All posts tagged Odysseus

Missing Letter Monday 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!)

Missing Letter Monday – No “X”

Published May 9, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


Trapped in a spiral,
Spinning downwards,
Rushing, gushing

Boats floating,

Sailors frenzying,

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,
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?

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…

V is for Väinämöinen

Published April 26, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


All right, so this one is a bit of a cheat.  Because Väinämöinen exists in two forms, the god-like first man, or a fairly human hero.  The first is mythology, the second is from a nineteenth century epic poem.  Now, the epic is supposed to have been a compilation of Finnish oral tradition that was dying out.  But was it?  Well, yes, almost unquestionably.  But how much of it was genuine oral tradition, and how much the product of the compiler?  That would seem to be the subject of great debate…and thus my assertion that I’m kind of cheating here, because I’m using the epic poem version of Väinämöinen, not the shorter, less-easily-compared-to-anything-specific myth.  (Yes, my A-to-Z theme was definitely poorly chosen.  I see that now…)  Still, it seems like most of the material does genuinely come from oral tradition, so it’s not as “cheating” as it might be.

Now, on to the story of Väinämöinen.  I’m definitely going to read this epic someday because it sounds really fascinating, but I haven’t read it yet, so I’m going to have to present you with a summary of a summary.  I apologize for that.

The epic of Kalevala (compiled, edited, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it by Elias Lönnrot), begins with the myth I mentioned above, in which the world is created, in part by the primeval goddess Luonnotar breaking a set of duck eggs that then become the world.  Luonnotar somehow becomes pregnant, but doesn’t realize it.  After her son, Väinämöinen, grows to full maturity (over 700 years!) he still has to just sit there in her womb for decades, waiting to be born, because she doesn’t realize he’s there, and wouldn’t know how to let him out even if she did.  Eventually, he climbs out himself, but by that time he’s already an old man.

He swims over to what’s now Finland, and begins to spread plantlife.  While he’s trying to farm, a frost giant named Joukahainen decides that Väinämöinen is an interloper who must be destroyed.  Joukahainen has powerful magic, which should scare Väinämöinen,  but the already-old-at-birth man isn’t frightened.  Instead he uses music to perform wondrous feats of magic, including turning Joukahainen’s bow and arrows into a rainbow and some hawks, and creating a bog beneath the frost giant’s feet.  Suddenly trapped, Joukahainen surrenders, and makes a peace offering:  if Väinämöinen will set him free, then he can marry the giant’s sister, Aino.

Well, sounds like a good deal for Väinämöinen, right?

Unfortunately, not so much.  As soon as Aino is told that she’s to marry the old man, she’s horrified at the prospect, and drowns herself to get out of it.

You might think that having someone commit suicide to avoid marrying him would put Väinämöinen off the very idea of marriage, but instead it only makes him more eager, and he sets off north to Pohjola to see if any of the other frost giant maidens are perhaps less picky than Aino.

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Missing Letter Mondays – No “V”

Published April 25, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

The Author’s Oracle Tag

I saw this at Sara Letourneau’s blog, and thought it looked fun.  Also like something where I could omit this week’s letter with less effort than another chapter of “Peril-Led Princess“.  (It is coming back!  I promise!)  Despite that they’re my own rules, I’m not sure how the Missing Letter Monday rules feel about using the forbidden letter inside a quote…so rather than change the questions or use the letter, I’m just gonna put a * in the place of the letter-of-the-week where it occurs in the questions.

So the point of this blogging tag is that there are questions loosely inspired by the major arcana of the Tarot, which an author is to answer, focusing on their current work in progress.  Or, in my case, a major work that I keep putting off writing draft two of.  *shame*  But it’s been on my mind lately, so maybe this’ll get me working on that edit/re-write…once the semester ends, anyway.

Aaaanyway, let’s get on with it, ’cause I still need to do some reading this morning before I go to work.  (All text in bold in the following section is quoted.)

The Author’s Oracle Questions

I’ll be answering these questions based on my semi-YA series which currently has no series title.  Mostly I’ll be thinking about the first book (yes, I wrote the whole series in rough drafts before editing the first one) which needs a new title, as the one I had when I was working on it sucked quite atrociously.  I narrowed down a couple of good candidates, but they both imply things that aren’t quite true, so I’m not so sure about them.  Anyway, the first book takes place about 18 years after the end of the Trojan War, and my three leads are Atalanta, the (posthumously born) daughter of Achilles, Ariadne, the (illegitimate) daughter of Odysseus, and Eurysakes, the son of Aias and the only one who’s a genuine mythological character…though my Eurysakes and the real one differ wildly.  Atalanta and Ariadne’s mothers were sisters, and they were…ooh, I can’t use that word!  They were, um, household workers of a non-free sort in a particular city in Lesbos, and when Achilles and Odysseus had to go to Lesbos for complicated (but mythologically accurate) reasons, well, stuff happened, and nine months later…my heroines were born.  Anyway, part of my point here — apart from the fact that the heroines must escape from Lesbos at the start of book one — is that both her companions are Atalanta’s cousins, ’cause I’m going on the more well-known, later form of the myth, in which Peleus and Telamon were brothers.  (Originally, Achilles and Aias were not related, y’see…)

