Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Top 3 Favorite Fictional Female Characters

At the request of my fabulous friend and beta Zak Tringali (and if you do not follow his blog, get on that because he posts awesome stuff on writing, and the ingredients of good books), today I present to you my top three Fictional Female Protagonists, cross-genre and cross-media!

Firstly, this is the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life. Only three?! From ALL fictional works?!!? My brain melted a little bit at the thought, and because of that, I reserve the right to change my answers in the future.* Also, this list should not necessarily be considered in any particular order! And I swear it is totally accidental that all of these women are a little bit (totally) sci-fi.


1) Princess Leia Organa
Because Star Wars is how I roll, and Princess Leia never let anyone stand in her way. Not giant walking carpets, not the scoundrel of a love interest, and certainly not the EVIL EMPIRE she was fighting to bring down. I mean, I don't know about you, but I think she deserves first place for not even FLINCHING when she was brought before Darth Vader in ANH. She just raised her chin, put on a mask of disdain, and gave him what for. On top of that, she's a senator and a leader of the Rebel Alliance. Best Female Role Model Ever.

The Proof.

2) Cordelia Naismith 
From Shards of Honor and the Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold.
She never flinches either. Nor does she ever let a man draw lines in the sand. Cordelia is a woman of her word, no matter how much it costs her to keep it, and even though she is determined to see the best in the people around her, it doesn't make her any less ruthless in acting against her enemies. Somehow Cordelia embodies honor, compassion, and bad-assery in one AWESOME package, while still being a reluctant hero. A word to the wise: do not mess with her family and friends. You do not want to be on this woman's bad side.

If Cordelia and Princess Leia ever met, Chuck Norris and Mike Rowe would tremble.

3) Killashandra Ree
From The Crystal Singer Trilogy by Anne McCaffrey.
Killa knows what she wants and won't be stopped from getting it. What does she want? NOTHING LESS than to be NUMBER ONE. Sure, it's not exactly a heroic struggle against evil, but the determination to overcome all obstacles is still something to be admired. Threat to life and limb? No problem! Killa doesn't believe in giving anything less than 100% of herself to make it happen anyway. This woman is a force to be reckoned with, and  no matter where she goes, or what she applies herself to, the people around her wind up dancing to her drumbeat in spite of themselves. I guess you could call her the ULTIMATE career woman.

So now that we've gone ahead and thrown down the gauntlet (and be sure to head over to Zak's blog to see his TOP PICKS)-- Who are YOUR favorite women in fiction?

*by future, I mean two seconds after I post this, when I realize whoever you named in the comments is ZOMGAWESOME too. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Odin's Words of Wisdom from the Hávamál

Harald Haarfagres saga - vignett 3 - G. Munthe
Odin riding Sleipnir
I read bits and pieces of three different* translations of the Hávamál, but finally settled on this translation by Olive Bray as the most readable. I'm sure I'll go back and reread the Bellows translation on Sacred Texts another time, because it has a lot of notes that look interesting and enlightening, and I'm all about the learning. But for now, I thought I'd share some of the wisdom** I have gleaned for your entertainment!

Wisdom is more valuable than wealth and worth the burden of bearing it.

The more a man drinks, the less likely they are to keep their wits.

This bit I liked as it was in the translation (stanza 16):

A coward believes he will ever live
if he keep him safe from strife:
but old age leaves him not long in peace
though spears may spare his life.

Drink in moderation, speak only when you have something important to say, and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Don't let greed rule your appetite, it's the sign of a foolish man.

No one will ever know that you aren't a wise man if you keep quiet.

Don't speak hastily or you will bring trouble upon yourself.

Don't overstay your welcome, and don't return too frequently as a guest to the same place.

Don't share your secrets too widely, or they won't be kept.

Everyone and Everything dies, but well-earned fame will live forever.

Wealth and Money are faithless friends and won't last.

Love makes wise men into fools.

Don't enter into affairs with Sorceresses.

Never seek to seduce another man's wife.

Don't speak of your misfortunes to evil men.

Don't waste your breath arguing with fools, but chat it up with the wise and good men instead.

Flatterers do not make good friends.

Don't be rude to your guests.

And last, but definitely not least, for this installment (from stanza 127):
rejoice not ever at tidings of ill,
but glad let thy soul be in good.
*This one is neat because it shows you the Old Norse next to the English, so you can kind of match up the words with their meanings. Kind of.
**Obviously, I've paraphrased quite a bit, but you can read for yourself and see the meaning is there!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Nature of Magic Blogfest-tacular!

