Friday, April 29, 2011

Where Centaurs Meet Pirithous, Character is Spawned

This is going to be shock to all of you, I'm sure, but when it comes to mythical beasts, I am not really up on my stuff. I don't know how that facet of my education has been neglected all this time. I guess I just find them less interesting than the actual people involved. I'd rather write about Theseus and Ariadne than the Minotaur, and I'm more interested in Pirithous and Hippodamia than I am the centaurs.

Sebastiano Ricci 045But the war between the Lapiths and the centaurs isn't something that I can overlook in Pirithous' life. Not just because it's one of the few stories of Pirithous that has survived, but also because I can't imagine it not shaping the person he is or his rule as King of the Lapiths.

The war didn't just affect him. It wasn't a personal attack on his wife alone. The centaurs went after all the women who were present, crazed by lust and wine. How many of his people suffered that day, because of his choice to invite the centaurs in the first place? How many women died? How many husbands grieved over the ruined bodies of their wives, and how many children were left orphaned, their mothers taken and their father's killed in the fight? How many women, after being practically gang raped by manimals, went into shock, or were trapped in the nightmare of that day, reliving it every time they heard the clop of hooves, or the thud of hoof beats?

It isn't, necessarily, what happened during the war that matters, either. But what about after? How did Pirithous respond, as a man and a king, to the affront against both his wife and his people? In an age of blood feuds and wars over cattle raids, did it mean the end of what friendship there had been between the centaurs and the Lapiths? Did Pirithous take revenge, beyond the lives lost during the wedding feast?

These are the questions that Classical myths inspire in me. They tell me the story of what, but there is so much left to explore. There is so much CHARACTER left to discover in the places between these myths, and I can't resist the wondering. I can't resist writing the story in the quest to learn more.

But it means that I have to look up centaurs. And it also means that I have to figure out the answer to less interesting questions. Like, do centaurs prefer clubs when they fight? And of course the age old wonder: is a centaur front heavy -- how much does a human torso weigh vs the head and neck of a regular horse?

Let me tell you, finding answers like that are not quite as easy as you might think. It also means that the blog will probably have a real post about Centaurs coming soon. Maybe.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This is not a Norse post.

I'm about 48,000 words into Pirithous' book. (Who knew Pirithous had a WHOLE BOOK in him? I didn't. I mean, I love the guy, but I really didn't think he could carry a whole book. I guess he is showing ME.) What this means for YOU blog-followers, is that my brain is spinning in circles about centaurs and how much zippers will blow Pirithous' mind, and I'm drawing a big fat blank on Norse mythology that isn't directly related to the Thor movie. (THOR TOYS AT BURGER KING, GUYS!)

I'm also rereading The Bull From the Sea by Mary Renault, because it's the Theseus book with Pirithous in it, and I can't really stop myself. As far as I'm concerned, there is not enough Pirithous in mythology-related-fiction. (It goes without saying that there isn't enough Theseus, but at least he has a couple of books and that movie coming out this winter that is some kind of Clash of the Titans, except hopefully good instead of trash.)

So this post? It is the "I just want to get back to writing-- I think I have another 1000 words in me before bed, maybe even 2000 to give me a 5K day! If I just don't let myself get distracted by some kind of Norse something or other for this blogpost I need to write" post of doom.

I hope you'll forgive me.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Writing Notes: Finding the Right Word

I'm working on a Pirithous book. I've been wanting to write him one for a while, but it never came together until I had a conversation with my mother. She asked the right question, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. Two other books in progress, and Pirithous called my name.

37,000 words later, and I'm reliving one of the problems I had when I wrote Helen.


Pirithous is a very hands on kind of man. In fact, keeping his hands off the women in any book is a lost cause. But trying to find the right word to use from Pirithous' perspective for the hind-end of his leading lady seems to be an impossible task. What says archaic while still being sexy? Not too generic, but not too specific either. The wrong word turns a romantic moment into a comical one and a smooth operation into a jarring and awkward event that takes the reader out of the story.

