Greek mythology

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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.)

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MLM 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.

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MLM 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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MLM 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

MLM No “I” Repost – “The Party”

Published January 23, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

“The Party”

The megaron* at Mycenae sets the scene.
Agamemnon offers couches to the guests,
So many couches; no need to share.
But the red-headed son of Peleus objects:
“There’s one place too few!”
Patroclos mutters that he should go,
Of too small note for such great company.
“No way! You can’t leave!”
Patroclos’ dearest comrade demands.
“Normally, the couches are shared,”
Odysseus tells them,
A wry form upon the mouth.
“Then you’ll share my couch,”
Peleus’ son asserts, as he takes Patroclos’ hands.
Reluctant, the young man takes a seat,
Upon the couch of the pretty boy.
The son of Telamon laughs, and takes up a cup.
“Not yet!” Agamemnon remonstrances.
“We must pour for the gods.”
Drops are poured out neat,
And the gods assuaged.
Then the party can truly start.
“Many thanks to you all,”
Menelaos tells them, at a frown,
“For your help to restore my Helen.”
“Thank the oath,” the son of Telamon grumbles.
“But any honest man who fears Zeus,
And would see decency overcome rude cruelty,
Would gladly come to your help,
Even unbound by such an oath,”
Odysseus oozed, smarmy.
“Just as young Ach–”
“Hadda restore my name, after you shamed me,
Back on Scyros,” the boy growls.
“How much have you already had?”
Patroclos asks, and pulls the empty cup away.
“Your father would rebuke me
For such a drunken state!”
“Let the boy have all he wants,”
Laughed the son of Tydeus.
“All too soon we cross the sea for Troy,
And leave all joy at our backs.
For now, let the boy enjoy what we have.”
“Such enjoyment forms the core of the event,”
Agreed old Nestor, and nodded that gray head.
“Let us all enjoy each other’s good company,
As long as lovely Selene travels the sky.”
Toasts were drunk to Nestor’s plan,
And all cheered as the party got underway.


*Megaron = throne room/great hall.


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Made one small change from 1st post on 1/25/16.  (Whoa, almost exactly a year!)

MLM No “H” Repost – “Adulterous Zeus”

Published January 16, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

“Adulterous Zeus”

“My wife doesn’t appreciate me,”
Zeus complained.
“You poor baby!”
Maia replied, smirking.

“My wife is terribly cruel to me,”
Zeus claimed.
“Awful, most awful!”
Danae exclaimed,
And sneezed.
(A gold allergy.  Surprising, no?)

“My wife doesn’t love me,”
Zeus insisted.
“A fool of a wife indeed not to love you!”
Semele answered.

“My wife will never be good to me,”
Zeus wept on Leda’s lap.
“But I’m good to you,”
Laconian lady Leda cooed back.

“Mom wants a divorce,”
Ares informed Zeus,
Once modern day dawned.

Zeus didn’t see it coming.

Everyone else did.


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Yup.  Still my favorite Missing Letter Monday post.  (Probably always will be.)

Originally posted 7/20/2015.

MLM No “G” Repost – “Mother Earth”

Published January 10, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

“Mother Earth”

Born at the start of it all,
Mother to so many,
With so many.

Her first husbands,
Ouranos and Pontos.
Also her sons.
(Eeew.)
They had no fathers.

Nereus,
Thaumas,
Phorkys,
Eurybia,
Even monstrous Ceto;
Pontos fathered these few.

Titans,
Cyclopes,
Hundred-handers,
Ouranos fathered so many.

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Loki at Christmas Time

Published December 24, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Among the gods who were no longer regularly worshiped, very little was more annoying than the sight of all the mortals getting excited for a religious festival.  Which one was most frustrating had changed with the years, of course.  Just at the present, Christmas was the most aggravating of all, even though it was — in large part — no longer religious in nature, being celebrated by any number of mortals who had little or no affection for Christianity.

While the period surrounding Christmas was frustrating for them all, it was worst to the Greek gods, because all their Roman counterparts inevitably came by, rubbing their noses in the continued popularity of Saturnalia.  After a few decades of that, Kronos started getting involved in the self-satisfied gloating, making it all the worse.  Most of the Greek gods tried to deal with it in an appropriately Stoic fashion — what Nietzsche would have called an Apollonian fashion, despite that Apollo was actually one of the ones least capable of Stoic reserve — but Hermes had never gone in for any of that self-denial nonsense.  If he didn’t like something, he didn’t deal with it.

So when the Roman gods came by to gloat, he usually went elsewhere.  He could count on his Roman counterpart to get distracted by the first pretty girl he saw — not that Hermes was any different — so he didn’t have to worry about being chased down to be gloated at elsewhere.

Usually, he went to hang out with other gods like himself.  Coyote was a favorite, even though he was still believed in, if not worshiped as such.  Still, in the past few centuries he was often standoffish, what with the European people coming in and oppressing his own people, and in the last few decades, he had started to become downright testy, because the white people were so rapidly destroying the natural world.  It was hard to blame him for his anger, but it certainly made him less pleasant company.  So Hermes had tried spending a few holiday seasons with Anansi, but such terrible things were happening in his part of the world that it wasn’t much fun to be around him, either.

This year, Hermes had hit on a good plan.  He would go to the frozen north and visit Loki.  The lands formerly inhabited by the vicious Vikings were now one of the most pleasant and peaceful regions of the world, and the other Norse gods still hadn’t forgiven Loki, so there wouldn’t be anyone pestering them.  Sure, there wouldn’t be any pretty girls — apart from Loki’s lovely wife, of course — but Hermes could go for a month or so without girls.

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