Thanks to Tessa and Laura for hosting this most excellent blogfest on what magic means for us or our characters! Please do head over to Tessa's blog to read the other contributions!

This little gem came from a new, um, what-seems-to-be-a-novella-in-progress, about a woman, Gwen, who finds herself saddled with two MEAN and NASTY goats (named Masher and Blender) out of nowhere, followed shortly thereafter by their supposed keeper, Thjalfi, and some very strange postcards in her mailbox. It's a little rough, but I think it illustrates the nature of magic for Gwen perfectly.

I popped the lid of the garbage can and began digging through the mess. The postcard should have been on top. It had been the last thing I’d thrown away that morning before going out to the barn.
“What exactly are you looking for?” Thjalfi asked.
“That postcard from yesterday.” 
Eggshells and wrappers from my frozen dinner last night. No trace of the postcard. I sat back on my heels, scowling.
“What’s so important about it that you’re digging through your trash?”
I waved vaguely in the direction of the table as I climbed to my feet. “It came in the mail again.” 
“Another one?”
I stared into the garbage can. “I can’t find the old one. But I only threw it out this morning. Ripped it into pieces first. Now it’s just gone, completely. And that new one is…” I shook my head and went to the sink.
Thjalfi sifted through the mail until he found the postcard. I washed my hands up to my elbows and turned to watch him, drying my hands. 
“I see,” he said.
“It’s like someone dug it out of the trash and put it back together again.” I stepped forward to point at a corner. “It even has stains from the eggshells.”
He read the back and tossed it to the table. “I wonder what he means by this.”
“Well it’s clear what he means, but it isn’t what it said before. The other one said I should invoke his name and the goats would obey me. This one says he sent you. But it looks like it came out of my trash!”
“Yes,” Thjalfi said, still staring at the mail. “I see that, too.”
“How can that be, though?” I stiffened, spinning to look behind me to the living room. “He’s not here in the house, waiting? What is the matter with all of you that you don’t know how to wait until you’re invited in!”
“If he were here, I’d know,” Thjalfi said, catching me by the arm. “And he wouldn’t have bothered sending a note.”
“Then what the hell happened to the card I tore up earlier, and why does this say something different on the back of it?”
Thjalfi pressed his lips together, creases forming around his eyes. He pulled a chair out and pressed me toward it. “Maybe you should sit down.”
“I don’t want to sit down,” I said, jerking my arm free and glaring. “I want to throw whoever invaded my home into the pen with those damn goats and let them tear him to pieces!”
Thjalfi smiled. “No one invaded your home, Gwen. But if they had, throwing them in with the goats wouldn’t do you any good. That postcard is from Asgard. Tear it up a thousand times and it will still put itself back together on command.”
“But it can’t be the same. The message is different.”
He shook his head. “You think if it can put itself back together again, it can’t also be rewritten with some new note?”
“Paper does not glue itself back together, whether it’s from Canada or not.”
He laughed then. “Is that where you think Asgard is? In Canada?”
My face flushed, though I didn’t know why. I grabbed the postcard and stuck it in his face. “It says so on the postmark. Mount Asgard, Canada.”
“That is what the postcard says, yes.” He lowered my hand, working the card free from my fingers. “But Mount Asgard isn’t where this is from. It’s just a place it passed through, in Midgard. Asgard is someplace else entirely.”
“Are you some Fantasy nerd?” If he was, it made a lot more sense. The Gandalf on the stamp, the talk of Midgard. Wasn’t there a country in Lord of the Rings named Midgard? I couldn’t remember. I’d only seen it once. “The leather pants, the tunic-like shirt. Do you – what do they call it…? Larp? Like those people who dress up for renaissance festivals?”
He gave me a very strange look, his eyebrows rising. “What?”
“Never mind.” I cleared my throat and looked away. “Evidently not.”
“If you’d just listen, suspending your disbelief for a moment, I can explain everything.”
“With magic paper, Thjalfi?”
“Magic paper, magic goats, magic lands. Yes. And after Masher and Blender arrived unannounced, you ought to have at least begun suspecting that something strange was going on. You’re an intelligent woman.”
“Yes! And that’s precisely why all this hocus-pocus makes absolutely no sense!”
“All right,” he said. “Then how exactly do you explain it?”
I grabbed the postcard back from him and tore it in half, then in half again, and again. Then I crossed to the window, pulled it open, and threw the pieces outside. The wind picked them up, lifting them up like snowflakes, and I watched them scatter.
“I should go check on the chickens,” I said.
Thankfully, Thjalfi didn’t try to stop me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

#FridayFlash: I am Europa

(Written originally for Combatwords.)

I am Europa.

