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Sunday, April 11, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - J Is For Jason

Jason And Pelias. Public Domain

Today, we will be meeting Jason and the Argonauts. This one of
  the best-known stories of Greek myth. It’s one of the foundations of the quest story, but I’ll be keeping that part of the story for a post called Q Is For Quests. It has been filmed and written into a lot of fiction. 

I’ve already mentioned some of the novels - Medea by Kerry Greenwood, in which Jason is shown as an idiot and the story is seen from Medea’s viewpoint. Circe has a brief appearance at Circe’s island by Medea, who doesn’t pay attention to her aunt’s advice. Voyage With Jason by Ken Catran. Jason, by Henry Treece. In Mary Renault’s The King Must Die, Medea appears as King Aegeus’s lover, in Athens, and tries to poison Theseus. Aegeus stops the poison attempt when he sees a token that makes him realise Theseus is his son.

There is, of course, the classic Ray Harryhausen film Jason And The Argonauts, which is best known for its SFX, like the giant sea person who holds aside the Clashing Rocks for the Argo to pass, and the most famous scene, with the armed skeletons springing from the earth to fight Jason. If you haven’t seen it you are missing out.

So, what is the story? Young Jason is the son of Aeson, the King of Iolcus and his Queen. The throne is usurped by Aeson’s half-brother Pelias, who goes through the royal family like a hot knife through butter, but Jason’s Mum manages to smuggle him out to be brought up by the wise Centaur Cheiron, teacher of so many famous heroes of the myths. 

Pelias has had a prophecy that he will be killed by a man with one sandal, so when Jason turns up, muddy and with one sandal after stumbling in the stream and losing it, Pelias knows he has met his doom (Not quite true, actually, as we shall see). 

I don’t know if you have ever read the Dark Lord’s list, which goes through all the things the author would do if they were a Dark Lord, but here is one thing I would have done if I was Pelias: called the guards and had Jason killed on the spot. On the other hand, it never works that way in the myths, does it? So...Pelias instead asks Jason what he’d do if he had heard a prophecy of someone who was going to kill him, and the young man pipes up, “Oh, I’d send him off to Colchis, to retrieve the Golden Fleece! By the way, Sir, this is my kingdom, I’d like it back.”

“Okay,” says Pelias, “you can have the kingdom when you come back with the Golden Fleece.” 

This was the fleece of a magical ram that flew off with two kids on its back, saving them from bring sacrificed. It is now hanging up on a tree in far-off Colchis, the kingdom of Aeetes, Circe’s brother (Robert Graves tells us that’s in what is now Georgia). 

So, Jason commissions a ship, the Argo, by a guy called Argus, who goes with him on the adventure. 

Then he sends out a call for a company of heroes to go with him. There is quite an impressive array of people on that trip. I’ll go into more detail later, in my Q post, but there are fifty of them, including one woman, Atalanta, she of the golden apples fame, Heracles and his squire Hylas, Orpheus the musician. Calais and Zetes, the sons of Boreas, the North Wind, have wings. There is even one trans crew member, Caeneus the Lapith, who used to be a woman! I think that that they were all heroes in their own right who were gathered for this story, a bit like Arthur’s men in Culhwch and Olwen

It might be interesting to wonder who missed out in the crew auditions...

So, our young heroes set off on their quest, sneak past Troy, which doesn’t let anyone past without paying a toll, have a number of adventures and eventually find themselves in Colchis, asking nicely for the Golden Fleece. Aeetes says no, very loudly, but hands out some impossible tasks anyway. 

At this point, they need the help of Aphrodite, who sends her son Eros aka Cupid(Roman name) to shoot the king’s daughter, Medea, a skilled sorceress, to make her fall for Jason. She does, but makes him swear by all the gods that he will marry her and no unfaithfulness, ever.

Jason and Medea, Waterhouse. Public Donain

The Golden Fleece is guarded by an unsleeping dragon, but Medea manages to put it to sleep anyway, and they grab the Fleece and head for the Argo

There are plenty more adventures on the way back, including killing off Medea’s brother, who has pursued them, and - eventually - Pelias. Here is where it’s not quite as prophesied. See, Pelias is not so easy to kill, and he has an army. One of Jason’s crew is Pelias’s son, who says, “No offence, Jason, but I’m not helping to kill my Dad.” 