Pirithous cannot slap a woman on the ass, but he might be able to pinch her behind. Unless of course he's reaching behind someone in order to pat her bottom. Maybe he's admiring her shapely backside, but that could account for more than just the two cheeks. And I don't know about you, but buttocks has always seemed more clinical than complimentary.

The English language has a multitude of words for this one particular portion of the human body, but English isn't Pirithous' language, and that isn't something I can ignore for the convenience of identifying a woman's rump.

I'm sure that Pirithous will hate to hear it, but until I can figure out the word with the right voice to match his very particular voice and history, he's going to have to keep his hands off his love interest's fanny.

(Sorry, Pirithous!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Story of Thjalfi (part II)

When last we left our hero sidekick, Thjalfi had just been taken into Thor's service with his sister, Roskva. But that was not the last of Thjalfi's adventures. Thor, being Thor, struck out again on his journey, continuing on his way to Jotunheim with his two new bondservants in tow. Thjalfi was put right to work carrying Thor's bag during the journey, and Snorri even tells us:
"Thjálfi was swiftest-footed of all men;"
Skrýmir by Maydell
Thor vs. the sleeping Skrymir
Along the way they ran into a pretty terrifyingly huge giant named Skrymir. So immense was Skrymir that his glove, hanging out on the ground, appeared to Thor and his companions to be a shelter, where Thor, Loki, Roskva, and Thjalfi spent the night.

Inside the thumb.

Thor and his companions traveled with this Giant through Jotunheim, during which time Skrymir prodded and provoked Thor (under the guise of amiability), and Thor tried and failed to kill him while the rest of his party pretty much shook in their boots. Lucky for everyone, Skrymir didn't seem interested in more than testing them, and left them all in Utgard, where Thor and his companions (Thjalfi included) prevailed upon the hospitality of Utgarda-Loki (not to be confused with Loki the Trickster, though Utgarda-Loki is very much deserving of the same title, as you will soon see!).

Utgarda-Loki scorned Thor and his companions pretty openly. And why shouldn't he when the god had shown up on his doorstep, in enemy territory, dependent upon his goodwill for food, drink, and a bed? Utgarda-Loki demanded that Thor and his companions prove their worthiness and their skill before he allowed them to stay in his hall, and of course Thor and his companions rose to the challenge (all except Roskva, who appears to have been given a free pass, either because she was a woman, or because she was just a girl, it isn't all that clear).

First, Loki claimed he could eat faster than any man in Utgarda-Loki's hall. He was beaten by a man named Logi who ate not only the meat, but also the bones along with it, and the trough in which the food was laid out.

Second, Thjalfi claimed he could outrun anyone that Utgarda-Loki chose for him to race against. Thjalfi ran three heats against a boy named Hugi, but though Utgarda-Loki said he had never seen anyone as swift as Thjalfi against Hugi, the poor Thjalfi still lost all three attempts, and by a wide margin.

Finally, it was Thor's turn. He claimed he could outdrink anyone in the hall (sheer quantity of liquid, not liquor-holding, though I suspect he would have been a champion in that department as well). Utgarda-Loki handed him a large drinking horn, filled to the brim. According to Snorri:
Then said Útgarda-Loki: 'It is held that this horn is well drained if it is drunk off in one drink, but some drink it off in two; but no one is so poor a man at drinking that it fails to drain off in three.'
Thor tried. Really hard. But he couldn't down the contents of the horn in one, two, or three drinks. In fact, he had barely lowered the level of the liquid. At this point, someone had to have realized that SOMETHING fishy was going on in this hall, but Thor was too busy getting worked up about his own failure, and I'm sure Loki was busy being sick from speed-eating while Thjalfi was walking off his failed races.