The bull stares at me from the other side of the fence, and I am transfixed. I've never seen a bull like this one, snow white despite lying in a rain-wet field churning with mud. The bull plods forward, his deep chest bumping against the rail. The damp wood flakes beneath my nails.

I am Europa, and this is my moment. The chance encounter which will change my life. All I have to do is grasp the horns.

The bull sticks his head over the fence, nostrils flaring as he inhales my scent. He's taller than I am, and the fence between us might as well be toothpicks. He sticks his nose in my face and I raise my hand, slow and easy. One toss of his head, and I won't even know what hit me. He snorts when I touch him, and his nose is velvet.

I am Europa, and this bull is my god. Zeus, Poseidon, Jehovah, Allah, Odin, Thor, or Amun-Ra. He leans into my touch, and I am blessed. I am alive. I am electric.

The bull lifts his head and meets my eyes. This is the moment. If I climb the fence, I can be his consort; I can be the queen of a foreign land.

The bull sneezes.

The fine mist of mucus is nothing to the spray of thick globs of gunk. I am coated in it, and my friend squeals beside me.

"Gross! Eww! C'mon, let's go. It's almost five, and your parents are coming."

I take my foot down off the fence and wipe my face on my sleeve.

Maybe I'm not Europa after all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Snorri's Agenda in the Prose Edda

I give Snorri a lot of grief while I'm reading. Heck, I give Snorri a lot of grief when I'm not reading. Often times, I feel like I want to throw Snorri's Edda across the room, I'm so irritated by him. But he's still one of our best sources for the Norse gods and the pantheon. And even I have to admit, through my rage, that Snorri MUST have seen some reason to record them, and it couldn't have all been anti-pagan agenda, or else why bother at all?

But when I read something like this:
He is Öku-Thor, and to him are ascribed those mighty works which Hector wrought in Troy. But this is the belief of men: that the Turks told of Ulysses, and called him Loki, for the Turks were his greatest foes.
it is really, really hard for me to bite my tongue on the aggravation that grabs hold of me. Because it's not just twisting Norse mythology, it's twisting Greek myth too. So why the heck did he feel compelled to insert something like this? Why force a connection to Hector and the Trojan war when there is really no evidence at all to support it? Why draw a link between Thor and Hector, of all the heroes?

Hector wasn't the strongest warrior. He wasn't particularly impressive, aside from his nobility, and the picture Snorri paints of Thor through the myths is not remotely reflective of what Hector stood for. And let's not forget that Hector turned tail and RAN from Achilles when it came down to that final battle. Not exactly a glorious way to go out--and not at all the way Thor is illustrated. No Viking worth his salt would run from a fight against someone like Achilles! The reputation and fame of taking the guy down would be too much to give up! There were any number of heroes who might have made better stand-ins for Thor. Ajax the Great, Achilles himself, so fearless in battle, and with that ridiculous temper to match! Even someone like Diomedes!

So what exactly is Snorri's Agenda, here? After a leisurely brunch of consulting my conscience and digesting my irritation, an idea came to me. A theory, if you will.

The Christian world was hugely enamored of Hector, and ultimately Christianity itself spawned out of the Roman Empire. An Empire which viewed itself as "civilized" and all others, including the Germanic tribes of the north, and certainly the people of the FAR North, as "barbarians." Christians, it might be argued, have translated this same ethnocentricity into the fight against "pagan" sects, and their determination to convert them.

Snorri was clearly an educated man, and he was also a Christian. He knew what the rest of the world thought of his people and their history-- he knew what the rest of Christianity thought of his cultural heritage. Pagan. Barbaric. Uncivilized. And yet, the Greco-Roman traditions were still granted some kind of respect. Homer was still acclaimed, kept alive. Hector was constantly drawn upon as an ideal. So what better way to preserve the myths of his people than by creating a connection between his culture and the history of the "civilized" world? What better way to give his own culture a place of respect, than by turning them and their gods into descendants of that most glorified hero, Hector of Troy!

I'm giving Snorri the benefit of the doubt here, and maybe even looking for a reason to excuse his... offenses. But it makes a LOT of sense when I think of it that way. Snorri, by this one device, would have Christianized Norse mythology enough to justify keeping the record of it while legitimizing the culture of the Norse people as a product of the same civilization, not barbarians at all!

Two birds, one mixed myth.