“Leave it to me,” says Medea, and sneaks in disguised as an old lady, and suckers Pelias and his daughters into believing she can rejuvenate him with some Celtic style cauldron, by cutting him into pieces. Yuk! 

At this point, Jason wins the fight, but he isn’t getting his kingdom back after that stunt. He hands it over to another son of Pelias and travels on. 

They go to Corinth, where it turns out that Medea is the rightful heir to the throne and they settle down to rule, with lots of kids. This could be happily ever after, except... it turns out that Medea poisoned the last king. Jason loses his nerve and divorces her, to marry a girl called Glauce. Medea reminds him of his vow, and that strictly speaking, it’s her kingdom, not his. He says the people like him better anyway, so tough.

Big mistake. She kills her rival with a very Morgan Le Fay-style flaming cloak and crown, then flies off in a chariot pulled by dragons, leaving behind her many children. The story of her killing two is only one version of the story, but considering how many people she did kill, those two can be left out. 

Interestingly, after a few more adventures, Medea settled down happily with a new husband and had an afterlife in Elysium. 

As for Jason, he ended up in exile, unpopular and homeless. He was killed by the falling prow of the Argo, under which he was spending the night.

What a way for a questing hero to end, eh? A bit sad. 

Tomorrow, I’ll take you into the middle of another adventure, in which you will meet a Queen and mother called Kassiopeia. 

See you then! 

Friday, April 09, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - I Is For Iphigenia


Iphigenia by Jacques Louis David. Public Domain

In an earlier post, I mentioned Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia, who was lured to Aulis to be sacrificed to Artemis, to get her Dad and his army a favourable wind to Troy. There are Greek tragedies about it and a film by Michael Cacoyannis, released in 1977.

I saw that at the cinema when it came out. It was in Greek, with English sub titles, with Irene Papas as Clytemnestra. Incidentally, she also played the role of  Helen in an English language film of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, along with Katherine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave and Genevieve Bujold, in 1971. 

This one was based on Iphigenia At Aulis, also by Euripides, but changed. It is implied that it’s the priests of Artemis, not Artemis herself, who are responsible for the young woman’s death, as revenge for her father killing a sacred deer. At the end of the film, the wind starts blowing before the sacrifice. Agamemnon realises and starts running for the altar to stop it - too late. 

First, though, before the sacrifice begins, Iphigenia makes a dramatic speech about how if someone has to die, it may as well be her, thinking of the mothers of all those soldiers who may die in the war. Young Achilles declares that although it was a lie about marrying him that got her there, he’d be glad to have her for a wife. 

A woman sitting behind me at the cinema burst into tears during that speech and had to leave, presumably to cry it out somewhere else.

That is the story we know best, but there is another. In this other version of the story, the goddess whisks her away in a cloud just in time and takes her to Tauris, where she is appointed High Priestess of Artemis. Sounds like a happy ending, doesn’t it? 

Iphigenia At Tauris. Public Domain

Not quite. In Tauris, they have the charming custom of sacrificing shipwrecked travellers and other arrivals to the goddess. And her High Priestess has to supervise the procedure. Poor Iphigenia is not keen on human sacrifice, but hasn’t much choice. 

Back home in Greece, her brother Orestes is still being pestered by the Erynnes, who have not accepted the gods’ verdict. He is told by an oracle to head to Tauris and fetch back a rather grim wooden  statue of Artemis held in the temple there, and then he will be free of those scary avengers. With his friend Pylades he follows orders. Reaching Tauris, our heroes are caught and taken to be sacrificed. Fortunately, brother and sister recognise each other in time. Iphigenia fetches the statue from its shelf and persuades the local king that these people are quite unfit for sacrifice till they and the statue are purified in the sea and that the people should stay home till it’s over, to avoid pollution. They escape in Orestes’ ship.

This is where it starts to get confusing, and more about the statue than the people. There is one scene where they arrive at an island run by the priest Chryses, whose daughter Chryseis was taken as loot by Agamemnon in the Iliad. She has a son, the younger Chryses, who thinks he is a demigod son of Apollo, but no, he’s the son of Agamemnon, as you might expect after what was done to his mother. When he realises Orestes is his half brother, he joins our heroes to fight off the pursuers from Tauris, instead of handing  them over.

