Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Character of Paris [Ovid]

Paris Palatino Inv12488
Paris always has such a dumb hat.
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
I haven't talked about him a lot, because I haven't written about him. His story was always supposed to be Helen's sequel, maybe even an independent companion novel. But Paris doesn't hold the same fascination for me that Theseus does, or even Menelaus. His story has been done so many times, and no matter how hard people try -- and it is clear that we have tried VERY hard -- there isn't really any way to make Paris into a real hero. The gods don't allow him to be one. They don't even let him become a proper anti-hero! I've never understood what Helen saw in him (that is not to say he is not brave and valiant in her defense, as far as he's allowed by Aphrodite), and to me, that's maybe the more fascinating and telling element. How bad was Helen's life with Menelaus that she thought running off with Paris and starting a war would be an improvement?

But I do love Ovid's writing of Paris in the Heroides. I know I've talked about it a little bit before, but those exercises of rhetoric are by far the most fascinating illustration of Paris' character that I've come across. He is bold and confident and unafraid. He's determined and conniving. There is absolutely nothing fickle about his desire for Helen. He wants her, and he's willing to employ every dirty trick in the book to get her. However idiotic he might be later, in Ovid's letters, Paris charms me. I can believe, reading his letter to Helen, that she was fighting against someone with an overpowering charisma-- and that she had no real defense against such a man's seduction, especially if her relationship to Menelaus was less than great.

Paris says:
My passion for you I have brought; I did not find it here. It is that which was the cause of so long a voyage, for neither gloomy storm has driven me hither, nor a wandering course; [...] It is you I come for – you, whom golden Venus has promised for my bed; you were my heart’s desire before you were known to me. I beheld your features with my soul ere I saw them with my eyes; rumour, that told me of you, was the first to deal my wound.
and then he boasts!
And as I long for you, so women have longed for me; alone, you can possess the object of many women’s prayers! And not only have the daughters of princes and chieftains sought me, but even the nymphs have felt for me the cares of love.
The Rape of Helen
Paris, Paris, Paris. You sure are full of yourself. And he's so unapologetic about it! I think that's what I like the most -- how he honestly believes that he is doing nothing wrong in seducing another man's wife. He has absolutely no shame, and that's even more well illustrated when he talks about her abduction by Theseus (emphasis mine).
And so Theseus rightly felt love’s flame, for he was acquaint with all your charms, and you seemed fit spoil for the great hero to steal away, [...] His stealing you away, I commend; my marvel is that he ever gave you back. So fine a spoil should have been kept with constancy. Sooner would this head have left my bloody neck that you have been dragged from marriage-chamber of mine. One like you, would ever these hands of mine be willing to let go? One like you, would I, alive, allow to leave my embrace? If you must needs have been rendered up, I should first at least have taken some pledge from you; my love for you would not have been wholly for naught. Either your virgin flower I should have plucked, or taken what could be stolen without hurt to your virgin state.
"His stealing you away, I commend; my marvel is that he ever gave you back." Paris' admissions are kind of alarming, if you ask me. But he is SO confident that she will love him, is meant to love him and can't resist him, he holds nothing back. Not even a confession that if he had been Theseus, he would have raped her, if need be. (And I'm not going to touch the fact that he talks about her like she's furniture-- that wouldn't have been odd to Helen, just as it was totally natural for Ovid.)