Now I can continue reading without all the distracting rage.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Note on Theseus, Pirithous, and Phaedra from Ovid's Heroides

In my research on Theseus' paternity, I was reading Ovid's Heroides. In particular, I was taking a look at Phaedra's letter to Hippolytus, where I came across this particular gem as part of her appeal to her step-son to give in and have a love affair with her:
The hero son of Neptune is absent now, in happy hour, and will be absent long; he is kept by the shores of his dear Pirithous. Theseus – unless, indeed, we refuse to own what all may see – has come to love Pirithous more than Phaedra, Pirithous more than you. Nor is that the only wrong we suffer at his hand; there are deep injuries we both have had from him. 
Alexandre Cabanel Phèdre
A lovesick Phaedra
Yowza, Phaedra. Not pulling any punches there, are we?

What's interesting to me, is that Ovid's commentary doesn't put the emphasis on the sexuality, so much as how Theseus has neglected his wife and child in favor of spending time with his best friend. That's the true wrong that Phaedra is suffering from in this passage. Ovid paints Phaedra as a jealous wife, feeling ignored and throwing out spiteful accusations about where Theseus is having his needs met, if not in her bed.

Of course Theseus' track record with women tells us a lot about his relationship with Phaedra, too. You know that if he was off with Pirithous for extended periods he was coming home with new ah, consorts, lifted from raids on neighboring and unallied lands. Theseus is a man who loves women a little bit too much, not unlike Heracles, and somehow I really doubt he was keeping that enjoyment any kind of secret from his wife. Certainly it isn't any secret to us, today. But that wouldn't have been unusual for that time period-- women were prizes, and having a wife would never stop a man from taking another as a consort. Homer makes that very clear in the Iliad.

But I'm still left wondering: Is this Ovid's view of the ancient Greek hero, as a Roman stereotyping (and maybe even slandering) Greeks, OR is this just an illustration of Phaedra's character as a spiteful woman talking smack about her husband?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Wheels on the Bus VII point V

(When last we left out heroes, Thor was swallowed under the weight of zombie flesh in the Zombie Glitter Riot of Doom in order to allow Amalia and Mia to escape to the bus stop! Part VII point 0 is yonder on Mia's blog, so head over there first for the COMPLETE and EPIC conclusion of The Wheels on the Bus!)