The statue does eventually get back to Greece, but is carried here, there and everywhere before ending up in Sparta, where it apparently received human sacrifices for a long time before a Spartan king replaced them with flogging boys for their blood. The Spartan boys turned it into a macho thing to see who could take the most blows. That, I think, is history rather than myth. 

Orestes was finally free of the Erynnes and Pylades married Electra and the three siblings returned to Mycenae to reclaim their kingdom. That did rather mean getting rid of Aegisthus’s son, who was running the city, but still, it’s as happy an ending as we’re going to get here, though there were more adventures. 

I’ll leave it to you to look them up. 

Monday, we will be meeting Jason of Argonaut fame. 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - H Is For Helen And Heracles!

 Ah, the Trojan War! The source of so much fiction, music, art, film...

I won’t go into too much detail about a story we all know, but you really can’t write about Greek myth without Helen of Troy, any more than you can write about women in science without Marie Curie or bushrangers without Ned Kelly.

Helen, by Dante Gabriele Rossetti. Public Domain

Helen was the daughter of Queen Leda of Sparta, who was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan and somehow ended up with four children, two of whom were her husband’s and two were Zeus’s. Helen was one of Zeus’s children. There is something truly dreadful about the notion of being raped by a swan, but anyway. 

Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world, or in Greece anyway, and had a whole lot of suitors. This is important to know, because of how it ended up. King Tyndareus, Helen’s mortal Dad, was tearing his hair out trying not to upset any of the suitors and asked the advice of Odysseus, who was one of them, but unlikely to declare war if insulted. 

As it happens, Odysseus had taken one look at the competition and decided he’d rather marry his cousin Penelope, who was smart and brave and much less likely to be the source of trouble. So - this clever guy got a bright idea for keeping the peace. He made all the suitors swear and oath to defend Helen’s choice. Sounds good, right? 

Big mistake. It worked to start with, and Helen chose Menelaus, one of the Atreus boys. 

After she ran off with Paris to Troy, some years later, that peace plan was used to start a war. You see...everyone had promised to defend the winner, remember? Odysseus must have been kicking himself. He tried to get out of going to the war by playing mad. It didn’t work.

I’m sure you all know the rest of the story, but if you don’t, ask in the comments.

Let’s just go through a few interpretations. Helen does appear briefly in the Odyssey, happy enough back in Sparta, when Telemachus is searching for his Dad. Someone once wrote that it’s typical of Helen that she needs eight maids to carry her knitting...

There is a theory by early writers, including Euripides and Herodotus that Helen never actually went to Troy and was replaced there by a phantom, while she was in Egypt. (I used that idea in my humorous story “Five Ways To Start A War”, published in an anthology)

Helen appears in Medea, by Kerry Greenwood. She is a sad young woman, fed up with being passed around like a parcel, and has been raped. 

She appears in musical theatre too. Offenbach’s La Belle Helene ends with Helen and Paris running off together and as it’s Offenbach, it’s hilarious.

Aussie actor and singer the late Jon English wrote the story as a rock opera, Paris. The music is beautiful! If you can get hold of the CD, go for it. I bought mine at opening night of an amateur production which the author was attending, a huge smile on his face.

She appears also in quite a bit of fiction, including my favourite, Whom The Gods Would Destroy, by Richard Powell, but I won’t go into detail here, as I have a post planned, under W.

Film-wise, she is a character in Troy, with Orlando Bloom as Paris. )That was a film I remember particularly because of the fact that Sean Bean was Odysseus, so wasn’t killed off!)

Rosanna Podesta played the role in Helen Of Troy, in the 1950s. That was particularly interesting because she couldn’t speak English at the time, but was taught to speak her lines with a British accent! 

Let’s get on to one more major character whose name starts with H, Heracles, probably better known by his Roman name Hercules, under which he got a lot of sword and sandal movies, many of them done for laughs.

Creative Commons image

Heracles was another child of Zeus. This time Zeus respected the mother, Alcmene, enough to pose as her husband, to whom she was completely faithful. Later that night her husband turned up also wanting some playtime, and fathered Heracles’ twin, Iphicles. Poor Iphicles, it must have been tough when your brother is the big, strong one everyone admires...

