troy events, but I also have scattered throughout the books various references to the journey of “Aeneas” with his band of Trojan refugees.  So I’m thinking of setting up something halfway between the Iliad‘s version of post-Troy events (in which Poseidon commented that Aineias was to become the new king of Troy after the war) and the Roman version, so that Aineias became King of Troy as planned by the Greek gods, only then Korythos (son of Alexander/Paris by his first wife, the nymph Oenone) drives him out and takes over the kingship, so Aineias still sets off for the future site of Rome.  (And I don’t think the gens Julius completely made up the idea of Roman descent from Aeneas/Aineias; I think they did get that from some of the Greek settlers in Italy, as the ancient Greeks did love to set up mythical ancestors for various people they met (Medes, Perses, etc).)  But I’ll have to decide when that happened, how far they had gotten in rebuilding the walls, how much violence was entailed, why in the world Aineias would have fled rather than stayed and continued to fight (especially against a son of that weakling Alexander!) and so forth.  Some versions of the abduction of Helen do include Aineias having gone with Alexander to Sparta, so maybe this should be a version like that (though there’s no indication of Aineias being there in the one flashback I have to the abduction itself…though given the presence of his mother in the flashback it wouldn’t be hard to believe it) and Korythos makes the demand to the remaining people of Troy that they shouldn’t follow Aineias since he aided and abetted in the arrival of the harlot who ruined the marriage of Korythos’ parents and for whose sake the citadel of Troy was besieged for ten years and then destroyed.  Yeah, that might work, actually.  Korythos wouldn’t even need an army if he turned the majority of the people against Aineias.  Cool, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

Names, on the other hand, are something to worry about.  Specifically, how far do I want to go in using the Greek names?  Like, some of them are easy.  Patroclos > Patroclus, Aias > Ajax, Aineias > Aeneas, Heracles > Hercules, Zeus > Jupiter (like anyone now would use that in a Greek setting, lol), but do I want to go the whole hog?  Do I want to use Achilleus instead of Achilles, Alexandros instead of Alexander, Ganymedes instead of Ganymede, Bellerophontes instead of Bellerophon…stuff like that.  (And yes, all those names do come up in the books.  (BTW, the spellchecker in my browser is insisting that the correct spelling of “Bellerophon” is “Telephoner”.  Like, wow.))  Part of me is annoyed with myself for using any of the Romanized/Anglicized versions, but the rest of me is like “seriously, Achilleus and Ganymedes?” (For some reason I’m much more cool with Bellerophontes than a lot of the other typically-always-Romanized/Anglicized-even-by-scholars names.)

Speaking of names, I’m not even sure what I should be calling the Greek people as a group.  For the historic period, Hellenes would be correct, and I do use it sometimes.  In the Iliad, the names Achaians, Danaans and Argives are used pretty much as direct synonyms, chosen for metrical reasons.  Of course, Argives was right out as a choice in my books because that specifically means people from Argos.  Achaians — while the source of the Hittite name for the Mycenaean Greeks, Ahhiyawa — seems most likely to refer specifically to people from Achaia Phthiotis, the region of Thessaly where Achilles’ father Peleus reigned.  (Unlike the classical Greeks with their city-states, the Mycenaeans seem to have had kingdoms in more of the sense we think of for Medieval Europe.  As far as I can tell.  Which isn’t far.)  Danaan was likewise the source of a foreign name that may have referred to Mycenaean Greeks (Danaja, used by the Egyptians and possibly also the Phoenicians, and which I do have Ramses II use), but as I recall it doesn’t even refer to a particular location in Greece, but rather to a mythical ancestor figure.  I’m not sure if that makes it more likely to have been what the Mycenaeans called themselves (Hellas and Hellene, after all, coming from the mythical figure Hellen) or if it was actually applied to them by mistake by their contemporaries and then the mythical figure was made up to explain it after it had stuck.  (The mythical figure might have even been made up in the classical period to explain the LBA-authentic name Danaan used in Homer, for all I know.  There are, after all, many things in the Iliad that are accurate to the Late Bronze Age but not to the classical era, particularly in the Catalog of Ships, where some of the places were so long gone by the historic period that no one even knew where they had been.)  There’s a lot that the scholarly community doesn’t know about this sort of thing, and even more that I don’t know, since it’s been years since I did the research, and I never got too far into the really detailed and up-to-date research even back then.  What would actually be correct is, of course, of lesser importance in this case than the basic question of which name should I use?  In the original drafts of the books, I primarily used Achaians, with a pretty hefty dose of Hellenes, and the occasional Danaans thrown in there just to be confusing.  😛  At some point after the novels were finished, I wrote an invocation of the Muse-type intro to the series that defined Achaians as people from northern Greece and Danaans as people from the Peloponnese, which is not entirely out of line with scholarly thinking as far as I remember and is entirely in line with how foreign people use the related terms (since the Hittites were more northerly and the Egyptians directly south), but…I dunno.  Among other things, trying to define the peoples by where they live in an invocation to the Muse feels weird in and of itself!  (But on the other hand it would at least give me some consistency, while still allowing the Egyptians to call them Danaja.)