The pitch of the zombie mob changed, the shouts resolving themselves into acclamations instead of accusations, and I felt sick. They must have been congratulating the zombies who had succeeded in overpowering Thor, at last.  
Only because he let them, I reminded myself. He could have turned them all into meaty pulp if he hadn't promised me not to fight them anymore. I kicked at a stone in the grass and sent it skittering. I had tied his hands, and watched him be swallowed whole by the mob, and I hadn't even fought to try and free him. 
I glared at the sign for the bus stop. The real bus stop, rather than a zombie bus. A bus that would actually get me to the mall at last. Of course it had just pulled away when I finally got here, so I was in for a thirty minute wait. I couldn't see the quad anymore. There were too many buildings in the way. 
Mia had left me with a completely disinterested Tyler as an escort, to be sure I got on the bus safe and sound, then gone skating back with Adam and the rest of her glitterati to see what she could do about Thor. I sighed dramatically, but he only rolled his eyes and looked away. I think he was straining to hear what was happening in the quad too.
"C'mon," he said suddenly, grabbing my arm and dragging me back the way we had come. His hand burned hotter than Thor's, and I grimaced. 
"Adam said I was absolutely not to enter back into that fray no matter what I heard," I objected. "That's why you got stuck babysitting me."
"Yes, well. Adam didn't count on this." Tyler started to jog, and I had to run to keep up. He had a weirdly graceful lope for a zombie. 
We rounded the corner of the last building and Tyler stopped without warning. Somehow I managed not to run into him, just. "What--"
The words died on my lips as I realized what I was seeing. Thor sat on a makeshift throne on the barely repaired stage, a crown of feathers, glitter, and blackened-frost-giant-ice on his head. His face was beet-red. I couldn't decide if he it was embarrassment or fury, but either way I didn't think it was good for the health of the zombies who were showering him with more glitter and feathers and shouting hip-hip-hooray!
I choked on an unwise laugh, covering my mouth before another escaped. One does not laugh in the face of mortified thunder gods without regretting it. Forgiving they might be, but thunder gods don't like it at all when people don't take them seriously.
I pulled my arm free of Tyler's grasp and started weaving through the mob, muttering apologies as I pushed through zombie after zombie, heedless of the drool and the glitter. Thor. I just wanted to reach Thor. And if we were lucky, we could still make it to the bus. 
Then I was through the crowd, and stumbling up the stairs onto the stage. Thor saw me and stood, a cascade of glitter and feathers falling off his body with the movement. I didn't even hesitate, I was too busy throwing myself into his arms.
He caught me and laughed, and whether he had been furious or embarrassed before, all I heard in his voice was relief now. "The glitter will stick in your hair for weeks."
"I don't care," I said into his chest. "I don't care about anything except that you're not being crushed under the weight of a thousand zombies all trying to eat your flesh."
"Their teeth would break if they tried."
"Let's go, quick, before they change their mind about you as their hero, or another Frost Giant shows up. I just want to get to the mall, buy some glitter-repelling shampoo, and go home."
"Trophy!" a zombie gurgled much too close to me for comfort. "Prize!"
Thor let me go, and I saw it clearly for the first time. The first place trophy looked like it had been assembled from paperclips, buttons, and frosted with melted crayons in a brown-soup of poorly mixed colors. The zombie shoved it into Thor's hands, and the crowd roared. 
We both stared at it for a long moment, and then Thor cleared his throat.
"I am most... honored?"
The zombies roared again and I spotted Mia at the bottom of the stairs with her glitterati. They had formed their crowd-piercing wedge again, and Mia was waving urgently at us. 
"C'mon!" I grabbed Thor by the hand and made for the steps. "We're going to miss the bus if we don't get out of here."
"Ohhh!" Mia said. "I can't believe you won first place! That's the best trophy I've ever seen at the pageant, too!"
Thor grimaced and I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling. "If you can get us to the bus stop, your team has earned it," Thor said.
The glitterati perked up appreciably, eyeing the trophy.
Mia clapped her hands. "Let's go!"
The zombie-wedge began to skate for the other side of the quad, and Thor and I ran with them. We broke through the chaos of the pageant and made it to the buildings, then around, and then the bus stop was in sight. I breathed a sigh of relief, until I realized the bus was bearing down and if it didn't see anyone waiting, it wouldn't stop. We were going to miss it again.
"Here," Thor said, thrusting the trophy into Adam's hands. "With my thanks."
The thunder god grabbed my hand, and the familiar feeling of static skating over my skin sunk into my bones. My vision blurred. "What--?"
"Do not release my hand," Thor said.
And then the world dissolved into lightning and the zombies around us disappeared. I clutched his fingers and swallowed a scream. Everything came back into focus in less than a heartbeat, and we stood at the bus shelter, the bus hissing to a stop in front of us. 
The door swung open and Thor tugged me with him as he climbed the steps, steadying me when I nearly tripped up them. He fed my bus pass into the scanner, though when he'd gotten it from me, I wasn't entirely sure, and the machine beeped acceptance before spitting it back out. 
My head spun as Thor led us down the aisle to a seat, and I fell into him when the bus lurched forward before we'd found one. 
"Careful now," he said, when I thought for a moment I was going to puke. Or faint. Maybe both. He pushed my head down between my knees. "It's the shock of teleportation. One very good reason I should not carry you along when I do it, even if it were not forbidden."
"I feel sick."
"Yes." I heard the smile in his voice. "And the longer the distance, the sicker you would be. By the time we get to the mall, you’ll have recovered."
I groaned. The last thing I wanted to do now was go shopping.  I felt like I had a herd of elephants stampeding through my head.
"We will move quickly," he said, and I heard the sizzle of glitter and feathers turning to ash on his skin. "Heelys, shampoo, and that book you insisted you absolutely had to have on its release day."
"Next time I'll pay the shipping to have it delivered," I croaked. 
"Fewer Frost Giants that way, to be sure." The bus slowed, then stopped. Thor helped me up. "The mall, at last."
We clattered down the steps. Thor hesitated though, drawing me to a stop beside him as he stared at the passengers climbing on board. I made out a lumpy-head among them.
"Don't even think about it," I said, and jerked him forward, all but shoving him through the doors and into the mall. "If you so much as wave your hand anywhere near that hammer to smite another Frost Giant while we're out today, I will never, ever, ever forgive you."
At least he had the grace to look embarrassed. "Of course," he murmured. "You have my word."
Did I mention earlier? Thunder gods and public transportation should never, ever mix. I learned that lesson the hard way.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Affairs of the Gods: Aphrodite and Adonis

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon 005
Aphrodite/Venus and Adonis
You can't really expect a goddess of love to stay loyal to her husband, whether or not her husband is a crippled Hephaestus or some perfect specimen of manliness. Aphrodite has a history of affairs, and poor Hephaestus probably didn't have any chance of stopping her (not that he didn't engage in his own um, adventures, but Aphrodite seems to have him outnumbered by quite a lot.)