Zeus’s wife Hera was not impressed with her husband’s latest lot of philandering, so made Heracles’ life miserable, despite him having been named for her. Among other things, she drove him mad and caused him to kill his wife and children. It wasn’t his fault, but as punishment her had to do the Twelve Labours, ordered by his cousin, King Eurystheus. 

Well, it was supposed to be ten, but there were two Labours Eurystheus said were cheating, because he had help with the Hydra, that five headed snake which really had to have two people to kill it, and cleaning p the Augean Stables, because he was going to be paid for the job. His last Labour involved bringing Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the Underworld(better known to modern readers as Fluffy, Hagrid’s giant dog). Cerberus terrified Eurystheus and serve him right!

Heracles was an Argonaut, but dropped out when his squire and lover Hylas was drowned. 

Heracles was a lot like his Dad, enjoying women, plural, and the occasional man. There is one story about him impregnating fifty princesses in a night! No. Don’t even think about it...

He died in the most dreadful way, when his wife, upset about his unfaithfulness, thought she could get him back by soaking his shirt in centaur blood. 

It acted like napalm. Heracles died horribly and part of him went to the Underworld , the immortal part became a god and went to Olympus.  

He appears in Kerry Greenwood’s novel Medea, which casts him in a very positive light. He’s also in Henry Treece’s novel Jason. The TV series, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, shows him travelling with his nephew Iolaus. It was very funny and had tributes to a number of films, including Jason And The Argonauts, with an episode featuring those skeletons from that film.

I don’t know of a Hercules film played seriously; I believe they are all played for laughs. 

This post is rather long, so I’ll say good night.

Tomorrow, my friends, I is for Iphigenia! 

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - G Is For Glaucus And Robert Graves

  Glaucus is the name of a number of characters in Greek mythology. One was the father of Bellerophon, the guy who rode Pegasus(see my earlier post). Not a nice man. He wanted his mares to be spirited enough to win races, so he didn’t let them breed and offended the goddess Aphrodite, who complained to Zeus that he fed them on human flesh. Anyway, she took them at night to drink from a well sacred to herself and fed them a herb, hippomanes, which sounds to me like something meaning “drives horses crazy”. The next time he harnessed them up, they attacked and ate him. That was the end of Glaucus, except he is supposed to have hung around as a ghost at the Isthmian Games, scaring the horses of competitors. Robert Graves thinks this might be about the sacred king being killed by women in horse masks at the end of his reign, which makes me think that real life was just as bad as what happened in the myths, only no actual gods involved. If he was indeed guilty of encouraging his horses to eat human meat, then his end was karma, though knowing Greek gods, Aphrodite was more interested in the no-sex rule than flesh eating. After all, she had to feed the horses drugs to drive them crazy, right?

Another Glaucus was a son of Minos and Pasiphae. The poor little boy was wandering around in the Labyrinth and was found drowned in a huge jar of honey, after a competition connected with an oracle said the man who did the best  simile for a colour changing calf would find him. A man called Polyeidus won the prize - it was like a ripening mulberry, he said - but found the prize was having to find the child, then not being let out till he figured a way to bring him back to life. This being Greek mythology, he did, when he watched a snake bring its mate back to life with a certain herb.

Young Glaucus was then taught divination, reluctantly, by Polyeidus, who took it back when he left Crete by telling the boy to spit in his mouth. Oh, well.

Glaucus And Scylla. Public Domain

There was also a Glaucus who was a sea god. He didn’t start off as one, though he may have been a demi god, a son of Poseidon. In any case, he was mortal, and is said to have noticed a certain herb or grass that brought a fish back to life. He had some and jumped off the cliff into the sea, now immortal. He lived underwater off the coast of Delos, and was known both for his oracular skills - apparently he taught Apollo himself - and for his enthusiasm for sex.

He turns up in Madeleine Miller’s Circe, as a perfectly nice young fisherman, her boyfriend for whom she organises immortality. He turns out to be thoroughly obnoxious as an immortal and when he starts dating the nymph Scylla behind her back, Circe turns her into a man-eating monster. 

Now for one G I’ve mentioned a number of times, Robert Graves. Graves was a poet and historical novelist, among other things. He wrote I, Claudius and Claudius the God, which were adapted for a brilliant TV series with Derek Jacobi in the lead role, and John Hurt as Caligula. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. I have it on DVD, but some streaming platform must have it. It was inspired by Suetonius’s The Twelve Caesars. We owe our image of the early emperors from Augustus onwards to Suetonius - and Graves. 