0. The Fool: Which of your characters is the most intuiti*e?  The worst decision-maker?

Ariadne would be the most…uh…wow, most of these words use that letter.  She’s the one capable of the best perception of a situation, usually.  But she’s not as good at reading people as she thinks, so sometimes Eurysakes can make the better call.  Atalanta is by far the worst decision-maker; she tends not to think much.  It’s not that she’s not smart; she just got into the habit of letting Ariadne think for her.

II . The High Priestess: Do any of your characters ha*e *ery strong beliefs?

Yes, definitely.  Atalanta has a lot of them:  she’s deeply religious (which is quite different in ancient Greece than in modern times, of course), she has a lot of beliefs about her father (see below), and she has a lot of super-strong beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong, and sometimes that gets her into trouble (usually the combat sort of trouble).  Ariadne’s strongest beliefs tend to focus on her father (see below), but she’s also got strong religious ties where Athene is concerned (the other gods are more of an afterthought for her).  For Eurysakes, the most normal of the three, again most of his strong beliefs focus on his father, but especially on how his father was wronged by the other Achaian kings (and especially Odysseus), and how it’s his duty to bring his father the respect and honor he merits.  Korythos, the new King of Troy in Book 1, also has strong beliefs, but most of them would be spoilers.  (Though the chances of anyone other than me seeing this book are pretty darned slim…)  The whole-series baddies also possess strong beliefs, but those would really be spoilers.

III. The Empress: Who is your biggest supporter?  Gi*e them a little lo*e here.

Er…my brother?  I guess?  I mean, he listens to me ramble about my characters and sometimes makes suggestions.  On some of my other books, he’s been willing to read them, but he didn’t get far in this one before being repelled…which is not a good sign…

I*. The Emperor: Do you outline or plan?  (You know… plotter or pantser?)

Like most people, a little of both.  I come up with an outline, but I rarely follow it too far before it needs to change ’cause I end up going in a different direction.  But a sparse outline helps me keep my characters at least a little reined in, and helps me to focus on where I’m going as I let the book follow its own flow.

*. The Hierophant:  What do you feel is your most *aluable piece of writing ad*ice?

Mmm…most of it I come across doesn’t quite seem to fit me.  If “keep writing but keep it to yourself” was out there as a bit of writing wisdom, that’d probably be the best fit for me.

*I. The Lo*ers: Which of your characters follow their heart? Is it for the right reasons?

Well, Atalanta does, because it’s all she knows how to do; I don’t know if that’s “the right reason” or not.  Ariadne would claim she’s following her heart, I’m sure, but she’s really only doing so when she’s doing something for Atalanta’s sake.  Or for Athene’s sake.

*II. The Chariot: Tell us about the first “darling” you e*er “killed.”

In this series, she’s…well, just in case, I can’t say who she is or how she relates to the others, but she takes a while to show up, and longer to establish herself as a character, rather than a bit part.  She was always antagonistic to Atalanta, because reasons, but…after a while I came to the realization that the bad guys would be out of character if they didn’t recruit her.  And they had the perfect hook to make her want to help them, so there was no way she would choose the side of the gods instead of the side of the baddies who want to destroy them.  It was heart-breaking for me, because she’s the offspring of two mythological figures, and I really wanted things to work out well for her, especially since her mother really got a raw deal in the original myth and in my continuation of it.  But once she turned on me — I mean on my heroes — I mean on the gods, I had no choice, and she had to be taken down.  Of course, she’s technically immortal, so she wasn’t actually killed…but she was thrown into Tartaros, so she may as well be dead.

*III. Strength: What do you feel your greatest creati*e strength is?

Coming up with story ideas; I think of lots of ideas that feel like they’re really great.  It’s just what I do with them afterwards that’s no good.

IX. The Hermit: Can you write in coffee shops or other busy places, or do you need quiet?

I used to be able to watch a film on the tube and write at the same time, but I can no longer do that, I’m sorry to say.  Writing in public places is still fine, so long as no one’s around me is talking in such a way that I can’t help but listen in.  (You know the kind of thing I’m talking about, right?)

X. The Wheel of Fortune: Do you ha*e a set routine or schedule?

Nah…but this summer I’m planning on making one.  I seem to spend extremely little time (if any at all) writing lately, so I plan on making a schedule for that and a few other things that need doing.  I’ll be posting about it sometime in early May, once I hammer out the details.