Even his bribes are presented in such a matter of fact way that it's obvious he doesn't think he's bribing her so much as stating the facts. The FACTS are that Troy is far wealthier, and she will be showered in riches and kept in splendor. The FACTS are that he can offer her a better life than she'll ever have in Sparta, which is nothing in comparison to his homeland. The FACTS are that Menelaus doesn't deserve her.
I regret my being a guest, when before my eyes that rustic lays his arms about your neck. I burst with anger and envy – for why should I not tell everything? – when he lays his mantle over your limbs to keep you warm. But when you openly give him tender kisses, I take up my goblet and hold it before my eyes; when he holds you closely pressed, I let my gaze fall, and the dull food grows big within my unwilling mouth.
His recklessness, his boldness in addressing her so honestly and so brutally, is what's so appealing. He is SO in love with her that he can't help himself, that he has no fear at all. Here is the bad boy, the anti-hero we're denied. He's completely arrogant, and committed to making the most of the opportunity he's been given (with Menelaus away in Crete) by any means necessary. Sure, he'd prefer her willing, but from the tenor of this letter, it's clear that he won't let her willingness really get in his way if she gives him even the smallest of openings.

Paris is a villain. A stalker, obsessed with his prey. And he will not stop, because he sees encouragement in every polite smile she gives him. He will not stop because the gods have given Helen to him, and in that certainty, there is nothing she can say that will dissuade him from what he perceives as the truth, the facts. She will love him, eventually. Aphrodite herself promised it.

Reading Ovid, I can believe that Helen never had a chance.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Guest Post: Cuchulainn and Ferdiad, Irish Heroes

Super huge thanks to Zachary Tringali for the guest post! If you don't already, you can follow him on Twitter and check out his website! He is super cool, and you might remember him from the Pirithous vs Pelagia grudgematch of doom. All this to say, he writes like the wind and never fails to get me motivated again when I falter at my own writing projects. 

Let’s talk about history!

I know, you’re surprised, right?

More specifically, Irish history oral tradition. Even before stories were written down they were being told, people shared stories of great heroes and the ability of one person to make a difference. The Táin Bó Cúailnge is one of Ireland’s great epics (comparable to the Iliad) that have been altered to fit the location of the telling over time. Undoubtedly details have changed, but the basic structure has been preserved.

Cuchulainn (koo-HOOL-in) is a figure of Irish myth that deserves to stand among the greatest, Theseus or Heracles. He, better than anyone, could demonstrate the way a single song could change the fate of a man.

Cuchulainn became friend and foster brother to Ferdiad when he was a young boy training with the famed Scottish warrior-woman Scáthach. Ferdiad was older than Cuchulainn, and though they were evenly matched in skill, akin to an older brother to the hero.

Neither of them could know that during one of the great battles of their lives they would be fighting on opposing sides. Cuchulainn fought for Ulster while Ferdiad fought on the Connacht side with Queen Maeve. The war was fought over the ownership of a single brown bull (a very magic brown bull, but still.)

Cuchulainn stood alone against the entire Connacht army and held them back from crossing over. When he had defeated a majority of their best soldiers, Maeve settled on Ferdiad who she found to be the closest of Cuchulainn’s matches. He refused her—a mistake few men made twice.

He held out until the matter of a song came up. Maeve threatened him with one of the only things that could probably move a warrior bound by honor. She threatened to have a bard sing a song of him so vile and terrible that he would die of shame, his name would be remembered but not at all in the way he’d want it.

So it was a song that finally sent Ferdiad against his friend and brother (albeit there was treasure involved as well, but let’s face it. It was honor that held him back and honor that pushed him forward.) He fought with a man who, before he was even a teenager, was killing grown men.

Without anything written down, who would know him for anything but what a bard would sing?

Cuchulainn mourning Ferdiad
from EarlyMedievalIrishTuath
They fought for three days, Cuchulainn consumed by battle rage and Ferdiad fighting for his life. At night they would send small tokens of peace to one another: food, herbs for healing and the like. Tokens that beyond it all they were still brothers.

On the third day, Ferdiad was struck down and the battle rage left Cuchulainn. Cuchulainn carried him across the river so that he could die in Ulster rather than with the Maeve and the enemy army. He wept over him, saying: “It was all a game and a sport until Ferdiad came; Oh, Ferdiad! your death will hang over me like a cloud for ever. Yesterday he was greater than a mountain; to-day he is less than a shadow.”