He wrote a novel, Homer’s Daughter, which told the story of the Odyssey from the viewpoint of Princess Nausicaa, the Phaeacian girl whose family entertained Odysseus and helped him get home. Graves believed that the Odyssey was written by a woman because it has so much feminine detail. On the other hand, it also has Telemachus talking to his mother in a manner that should have earned him a spanking if he had been younger. Very patriarchal! 

Graves was also a classicist and folklorist, who wrote The Greek Myths, a classic and maybe definitive collection, with lots of footnotes and commentaries, plenty of stuff about the Triple Goddess and the sacred king. It certainly got me into the myths, and I was in primary school at the time. My sister borrowed it four times from the library before I finished it. I still treasure my own copy. He also wrote The White Goddess, which was about a lot of stuff he used in The Greek Myths, but mostly Celtic rather than Greek. He was inspired by Frazer’s folklore classic The Golden Bough. (I have the Frazer in ebook). 

I’ll give you a link to his Wikipedia bio, because it lists all his work, including his poetry collections.

By the way, he makes an appearance in an episode of Young Indiana Jones! It’s set during World War I when Graves was fighting in France. 

Tomorrow, come back for H Is For Helen Of Troy and  Heracles.

See you then! 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

F Is For Fantasy Fiction Based on Greek Myth

 Here are some books(and one film) with Greek mythology themes and a bit of fantasy! 

Rick Riordan - Percy Jackson series.

I’ve only read a couple of these books, but they are fun and they get kids interested in Greek mythology. The hero is a son of Poseidon in the modern US. He meets and has adventures with other teenage demigods. The books were hard to keep on my library shelves. There is a film based on the first book, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. The author has written a Percy Jackson guide to the myths, so quite educational!

Circe by Madeleine Miller. Mentioned already here, plus reviewed a while back. The heroine is Circe, best known for turning men into animals, and the story is seen from her viewpoint.

The King Must Die and its sequel, The Bull From The Sea by Mary  Renault 

Absolute classics! 

Not quite fantasy, apart from the fact that Theseus, the hero, can tell when an earthquake is coming, a family trait. The first novel is the story of Theseus from childhood to his return from Crete, the sequel covers the rest of his life. The teenagers sent to Crete are all small and light, including Theseus, and are not sent to be eaten, but to train as bull dancers. The bull headed man is just a heraldic device. Minotaur is the title of the heir to the throne, like the Prince of Wales. Mind you, he’s not a nice man! 

Henry  Treece and Ken Catran. 

Henry Treece wrote a lot of children’s and YA historical novels, including  some on Greek mythology themes. I have read Oedipus, which has interpreted the myth very interestingly. It does have a flavour of Mary Renault. I have also read and enjoyed Jason, which is available on Apple Books. 

Kiwi author Ken Catran wrote Voyage With Jason, in which the voyage of the Argo is seen from the viewpoint of the ship’s cabin boy! 

Not fantasy, but the film, O, Brother, Where Art Thou, is inspired by the Odyssey. A trio of convicts escape from a chain gang in the American South during the 1930s. The main character, Ulysses, wants to get back to talk his wife, Penelope, out of marrying someone else. Along the way, they have adventures involving Sirens(women singing as they wash clothes by the river and seducing our heroes), Lotus Eaters(a group of religious folk going to the river for baptism), the Cyclops(an insane one-eyed Bible salesman) all happening among bluegrass music and folk songs. A wonderful film! 

Till We Have Faces by C.S Lewis. The story of  Cupid and Psyche, the Beauty And The Beast story told in the Roman novel The Golden Ass, as seen through the eyes of one of her sisters. I can’t tell you more without spoilers. I managed to find this in ebook, though the print book is probably well out of print. It’s not as well known as the Narnia books, but well worth a read. 

The Dancer From Atlantis by Poul Anderson. A time travel novel in which our hero and a few other people from different historical periods are swept into the time of Theseus and bull dancers. In this story, tributes are taken to Crete, not to be eaten or even necessarily as bull dancers, but to learn to live like Cretans, so that by the time they go home, they have become allies to the Cretan court. Theseus is the villain.  Oh, and it includes the Thera explosion, with the suggestion that Thera is the inspiration for Atlantis.

