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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021: A Is For Apple(Golden Variety)


Hesperides, Burne-Jones.Public Domain

Golden apples appear in Greek myths more than once. Robert Graves had a theory about them being the sacred king’s passport to paradise. Whatever. Let’s just think of the stories. Here are three. 

The golden apples of the Hesperides were on a tree belonging to the goddess Hera. The Hesperides were the daughters of the Titan Atlas, who were set to guard the tree, but the girls couldn’t resist scrumping apples, so the job was given to a dragon called Ladon instead. Unfortunately for Ladon, he was shot by Heracles in the course of his Eleventh Labour. 

Not that Heracles actually picked the apples himself. According to the story, which I remember first hearing from a teacher in primary school(I think it was Mr Kaufman, who also introduced us to the Peanuts cartoons), Heracles had no idea where to find the orchard, so, being a hero, instead of asking directions, he grabbed Nereus, one of those sea gods who tend to change shape when you catch them, and asked him the way. Nereus told him, and also advised him to get Atlas to fetch the apples for him. 

Atlas, who was holding up the world by then, agreed if Heracles held up the world while he went to fetch the apples. Heracles shot the dragon and took the load. At this point, instead of running off, Atlas got the apples and returned, but wasn’t keen to take back his load. 

“Okay,” said Heracles, “but could you just hold it for a minute while I put something on my head to make it more comfortable?” 

Poor, dumb Atlas obliged, and you can guess what happened next. Heracles had to hand the apples to Eurystheus, the king who was setting the tasks. And after all that, the apples were handed back. The point was just to do it! 

The next golden apple story has a girl called Atalanta in it. Atalanta was a tough warrior gal and a speedy runner. When her father told her she had to get married, she said she would only marry the man who could outrun her in a foot race. Anyone who lost would be killed. A young man called Melanion decided to have a go. The goddess Aphrodite gave him three golden apples(were they from the orchard of the Hesperides, I wonder?) and told him to roll them ahead of Atalanta during the race. They did the trick beautifully as she was distracted by stopping to pick them up, a bit like the tortoise and the hare, and lost the race. She had to marry him then, but eventually ran off with a guy called Meleager, whom she had met during the Calydonian boar hunt. Oh, well. 

My favourite is the story of the golden apple that sort of started the Trojan War. You think the fairy in Sleeping Beauty was offended by not being invited to a party? Try Eris, goddess of discord, who was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis(parents of Achilles). She actually started a whole war over it! 

Using a golden apple. 

Throwing down the apple, labelled “For the fairest” between three goddesses, Hera, Aphrodite and Athene, she flew off cackling. Maybe there were evening classes in psychology on Olympus? Anyway, the three of them fought over it and went off to get a ruling from Paris, the Trojan prince currently working as a humble herdsman. Aphrodite bribed him with a promise to give him the beautiful Helen, even though she was married. So was he, for that matter, but what the heck. He awarded her the apple. Frankly, I wouldn’t have wanted to be Paris, with three goddesses glaring at me, one of them the Queen of the gods. 

There is a lot of Trojan War fiction, some of which I will mention later in this series of posts, but I’ll give a plug here to a short story I wrote for an anthology, Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear, published by Peggy Bright Press. In my story, “Five Ways To Start A War”,  Paris awards the apple to Aphrodite less because of the bribe and more because of what she could do to his favourite bodily organ if she is annoyed...  If you’re curious, the anthology is still available from the publisher or Amazon.

Come back tomorrow for the tale of Bellerophon and the Chimera! 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Intro to A To Z 2021: The Greek Myths


Just a brief intro to my planned month of posts on Greek myths. I knew that X wouldn’t be a problem this time, but there were other letters that were, eg F and W, so I have found other ways to use them. 

For the same reason, I’m spelling names for convenience, eg K instead of C, but only when convenient to me. Ignore - the characters are the same people. 

Where I think it’s interesting I’ve included mentions of fiction about various characters and stories based on Greek myths. I’ll include links to where you can buy them.

There are so very many interesting stories, so sometimes I’ll write about more than one character per letter, but even so, I’ll miss some. Feel free to tell me your favourites I have skipped in the comments. 