*sigh*

I could probably keep going with this post forever and not run out of issues I’m going to have with these rewrites, but I’ve been at this for like three hours now, so I think I better stop.  Especially since I was supposed to be spending this afternoon sorting through the ghastly build up in my inbox.  😦  Guess that’s being put off yet another day…

Anyway, my biggest worry at the moment is, as I indicated, how in the world to handle a marketplace in a pre-money economy.  I’d like it to be as realistic as possible to what the Late Bronze Age was like, but how in the world does one look up what a Hittite marketplace looked like ca. 1230 BCE?  (It’s the marketplace in the mostly-rebuilt Troy, which was in Hittite territory.)  I’m going to have to do some heavy research before I dive into the rewrites.

But first I’m going to do the rewrite on my fusion of Velvet Goldmine with the 1996 (rather awful) movie adaptation of Emma, which means now I need to dive into rereading the original book and keep my rewrites in pace with my rereading, so I can keep straight things like how long Emma spent using “Mr.” in talking to and about Frank Churchill, when Mrs. Weston had her baby, when the Knightley boys returned to London, etc.  (All things that were completely ignored by said film adaptation, naturally.  I need to watch the new adaptation whenever it makes it onto Netflix or Hulu or whatever.  I missed it in the theatres because its release was cut short by all the theatres closing…but I do want to see a good (or at least better) adaptation, even if its Frank Churchill will never be as hot.)  And that’s precisely why I’m writing this post so far in advance, because otherwise my mind will be filled with Regency England instead of the Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age .

Progress (but only in my hour count)

Published July 19, 2020 by Iphis of Scyros

Yup, it’s been one of those days.

I wrote that Wonder Woman fix-it fic to establish that no, the gods are not dead, especially not at the hands of a swaggering weakling like Ares. (Seriously, just about any other Greek god would be more believable, including Aphrodite. Ares is the loser of the bunch, the pathetic coward who only picks fights with those weaker than himself, and who ran home to daddy when he came up against a mortal stronger than he was (and ended up with a spear in his side!) only to be told that he’s the most hated god on Olympos!)

So, I spent a hefty chunk of time writing, but have not done a dang thing about the world-building process for my novel series.

On the other hand, I now want to go back to my Greek myth retellings, finish them, and assemble them into a book, so…who knows, maybe it was a good day for me in the long run?

Time today: 2:01

Time in July in total: 19:31:44.39

IWSG – My Duty (Or Not)

Published February 6, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

OMG, I suck.  I started this post more than a week ago, hit “Save Draft” and then totally forgot about finishing it and actually hitting “Schedule.”  UGH.

And on to your regularly scheduled — and much delayed — IWSG post…

Okay, this is going to sound off-topic at first, but I went to see a movie…um…when was that?  Well, at some point not too long ago.  (Ugh, I may be losing my mind already.)  Anyway, there was a trailer for the movie adaptation for the first novel in yet another YA series.  In particular, this was for the adaptation of the first novel in the “Artemis Fowl” series.  Which I gather is the name of the boy who’s the main character.