XI. Justice: What’s the biggest consequence that your main character will ha*e to face? (If it spoils the plot, feel free to be *ague.)

Well, she’s always risking life and limb in combat against an assortment of enemies, some human and most inhuman.  There’s one point in the series where the baddies try to coax her into joining their side, at which point she’s risking the consequence of a lightning bolt to the face, ’cause Zeus is watching her quite closely.  Other than that…well, there are a few minor run-ins with foreign kings that are of a less than pleasant type, but…mostly the only consequences would be if she fails in her goals of stopping the bad guys.

Wow, my books sound really shallow all of a sudden.

XII. The Hanged Man: What sacrifices do you make for writing time?  Or, what must your main character be willing to choose between?

Hmm…what does Atalanta need to choose between?  I can’t really think of anything, which is alarming.  But the thing is, I was kind of following the mold of some of the more grand myths, like Perseus’ quest to protect his mother from the lecher who wants to marry her, or Jason’s quest to get the Golden Fleece (minus the part where he starts being a horrible cad and all the wretchedness that follows) and there’s not a lot of…it’s just…the mode of the story is pretty simple:  go, do, fight, triumph.  I tried to add a little more to it than that, but…yeah, still ends up sounding really shallow, no matter how I try to shine it up.

XIII. Death: What do you do after you’*e finished a project?

After I finished the first book in this series, I went right on to the next one.  I wasn’t ready to stop writing yet.  Besides, I knew my pantsing would continue to affect where the story was going, and that later books would probably contradict earlier ones, but that the later tales would be better…and I was right about that:  something I had to say about the causes of the Trojan War in Book Six contradicted something from…Book Two, I think it was.  Either way, Book Six’s new wrinkle was much better, and might actually be truly original, so…yeah, I think I made the right call there.

XI*. Temperance: Please share your best-tested & pro*en tip for balancing writing and “the rest.”

I can’t balance anything; my life is chaos.

X*. The De*il: E*eryone has a nasty habit they can’t shake. What’s your main character’s?

For Atalanta, that’d be running off half-cocked.  She gets excited easily, and can’t stop herself from acting.  But she also has self-doubt that interferes at the worst times.  For Ariadne, it’s thinking too much and paralyzing herself by coming up with too many contradictory plans and/or possible pitfalls.  Eurysakes…honestly, I think it’s his way of talking.  He talks extremely slowly, just like his father did, which annoys those around him, and makes Ariadne cut him off a lot, because she’s pretty impatient about stuff like that.  (Though Atalanta is more or less the lead, it’s a team book, so I think it’s okay to list all three here.)

X*I. The Tower: Ha*e you e*er had to scrap an entire project and start o*er? How did it feel? Were you frustrated, sad, relie*ed, etc.?

Yeah.  This past NaNo’s project, “The Island of Dr. Tanaka.”  I was writing it specifically for these two characters I rescued from another book’s backstory, but then I didn’t finish it during NaNoWriMo, and as I kept working on it, it just got slower and slower and I couldn’t finish and I couldn’t finish…until I finally realized it was the two characters who had gotten the project going in the first place who were also killing it.  They just don’t fit the story.  But I like the story, so I don’t want to just abandon it.  So now I’m going to need to start again, with new characters in their places, and come up with something else for them.  (There are a number of my Insecure Writer’s Support Group posts on this subject…))  It is exceptionally frustrating.  To the point that I’m not ready to work on either of the projects yet.  When the semester ends and I get my summer break time, I’m either going to finally re-write Book One of the YA project I’m talking about here, or work on a superhero-themed short story I’m working on coming up with characters for.

Or possibly both, trading off one to the other on my whims.

X*II. The Star: What is your fa*orite part of starting a new project? New notebook smell? Getting to know the characters? Building the plot?

Probably the plot.  It’s usually what gets me interested.  But sometimes it’s the characters.  When it’s both, that’s when I feel the most compelled to write.  That happened with this semi-YA series; I was excited about both the characters and the whole-series plot.

X*III. The Moon: What’s the biggest lie that your main character is telling herself?

For Atalanta, it’s that her father was a great man.  Achilles was certainly great on the battlefield, but off it he was pretty reprehensible.  (Though my Achilles in the books (each book starts with a prologue during the war) isn’t nearly as reprehensible as he should be, ’cause I’m not good at writing that kind of character.)  At one point the heroines go to the the house of Hades to talk to a shade (because how could they not?) and Hermes and Hades both work pretty hard to make sure that she doesn’t meet her father’s shade, because they don’t want her to get disillusioned and fail in her quest, since that would be bad for the gods.  (Part of Atalanta’s main impetus to be heroic is to try to be worthy of who she thinks her father was.)

