Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Considering the Source: Snorri's Prose Edda

To my greatest shame, I don't have a hard copy of the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. Thankfully we live in the information age, and the internet does provide! I have been remiss in my studies of late, what with the distraction of Theseus and all that Trojan War mythology, so this post is long, long overdue, but I thought you, my fabulous followers and friends, would appreciate some examples as to why we must always, always consider the nature of the source when we look at the textual evidence we have for Norse Mythology.

To begin with, Snorri's Edda, the Prose Edda, is prefaced by a somewhat long-winded account of the beginning of man-- that is, the Christian Account of that evolution, and ultimately how it led to the men who would later be considered gods to the Norse people. Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark, the Great Flood, even King Priam of Troy get mentions. Snorri doesn't hide his agenda. In one respect, this makes it a lot easier to sift through. We know Snorri is writing from a Christian Worldview, and it's quite clear that he means to discount the divinity of the gods in order to preserve that theology.

For instance, in the prologue Snorri places Thor quite firmly into human history as a grandson of King Priam:
One king among them was called Múnón or Mennón; and he was wedded to the daughter of the High King Priam, her who was called Tróán; they had a child named Trór, whom we call Thor.
and turns Sif into Sibil the prophetess:
In the northern half of his kingdom he [Thor] found the prophetess that is called Síbil, whom we call Sif, and wedded her. The lineage of Sif I cannot tell; she was fairest of all women, and her hair was like gold.

Oh so very Greek of him, and a testament too, to the pervasive nature of the mythic Troy* and it's people as a fact of history, cross culture.  He also goes on to make Odin a descendent of Thor, and leader of an exodus to the Northlands:

Odin had second sight, and his wife [Frigg] also; and from their foreknowledge he found that his name should be exalted in the northern part of the world and glorified above the fame of all other kings. Therefore, he made ready to journey out of Turkland, and was accompanied by a great multitude of people, young folk and old, men and women; and they had with them much goods of great price. And wherever they went over the lands of the earth, many glorious things were spoken of them, so that they were held more like gods than men.

To say this is a far cry from the Norse creation myth**  is an understatement. But it serves his purpose-- turning gods back into men, historical figures who can then be explained by gossip and boasting pre-vikings. I can certainly appreciate his translation of Aesir into a term referring to men from Asia, as in men descended of the House of Priam from Troy, though his supposition that they brought with them the language from Asia has, as far as I know, no linguistic basis whatsoever. It is, however, rather creative of him.

But this is what Snorri DOES; he rationalizes the mythology of his people to something which can fit within the Christian theology without competing against it. Suggesting that these gods were not gods at all, but men who have been honored and revered to the point where we forgot they were just men allowed a certain amount of preservation, even if it leaves us with a lot of teases and a source of questionable reliability.

On the one hand, we should be grateful to Snorri for preserving even as much as he did. On the other hand, I would give my left arm for a textual source written down before contact with the Christians and the conversion of the Norse people to that new faith. To hear the stories of the Norse gods from someone who honestly believed in them, knew them for allies, and placed him/herself in their hands, would be an incredible gift to our understanding. Snorri, though, is not it.

*The influence of Homer is pretty astounding when you think about it-- this Edda was written around 1200 AD, and Homer's Iliad was at earliest recorded ~700 BCE. That's almost 2000 years later, and don't forget that Snorri is also an Icelander! That's a long way in time and physical distance for the Epics of Homer and the ancient Greeks to travel.

**Odin, a son of Bor, himself a son of Buri who was licked from the ice by the cow Audhumla, and thereby the father of all other gods--and Thor the son of Odin after Odin and his brothers slew Ymir, the giant of all giants, and formed from Ymir's body, blood and bones the mountains, rivers, seas, etc. that make up our world.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Some Old News and Some New News

I have returned from the wild west! Unfortunately, I did not find the most excellent bucking bronco Wyoming sweatshirt that I have lusted after since I first laid eyes upon it YEARS ago, but I did get a nice magnet and got to see the Badlands for the first time since age 3. That is to say, this time I may actually REMEMBER it for the foreseeable future.

(Oh, did you want to see a picture? Of the badlands? El Husbando is currently holding our personal photography--such as it is--hostage. But it was definitely cool to look at. Like someone had taken a paint brush to the hills and the stone and turned them all into sunsets. You will have to make do with this image from wiki commons* for now! It kind of washes out a lot of the color, but it gives you an idea I guess.)

Badlands, South Dakota, USA. From : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Badlands.jpg
As far as the old news goes, while I was away a fabulous twitter-friend sent me an awesome link to an article of ANOTHER facial reconstruction from a found skull. This time, a young Athenian girl from ~430 BCE. It takes forever to load the page but the image is fascinating, I'm particularly interested by the fact that they chose to give her red hair. 