There you have it. A song with the power to turn a man like a mountain into a shadow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thrud, Thor's Daughter

Alvíss and Þrúðr by Frølich
Thrud and Alviss
What do we know about Thrud (AKA Þrúðr)? Well. We know (According to Snorri in the Prose Edda) that Thor can be referred to in a kenning as Thrud's father, and we know that there are references to a Valkyrie named Thrud as well, who may or may not be the same woman. We know also, that she's the daughter of Sif (by another kenning for Sif) -- and as far as I can tell, she's the only named daughter and legitimate child of Thor and Sif's marriage.

We can infer that Thrud is the daughter of Thor being discussed in the Alvissmal, since there really isn't any other, but she's never actually named in that poem. So, she was at one point promised to the dwarf Alviss in marriage, while Thor was away on some travel or other -- but the Alvissmal is a later contribution to the lore of the Norse gods, and it's impossible to say if the story itself comes from something earlier or was just made up by the poet for the fun of it since neither Alviss, nor the events of the poem itself, are attested to anywhere else. In any event, Thor refused to honor the betrothal made without his permission, and tricked Alviss into what might be the earliest villain-monologue (and probably Tolkien's influence for Bilbo's encounter with the Trolls), which resulted in Alviss turning to stone because he was too busy showing off his knowledge to notice the sun was coming up.

All-wise answers Thor
why is Alviss such an egghead? Thor and Thrud and Alviss.
Needless to say, Thrud's wedding was called off. But we don't even know, how Thrud came to be promised to Alviss, or anything about their courtship. We don't know anything about Thrud's character at all. She's unique enough to be named-- well-known enough for "Mother of Thrud" and "Father of Thrud" to be kennings for her parents, but as far as anything else goes, Thrud doesn't stand on her own two feet.

So what do we know about Thrud?

Outside of her family bonds, nothing. Everything about her tells us more about the other people involved than her own character. What's that? I think it's the sound of opportunity knocking...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

BONUS POST! Prompt #2: The last thing he remembered was...

710 words: Theseus was trapped by the chair of forgetfulness in Hades. But fate isn't quite finished torturing him yet, and apparently there are worse things for Theseus than being lost in the Underworld.