Adonis is one of the many men who captured Aphrodite's attention and affection. Adonis is, of course, the son of Myrrha/Smyrna by her father, who, discovering it was his daughter coming to him in the night as a lover, would have killed her if she hadn't fled. Ovid tells us (in the Metamorphoses book X) that Myrrha begged the gods to transform her, and she was turned into a tree, from which Adonis was birthed later and described as:

The lovely babe was born with ev'ry grace,
Ev'n envy must have prais'd so fair a face: 
and then later:

A babe, a boy, a beauteous youth appears, 
And lovelier than himself at riper years. 
Now to the queen of love he gave desires, 
And, with her pains, reveng'd his mother's fires. 

The queen of love obviously meaning Aphrodite/Venus, who is described thusly, after falling in love with Adonis:

Ev'n Heav'n itself with all its sweets unsought,
Adonis far a sweeter Heav'n is thought.
On him she hangs, and fonds with ev'ry art,
And never, never knows from him to part. 
 And for a change, we get a romantic, even tender, view of the love between these two, when Ovid goes on to describe one of their particular moments together. Maybe because Aphrodite is a woman, and so it isn't all about the sex, though there is certainly the impression of desire, but this is a far cry from the down and dirty they-got-it-on that we usually get with Zeus and Poseidon:

We may secure delightfully repose.
With her Adonis here be Venus blest;
And swift at once the grass and him she prest.
Then sweetly smiling, with a raptur'd mind,
On his lov'd bosom she her head reclin'd,
And thus began; but mindful still of bliss,
Seal'd the soft accents with a softer kiss. 
Of course, Adonis manages to get himself gored to death in spite of the fact that Aphrodite warns him EXPLICITLY to be careful of boars and other beasts while hunting. (Apollodorus says Artemis had him killed out of anger, but not what in particular infuriated her about him. Probably something to do with how he hunted, considering the rest of the story.) In any event, Adonis was doomed, and Aphrodite was heartbroken.

I imagine however that Adonis didn't have it all that bad in the Underworld since Persephone was in love with him, too. Poor, poor boy, how he suffers!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A Nordic Bronze Age Slideshow

Things have gotten away from me this last week (reading the best book of my life and writing like the WIND), so you'll have to wait until NEXT Tuesday for the next (and final!) Wheels on the Bus episode.

Meanwhile, we've been doing a lot of Nordic Bronze Age research here at the House of Begin Well, for two different works-in-progress. Most recently, I was looking for reminders of what Bronze Age clothing might have looked like, and during that search, I stumbled across this sweet vid (am I allowed to say Sweet Vid?)

I thought this was a really cool slideshow of Nordic Bronze Age artifacts for a couple of reasons: a) it looks like there's a krater in there but now I'm wondering what the proto-norse word for krater might have been, and b) there are some figures where you can really see what might have influenced Loki's horned helmet in Marvel comics, which is just NEAT. Whether or not Marvel comics did the research that brought them all the way back to the Nordic Bronze Age, I do not know, but... I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here!

What say you? Pretty cool huh?

Friday, March 04, 2011

Affairs of the Gods: Zeus and Europa

The Flight of Europa
Europa on the back of her Bull
Europa was the daughter of King Agenor* of Tyre, in Phoenicia who happened to catch Zeus's eye one day while frolicking around on the shore with her father's herd of cattle and some friends. Zeus, determined to have her for his own, turned himself into a beautiful and gentle white bull among the herd in order to get close to her. Europa, evidently finding nothing strange about a bull so tame she could weave flowers around its horns, was taken in by the ruse.

Really, Europa? Nothing odd at all about an alarmingly beautiful and perfect bull wanting to be petted and fondled? I mean. Normally I am not all about blaming the woman but... c'mon, now! I'm not sure I can buy the fact that she really had no idea what she was doing, no matter what Ovid says--it sounds kind of like, well, bull-honky.

Apollodorus tells us:
Zeus loved her, and turning himself into a tame bull, he mounted her on his back and conveyed her through the sea to Crete. There Zeus bedded with her, and she bore Minos, Sarpedon, and Rhadamanthys;

And Ovid goes into greater detail in The Metamorphoses (book 2):

And, now perceiving all her fears decay'd,
Comes tossing forward to the royal maid;
Gives her his breast to stroke, and downward turns
His grizly brow, and gently stoops his horns.
In flow'ry wreaths the royal virgin drest
His bending horns, and kindly clapt his breast.
'Till now grown wanton and devoid of fear,
Not knowing that she prest the Thunderer,
She plac'd her self upon his back, and rode
O'er fields and meadows, seated on the God. 
He gently march'd along, and by degrees
Left the dry meadow, and approach'd the seas;
Where now he dips his hoofs and wets his thighs,
Now plunges in, and carries off the prize. 
Now, Europa did get on the bull's back of her own accord, but she clearly hadn't anticipated being whisked away to parts unknown. Fortunately for her, Hera didn't seem to notice any of this mess, and after Zeus, ahem, revealed himself and left her on Crete, she ended up marrying one of the Cretan princes who didn't care that she'd been knocked up by Zeus first, and her son Minos became King of Crete afterward.