In a similar vein, I stumbled across a series of pictures of facial reconstructions from our ancient apish ancestors to the present day a while back, which I found to be COMPLETELY THE MOST AWESOME THING EVER. Or at least a really fascinating look at the evolution of the human face. And apparently I am a sucker for putting faces on the long dead. (Still hoping for the Headless Vikings to get their faces back!)

And speaking of Neanderthals (kind of), did you know the majority of the human race is part neanderthal? 1-4% of our genes! Interbreeding! The Stuff Stories Are Made Of! 

While searching for those links, I also found this one which is from an article dated way back in 2007 claiming that some Neanderthals were red-heads, which brings us back to the red-headed Athenian girl. I wish they explained why they thought she had red hair! Apparently they're going to do facial reconstructions of another couple of skulls for a museum exhibit. I'm dying to see the results, personally. 

Putting a face on these people seems to me to be a strong parallel to what we do as writers, giving stories to characters, historical, mythical, and imaginary. Or maybe it's the fact that when I create characters of my own, or even find characters from mythology attaching themselves to my writing, I don't SEE faces myself. I know I would recognize my characters on the street, if I saw them, but imagining the face in my mind just doesn't work out at all. Either way, facial reconstructions of ancient people is just one of the coolest things ever, in my opinion! 

So there you have it! The official return to hiatus post! Now with MORE Links!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Public Service Announcement!

Dearest Followers,

I am sad to report that I will be away from the Information SuperHighwayInterstate and therefore I must take a short Hiatus from the blog of about a week and a half. Expect my next blogpost on Friday, September 24th! It is possible that I will get my act together on the Tuesday previous, but if I were you, I would not hold my breath!

The good news is, I have written a short story telling the story of Theseus's arrival in Crete and the mystery of the Minotaur from Ariadne's PoV which I am very excited about and look forward to revising and submitting to places! Perhaps I will get lucky.

I will miss you, my followers! Have a fabulous next two weeks without me!


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Defense of Theseus' Honor (Part One)

The other day when I went through tagging Theseus entries, I realized I had yet to do a proper entry on him, as I have for others, and since I started the argument about his character in the post about The Hunger Games, it seemed only right to finish it.

Obviously, I consider Theseus to be a hero. And just as obviously, there are certain pieces of his mythology which do not exactly match with how we might consider a hero to behave in these modern times. But I don't believe that Theseus's character is that of the jerk he is sometimes painted to be, and I absolutely don't think, as I have seen said elsewhere, that he was any kind of serial rapist. In fact, every time I think of that phrase being applied to him, it kind of makes me physically sick.

The major area, which you might have surmised, where Theseus comes under criticism is in his dealings with women. In particular, his relationship and abandonment of Ariadne, and later, the question of his relationship with the Amazon Queen who is named either Hippolyta OR Antiope. Today I'm going to focus on Ariadne and Plutarch's history of Theseus!

As Plutarch himself admits:
There are yet many other traditions about these things, and as many concerning Ariadne, all inconsistent with each other.
And he isn't wrong. In Plutarch's Theseus, he gives us a fair rundown of the differing accounts, and I'll summarize them for you here, because quoting will make this the longest entry of all eternity. Generally, these stories fall into three camps:
  1. Theseus abandons Ariadne on Naxos purposely and with no regret and sails off.
  2. Theseus and his fellows spend the night on Naxos, and for reasons beyond Theseus's control he is forced to leave her behind (usually this means she married a priest of Dionysus, or Theseus's ship was blown back out to see and by the time he got back Ariadne was dead.) 
  3. Theseus never took Ariadne at all, nor did she help him, but merely admired him from a distance.
The third is by far the least well known today, but you can see that these are the same contradictions that accompany the stories of Helen's abduction by Paris. No one really agrees, and different places and different poets had their own interpretations of what happened and who in the party was wronged.

Plutarch doesn't relate the stories which are commonly known in his time in any depth. (At which choice, I shake my fist in outrage from 2000 years in the future!) But it's okay, Plutarch isn't our only source on Theseus. He does mention two things I find interesting: firstly, that Ariadne may or may not have born Theseus sons (evidently whilst they were voyaging back from Crete, which is wow pretty fast gestation) who went off to found other cities/places, and secondly, he NEVER states that Ariadne asked for anything in return from Theseus in exchange for her help, only that Theseus takes her with him when he leaves.

Now, I would argue that the same young man, who, seeing the pain of the people in Athens at having to give up their own sons and daughters, volunteers himself to travel to Crete and be part of this tribute to do what he can to lift their suffering would not, after showing such empathy, then callously abandon a woman who mothered his sons (Plutarch tells us that with the other women he may or may not have met along the way previous to this who gave him sons, he then took responsibility for seeing them married.), or callously abandon any woman who might have helped him in general, even without children. After all, hasn't he just risked his life for seven virgin Athenian girls? And the last woman who helped him and offered him kindness on his quest against the Marathon Bull, he repaid by creating what amounts to an annual holiday in her name, to honor her in perpetuity with sacrifices.