Utgarda-Loki gave him a second chance. Kind of. Framing the challenge as insultingly as possible, Utgarda-Loki challenged Thor to pick up his cat off the ground. Thor, puffed and no doubt furious at this point, immediately took up the challenge. But try as he might, he could only lift the cat enough to move ONE of its paws from the floor. Now. I imagine by now even Thor was starting to figure out that the game was rigged, but he wasn't going to give up of course, because Thor can always, always be counted upon to take up a challenge and gosh darnit, he was going to prove himself to Utgarda-Loki if it KILLED him to do it!

So. Utgard Loki offered him one last insult chance, and said he could wrestle with an old woman who had been his nurse, named Elli. You can imagine how much this provoked Thor, to be considered so unfit an opponent that only an old woman was brought forth to challenge him. Thor struggled and fought and wrestled with all his heart, but the old woman stood fast and firm, and Thor ended up falling to one knee, defeated.

Utgarda-Loki, having thoroughly shamed and humiliated Thor and his companions, then saw fit to give them a place to sleep and a good breakfast, all friendliness and hospitality. He even came out to see them on their way the next morning, and it was only then that he told Thor that NOT ONLY had it been Utgarda-Loki himself who was the giant Skrymir, but also this:
'Now I will tell thee the truth, now that thou art come out of the castle; and if I live and am able to prevail, then thou shalt never again come into it. [...]So it was also with the games, in which ye did contend against my henchmen: that was the first, which Loki did; he was very hungry and ate zealously, but he who was called Logi was "wild-fire," and he burned the trough no less swiftly than the meat. But when Thjálfi ran the race with him called Hugi, that was my "thought," and it was not to be expected of Thjálfi that he should match swiftness with it.
And that drinking horn? Thor was drinking the SEA itself. The cat was none other than the Midgard Serpent in disguise. And the old lady he wrestled. Oh, she wasn't any old lady. She was Old Age, personified.

As far as Thjalfi's story goes, I would say it is no small thing to be so fast that the only thing that can outrun you is thought. Not bad for a peasant's son!

And that is the Story of Thjalfi, Bondservant to Thor, according to the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pirithous and Persephone, Hubris or Godly Imposition?

The story goes that Pirithous and Theseus made a pact that they should both marry daughters of Zeus, because they were demigods and as such deserving of marriage to women of divine lineage. Leaving aside the fact that a daughter of Zeus would also be Pirithous' half-sister and the marriage slightly incestuous, a demigod deciding he deserves some kind of honor or another for himself is never really a good idea. Hubris is never, ever, ever a recipe for success for any demigod or mortal. The gods just do not put up with it. 

Persephone krater Antikensammlung Berlin 1984.40
Hades making off with Persephone
BUT, I can certainly see the appeal of a demigod daughter of Zeus for Pirithous and Theseus, both of whom suffered from a certain amount of bad luck when it came to their wives. Even making off with Helen is not such a terrible thing, for the times. Abducting women was a pretty normal activity for demigods. And Helen was still, at the time of her abduction, unpromised. In fact, later on, Helen was so desired, that her suitors were required to swear an oath not to kill the man who won her, or steal her from her rightful husband after the fact, so we know that even stealing wives is not unheard of or unsurprising. Raiding was an accepted part of life, be it for gold, goods, food, cattle, or women. And of course we can't forget that Hades himself carried Persephone off to the Underworld to be his bride in the first place, which resulted in Persephone spending 6 months in Hades, and Demeter's joy which results in the shift in season to spring when Persephone returns to the world and her mother's arms again.