The boy.

Artemis.

Virgin goddess of the hunt.

Who refuses the company of men almost entirely.

That one.  And people keep giving her entirely feminine name to male characters.

It’s not that hard, guys!  In Greek, an -is ending is feminine!  E.G. Thetis, Britomartis, Briseis, Chryseis, et cetera.

Even easier, when a name exists in a masculine and feminine form, don’t give them the one that doesn’t match their gender.  (Unless you’re specifically trying to make a point about gender with that character.)  If your character is male, then you need to use the masculine version, Artemus.  It’s only common sense!

But people keep doing this, abusing the goddess.

I’m just barely willing to overlook the Sailor Moon cat, because a lot of Japanese names are unisex, so when Japanese writers borrow names from other languages, they don’t always research whether or not native speakers would give that name to a character of that gender.  (This seems to happen especially with the use of feminine names given to male characters.  My favorite JRPG series has guys named Sheena, Salome and Lulu.)

But for a series of English-language YA novels?  Nope.  Cannot be forgiven.  I think there’s a character associated with D&D that similarly assaults the goddess’s good name.

With this movie coming out, this has now reached a boiling point of “this cannot go on!”

So in my desire to avenge Her, I realized the best method would be to spread the opposite, to popularize a god’s name as the name of a female character.  And whose name better to emasculate than Her twin, Apollo, such a symbol of masculinity?

The plan, therefore, is to write a YA series of novels with a heroine named Apollo.  She starts out a normal enough girl, but early on in the first book she gets told what it seems like every lead of a YA fantasy adventure is told:  that she’s “the special.”  In this case, that means she becomes the queen/princess/high priestess/what-have-you of a country/race/planet/religion/etc…but there are certain parties who won’t accept a teenage girl in that role, and they go to war to remove her from power.  Thus the title of the series of books is “The Apolleonic Wars.”  (Yes, I know “Apollonian” would be more proper, but I got the idea for the name on seeing the book I was reading with something in front of it so that the “N” was blocked in “Napoleonic”…)

However, not all is as it seems.  You see, young Apollo is not actually “the special.”  It would come out either at the end of Act II of the first book or at some point later in the the series (depending) that she was chosen for the role specifically because the people choosing her thought they’d be able to easily manipulate her.  So after that revelation, she’ll have to find a way to stop the war and do something about the people on her own side that instigated it by putting her in that position of power to begin with, despite that she’s just an ordinary girl with no special abilities or anything.

You may be wondering why I’m sharing this so publicly, giving someone else the opportunity to take the idea for themselves?  Well, the thing is, for this to be effective as vengeance for the wrongs done to Artemis, the books would have to be both professionally published and sell well enough to effectively feminize Apollo’s name, at least among the generation who might grow up reading it.  And let’s be real, that’s probably outside my ability.  No, scratch that.  It is outside my ability.  And yet I feel like this needs to happen.

Therefore, I’m sharing this in case anyone actually talented at YA-novel writing would care to have a go at it.

If you’re going to use this, tell me in the comments so I won’t do it, too.

Oh, or you could write something else using “Apollo” as the heroine’s name.  Or some other god’s name.  Again, let me know if you’re going to do that, too, so I can make sure to use the same one.  (And no, “Shiva” doesn’t count.  Because it has to be Greek.)

A to Z: Python

Published April 18, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to do any Greek stuff, but…I wasn’t really feeling most of the other “P” choices.  Besides, I have a…well, I’m not sure a “funny story” is quite the right way to put it…a “minor anecdote that I happen to find amusing because I’m anal like that” is probably the more accurate way to describe it.  (Really, I ought to do Pele for this.  But…I just wasn’t feeling it.)