I highly recommend Robert Graves’ book The Greek Myths, which is still easily available, in ebook and print. It certainly got me interested, when I was a child(I suspect he would have been embarrassed to learn that a little girl was reading his book!). You may or may not agree with all those footnotes about Sacred Kings and Triple Goddesses, but he was thorough and he gave all the variants he knew of each myth.

See you on April 1!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Some Moses Fiction For Passover!

 With Passover just around the corner, I thought it might be time to talk about some Moses-themed fiction. I’ve read a few over the years, beginning with a novel by Howard Fast. When I read it in my teens, it was called Moses, Prince Of Egypt. You can still buy it in ebook, with a different title and an introduction by the author, written in 1999.

The original title suits the book, really, because it began when he was a ten year old prince in the court of Ramses II and ended with him walking into the desert accompanied by his faithful servant Nun, future father of the tribal leader Joshua. He did intend to do it as a trilogy, but it didn’t happen. He did, many years later, write a novella set on the last night of Moses’ life, but seen from the viewpoint of the new leader Joshua. I have that story in a Howard Fast Reader, which contains a couple of his novels and quite a few short stories.

It was an intriguing tale, which suggested a plan to bring back the worship of Aten, which had gone with the death of the monotheist Pharaoh, Akhenaten. It is, of course, a deep secret, because anyone caught at it would be in big trouble. The name Moses actually means “a child is given” and usually a god’s name is added, eg , Thut-Mose, meaning “Thoth gave a child”. The hero of this novel is called “Moses of the half name” by people who don’t like him, but his royal mother deliberately left off the god-name in hopes of one day calling him Aten-Moses. Of course, that never happens. Young Moses has adventures and sees people he loves die before he finally has to leave Egypt. It is one of my favourites on this theme, perhaps my very favourite. Like Fast’s other novels it’s very character-driven; for me, no matter how good a story, it doesn’t work if you don’t care about the characters.

A novella-length Moses story by Thomas Mann appears in a themed anthology called The Ten Commandments, but the theme isn’t about Moses, it’s about how the Nazis broke every one of the Commandments. Mann’s is the only one of the ten stories that references the original. I have to say, if you can get a copy of this book, probably on ABEBooks, the rest of the stories are well worth a read. 

Like Joseph And His Brothers, Thomas Mann’s thick-as-brick rendering of a very short story from the Bible, his Moses novella is fun. What? Moses funny? Oh, yes. Mann manages it. Like Howard Fast, he writes a character-driven tale, and you really feel for this young man! 

Mann’s Moses is actually the child of Pharaoh’s daughter, conceived one afternoon when she spots a rather nice-looking Hebrew slave working in the garden. The poor man is killed soon afterwards, though not on her orders. When the baby is born, his mother pretends to find him in the bulrushes. 

He is brought up with the family of his nurse, to whom he returns when school is getting a bit much of a hassle for him. His foster siblings are, of course, Aaron and Miriam.

When he does turn up with Aaron at Pharaoh’s court, the king has trouble keeping a straight face, especially when Aaron does the rod-into-snake trick(a very old magic trick involving holding a snake so it gets stiff). Pharaoh doesn’t kill Moses because he recognises his grandson and knows his daughter will make a fuss if he does.

The most recent book I’ve read on this theme is Judith Tarr’s Pillar Of Fire, which I have reviewed here. It’s not a new book, and I had a copy in hardcover, bought years ago at a shop long since closed, but you can still get it, at least in ebook; for the details, follow the link. Judith Tarr has read Freud’s Moses And Monotheism and in her novel Akhenaten is Moses! He is a lousy king, but a true prophet of his god, so when it’s becoming clear that he is going to end up killed, he is persuaded to fake his death and is smuggled out into the desert by some Hebrew relatives(long story, you need to read it). He is a lot happier outside of Egypt and respected by his new tribe as a prophet. He also becomes sane. The story is seen from the viewpoint of Nofret, a Hittite slave who has been serving Akhenaten’s daughter Ankhesenpaaten. 