Minos, son of Zeus, really isn't much of a demigod. Certainly he was no hero, and he had some pretty bad luck when he came to power, all stemming from the moment he broke his promise and didn't give Poseidon his bull back in sacrifice, after the god helped him to claim the kingship of Crete. Minos' wife was cursed to fall in love with that bull, which resulted in the birth of the Minotaur (the Minotaur was actually named Asterion, if you were wondering). Then, on top of that, Minos' son was killed in Athens over some silly jealousy issue, and of course we all know what happened after Athens started sending youths to Minos in payment for that crime. Theseus. Minotaur. Fall of Crete. Etc.

So what if Europa and her friends had seen the signs and realized that the bull was Zeus before she climbed on its back? Well. Somehow I don't think it would have stopped Zeus from having his way. Honestly, Europa really lucked out. If you have to get kidnapped and raped by a god, ending up royalty in another kingdom is definitely not the worst that could happen as a result.

The Moral of this Story: Don't accept rides from bulls you don't know! Especially when they're acting all weird. It is no doubt a god in disguise, and you can't count on Hera not noticing that trick a SECOND time. (She's got a nose for cheating husbands.)

*Sometimes Europa is the daughter of someone else-- Apollodorus says Phoenix. It doesn't really matter that much, one way or another, for the outcome.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Thor Art Interlude

Anyone who edits this into a Thor wearing a Santa-hat with wings for this Christmas gets SUPER AWESOME BONUS POINTS.

Anyway, this is Thor v3. Apparently he is the only thing I sketch anymore. Blame him, not me.

I am not the best artist in the world, but sometimes I just like to sketch. I don't do it in any disciplined way, and I will probably never improve because I don't put the time in and I don't make it a priority like writing, but I am excited that THIS Thor does not look like he is 12, like the last one did. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

An Overview of The Twelve (ish) Aesir of Asgard

According to Snorri's Prose Edda, there are Twelve Aesir (though apparently by twelve he really means 14--is that a godly dozen? Lest you think this is some coincidence that there are "Twelve" Aesir, just as there are Twelve Olympians, you should know that Snorri also wrote in the Prologue of his Edda that Asgard is also known as Troy. I think that should answer your question. But the Twelve Aesir are not alone--ruling beside them are the Twelve Ásynjur, who are goddesses, and credit where credit is due, at least the women didn't get the shaft:
Hárr answered: "The divine Æsir are twelve." Then said Jafnhárr: "Not less holy are the Ásynjur, the goddesses, and they are of no less authority." 
The Twelve Aesir he lists are:

1) Odin the All-Father, of course. Married to Frigg, who sees all fate. But make no mistake, Odin is the man in charge.
Odin is called Allfather because he is father of all the gods. He is also called Father of the Slain, because all those that fall in battle are the sons of his adopt on; for them he appoints Valhall and Vingólf, and they are then called Champions. He is also called God of the Hanged, God of Gods, God of Cargoes; and he has also been named in many more ways [...]
2) Thor, who oddly is not immediately acclaimed as god of thunder-- though this might have something to do with Snorri's bias and his intention to turn the Norse gods into men*. Instead, Thor is attested to primarily as the strongest god, and of course there is a mention of his goat-drawn chariot, Mjolnir, the belt which doubles his strength, and the gloves that help him grip his hammer.

3) Njördr! Technically not an Aesir, but a Vanir (father to Freyr and Freyja), and given as a hostage to the Aesir. He's married to Skadi who loves the snow and the mountains, as opposed to the sea, which seems to cause them some slight marital problems and keeps them apart. Snorri tells us:
He rules the course of the wind, and stills sea and fire; on him shall men call for voyages and for hunting.
4) Freyr, son of Njördr and twin brother of Freyja. He's god of rain, sun, and growing season type things. Basically he takes care of the crops and prosperity of that nature. Snorri says he's the most renowned of the gods, but I don't buy it.

5) Freyja, daughter of Njördr and twin sister of Freyr, and when Snorri calls HER the most renowned goddess, I have no trouble believing it. Freyja was a war goddess, riding out in her cat-drawn chariot, and of those that died, she split the warriors down the middle with no lesser god than Odin himself. In addition, she can also be invoked as a love goddess. Freyja is also counted among the Ásynjur.