Ariadne is also telling herself lies about her father.  At first, she’s telling herself that the men who fathered her and Atalanta weren’t really Odysseus and Achilles, but a couple of con men (in modern parlance) claiming to be Odysseus and Achilles.  (This despite that Atalanta — at nine years old — was strong enough to throw a grown man onto a one-story roof.)  Once the oracle at Delphi had addressed Ariadne as the daughter of Odysseus, it was harder to claim her father wasn’t really Odysseus, so then Ariadne starts lying to herself that Odysseus is the scum of the earth, the worst man in the history of humanity.  While Odysseus can be pretty reprehensible, he’s nowhere near that bad.  And when Ariadne finally spends some time with Odysseus, she’s quite cold to him, despite that he wants to take up his responsibilities as her father and he genuinely cares about her.  (Of course, at her age, the only responsibility left to a father towards his daughter is to find her a good husband and pay a big dowry, but…he both offers to do both and also promises that he won’t force a husband on her.  Which is pretty astonishing for the time period.)  So one of Ariadne’s major growth points is coming to accept him, at least a little bit.

But I came to realize that Ariadne is also telling herself a much bigger lie about the way she feels for Atalanta.  I started writing a follow-up to the final book, which starts out with them going to all the places they gained help during the main series, and letting them know that the enemy has been defeated.  But when they get to Troy, they’re going to meet up with the daughter of Hector, and following some desire on her part to kill Atalanta because of what happened between their fathers, more stuff will happen and they’ll end up on their way to Hattusa to see the Hittite king, and other stuff will happen, and I didn’t really get too far.  (They hadn’t reached Troy yet.)  Anyway, as I was writing that, returning to the characters after about a year, I suddenly realized that Ariadne didn’t just possess the standard cousins/sisters feelings for Atalanta:  she wasn’t aware of it, but her feelings were more romantic in nature.  I had not intended that to be the case, so I was pretty surprised by it.  I had Eurysakes point it out (he didn’t think it was right, since Atalanta and Ariadne had been raised pretty much like sisters) but Ariadne of course denied it utterly, unable to understand that about herself.  I’m not sure if I’ll make her realize he’s right or if she’ll keep denying it.  And I’m not sure if I’ll try to make it apparent in the main series as I re-write or if I’ll let it remain as it already is.

XIX. The Sun: Do any themes, symbols, or objects come full circle in your story?

Hmm….I can’t think of any, off-hand.  Except the prologues:  the first one shows the, well, the introduction (and leading off to the bedchamber) of the heriones’ fathers to their mothers, and then shows their births nine months later, while the final prologue returns to Lesbos and shows the girls at about nine years old, and shows their mothers again, while intimating some new things about why they were born.  I’m not sure if that’s really “full circle” or not, though.

XX. Judgement: Do your characters get what they deser*e? Why or why not?

Well, in the books already written, two of them basically do…sort of.  At that point, they’re all three heroes, and they should get a happy ending, right?  So at the ending of the last book, they’re all setting out on a journey together, to share the news of their triumph, and generally to enjoy the trip, glad that they won’t be attacked so much anymore.  This is exactly what Atalanta and Ariadne want, though they do merit better still.  Eurysakes wants to marry the woman he adores, but at the end of the book he still can’t, because Helen has not yet coaxed Ramses into allowing his adopted daughter to marry a non-Egyptian.  (Yes, Helen, Queen of Sparta, is trying to play matchmaker between a Greek prince and an Egyptian princess.  It’s that kind of series.)  So he hasn’t gotten the happy ending he wants yet.

After the books, though (and I mean after the unfinished one here), Eurysakes will get to marry his Egyptian princess, and he’ll go to rule Salamis, at least until he and his brother gift it to Athens.  This is will break up the trio, though of course the girls are welcome in Salamis at all times.  But their happy endings get less and less happy, because I had in mind another series, set millennia later:  Atalanta will be forced to accept immortality and marry a god (and yes, “forced” is the word, because she doesn’t like him) and Ariadne will be left alone.  So after the books, the heroines don’t get the happy ending they should.  Which I recognize is really weird, and a little messed up, especially considering the male in the trio does get his happy ending.  (Though Ariadne will end up in an Amazon-like town the heroes help establish in one of the books, so she’ll be all right, except for the pain of being parted from Atalanta.)