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

Yup, that dino skull with a snake-like cloud of smoke behind it is how they usually depict Python in these games.  Though I’ll have another image for you in a minute.  But first, here’s the game text describing Python in Shin Megami Tensei IV/IV Apocalypse:

A gigantic, black snake god born from the Greek goddess Gaea with no father.

He has unparalleled prophetic abilities and has protected oracular shrines since days of old.  Python is said to have been the guardian of Delphi, site of Delphic oracles.  He is sometimes called “the king of deceitful spirits” and gave prophecies that would only be in his favor, but he never gave prophecies that went against Gaea’s will.

The same text was also used in the two Devil Survivor games, except without the word “deceitful.”  Which is a pretty freakin’ big change, I must say!  Those of you with some knowledge of who Python is in Greek myths may be agog at the massive omissions there.  But before I address those, let me show you the other version of Python I promised.  This is what you see in Persona 2:  Eternal Punishment when you face Python as an enemy.  (This, of course, being the way I first saw him in a MegaTen game.)

A bit more like it, except for the, y’know, wings and legs.  (Though as I posted once already, it’s hard for us to know what exactly the ancient Greeks had in mind when they used words that get translated to English words like “serpent” and “dragon,” so maybe this isn’t as far off as it might be.)  Python’s inclusion in Eternal Punishment has stuck with me all these years for a very specific reason:  Eternal Punishment was the first game (translated into English) to include a compendium giving the player access to little summaries of what the original myths/folktales/etc. were.  I can’t quote you specifically what it said, because goodness only knows where the heck my memory card is, but I can paraphrase it for you.  It said that Python was a monstrous snake sent by Hera to kill Ret.

It took me way too long to realize that “Ret” was a translation error made by people who didn’t know Greek mythology, and that it was supposed to say “Leto.”

But let’s set the games aside now and talk about the real Python.  (Not the one with the Flying Circus…) Read the rest of this entry →

Book Report: TransAntiquity

Published September 26, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

I should be reading the next of the ten gazillion (seemingly) library books I have out for this semester’s research project, but I’m going to write this report on the first one instead, in the hopes that discussing it will help me to process the information and figure out exactly what my topic question is.

So, as you can see, the title of this book is “TransAntiquity:  Cross-Dressing and Transgender Dynamics in the Ancient World,” a title which is actually a bit misleading, as the modern concept of transgender is, well, modern, only a few decades old.  So this is more an approach from the modern perspective, with full understanding (and acceptance) of transgender.  (And this is, of course, the kind of book you don’t want to buy:  it’s priced for library purchases, not individual purchases, over $100 a copy.)

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I didn’t actually read this book cover-to-cover.  I’m researching a paper that’s going to be on the definitions of gender (and behavior towards transgressors of those definitions) in ancient Greece and Rome, and so I skipped over two of the essays in this book, because they really did not apply:  one was about Pharaonic Egypt, and the other was about a period I’d more consider to be the early Middle Ages than late Antiquity (y’know, post-600 AD) so it was actually concerned with Christianity’s reaction to gender transgressions, which is a completely different topic.  (Technically, one of the ones I did read also included a lot of discussion of early Christianity, but it also talked about pre-Christian Rome.  Plus…well, I’ll get to it in turn, and you’ll see why I had to read it.)

I’m going to talk about each essay in turn, but I’ll address the book as a whole first, briefly.  This grew out of an academic workshop held at the University of Pisa, and most of the contributors work at universities in Italy and Germany, with a few UK universities thrown into the mix as well.  Consequently, the authors and editors pretty much assume that if you’re reading the book, you must speak all the major European languages, and they don’t translate their French, Italian and German quotes.   (And I always seemed to be reading it in a time and place where I couldn’t just use Google Translate to get a rough idea of what was being said; all I could do was guess based on cognates and my rusty-to-the-point-of-not-really-existing Latin and German skills.)  The constant reminders that I’m just an ignorant American were kind of painful.  (I do want to learn other languages!  I just suck at them.  And have too much else going on in my life to take proper lessons.)