Wendy Orr trilogy 


Three children’s novels by Canadian/Aussie author Wendy Orr(watch out for my review of the final one, coming soon). They are not exactly connected with the myths, but they are set in the same era and there is one throwaway line about Troy in the third book. The first one, Dragonfly Song, has a fair bit of fantasy in it and features a young girl with elective mutism who goes to Crete as a tribute, to train as a bull dancer.

 The second, Swallow’s Dance, is about a girl, Leira, who escapes from the Thera explosion with her family, after her father has a scary dream. 

I’m just finishing the third,  Cuckoo’s Flight, about Leira’s granddaughter, whose father is a Trojan refugee. More about that when my review goes up. A wonderful trilogy! The first two have won awards, so I’m not the only one who thinks so.

 The Hunger Games has a theme connected to Greek myth. In the story of Theseus, the tributes are sent to Crete as a punishment for the death of a son of Minos. In The Hunger Games the tributes are sent to the Capitol as a punishment for a rebellion that happened a long time ago, which makes it clear to the Districts just who is in charge and what could still happen if they try it again. Plus Katniss offers herself as a tribute, like Theseus, and overthrows the oppressive regime. 

Anything else you can think of? 

Monday, April 05, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - E Is For Electra

 Here is one of the darker Greek myths, with murder and vengeance a-plenty. Now I think of it, there is murder and vengeance in quite a lot of the myths, but this is nasty! 

Electra is the daughter of King Agamemnon, leader of the Greek troops in the Trojan War, and his Queen, Clytemnestra, sister of Helen of Troy. She is one of three children born to the couple. One of them, Iphigenia, was sacrificed to get the winds going for the expedition. The only son was Orestes. 

I won’t go too far into the background story, which is really too sad, though, like many other myths, it’s the subject of Greek tragedies. 

Agamemnon and his family were not happy or loving, and no wonder. Agamemnon was not Clytemnestra’s first husband. He had killed her first husband, along with her baby. And then, as if that was not bad enough, he sent her a letter from where the troops were waiting for a favourable wind to get them to Troy, saying, “Good news, young Achilles wants to marry our Iphigenia, send her immediately!” 

Instead, the girl found herself being hauled up to the altar of Artemis, who was angry because Agamemnon had killed one of her deer, and murdered to get that wind going. 

As you can imagine, Clytemnestra was not happy. She started plotting with her lover, one Aegisthus, who was also not pleased with Agamemnon’s family, the Atreus clan. Atreus, father of Agamemnon, had killed off Aegisthus’s siblings and done a bit of cooking... Really, not a nice man, but neither was Aegisthus. 

When Agamemnon returned from the war, these two lovers killed him and took over the throne of Mycenae.

That left Electra and her brother Orestes to avenge their Dad, which they did, with Orestes killing Aesgisthus and Clytemnestra, with his sister’s enthusiastic encouragement. 

In those days, vengeance was generally okay and fair enough, as long as you understood the vendetta started would just keep going, but you did not, repeat, not, kill your mother under any circumstances! If you did, you were likely to be chased by these three scary snake-haired women called the Erinyes, or Furies(Roman version) though you had to refer to them as the Kindly Ones. So, although Electra had been involved, it was only Orestes who suffered from their punishment, going mad. Don’t you love this painting? There is the murdered Clytemnestra, knife through her, with the three goddesses of vengeance yelling something like, “Look what you’ve done, you little sh-t!”

Orestes and the Furies - Public Domain

Eventually, there is a trial by the gods of Olympus, and Orestes is pardoned. 

I recommend a novel by Kerry Greenwood, Electra, part of the Delphic Women trilogy. In this version, Electra’s hatred for her mother and Aegisthus is explained by his having raped her, and her mother doing nothing about it. Orestes is, in fact, her child, not her brother. She is helped to escape by Trojan Princess Cassandra who, in this novel, didn’t get killed by Clytemnestra. It’s a lovely book, available with the other two novels in the trilogy, Medea and Cassandra, on the Clan Destine Press web site. Here is the link.

It’s available much cheaper in ebook on the Apple Books site. If you want it in Kindle you may be out of luck, but buy it in print if you can. 

You can probably read it without having read either of the other two books, but they, too, are worth a read.