6) Týr, another warrior god. He's one-armed after a run-in with Fenrir, Loki's wolf-son. Snorri says:
he is most daring, and best in stoutness of heart, and he has much authority over victory in battle; it is good for men of valor to invoke him. It is a proverb, that he is Týr-valiant, who surpasses other men and does not waver. He is wise, so that it is also said, that he that is wisest is Týr-prudent.
 7) Bragi, of course! The Poet! God of wordsmithing and skaldship. Snorri calls hims a god of wisdom as well, and he's married to Idunn, who is the only goddess capable of picking the golden apples (Snorri says she only guards them), which the gods require to keep their immortal youth and strength.

8) Heimdall, the White God, born of no less than nine women, sisters, who may or may not also have been virgins. He guards Bifrost, the rainbow bridge to Asgard, and:
He needs less sleep than a bird; he sees equally well night and day a hundred leagues from him, and hears how grass grows on the earth or wool on sheep, and everything that has a louder sound. He has that trumpet which is called Gjallar-Horn, and its blast is heard throughout all worlds.
I'm not entirely sure how great an attribute it is to need less sleep than a bird, but the rest of it is pretty excellent. Snorri also claims he has golden teeth, which seems kind of impractical, all things considered. I bet he has some SERIOUS hot/cold sensitivity when he eats, if that's true.

9) Hödr somehow makes the cut into the essential twelve, though he's blind, and sadly he's the god responsible for the death of Baldr (who apparently doesn't get included anymore, and seems to be dead already, when this was written which does not really bode well for anyone). Kinda-sorta. If being tricked by Loki counts as responsibility. He doesn't really have any other attestation besides "sufficient strength" in this opening summary of the Asgardian gods, so I'm not sure why he's included at all, really. I mean, SUFFICIENT strength? really? That's like saying the guy is adequate with a sword. I dunno about you, but it doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in ME.

10) Vidarr feels like another place-holder for the twelve-of-which-there-are-actually-fourteen. He's nearly as strong as Thor, reliable, and evidently "the silent god." But. Well. That seems to be all he has going for him. Seems like a pretty dubious honor to me.

11) Váli is explicitly named as a son of Odin by Snorri (the only god aside from Thor, so far, though there are plenty of other attestations to a plethora of Odinsons around and about). He's another god who can be counted on in a fight, and has a talent for marksmanship.

12) Ullr is a son of Sif (who oddly enough was not named when Snorri first brings up Thor, but he does mention here that Ullr is the step-son of Thor, which implies that Sif is Thor's wife, if a bit after the fact), and even better with a bow than Váli. In addition, he's some kind of pretty, and... really good on snowshoes? I feel like we're reaching here, Snorri. But his saving grace seems to be as a god of single combat, and since that seems to be all he really does, invoke him then or never!

Bonus God 13) Forseti, a son of Baldr and Nanna (Baldr's wife died for grief after his untimely demise, so she's no longer among the living either). He takes Baldr's place as a god of justice with some sweet digs in Glitnir, silver-roofed and gold-pillared.

Bonus God 14) Loki. Of course, we can't forget him. The Mischief Maker and "the first father of falsehoods." His wife is named Sigyn, and he has a number of unfortunate children which are attested to immediately following, one of which is the aforementioned Fenrir. Snorri says:
Loki is beautiful and comely to look upon, evil in spirit, very fickle in habit. He surpassed other men in that wisdom which is called 'sleight,' and had artifices for all occasions; he would ever bring the Æsir into great hardships, and then get them out with crafty counsel.
And there you have it! The Twelve (ish) Aesir. Three of which aren't Aesir at all, but Vanir, and several more of which are pretty, well... underwhelming to hear about. Unlike the Olympian gods, there's a lot of overlapping and kind of random seat-warming among the Norse gods. The prevalence of warriors makes sense for the Norsemen, who as we all know, enjoyed a good bit of warring in the name of reputation. This is the culture in which it was not illegal to commit murder, but rather illegal to HIDE the fact that you did it afterwards.

At a later date, we'll go over Snorri's Twelve Ásynjur and see if that's a godly dozen, too!

*Thor being the most popular of the Norse gods among the common people would be the uppermost god to unseat, and leaving out all his supernatural abilities in this attestation goes a long way in making him a lot more human, and a lot less impressive as a god. If I had to make a guess, I'd say that's a big reason as to why Snorri conveniently doesn't bother to mention anything beyond Thor's strength in the GYLFAGINNING.