Where Pirithous really went wrong then, was in his play for Persephone, a goddess in her own right as well as the consort of Hades, Zeus' own brother. Theseus merely went after a demigod, and while I won't say he didn't suffer for his pact in that regard, he certainly did not suffer for it to the same extent that Pirithous did. It's said, however, that Pirithous went after Persephone because Zeus SENT him, for the sole purpose of seeing him punished.
When Jove saw that they had such audacity as to expose themselves to danger [kidnapping Helen], he bade them in a dream both go and ask Pluto on Pirithous’ part for Proserpine in marriage (Hyginus, Fabulae, 79).
 So it wasn't even the pact to marry daughters of Zeus that provoked the gods, so much as how they went about kidnapping Helen herself. Now, Hyginus also says that Heracles pulls them both back out of the underworld, but Apollodorus says otherwise in The Libraries:
And being come near to the gates of Hades he found Theseus and Pirithous, him who wooed Persephone in wedlock and was therefore bound fast. And when they beheld Hercules, they stretched out their hands as if they should be raised from the dead by his might. And Theseus, indeed, he took by the hand and raised up, but when he would have brought up Pirithous, the earth quaked and he let go.
Pirithous being Pirithous, I'm not sure it would surprise me all that much if he got it into his own head that Persephone wanted him, and it would be a good idea to go steal her, for which he would then deserve the punishment of being trapped in Hades for eternity. But if he only went after Persephone because of Zeus? Well, that changes things. Why shouldn't Pirithous follow the direction of the King of the Gods, with all hope of success in his venture? With Zeus' blessing, how could he fail?

It makes you wonder. How many sins did the gods first impose upon their heroes, just for the excuse of punishing them? And was Pirithous a victim of his own Hubris, or the gods' desire to remind the world about just WHO exactly was boss?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Story of Thjalfi (part I)

One day, Thor and Loki decided to go for a journey. This is not at all abnormal for Thor. He does a lot of journeying. Mostly to pick fights with giants, or to pal around with Loki. They get into a lot of trouble that way. This particular journey, Thor stopped at a peasant's house to spend the night. Because Thor is aware of his own appetite, and generally just a generous guy, he offered one of his goats for dinner-- because they're magic, as you will recall-- and the peasants were thrilled. I'm sure a whole goat, even with Thor eating a good portion of it, was more meat than they had seen on their table, well, ever.

I am the giant Skrymir by Elmer Boyd Smith
Not Thjalfi's proudest moment

Now, the peasant and his wife had two children, a boy named Thjalfi, and a daughter named Roskva. Thjalfi was a little bit precocious, and apparently he really liked the taste of bone marrow. Now, for myself, I don't really understand the appeal, but I guess it's nice and rich, and the kid was probably in heaven over the sheer quantity of food one his plate, so I can give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest that maybe he just got a little bit carried away. But for whatever reason, at some point during this incredible feast, Thjalfi broke one of the goat's leg bones and sucked the marrow out in an excess of enthusiasm.

Nobody seemed to really notice him doing this. Probably because Thor was making a racket belly-laughing, back-slapping, and mead-guzzling. He was good at those things, and peasants were HIS PEEPS, so I'm sure he was perfectly at ease. In any event, they enjoyed their dinner, and everyone went off to bed in his or her corner of the cottage.

The next morning as he was getting ready to continue on, Thor gathered the bones of his goat and laid them on top of its hide, then swung his hammer over the mess of it. Through the magic of Mjolnir and the goats themselves, the bones and the hide reformed into his goat, whole and uneaten. But there was a hitch. The bone Thjalfi had cracked for the marrow didn't heal. Thor's goat was lame in one leg.

Now, Thor, being Thor, was most decidedly and most obviously displeased about this turn of events. He doesn't hide much, and he is KNOWN for having something of a temper. Plus, I mean, c'mon. He had shown these people a great deal of generosity, favoring them with his presence and sharing his meal of magic goat with them! So when they saw his brows crashing down over his eyes in anger, they fell to their knees before the god of thunder and begged for his forgiveness, terrified of his anger.

Thor, being Thor, was willing to forgive them, and frankly, he hadn't meant to frighten them quite so much, but when it came down to it, their son had cost him a valuable STEED. With the goat lame, he would have to leave his cart-chariot behind and travel on by foot. The peasants, recognizing this, offered Thor their son Thjalfi, and their daughter, Roskva, as bondservants to repay the god for the trouble their son had caused him, and probably also to keep themselves in his good graces. He was the god of an incredible elemental force, after all. Thor agreed, and leaving his goats and the chariot with the peasants, he struck out again on his journey with Loki, Thjalfi, and Roskva in tow.