Tomorrow - Fantasy and Greek Myths!

Sunday, April 04, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021: D Is For Daedalus

 The heroes of Greek myth are generally royalty of one kind or another. Daedalus was a member of the Athenian royal family. He was a genius craftsman, and nice to know that in those days members of a royal family were allowed to practise a trade. 

He was not a nice man; it was killing his young nephew Talos that got him into trouble and sent him fleeing fromAthens. Talos, Daedalus’s apprentice, apparently invented the saw. This made Daedalus jealous, so he pushed him off the Acropolis. You can find this story, by the way, dramatised in the Greek Myths section of Jim Henson’s series The Storyteller, told by Michael Gambon. It also tells the story we know best, that of Icarus. I’ve found it on Amazon Prime, if you’re interested.

But Daedalus was a genius. When he fled Athens, he ended up for some time living at the court of Minos of Crete, where he was made welcome for his skills. He must have been there for a while, because that’s where his beloved son Icarus was born. He also had time to design the Labyrinth, where the Minotaur was imprisoned and girls and boys sent to be eaten. (Well, that’s the myth, anyway. In Mary Renault’s novel The King Must Die, the Labyrinth was the name of the palace complex)

Another commission he had, which got him into huge trouble, was from the Queen, Pasiphae, sister of Circe. Greek myths have a lot of dirty stories, not surprising in a religion that had such randy gods. There was a white bull from the sea, sent by sea god Poseidon to Minos, when he promised to sacrifice it. It was such a very pretty bull, though, that Minos kept it. 

Goodness knows why Poseidon supplied his own sacrifice, but a promise was a promise and Poseidon got his revenge by making Pasiphae develop a crazy passion for the bull and... well, she was a goddess, after all, but even a goddess might find it a bit hard to do bestiality with a bull without help. 

That’s where Daedalus came in. He built her a wooden cow that let her climb in and receive the attentions of the bull from the sea. By the time Minos found out that she had almost literally crowned him with horns, the baby was born, a boy with a bull’s head. 

Personally I can’t see any logic in feeding a semi-bull meat, as cattle are herbivores, right? But there are man-eating horses in other myths, so what the heck. 

Daedalus was again in trouble. Being a genius craftsman, he prepared for his escape with his son. This is the best- known story,of course, but I’ll tell it anyway. 

Daedalus built feathered wings for both of them, with the feathers stuck to wax. He warned the boy to follow him and not fly too high, but boys will be boys and like a teenager doing wheelies he just had to fly high, so the sun melted the wax and down he came, drowning. 

Daedalus had several more adventures, even ending up using some of his gadgets to kill Minos, who had followed him. He sort of had a happy ending, settling in Sardinia.

I’m including here a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, because I love this one. Notice the 16th century landscape and ships at sea, with everybody just getting on with their everyday work while, in the bottom right hand side of the painting, Icarus’s legs are sticking out of the water as he drowns.

Brueghel Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus, public domain 

Here is a link to Auden’s poem, Musee Des Beaux Arts,  partly inspired by this painting.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Comment Additional

Drat! It won't let me switch on Captcha, so for now I'll see how I go with the spam. Two days to see how much spam I get, then back to normal if it's too much.

On Comments For This Month

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I accept comments from people with Google accounts, no anonymous comments. Last year I changed briefly to "anyone can comment", only to find myself overwhelmed with spam.I do still get some soam, but very littlecand I deal with it in my "owner spproval" box. However, someone whose blog I visited said they couldn't comment, so... I'm going to try an experiment. I'll change my setting to "anyone" but also switch on the CAPTCHA thing. if that still gets me spam, I'll go back to normal.

Friday, April 02, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge: C Is For Circe!


John William Waterhouse. Public Domain

The goddess Circe, daughter of Helios the sun god and an ocean nymph, appears in a lot of poems, including Ovid’s Metamorphoses,  the Aeneid and the Argonautica, some ancient Greek plays and at least one novel, by Madeleine Miller, which I read and reviewed here.  She is the sister of Pasiphae, mother of the Minotaur, and Aeetes, king of Colchis and father of Medea, who turned up on Circe’s island Aeaea, on her way back to Greece with her lover Jason.