The last thing he remembered was Helen. Not as he had known her for the last two years, her hair dyed raven-black and her eyes painted with kohl, but as she had appeared the night of their first meeting, her golden hair braided into a shining crown upon her head, accented with white flowers, their delicate scent mixing with the perfumed oils on her skin, tempting him closer. He remembered the emerald of her eyes, flashing with laughter in the lamplight, and the brightness of her smile turned upon him, powerful enough to lift the mood of the entire megaron, and leaving him empty and aching when it was gone.
“Theseus?” He recognized the voice, though he could not name the speaker. “Theseus, we have not the time. You must wake!”
Strong hands pulled at his arms, hard muscle digging into his stomach, and flesh parted from bone, burning white hot. Theseus tried to scream but all that came was a moan, weak and pitiful. His mouth was desert dry, his lips cracked and stinging.
“Forgive me, cousin,” the man said, hoisting Theseus over his shoulder as though he weighed nothing. “It is the only way.”
Helen, glowing golden as the sun, she smiled up at him, accepting the orange he offered, her fingers brushing his. The touch of her skin, even so slight, eased the pain in his leg. But her gaze shifted, and her radiance dimmed, silvering to moonlight. The smile slipped from her lips and she turned her face away.
“Not much farther, now,” the man said.
Fetid water splashed against his hand, hanging limp behind the man’s back. Sulfur and death filled his lungs, overwhelming the flowers of his memory. Theseus gagged, his stomach heaving, but he had not even acid or bile to lose, nor could he lift his head from where it thumped against the man’s spine. His leg burned, the rest of his body shivering, and he groaned.
“Peace, Theseus.” Heracles. It was Heracles who spoke. “There is sunlight ahead.”
Helen was his sunlight, shining bright, even in her sorrow. Even as her eyes slid away from his, and Menelaus rose, his fingers closing about the hilt of a table knife, white knuckled. But Menelaus would never touch her again. Theseus had seen to that. He had promised her his protection.
Heracles dumped him onto soft earth, and Theseus swore as fire flared up his thigh.
Heracles laughed. “Awake, are you?”
Theseus grunted, squinting against the sun. He had been trapped beneath the earth for so long, his eyes ached from the light. “How long?”
“Months,” Heracles answered, his wide shoulders silhouetted against the sky. “And I do not know that you will thank me for bringing you back. The chair tore the flesh from your thigh to the bone and you will be a long time healing, if you ever do.”
“Helen,” Theseus croaked. “What of Helen?”
Heracles crouched before him and Theseus made out the grim line of his mouth. “The Spartan Princess?”
Theseus grasped him by the arm. “Tell me, Heracles.”
“Married, Theseus.”
“No.” The pain in his leg was nothing to that which stabbed through his heart. Helen! It could not be – he had taken her from Sparta, hidden her in Athens. He had left her safe!
Heracles sighed, looking away. “She is married to the Prince of Mycenae, to Menelaus, half-mad though he is, and that is not the least of it.”
Helen. Theseus closed his eyes to the sun and lay back in the grass, remembering her as she had been in Athens. Hair as black as night and milk-white skin dusted with umber until her body looked as brown as any Egyptian’s. Helen, forgive me. I should never have left you.
“Come, Theseus.” Heracles pulled him up. “We must get you to Apollo’s temple. The priests will know if you can be healed.”
He grunted, the pain in his leg crippling. He must heal. He must be whole or he would never succeed in stealing Helen back. And he had promised her, before he left on this thrice-damned journey to Hades. No matter where she was in the world, he would find her.
He had given his word, and one-legged or not, he meant to keep it.

Those of you who follow the blog know how much I love Theseus and the intersection of Helen's mythology with Theseus', which is what spawned my novel, HELEN OF SPARTA.

This prompt was brought to you by Agent Courtney Miller-Callihan, who is running a competition on her blog. Winner gets a query critique.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


So. I'm kind of sort of maybe vacationing. Or something. It's a strange situation during which I should be writing but somehow am failing utterly to do so and instead spending my days eating unimpressive food and windowshopping for things I cannot afford and don't really want. Also, the twist-cone-with-rainbow-sprinkles situation is just... it's the saddest thing ever, you guys. This might be my first summer without twist-cones-with-rainbow-sprinkles. But the end result for you, friends and followers, is that I am not blogging this week. I shall return NEXT TUESDAY (August 23) for some regularly scheduled blog action.

In the meantime, check out this image of Loki dressing Thor up as Freyja:

Tor såsom Freya

Because cross-dressing Thor is entertainment for all ages. Hopefully it will tide you over. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tessa's Hatefest

Head over to Tessa's blog to find the other participants of Tessa's Hatefest, and leave them some comment love!

I have a very short excerpt. I wrote this short story about Samson a long time ago, because let's face it, he is pretty awful, and I am forever trying to find ways to make awful characters redeemable, especially when they are considered "heroes" of some kind or another. I don't know about you, but I can't get behind heroes when they are total jerks, and Samson is the jerkiest of the jerks, so it was only a matter of time, really...

This scene takes place right after Delilah turns Samson over to the Philistines, who, quite understandably, have no love for Samson.