Anyway, as scholars of the ancient world, the authors are hampered by the existing evidence, and can only address what information survives, so behavior that would actually be identified as trans by modern standards is conspicuously absent for the vast majority of the book, because there just isn’t much surviving data to support a discussion.  There’s a lot of talk about cross-dressing, and about men who were labelled as effeminate, and some discussion of women who were labelled as masculine, and what function those labels served in their society.  So it was really useful to my project, but might not be so useful to other research endeavors.

Okay, so now I want to talk a little about each essay, to give an idea what’s in the book.  (Also to help me process the information properly.  What can I say?  I think better via fingers on a keyboard.  That’s just the messed up way my brain is wired.)

Read the rest of this entry →

Missing Letter Monday No “H” Repost – “Alcides”

Published July 17, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

“Alcides”

Strongest son of Zeus,
Bane of lions and boars.
(Drunken boor!)
Persistently targeted
By papa’s jealous wife.

Wooer of Amazons,
(And lover of pretty boys,)
Groom of two wives,
Sire of many sons.
(But no girls?)

Argonaut,
Completer of Twelve Labors,
(And sometimes 13,)
Killed by a centaur’s trick,
And a friendly pyre.


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Especially lame, I know.  But it’s 1 minute to 10 pm, and nada’s been posted yet.

It was a last minute post the first time, too.

Originally posted 1/18/16

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.)

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.

Read the rest of this entry →

Missing Letter Monday No “X” Repost – “Charybdis”

Published May 8, 2017 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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Missing Letter Monday No “P” Repost – “The Best of the Achaians”

Published March 13, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

“The Best of the Achaians”

What quality makes a man great?

Strength of arms?
No, not that alone.
Any demi-god has that…
…and look how they turn out!
(Only Mycenae’s founder remained
A good man and true.
The rest died horrible deaths,
And Theseus abducted a child for his new bride!
And he died a horrible death to boot!)

Wisdom beyond measure?
If that was the case,
There would be few great men.
Maybe none at all.

Kindness, and a gentle heart,
Dedication to his friends?
Yes, yes, indeed!
A great man has devotion
And love in his heart,
Ready to lay down his life
To save those he cares for.

In truth, there is but one
Who sailed to Troy
With the strength and heart
To call himself the best.
Though he would never so call himself:
He would award the title
To the one he loves the most,
Friend, comrade, and so much more.

But his kind heart outshines
His selfish, fair-faced friend.
While Achilles sulked,
He shed tears of grief
For the deaths of the Danaan warriors.

His might in battle
Was ne’er so lauded
As that of his fickle friend,
But he killed so many Trojans
In his final stand
That they were maddened for revenge.

His death, too, was greater
Than the humiliation of Achilles.
(An arrow in the ankle?  Laughable!)
For the son of the Nereid,
Leto’s son needed but one mortal’s aid,
A tool to unleash the arrow.
But for he who was truly
The best of the Achaians,
The far-darter required the aid of two mortals,
A coward to stab from behind,
And lamentable Hector
To stab from the front.
Dishonorable though the kill was
— what honor could there be
In killing a naked, unarmed man? —
Hector was filled with hubris
To have brought down such a mighty foe.

The son of Menoitios
By his blameless life
Brought honor to his obscure father,
As his name suggests.
By his death he brought down
Hector, and all dreams of Troy’s survival.

In a golden urn
His bones were sheltered
While the son of Thetis cried and groaned
In an anguish more overwrought
Than any widow on the stage,
Though he knew his own bones
Would soon join with his lost comrade’s,
And they would be united in death,
Forever together.

Where is that urn now?
Is it hidden from view in the ground
Near Hisarlik?
Or was it stolen away,
In the ancient days of antiquity?
Which “tomb” covered those bones
When Alexander and his lover
Made their offerings at two tomb-shrines,
And ran their naked race on the sands?

Where now is the best of the Achaians?
The White Island is deserted,
The shrines of antiquity lost to time.
Who now wails for the hero that was lost?


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(I shall ever remain his fan-girl!)

(But I still suck at endings.  *sigh*)

Originally went up 9/14/15

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