Theseus was not raised in Athens. He did not even know who his father (the Aegeus half) was until he was a young man strong enough to lift a boulder. After being made Aegeus's heir it was probably wise of him to make nice to the people he would rule, but to appease them, all he would have needed to do was throw his name into the lottery-- or APPEAR to throw his name into the lottery. Who would have known otherwise? Plutarch specifically states (emphasis mine):
These things sensibly affected Theseus, who, thinking it but just not to disregard, but rather partake of, the sufferings of his fellow-citizens, offered himself for one without any lot.
Now, it would be jerky of me not to admit that Plutarch had his own agenda in writing down the story of Theseus. Plutarch meant to show a parallel between Theseus and Romulus, the founder of Rome, and by doing so, demonstrate Rome's greatness by the greatness of its founder. In this, it behooved Plutarch to show Theseus in a favorable light so that favor would reflect on Romulus and Rome itself. The other bias of Plutarch is his habit of discounting all godly influence, and without the involvement of the gods, these mythologies alter pretty dramatically. A hero's character is made or broken by whether or not the gods compelled him to some behavior or other.

For instance, if Theseus was compelled to leave Ariadne behind that she might be made the bride of Dionysus, and through this, a goddess, that is a different thing entirely than his sailing off into the sunset to abandon her of his own accord, showing no regret. Or, in Paris's case, if Aphrodite swept Paris off the battlefield during that crucial fight with Menelaus against Paris's own wishes to deposit him in Helen's arms, that is a very different story than one in which Paris consciously flees from Menelaus, giving up the fight when he realizes he will die, and hiding in the palace in Helen's bed to let Hector do his fighting for him.

We'll take a look at some other sources on Theseus and Ariadne again, soon!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Theseus Haiku!

Follow the link to sign up for the Haiku Blogfest hosted by Stephanie Thornton, and see the other participants!

Adventuresome Youth
The Attican Heracles
Now Lost to Hades

Yeah, okay, so I suck at Haiku. For more on Theseus, and The Hunger Games, be sure to check out the post below!

Nitpicking the Theseus Connection of The Hunger Games

So I sat down and read the entirety of the first Hunger Games book in one sitting on Wednesday. I'm sure none of you are surprised. I took one break for a granola bar and to stretch, then dived right back in. I don't normally do in depth reviews of book on the blog, and I'm not sure I want this to be considered one either-- I'm really only going to address one element, and that is (of course) the Theseus Connection.

Now, I've been hearing a lot about this from the start, and so maybe I was thinking there would be something greater than what there was, because of all the hype, and also maybe I am OVERLY familiar with the Theseus mythology, so it's hard for me to see the Trees for the Forest, or uhm, the Forest for the Trees, or however that saying is supposed to go. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. Also, if you have not read the first book, there be spoilers ahead. Arrrr!

So let me just get right down to it.

The Theseus/Ariadne element? I think it's a stretch. A big one. Stay with me while I lay out my reasoning.

First, the mythology:
Athens had to pay a tribute to Crete every so many years of 7 boys and 7 girls. Now, it gets a little bit fuzzy here whether it was to feed the Minotaur or for the Bull Dance, but either way, this tribute had to be paid, and Athens, as you might imagine, wasn't really all that thrilled about sending its sons and daughters to die. Theseus, new on the scene at Athens and only recently made heir of King Aegeus, offers himself in sacrifice (or is drawn by lot--both versions are equally valid) and heads to Crete to kill the Minotaur or free Athens from the tribute by whatever means. Since he's already proved himself by whooping the monstrous people on the Isthmus road at the gates to the underworld, I'm sure he was fairly confident about this Minotaur business when he left.

Now we get to Ariadne, Minos's daughter. There are a slew of different interpretations as far as what happens here, but I'll go with the basic assumption that people jump to for ease of posting. Ariadne meets Theseus and falls in love with him (how they had the time to socialize, and when they met is something to think about). She agrees to help him find his way back out of the labyrinth if he'll promise to take her with him (and marry her*) when he leaves Crete. She gives him a ball of string to allow him to retrace his steps, and (sometimes) directions from Daedalus on how to get in and out without falling into the traps of the labyrinth. Theseus follows these directions, finds the Minotaur, kills it off, and makes his way back out. He collects Ariadne as per his promise and gets out of dodge. Theseus then abandons Ariadne on a nearby island, sometimes at the order of Dionysus,** who claims her for himself, and sometimes just because Theseus is inexplicably some kind of jerk*** suddenly who doesn't care about honoring his promises.