It’s probably weird that I came up with this much of what happens to them long after the books end…

XXI. The World: At what point did you know that you had to write this project?

After seeing two back-to-back film trailers that utterly desecrated the entire idea of ancient Greece, in my seething fury at Hollywood, I was re-reading and re-writing my Trojan War book.  When I got to the part about Achilles killing Thersites and being sent to Lesbos, where Odysseus would perform the purification rite to cleanse him of the homicide, I started wondering what happened when they were there other than the purification rite.  I started imagining a dialog between them, as Odysseus kept getting Achilles more and more drunk, mostly for the laughs.  (This dialog ended up being a large part of the prologue of book one.)  When I knew I had to write the project was when I started wondering what the two girls would name their daughters (who in my initial imagination were just going to run off to be Amazons) and as soon as I decided the daughter of Achilles would be called Atalanta, I knew I had to write their story in full.  (Naming her Atalanta was actually an inside joke to my Trojan War book:  when Thetis took the nine-or-so-years-old Achilles to Scyros to disguise him as a girl, he suggested that his girl name should be Atalanta, which of course Thetis rejected.)


So, that’s the end of the questions.  Since I’m just borrowing the questions and wasn’t strictly speaking tagged (she just left an open “anyone reading this” kind of tag) I’m not gonna tag anyone else.  ‘Cause weird.

Anyway, for those unfamiliar with me talking about these books, I want to point out that this is the first time the heroines’ names appear on my blog.  (Well, in connection with these characters, anyway.  The names show up in talking about the original mythical characters for whom these characters are named.)  I’m not sure if using their names like this is proof that any hope of publishing has disappeared, or if this means I actually secretly still think it’ll someday be publishable and I’m subconsciously trying to raise interest.

Ugh, this turned out way too long.  (Took like two hours!)  Why do I always think long things are going to be short?

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S is for Sita

Published April 22, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


King Janaka wanted children.  Before he offered up sacrifices to the gods to ask them for children, he marked out a small furrow in the earth.  It was from this furrow that Sita was born, fully formed and the most beautiful woman on earth.

The archery contest. Wikimedia Commons.

The archery contest. Wikimedia Commons.

As such a beauty, Sita had many suitors, so many that it was impossible for her father to simply choose one.  But he had a bow that had been given to him by Shiva himself, so he decided to use that bow to pick his daughter’s husband-to-be.  A contest was set up so that each suitor should try to string the bow.  The one who succeeded would get to marry Sita.  Many tried, but only Rama, the son of King Dasaratha, was able to string the bow.  (This, no doubt, was the bow’s intention, for — though no mortal realized it — Rama was an avatar of Vishnu, and Sita was an avatar of Vishnu’s wife Lakshmi, and it would have been most wrong for her to marry anyone other than Rama.)

Rama’s father wanted to step down and make Rama the next king, but his second wife tricked him into exiling Rama and making her own son king instead.  Rama and Sita left the kingdom obediently, but when Dasaratha died, Rama’s half-brother declared that he was only regent, for Rama was the true king.

But Rama didn’t hear this news right away, and continued in his exile.  During his exile, he met a demon named Surpanakha, who fell madly in love with him, and begged to become his wife.  Rama explained to her that he was satisfied with Sita, and needed no additional wives.  When Rama’s friend Lakshmana also rejected her, Surpanakha became enraged and attacked them, though her primary target was poor Sita.  Rama and Lakshmana drove off Surpanakha’s attacks, leaving her mutilated but alive.

That was their greatest mistake, for Surpanakha went to her brother Ravana, a monstrous demon with ten heads, desperate to avenge herself.  But her anger was still more at Sita than at Rama, so she filled her brother with desire for Sita’s beauty.  Soon enough, Ravana felt he had to have Sita for his own, and he used trickery to separate Sita from her husband and his friend, then he carried her off to his palace, despite that Jatayu the vulture king tried to stop him.

Despite being mortally wounded by Ravana, Jatayu managed to live just long enough to tell Rama what had happened.  Then began an epic quest to regain Sita from the monstrous Ravana.  Rama had no human army, but gained an army of monkeys, led by the powerful Hanuman, and after much difficulty, he and his army made their way to the island where Ravana’s palace lay.

Read the rest of this entry →

F is for Fei Lian

Published April 7, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


Fei Lian is a Chinese wind spirit of monstrous appearance, though my sources have contrasted greatly on just what his monstrous appearance actually looks like.  “Deer” and “snake” came up in both, but the former came up in different places.  (Honestly, I think the description of him as a dragon with the head of a deer and the tail of a snake sounds a bit more authentically Chinese than the description of him as having the body of a deer, the head of a sparrow, the horns of a bull and the tail of a snake.  But what do I know?  I was dazed most of the day today (I think I accidentally took one of my medications twice) and could be typing upside down and inside out for all I know.)

Regardless of what Fei Lian looks like, he keeps the winds in a bag, so that he can let them out to do his bidding whenever he wants.  However, he is also rebellious, and once rose up against Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor.  He was, of course, brought down, and forced to toe the line.  (Or perhaps hoof the line, if he does indeed have the body of a deer.)