And that, my friends, is how Thjalfi, a peasant's son, came to be in Thor's service. But stay tuned! Thjalfi's story is not quite over yet.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Hello Friends and Followers!

My short story, "Bride Price" has been published in Birdville, an online magazine! Head over yonder and give it a read-- it's less than 2000 words, so it won't take you long.

I hope you enjoy the Frenchmen!

Friday, April 08, 2011

Pirithous, Son of Zeus. King of the Lapiths

The story goes that Pirithous, having heard of Theseus' prowess in battle, wanted proof of his courage and strength, and so, as all good heroes do, he went out to rustle some of Theseus' cattle in order to test him. A time honored tradition among demigods! Plutarch tells the rest of the story in his essay on Theseus:
[...]when the news was brought that Theseus pursued him in arms, he did not fly, but turned back and went to meet him. But as soon as they had viewed one another, each so admired the gracefulness and beauty, and was seized with such respect for the courage of the other, that they forgot all thoughts of fighting; and Pirithous, first stretching out his hand to Theseus, bade him be judge in this case himself, and promised to submit willingly to any penalty he should impose. 
And that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. From that day forth, Theseus and Pirithous were like brothers, allies in everything and as you might recall from Ovid's Heroides, rather inseparable. Of Pirithous alone, we have very little information. Most of what is preserved is only in relation to his adventures with Theseus, in which, to my prejudiced readings, he comes off as the instigator of some foolish endeavor, inevitably resulting in trouble for both of them (the primary example being the abduction of Helen, and the subsequent trip to Hades so that Pirithous might steal Persephone for his own bride, because that is just the kind of overconfident, arrogant piece of work that Pirithous was).

Perithoos Hippodameia BM VaseF272
Which guy is Pirithous and which is Theseus, I couldn't say.
But the most famous story of Pirithous is the story of his wedding to Hippodamia, which unfortunately for everyone involved was something of a disaster. A good summary (still Theseus-centric, but what can you do?) of the story was preserved in Apollodorus' The Libraries [E.1.21]:
And Theseus allied himself with Pirithous, when he engaged in war against the centaurs. For when Pirithous wooed Hippodamia, he feasted the centaurs because they were her kinsmen. But being unaccustomed to wine, they made themselves drunk by swilling it greedily, and when the bride was brought in, they attempted to violate her. But Pirithous, fully armed, with Theseus, joined battle with them, and Theseus killed many of them.
Not exactly an idyllic occasion. I imagine that Pirithous had some trouble from the Centaurs from then on, after slaughtering so many of them. I also imagine he had a very, very, very unhappy bride that night. Pirithous strikes me as the kind of man who takes advantage of weeping women by letting them cry on his shoulder and then copping some feels on the sly, and I highly doubt that this instance was any exception.

But don't misunderstand me! Pirithous might be something of a cad, but who can resist the scoundrel who is also a hero? True, we don't really have much information on any actual HEROIC deeds, outside of rescuing his wife from the centaurs, but it's clear that Pirithous was along for the ride with Theseus often enough that he must have done SOMETHING honorable to make a name for himself. It can't all have been abducting women and cattle rustling...

Then again. Maybe Pirithous was more pirate than king, after all.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Affairs of the Gods!Norse Edition: Odin Likes the Ladies Too

Keeping with the generally Norse Tuesdays, Classics Fridays theme, I thought it might be appropriate to offer a very special AFFAIRS OF THE GODS: NORSE EDITION today instead!

who can resist this guy?
Now we all know that Odin liked the ladies as much as any Olympian, and we'd definitely be doing the All-Father a disservice if we didn't mention him as one of the more amorous All-Fathers. Odin's by-blows are all over Asgard. In fact, the only son of Odin in the Prose Edda who is explicitly named as the son of Frigg (Odin's wife) is Balder! Thor, Vidar, and Vali are all sons of giantesses, for whom Odin seems to have a soft spot. Hod is called the brother of Balder, but the name of his mother is never mentioned. Hermod is generally thought to be a son of Odin, though the sources are somewhat conflicting about even that much, never mind who mothered him, and Bragi is sometimes a son of Odin and other times a human made into a god later. Basically it seems like anyone who isn't a Vanir-- and even sometimes when they are Vanir-- is somehow related to Odin at some point in time or another. I guess Odin's seed is just that potent that anyone with an ounce of Awesome must have spawned from his loins!