The book:
Katniss, a skilled hunter and established member of her community, volunteers to go to The Hunger Games (as a tribute to a "foreign" power) in place of her sister. The other tribute chosen (by lot) is a boy named Peeta, who it turns out, has been in love with Katniss since the age of five. Now, I'm going to go ahead and say KATNISS should be interchangeable with THESEUS here. Which makes Peeta Ariadne, and already we  have some divergence from the myth-- as we should, of course, because it isn't a direct retelling, just an allusion. From this point on, Katniss and Peeta are stuck together, and of course Katniss learns of Peeta's feelings for her, but she isn't so sure of her own (which will set up nicely for her to abandon HIM on the next island they come across in a sudden case of jerkdom, but I have not read book two yet, so I can not offer an opinion on that element as yet).

Now, inside the Games, Peeta goes about doing his best to keep the other tributes from killing Katniss, though I'm fairly certain that she really didn't need much of his help except in that one incident with those crazy wasps. Mostly, Peeta seems to be kind of useless inside the Games. He can't track, he can't move with any stealth, the only thing he's really all that good for is lying absolutely still in the mud under camouflage to die. When there's a chance that they might both win if they stick together, Katniss goes for it, either because of her feelings for him, or because she just isn't a jerk and doesn't wish death on people for no reason.

But here's the next major divergence-- Peeta essentially handicaps Katniss in pretty much every way. He isn't a help, he's a piece of meat, an extra mouth to feed, and in order to keep him alive, Katniss has to put herself into incredibly risky situations which she might not otherwise have had to face and almost gets HERSELF killed at least once. I finished the book convinced that Katniss would have triumphed even more effectively without the burden of Peeta to look after. And that's the biggest problem I have with this talk of the Allusion to Theseus and the Labyrinth business. Theseus absolutely could not have gotten back out again if not for Ariadne's love for him. Katniss would have been better off without Peeta, pretty much from beginning to end. That's too huge of a divergence for me to swallow all the hype surrounding the book as a retelling of Theseus and the Labyrinth, specifically. If someone hadn't flat out said it to me, I would have gotten nothing on my Theseus-dar. (And let me tell you, I am HIGHLY attuned to Theseus by now!)

As for Katniss having to defeat a Minotaur equivalent? Mrph. Katniss didn't defeat anything. Those hounds got called away by the Gamemakers. In fact, after they got Cato, they didn't seem all that interested in Katniss or Peeta at all.

(Sidenote: way to go blogger/firefox spellcheck for knowing how to spell both Theseus and Ariadne! you have trumped Word!)

So there you have it. My nitpicking review of The Hunger Games. Can't wait to see if Katniss turns into a sudden Jerk or not! And, all that said, I really really enjoyed this book a lot. I thought the writing was fairly flawless, and the present tense first person was masterfully done. Two thumbs up!

*Really, if Ariadne only made Theseus promise to take her with him from Crete, and NOT explicitly to marry her, he kept his word regardless.

**There is some interesting evidence for sacrifices being made to "The Lady of the Labyrinth" which may have been a reference to Ariadne, who may or may not have been treated as a goddess. There are also some theories floating about that Ariadne was ALREADY married to Dionysus before she made her deal with Theseus, and kind of just led him on to get herself out of there, which would fit with her already being a goddess also. Definitely a topic that I'd very much like to do more of my own research into. At the moment it is kind of classified in my brain as rumor.

***Personally, I find that to be a little bit bizarre behavior from someone who just volunteered to be sent off to a foreign land as a tribute RISKING HIS LIFE on behalf of a people he barely knows but has adopted as his own, when he has already established himself as someone with a keen sense of justice, but, you know, whatever. As they say around and about the internet, Haters gonna Hate.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

BIG News for Helen!

I was waiting for my Stufabulous Alpha to give me the thumbs up on my ending, but now that she has read it I feel confident in telling you all that Helen Draft Two is COMPLETE!


103,300+ words and 351 pages. Hopefully should have the word count down to under 100K with cuts and revisions.

But, my followers, finishing Helen means something else too-- Something I know you ALL have been waiting for.

That's right. I have begun reading The Hunger Games.

I'm already on page 104. And Someone insists that it will help me with Helen, so that's part of why I am reading it now before diving into revisions :) Now if I can just get a copy of Catching Fire in paperback, and Mockingjay will come out in paperback sooner rather than forever from now (I know, I know, it only just came out), I will be in business.

I did just find out today that I'm a Borders Rewards GOLD member now, and while I have no idea what this really means in regard to the financial state of Borders, it's survival, or if they have turned EVERY previous Borders Rewards cardholder into a Gold member and are only trying to trick me into feeling special, I feel certain this means good things for some book purchases in my future.

Thanks to everyone who has lavished encouragement on me during my trials and tribulations with Helen's rewrite! You are all fabulous!