So, it’s not a terribly great comparison — that’s starting to be a running theme, I’m sorry to say — but I know of another individual who could keep the winds in a sack:  Aiolos, who put all the winds but Zephyros into a sack and gave them to Odysseus so he would have smooth sailing to get back home again…which obviously didn’t work out too well, due to the greed of Odysseus’ crew.  (Or so Odysseus claimed, anyway.  How much of the tale he told to the Phaiacians we should take seriously is a difficult matter to determine.)

Obviously, there are huge differences.  Aiolos would not normally keep the winds in a sack, and only put them there as a special favor to a mortal he had taken a shine to — or to curry favor with that mortal’s guardian goddess, whichever — and even then it wasn’t all the winds, merely all the ones that would interfere with Odysseus’ return to Ithaca.  And Aiolos is one of those characters who may well have been created for the story in which he is now found, as opposed to a character whose stories all post-date him, as Fei Lian almost certainly is.  And Aiolos is not the least bit rebellious, either.

So really the only strong comparison between them is that they both keep the winds in a sack.  And there are probably others who do that as well,  who I just didn’t encounter.



Ugh.  I swear, at some point I am going to start putting out some of these that don’t suck.

It just may take me a while!

(Okay, no, actually, tomorrow’s shouldn’t be too bad.  It’s got a bit more meat to it, at any rate.)

Words Crush Wednesday – An Unusual Method of Healing

Published February 10, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

This week’s Words Crush Wednesday is from The Scientific Revolution by Steven Shapin, the book I had to read for this week.  (Next week’s is also going to be from this book…so the quotes may start really falling behind me!)

I wanted to quote this because it reminded me of a myth.  The quote is:

It was part of the mechanists’ credo that all genuine effects in nature were to prove explicable based on ordinary, comprehensible mechanical and material causes.  So [Sir Francis] Bacon was suspicious of the claimed matter of fact involved in the celebrated “weapon salve.”  It had been commonly avowed that a wound caused by a given weapon might be healed by anointing not the wound itself but the sword or knife that caused it, even when wound and weapon were up to thirty miles apart.

Obviously the idea of a “weapon salve” made me think not of putting medicine on the weapon (though that’s a pretty unexpected way to try to cure a wound!) but of making medicine from the weapon!

Because — as you might expect, coming from me — that happened at one point in the Trojan War.

The short version is this:  the Greeks, in their first sailing for Troy, missed it entirely, landing in Mysia, to the south.  Of course, they start laying waste to the place anyway, because that’s what they do.  They’re in the realm ruled by Telephos, a son of Heracles, and he of course goes out personally to fight off the attackers.  (That being the norm for kings at the time, even ones not fathered by demi-gods.)  In the battle, he’s wounded in the thigh by Achilles, but the battle eventually ends with the Greeks realizing their mistake and sailing away again.

However, Telephos’ wound doesn’t heal.

For years.

Eventually, he seeks an oracle (which one varies), and is told that he can only be healed by the one who wounded him.  That doesn’t seem like a good idea to Telephos (or, doubtless, to anyone else!) but he’s suffered long enough that he’s willing to try anything, and goes to Mycenae looking for Achilles.  Now, what happens next varies by the teller (and it doesn’t help that we mostly only have summaries and fragments left of the majority of versions) but eventually, his situation is explained, and it’s agreed that he’ll help them find Troy (you wouldn’t think it would be hard to find, being a big trading city located on a major waterway) in exchange for having his wound healed.  (It is to be pointed out, of course, that the Greeks had received a prophecy that they could only reach Troy with the guidance of a son of Priam.  And Telephos is married to one of Priam’s daughters.  Though said prophecy may be a late excuse for their needing help to find the place.)

Anyway, in some versions, Achilles objects that he knows nothing of healing, though in other versions he can’t very well claim that, having been taught healing by Cheiron as a boy.  (In the Iliad, for example, not only did he learn healing from Cheiron, but he had since taught it to Patroclos.)  Even in the versions where he doesn’t object, he’s still clueless as to how to heal a wound that’s been festering for years on end.

But wily Odysseus, of course, has a plan.  (Doesn’t he always?)

He scrapes the rust off the tip of Achilles’ spear and puts it in the wound.

And it works!

(Of course, there’s the slight problem that bronze, like Achilles’ spear, does not rust in the sense we think of, but…well, it does oxidize in some manner.  Though why someone who’s supposed to be their best warrior would let his spear literally grow rusty is another matter entirely…)

Part of me wants to post the “Telephos” chapter from my Trojan War novel to share the full story, but unfortunately, that was one of the “omg, this sucks!” chapters I was going to utterly redo…and it’s the very one I got stuck in the middle of.  *sigh*


Missing Letter Mondays – No “I”

Published January 25, 2016 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 the drops 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.