She is best known, though, for her appearance in the Odyssey. Her home Aeaea is full of wild beasts, wolves and lions, who, as Odysseus and his crew discover, are transformed sailors who had visited the island and made the mistake of accepting Circe’s hospitality. (In the Miller novel, it’s punishment for a group of sailors who had raped her.)

Odysseus, on his way back from Troy, stops by the island and allows some of his men shore leave. Led by the ship’s first mate, Eurylochus, they explore and find themselves being greeted by a beautiful woman, Circe, who is singing at her loom. She offers them dinner, which is drugged. Eurylochus is suspicious and stays outside the house, where he sees Circe turn his shipmates into pigs and hurries back to warn Odysseus. Luckily, Odysseus has some help from a few gods, including Hermes, the trickster god, who gives him a magical herb called moly, which will keep him safe from transformation. 

I’m sure quite a lot of women will feel that it wouldn’t have been too far a stretch between the sailors and pigdom, especially when you consider their behaviour in the rest of the Odyssey. Still, they are Odysseus’s lads and he isn’t going to abandon them. 

So, he marches up to the house, accepts the offer of dinner and, much to Circe’s dismay, isn’t affected by her magic, due to the moly. He threatens her, then sleeps with her on her promise not to harm him and to turn back all those enchanted sailors, including his men.

Odysseus stays with her for a while, long enough to father three sons, including the one who will eventually kill him. At this point, Circe gives him information and advice so he can get home safely. One of the places he must go is past Scylla’s rock, where six of his men are seized and eaten. The irony is that the monster Scylla is there in the first place because Circe turned her into one, over a man, for goodness’ sake! 

Circe eventually marries Odysseus’s son Telemachus, after Odysseus’s death. I suppose we could say she more or less lives happily ever after, which is more than can be said for Odysseus, or, for that matter, his men, who are all dead by the time he gets home to his Penelope. 

Stick around for my next post, on Monday, which is D is for Daedalus!  

Thursday, April 01, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - B Is For Bellerophon!

 This is the story of a man, a monster and a winged horse. 

Public domain

Bellerophon was a grandson of Sisyphus, the crafty character who so annoyed the gods that he ended up rolling a stone up a hill in the underworld, only to have it roll back eternally.

 Bellerophon started his adventures by killing two people, including his own brother. In the Greek myths, this doesn’t always lead to punishment and doesn’t always make you a villain. He ran away and took refuge with a King called Proetus, whose wife Anteia fancied him and, when he said no, did a Potiphar’s wife and accused him of rape to her husband. Proetus didn’t want to kill a guest, but did want to get rid of him, so sent him to his father in law, King Iobates, with a sealed note asking him to kill the bearer for what he had done. 

But the guest thing was strong in that part of the world. You just didn’t kill your guest. Iobates figured a fight with a monster would do the trick, so asked him nicely if he’d very much mind killing the Chimaera, a fire breathing female monster who was part lion, part goat and part snake. Robert Graves thinks she was a symbol of the seasons, though frankly, if a fire breathing monster was heading my way, I wouldn’t stop to worry about whether she was a symbol. 

Public domain 

Neither did Bellerophon. But he wasn’t stupid. He got himself something to help. The goddess Athena gave him a golden bridle, which he used to catch the winged horse Pegasus. You may have seen Pegasus in Clash Of The Titans, only in that film he was ridden by Perseus on his quest to kill the Gorgon Medusa. Pegasus doesn’t belong to that story, except that he sprang from Medusa’s blood, but when you have Ray Harryhausen doing special effects, you don’t worry too much. 

Bellerophon rode his winged steed and killed the Chimaera with a spear that had lead on the end, which melted in her own fire and ran down her throat. 

As Bellerophon came back alive from that quest, Iobates came up with some more little jobs for him. He survived the lot.

Finally, Iobates became curious and asked Bellerophon for his side of the Anteia story, apologised and gave him his other daughter in marriage. 

Because this is Greek myth, not a fairy tale, it didn’t end up happily ever after. Bellerophon got cocky enough to ride Pegasus to Olympus. Zeus sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus, who reared and flung off his rider. Bellerophon survived, but was injured and blinded and ended up wandering the earth alone and miserable. As for Pegasus, he ended up as Zeus’s pack horse to carry his thunderbolts.

You can decide if that was an honour or not. 

Tomorrow I will be telling you about the goddess Circe and putting in links to some connected fiction.