“No!” Delilah screamed. Her body was warm against his chest, her hair tickling his face. Her chestnut hair, so beautiful and soft. He drank in the sight of it, glad she would be the last thing he might see. “You said you only wanted him bound! A slave! Stop, please! I beg of you!”
“It’s all right, Delilah,” he murmured. He could not reach her with his hands to sooth her. He tried to smile through bleeding lips. “I will take what punishment they see fit. Leave me, now.”
One of the soldiers tore her from him, and she sobbed, still shouting for them to stop. Another soldier struck her across the face and she fell to the ground, still weeping. He lurched forward, but they held him back, laughing. The soldier dragged her up by the hair.
“She’s helped you, done everything that you asked. Pay her, and let her go!”
“After we’re certain she has not deceived us,” the leader said. “You think we have not learned? There are no jawbones here for you to strike us down, but if you wish her to live, you will do as we say.” 
The man jerked his chin at one of the soldiers, and he came forward with an iron poker, glowing red hot. 
“Take his eyes,” the leader said. “Perhaps then, like a blinded horse, he will be more easily led.”
Delilah, twisting to free herself, screaming defiance, her brown eyes wild. Delilah, beautiful and kind, begging, pleading. Delilah, breaking free of the soldier who held her back and running toward him. 
He roared at the touch of the hot metal.
And then he lived in darkness.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Quest for Pirithous' Armband

Jambieres en cuivre - 1250 avJC - Veuxhaulles-sur-Aube
bronze armbands from the bronze age!
The fact of the matter is, I have been reminded on multiple occasions that worldbuilding is sometimes a weakness for me in my writing. I'm slow about it-- I take a long time to build up a world in small drips and drabs, and I expect readers to fill in the blanks and be part of the process. Usually this means that I have to go back through and add worldbuilding elements after the fact, because I suck at it the first time. (Seriously. I do. It is a failing, and it requires constant vigilance on my part during revisions.)

With that in mind, I'm still trying to find the proper ornaments for Pirithous in history, so that when I rewrite, I can include those details to help build his world and his character. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the things I REALLY want to give him, is a solid, chunky, armband. Made of gold, preferably. Wanting to do this, and finding evidence for it in history are two completely and totally different things, however, and while I can make some excuses for Pirithous having foreign or uncommon objects, I can't just manufacture something from nothing without losing the authenticity of his history.
Earring Mycenae Louvre Bj135
Mycenaean earring for Spiral comparison

In the search, I found this bronze armband, and it's from the right period in history, but that's about all that can be said for it. It seems to have been found in Germany -- or if the above examples were not, it's fellow below was -- (I could weep for the fact that its wiki page is in foreign languages, you guys. I cannot read German! or French! I just want to learn!), but it has kind of the same patterning of something from Mycenae, with the chunky spiral. (Not that chunky spirals are at all limited to Mycenae, but... well, it's something.)
GNM - Armberge
Bronze armband from Germany

The problem is, Germanic peoples, be they inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, or Germany proper, were kind of a lot far away. It's a stretch to say that Pirithous might have worn something like this, or that he had ever laid eyes on it, even considering the fact that there was quite a bit of trade during the Bronze age, and even with the assumption that Pirithous got around. HOWEVER, if I can find something Egyptian (and is it my imagination or are there a lot of pictures of Egyptians with armbands? even though I cannot for the life of me find any single solidly identified one for this blogpost right now or my book), I might be in business. In fact, I would be golden. Trade with Egypt is perfectly reasonable, and traveler that Pirithous is, it wouldn't be a stretch to say he'd been there or obtained goods from that area of the world.

Unfortunately, my research is turning up less than nothing. Or worse, I'm getting images that have no positive identification as armbands. (Why did we give up on the fashion of armbands? I kind of like them, I'm not going to lie.) So, I'm still surfing. I figure there has to be a painting of something from Egypt with someone wearing an armband that fits my mental image, SOMEWHERE.

Maybe it's time to break out the big encyclopedia sized books off the bottom shelf...

Friday, August 05, 2011

Bronze Age Baubles: Mycenaean Rings and Cups

AMI - Ring des Minos2
This is Minoan, not Mycenaean but Wow.
This post is mostly the result of having WAY too many tabs open, but the reason I have way too many tabs open is because I was researching rings-- in particular, signet rings, which can be ASTOUNDINGLY detailed-- of the Mycenaean period and the late bronze age for Pirithous. (Pirithous, being Pirithous, gets all the best gold jewelry.) Anyway, there are a LOT of really cool things, because jewelry, lucky for us, is one of those things that sticks around. Unlike wood, it doesn't biodegrade. Bronze will oxidize, of course, and silver tarnishes, but gold doesn't, and that's how we end up with super like-new looking rings like these in auctions.