MLM icon init bonus points MLM I

Oh.  My.  God.  So.  Much.  Harder.  Than.  Expected!


Words Crush Wednesday – Embracing the Dead

Published October 21, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So this week’s Words Crush Wednesday is continuing last week’s trend of Halloween-appropriate epic quotes.  Last week we saw the dead, but this week we embrace them…

Once again, we’re starting with the epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Stephanie Dalley, from the book Myths from Mesopotamia:  Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh and Others, and our quote is again from Tablet XII:

And the spirit of Enkidu came out of the Earth like a gust of wind.
They hugged and kissed (?),
They discussed, they agonized.

And from there it goes right into the quote from last week.  The other half of the “they,” of course, is Gilgamesh himself.  This is one of several passages in the epic of Gilgamesh that are routinely compared to passages in the Iliad

Specifically, it’s compared to this passage:

In sleep came to him the soul of unhappy Patroclos, his very image in stature and wearing clothes like his, with his voice and those lovely eyes.  The vision stood by his head and spoke:

“You sleep, Achilles, and you have forgotten me!  When I lived you were not careless of me, but now that I am dead!

[Skipping Patroclos’ speech, in which, among other thing, he gives extensive instructions about how he wants to be buried.]

Achilles said in answer:

“Why have you come here, beloved one, with all these charges of this and that?  Of course I will do as you tell me every bit.  But come nearer; for one short moment let us lay our arms about each other and console ourselves with lamentation!”

He stretched out his arms as he spoke, but he could not touch, for the soul was gone like smoke into the earth, twittering.

That was from Book XXIII of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation.  (And I’ve actually quoted that passage before, so if you want to read Patroclos’ speech, you can do that here.)

And moving on, now, to the Odyssey, Book XI, also W.H.D. Rouse translation:

“Then came the soul of my dead mother, Anticlea daughter of the brave Autolycos; she was alive when I left Ithaca on my voyage to sacred Ilion.  My tears fell when I saw her, and I was moved with pity; but all the same, I would not let her come near the blood before I had asked my questions of Teiresias.

[Skipping the dialog with Teiresias]

“I stayed where I was until my mother came near and drank the red blood.  At once she knew me, and made her meaning clear with lamentable words:

” ‘My love, how did you come down to the cloudy gloom, and you alive?

[Skipping most of the conversation here.  Odysseus is very long-winded, and apparently he gets that from his mother…or he’s making all this up on the fly to trick the Phaiacians…]

” ‘And this is how I sickened and died.  The Archeress did not shoot me in my own house with those gentle shafts that never miss; it was no disease that made me pine away:  but I missed you so much, and your clever wit and your gay merry ways, and life was sweet no longer, so I died.’

“When I heard this, I longed to throw my arms round her neck.  Three times I tried to embrace the ghost, three times it slipt through my hands like a shadow or a dream.  A sharp pang pierced my heart, and I cried out straight from my heart to hers:

” ‘Mother dear!  Why don’t you stay with me when I long to embrace you?  Let us relieve our hearts, and have a good cry in each other’s arms.  Are you only a phantom which awful Persephoneia has sent to make me more unhappy than ever?’

My dear mother answered:

” ‘Alas, alas, my child, most luckless creature on the face of the earth!  Persephoneia is not deceiving you, she is the daughter of Zeus; but this is only what happens to mortals when one of us dies.  As soon as the spirit leaves the white bones, the sinews no longer hold flesh and bones together — the blazing fire consumes them all; but the soul flits away fluttering like a dream.

So we can add one more innocent person’s death to Odysseus’ tally, his own mother. (And yet I doubt there were any ancient Greeks who believed he’d been sent to Tartaros or anything.  In fact, I’m sure they all believed he ended up in the Elysian Fields/Island of the Blessed/White Island.  (Though you’d think he’d be unwelcome on the White Island, given his feud with Aias, and the fact that Aias is cousin and one of the best buddies of the dead demi-god running the place…))  BTW, as I was checking which (of the ten zillion) post-it notes I could remove from my copy of the Odyssey to re-use for this semester’s reading, I noticed something interesting:  in the Odyssey, Autolycos is merely favored by Hermes, not his son.  I wonder if his twin brother is still the son of Apollo in the Odyssey‘s version?