There are quite a few films or miniseries. There is the Charlton Heston version, which is famous for the parting of the Red Sea sequence. I probably shouldn’t call it silly, even if it is, but it has an impressive cast, amazing costumes(more Hollywood than ancient Egypt), music by Elmer Bernstein. 

The Prince Of Egypt is an animation voiced by some big names, including Val Kilmer as Moses and Patrick Stewart as Seti I, who in this version is the king who ordered the deaths of the male babies. It’s also a musical... I did read somewhere that we narrowly escaped this being a Moses film with a singing camel! The animation is terrific, though, and you have almost certainly heard of everyone in the cast. Here is the Wikipedia entry.  It ends with the parting of the Red Sea, with Moses being sad to have to say farewell to his foster brother Ramses, stuck in the other side.

A TV miniseries, Moses The     Lawgiver, is now up on YouTube, here. The lead is played by Burt Lancaster, the younger Moses by his son, who has very similar mannerisms to his father. Most of the extras are Israelis, and it’s interesting to hear Hebrew being spoken in the background in the Israelite camp. Some of those with speaking roles are dubbed with British accents(I’ve seen at least one of them in another film with a very strong Hebrew accent). The music is by the wonderful Ennio Morricone, whom you probably know best for composing music for classic Westerns.

The series was novelised by Aussie author Thomas Keneally, best known for Schindler’s Ark and historical fiction. In recent years he has been collaborating with his daughter Meg on historical crime fiction, set in Van Diemen’s Land(Tasmania), during the convict era. The Moses novel was not much like the miniseries, though, and is seen from the viewpoint of a Cretan engineer who somehow ends up marrying an Israelite woman and heading for the desert with the tribe.

Well there’s a few for you. Have a happy Passover if you celebrate it and a wonderful Easter next week if you don’t.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

A To Z Challenge 2021 - Theme Reveal


It seems everyone intending to have a go at this year’s A to Z challenge is already doing a theme reveal. So, here’s mine.

This year I will be posting about Greek myths, including books written on that theme. I’m not a folklorist by trade, but Greek myths and legends have been a passion of mine since I was in primary school. I read Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths when I was about eight or nine. Nobody told me it wasn’t for children, so I just read it - cover to cover, including the footnotes. My sister had to borrow it from a library four times before I finished. Boy, was I disappointed, a bit later, to read a children’s book of myths from my school library! 

I’m quite sure my friends were a bit confused when I told them about the Triple Goddess and the Sacred King. There will be no goddess or sacred king in this lot of posts unless you request them, just the stories and some amazing fiction I’ve read based on them. 

The real pleasure is knowing I shouldn’t have too much trouble, this year, finding a name for the X post! 

The Ides Of March...And Fiction About It

 Yesterday was the Ides of March and everyone was talking about it, both on Twitter and in the newspapers. The newspapers were talking about it because of a political stoush happening here in Melbourne; after the conservatives were wiped out in Western Australian elections on the weekend, our own conservative opposition held a leadership spill, which failed, even though the leader has a popularity rating of 15% in Victoria. But the papers and tweeters enjoyed talking about the coincidence of the date. 

Coin with Caesar on one side,Venus on the other.

And I was busy editing and pruning a story on this very subject. 

In my alternative universe, the Greek myths and some others were more or less true. More or less because various creatures from the myths roam the earth,  but are species, not the individuals from the myths. Gaius Julius Caesar is rescued from assassination by his ancestress, Venus, who leaves an automaton built for her in his place. 

But Venus, while she cares about him, wants him, in exchange, to stop special animals being rounded up and taken to Rome for the Games. 

I figured that if there were hydras, centaurs, etc, the Romans would have hunted them to extinction.

I was also intrigued by the huge success Caesar, not a physically attractive man, had with women. His lovers included patricians and Queens(not just Cleopatra). What if he had that success because the goddess of love/lust, mother of Aeneas, was his ancestor? His family did claim descent from Aeneas and Venus. 