But Odin doesn't limit himself to giantesses and Aesir goddesses for affairs and all of his supposed children don't make it into the exclusive list of the 12 14 Aesir, either. The Volsung family tree descends directly from Odin according to the Saga of the same name, though it skips neatly over the details, and of course there are other kings, here and there with the same claim.

Odin with Gunnlöd by Johannes Gehrts
Odin sold his body for Poetry
But the differences between Odin, King of the Aesir, and Zeus, King of the Olympians, are these: when Odin carries on an affair, Frigg doesn't get in line to torment them. EVEN after her own son is murdered. (Of course, Frigg didn't really have to get in line to torment Hod after Balder's death, because Odin was way ahead of her on that one, supposedly siring Vali for the sole purpose of murdering Hod in revenge.) Odin does not seem to bother with thinking up new and ever-more-devious disguises to hide his affairs, either. Nor do we find an extensive account of exactly how Odin seduced/raped the giantesses/goddess/lady in question. Sometimes there's some passing mention of the affair itself-- like Gunnlod, with whom Odin traded some All-Father lovin' in exchange for the mead of poetry-- without getting into what exactly that entailed, but mostly we get a generic "it was said that he was a son of Odin" or even less interesting, Snorri just throws it into one of the kennings for that particular person as some back-of-the-book afterthought. Putting names to the mothers of his sons is incredibly difficult across the board, outside of the big three (Thor, Balder, and Vali). All we hear about are the sons, and how they went about their lives, conquered, failed to conquer, or died. It's like nobody cares about how these kids were conceived, or even who by, only that they lived.

I'm not sure what this says about women in the world of Norse Myths, or if it is something on which we can base any commentary at all. In any event, for those of you who were hoping for some lurid details of Odin's seduction: Sorry to disappoint but I just can't provide it! If you want, we can blame Snorri. That dude's a jerk.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Some Writing Notes! And some Linear B news.

So. There has been a lot of fiction up the last couple of days! Totally accidental. I promise we'll get back to more informative and informational non-fiction posts soon.

I used up my buffer of blogposts these last couple of weeks while I plowed through revisions 1, 2, 3, and 4 of Postcards from Asgard to get to a finished product that actually works for me, start to finish. It has been a busy couple of days, and I only JUST finished rereading the final-pre-intensive-beta version this morning. Yeesh.

Needless to say, my head is still stuck in Asgard, wrapping around descriptions from the Prose Edda of Bifrost, and my tongue is twisting around Icelandic translations. (If Thjalfi was my Icelandic tutor, I would be a pro already, just for the record.) I woke up muttering Icelandic to myself in the tail end of a dream. I'm not even kidding, guys. No exaggerations required.

All of that said, by happenstance, some Linear B tablet fragment news broke on Wednesday. According to the article, the fragment found (in the trash) is the earliest decipherable evidence of writing in Europe. Even more fascinating, it comes from a satellite settlement, as opposed to one of the major Mycenaean centers, which was probably under the jurisdiction (such as it was) of Pylos, which means that more people were writing things down and keeping records than we had previously realized! It dates back to somewhere between 1450 and 1350 BCE.

Something I like about Linear B is that looking at the symbols they used, we can see what kind of goods were being traded and transported with frequency, and what was WORTH keeping track of in that distribution. Personally, I find the fact that they had a symbol just for bathtubs to be pretty awesome. It makes me think that the Mycenaeans (or at least those of wealth!) were pretty serious about staying clean. And of course, since everything on this blog comes back to Theseus or Thor: I'm happy to know that Theseus, had he lived, would not have stunk of B.O.