Mycenaean ring2
This ring IS Mycenaean. 
But in the interest of being able to close some tabs on my browser, I think it's time I shared a few of these awesome discoveries with you, friends and followers, and so I have them all somewhere that I can refer back to later (because holy crap my bookmarks are such a giant mess of disorganized ridiculousness).

Vafeio Mycenaen laconian
Another image of the cup, probably imported from Crete.

For starters, I am not entirely sure what Hartzler.org (the slideshow looks like it was made for a college class) is, but this gold cup is incredible. There's a second one among those slides in the sidebar, along with an armlet, several signet rings, lots of pottery, and a number of other fascinating and beautiful artifacts. But before I found this cup, I'd been under a wildly different impression of what a bronze age cup might look like, and the fact that this resembles something one might find at a chuckwagon (at least in basic form, if not material!) was something of a shock. I'm not sure WHY it was such a surprise, considering the fact that the design is fairly intuitive, but it was. I guess I was picturing something more along the lines of this Cup of Nestor, but now that I look at it, it has some of the same lines without the excess of handles.

Mycenaean cup Louvre AO15744
This is more like the cups I was expecting
Also Mycenaean.
I'm modeling Pirithous' signet ring off of this one. The Lapiths were renowned horsemen, after all, and I figure if Pirithous had a seal of any kind, a horse would be more than fitting. And if you're interested in seeing more signet rings, Googling Mycenaean rings brings up a LOT of really cool images. I was honestly surprised at how much came up, and the detailing and artistry is just remarkable.

Mycenaean gold goblet BM 820
One Final Mycenaean cup-- a goblet.
I'm still looking for a more substantial armlet, but I fear I'm going to be out of luck in that regard. What I want Pirithous to be able to wear, and what historical artifacts are suggesting he would be wearing are not QUITE the same thing, so far. I haven't given up hope yet though, because I've found kind of similar styles from the right period, even if they aren't clearly marked as Mycenaean (though they do follow some of the same patterns the Mycenaean's were using, too). Lucky for me, Pirithous seems to have been something of a rover, and if he was roving, raiding, and pirating, there's no telling what he might have gotten his hands on, even if it wasn't strictly Greek in origin.

So now you know much more than you'll ever need to know about cups and rings of the Greek Bronze Age, and more importantly, I can close some of these annoying tabs!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Food for Thought: Jesus vs Heracles

Because seriously, what if Heracles really WAS some portion of Zeus who just really wanted to spend a few years getting laid without hiding it from Hera? (And it would explain why Hera was SO MEAN to Heracles, too, because she was too smart to be taken in by THAT ruse. Guys. For Real. It could have happened.)

Jesus Heracles
Son of God Son of a god
Likes the children Likes the children
Travels around the Country Making Stuff Happen Travels around the Country Making Stuff Happen
Helps people  Helps people 
Expels Demons Fights Monsters
Takes after dad: Monkishly asexual Takes after dad: Got it on w/50 sisters, etc.
Tragic Death (crucifixion)Tragic Death (burned alive)
Ascends to Heaven, recognized as GodAscends to Olympus, recognized as a god
Performed miraculous feats (water into wine, etc) Performed miraculous feats (lifted the whole world, etc)
Attracted followers Attracted followers
Betrayed to his death by someone he trusted and loved (Judas) Killed by someone he trusted and loved (maybe by accident) (Deianira)

Okay, so the last one might be a stretch, but you've gotta give me the rest, right? Civil discussion in the comments, including any similarities I missed, or, if you'd rather, poke holes in my Jesus vs. Heracles comparisons! Don't be shy!