And, of course, since Odysseus has such an encounter, you know Aeneas does, too!  (Actually, he doubly has to have encounters with the dead, since Achilles has one also.  Must be hard work for poor Aeneas, trying to be two Greeks, one after the other!)  Anyway, this is from Book VI of the Aeneid, Robert Fitzgerald translation:

                                   Aeneas said:
“Your ghost,
Your sad ghost, father, often before my mind,
Impelled me to the threshold of this place.
My ships ride anchored in the Tuscan sea.
But let me have your hand, let me embrace you,
Do not draw back.”
At this his tears brimmed over
And down his cheeks.  And there he tried three times
To throw his arms around his father’s neck,
Three times the shade untouched slipped through his hands,
Weightless as wind and fugitive as dream.

[Apologies, but for some reason it won’t let me do the indentation on the quote above.  The second line should line up roughly with the end of the first line, and”At this his tears brimmed over” should line up with the end of the line before.  But for some reason it’s ignoring all the spaces I added in front of them to position them.]

Actually, I’m surprised I don’t have two Aeneid passages for you; I guess because of the compressed time (or because he hadn’t finished the poem when he died) Virgil didn’t have time for Pallas’ ghost to show up before Aeneas.  Or maybe Dido’s shade in the Underworld section is supposed to take the place of Patroclos’, but it’s more like Aias’ shade, considering how she treats him.  (There’s certainly no attempted embrace there.)

[EDIT — I so totally fail.  There are two Aeneid passages, it’s just that the one with Anchises was actually the second, not the first.  The first was way back in Book II:

Time after time I groaned and called Creusa,
Frantic, in endless quest from door to door.
Then to my vision her sad wraith appeared —
Creusa’s ghost, larger than life, before me.
Chilled to the marrow, I could feel the hair
On my head rise, the voice clot in my throat;
But she spoke out to ease me of my fear:

‘What’s to be gained by giving way to grief
So madly, my sweet husband?  Nothing here
Has come to pass except as heaven willed.
You may not take Creusa with you now;
It was not so ordained, nor does the lord
Of high Olympus give you leave.

[skipping a fair chunk of her speech here]

No: the great mother of the gods detains me
Here on these shores.  Farewell now; cherish still
Your son and mine.’

With this she left me weeping,
And faded on the tenuous air.  Three times
I tried to put my arms around her neck,
Three times enfolded nothing, as the wraith
Slipped through my fingers, bodiless as wind,
Or like a flitting dream.

Obviously, that, too, was the Robert Fitzgerald translation.  I’m able to add this in now because I’m researching a paper on the Aeneid, and one of the pieces I read happened to mention that Aeneas’ attempts to embrace both the ghost of his wife and of his father used exactly the same lines.  Funny thing, though:  the scholar in question did not mention that said lines were essentially ripped wholesale out of the Odyssey.  (Virgilian scholars always seem to overlook the places where Virgil basically just translated Homer into Latin and ran with it…)  You’ll notice the quotes are not identical, though; presumably that means Fitzgerald changed things up a bit to make it more interesting to the reader.  (Sadly, as the semester has grown more intense, I’ve fallen behind in re-learning Latin, so I can’t go to the original to look for myself at how similar they are.  Though obviously they have a certain amount of difference:  the one in Book II is in the first person, and the one in Book VI is in the third person.)

So, Aeneas does get to have two failed attempts at embracing a ghost, one for each of his Greek antecedents.  It’s telling of how Virgil interpreted the Iliad that the one to parallel Achilles is not with the innocent young boy Pallas that Aeneas is briefly enamored of, but rather with his wife.  (I guess Virgil agreed with Aischylos on that score…)  Okay, end edit.]

Anyway, next week is going to be the most Halloweeny of all!  (Technically, this week and last week have been more Day of the Dead than Halloween, really…)


Words Crush Wednesday: Seeing the Dead

Published October 14, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

In honor of Halloween, I’m going all out with Words Crush Wednesday for the rest of the month.  You’re getting three quotes for the price(?) of one!  And all of them on the suitably Halloweeny theme of “the dead.”  But — true to my own obsessions — they are, naturally, all from ancient epic poetry.  Though we’ll be going a bit further back than just ancient Greece…

…because we’re starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh!  This Akkadian poem is of unknown date, though “Mesopotamian tradition ascribed authorship of the seventh-century version found at Ninevah to one Sin-leqe-unnini, a master scribe and lamentation-priest of the Kassite period,” however parts of the epic date back to around 2150 BC.  This translation is by Stephanie Dalley, from the book Myths from Mesopotamia:  Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh and Others, and the quote above is from the introduction to the Gilgamesh epic.  The main quote is from Tablet XII, which is apparently pretty badly damaged.  The situation is that Enkidu’s spirit has risen from the Underworld to speak to Gilgamesh (on which subject you’ll hear more next week!) and he’s describing the Underworld to Gilgamesh.  (Or that seems to be what’s going on.  There are a lot of gaps and question marks in the translation, as you’ll see.) Read the rest of this entry →

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