I like this story, but I’m having to prune it savagely. Kill my darlings, so to speak. If I hadn’t written all those words I would never have finished it, so I did, but 9300 words was way too long for an anthology asking for 5000 words. I’m hoping that “around 5000 words” will be able to be stretched, but not by much. If you want to sell a story, you follow the rules. So far, I’ve cut around 3000 words, still not enough. But I may just have to rewrite altogether to get it down to even “around” 5000 words convincingly. Wish me luck! 

Creative Commons

Meanwhile, there are quite a few historical novels in which he appears as a character. Colleen McCullough’s Masters Of Rome series, for example, is a lot of thick as a brick tomes. That one is seen from the viewpoint of a number of historical characters, but Caesar is one. It starts with his parents and family. 

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is the one we all know best, of course. An interesting piece. Shakespeare’s Brutus is a decent man who feels he has to live up to his ancestor who wouldn’t allow kings to return to Rome. But Shakespeare can’t write approvingly of getting rid of a ruler, not with Elizabeth as Queen. Well, yes, there was Richard II, but I don’t imagine she was happy about that. At the end of Julius Caesar, he is honoured as the only member of the assassins who did it for the right reasons. 

Here is a link to books on this theme, reviewed on Goodreads.

He appears regularly in the Asterix comics, in which the Gauls of Asterix’s village are the only ones not conquered by the Romans. In Asterix In Britain, the Romans are able to defeat the Britons by invading on the weekend and during hot water breaks(the Britons don’t yet have tea).

Just one more which I have read was Taylor Caldwell’s A Pillar Of Iron, though the hero of that was Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was of his generation and, in this novel, goes to school with him. 

That was years ago, and she somehow managed to sneak in some Christianity before it began... 

Anyone have a favourite Julius Caesar book? Including the ones he wrote, of course!

Sunday, March 07, 2021

For Women’s Day - A Few Favourites!

 In honour of International Women’s Day, here are some of my favourite heroines. These are just a few off the top of my head, there are plenty more I admire. Only one of those mentioned here is still alive, but I thought it simplest to mostly stick to historical heroines.

 Hildegard of Bingen - featured in my children’s book, Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science. She was an Abbess in the 11th century. As well as writing about science, she wrote what may have been the first mediaeval play, scared the hell out of (male) heads of the church, was a philosopher, a visionary, a composer who also wrote her own lyrics. You can still listen to her music, which is easily available. I have some CDs, but there is plenty on YouTube, and believe me, it’s glorious stuff! Here is a link to a YouTube post. Wander over and have a listen.

 Oh, and she scored sainthood.

Ada Byron Lovelace -  The mathematical genius daughter of the poet Lord Byron. Her parents were separated early in her life, and her mother had her taught maths and science so she wouldn’t become a poet like her good-for-nothing father. Ada worked with Charles Babbage, known as the Father of the Computer. She was the world’s first computer programmer. Unfortunately she died early, of cancer. She has her own day, in October, so nice to know at least this woman has been recognised. By the way, she appears as a character in Doctor Who(Spyfall, Season 12).

Jane Austen - author of some of the best rom coms I have ever read. And whatever anyone says, I, at least, need rom coms, stories that I know will end well, in this sad world. She has influenced so many later stories, and not only ones directly based on her books. I once saw a production of Shakespeare’s rom com Much Ado About Nothing performed in Regency costume, a definite tribute to Austen’s Pride And Prejudice.

Rosalind Franklin - the British scientist who discovered the double helix of DNA in the 1950s. Unfortunately, she wanted to be sure she had it right before publishing, and a group of male competitors who had no such hesitancy used her notes to get it right and published first - and got the Nobel Prize and the credit ever since. (At one stage, these geniuses were working on a triple helix theory). She was dead by then and dead people don’t get that award, but who knows if she would have been a part of the prize if she had been alive?

She did score a play about her, Photograph 51, mentioned on my blog, in this post. 

Jocelyn Bell Burnell - Irish astrophysicist discoverer of pulsars, in 1967. She was a PhD student at the time, so the Nobel Prize went to her supervisor instead of her. She wasn’t upset about it, saying it would demean the prize to give it to a student. Still, we know who discovered pulsars. She is still around, by the way, I contacted her about my chapter about her in Potions To Pulsars. Such a nice lady! 

Do you have  any favourites? Please share.