Sunday, January 22, 2012

TFBT; Nerites, the Father of Love

Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was born of the severed genitals of the primordial sky-god Uranus when his son Cronus tossed them into the barren sea. Foam-born Aphrodite came to life among the gentle sea deities of the Aegean. Being born without a mother is not such an odd occurrence in Greek mythology. Athena sprang forth from Zeus brow fully grown and fully armed. Dionysus was born of his father Zues’ thigh. Even the ancient sea-god Nereus might claim to be motherless. (See “Hesiod’s Cosmos” by Jenny Strauss Clay page 21)

According to Aelian, (On Animals 14. 28 ff) Nereus, “the old man of the sea” wed Doris of the lovely hair, daughter of Oceanus. To them were born 50 daughters; the Nereids, and one son; Nerites. Nerites was the most beautiful of men and gods. He served as Poseidon’s charioteer. When he drove his chariot over the waves, great monsters of the deep, dolphins and sons of Triton, sprang up from the deep, galloping and dancing alongside the chariot. His escort would be promptly left behind as over the smooth-spread waves coursed his cerulean steeds. His sisters sported on the peaceful sea while he raced across the wine red sea driving a team of four steeds yoked together. His abilities as a charioteer were so great that Helios came to resent the swiftness of the boy and his team. The Sun god was not Nerites’ only admirer. Aphrodite also delighted to be with Nerites in the Agean and loved him. When Zeus, the Father of the gods summonded, Aphrodite to be enrolled among the Olympians, she wished to bring her play-fellow. But Nerites refused, preferring life with his sisters and parents to Olympos.

At which point Aphrodite departed her watery world and entered ours;

"To sea-set Kypros the moist breath of Zephrys wafted her over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, and there the gold-filleted Horai welcomed her joyously… And with her went Eros (Love), and comely Himeros (Desire) followed her at her birth at the first and as she went into the assembly of the gods. (Hesiod, Theogony 176 ff)
Eros is most often considered Aphrodite’s son and the “youngest” of the gods, but how came he to be present at his mother’s birth. That is to say, stepped ashore for the first time. And who was his father?

Poets suggested many answers including; Ares, Zephyrus and Poros. Aaron J. Atsma at says, “Hesiod may be suggesting that Eros and Himeros were born of Aphrodite at her birth. Indeed, according to Sappho, Uranus was the father of Eros by Aphrodite, which suggests she was imagined born pregnant with the god. Nonnus says this explicitly.” There is no myth associating Ares and Aphrodite prior to her ascension to Olympus. The only myth about Zephyrus and her is at the moment of her departure from the sea. Poros is more of a philosophical abstract. Rather than the double monogenesis formed by the Uranus option, I’d perfer to use Occam’s Razor to finish off the hydra-headed question of Eros’ paternity and suggest simply Aphrodite’s foster brother Nerites.

As noted above the goddess and the handsome godling were lovers. And the “beds of the gods are not unfulfilled" to quote Lyons in “Gender and Mortality” Hence in picture at the top of the page, "The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli, Aphrodite arriving on her half shell must have already been pregnant with Himeros and with Eros, the bow-packing little cherub commonly called Cupid.

Making Nerites the father of “the god of sensual love, who bears sway over the inhabitants of Olympus as well as over men and all living creatures: he tames lions and tigers, breaks the thunderbolts of Zeus, deprives Heracles of his arms, and carries on his sport with the monsters of the sea”. (Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology)

(Video presentation available at  )

Sunday, January 15, 2012

TFBT' Five Reasons for Fighting the Fates

He cried: 'Though all the Olympians banded come in wrath, and rouse against me all the sea, I will escape them!' - Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 14. 594

Classical literature is full of mortals who thought themselves better than the gods, challenged, taunted or attempted to make fools of the gods. Capaneus challenging Zeus on the walls of Thebes, Salmoneus claiming divine honors, Lesser Ajax bragging that Athena couldn’t kill him above, Lycaon testing the divinity of Zeus by serving a slaughtered child--got a thunderbolt as rewards for their hubris. Others, like Tantalus, Niobe and Sisyphus got even worse rewards.

James C. Hogan and David J Schenker in “Challenging Otherness” do a great job of reciting the long list of humans who actually, physically went up against the gods (Olympians). However, their fine paper did not lineate exactly how much over-familiarity or lunacy it takes to face a possible lightning bolt.

I would like to discuss a few specific reasons why “mortals” think they can get away with going to fisty-cuffs with a god. Specifically we will discuss;
 The hero mistakenly thinks he is a god.
 The hero is the strongest man in the world.
 The hero thinks he can win the confrontation because it is only a water deity.
 Or divine monster descended from a water deity
 The hero thinks “It’s only a nature spirit.”

The Theban Deities
The old gods; the Titans challenged the Olympians. The monstrous Typhon and two races of giants, also took a shot at All-Powerful Zeus and his extended family, with various degrees of near success. Shoot, the Aeloids were half-human. The winged daughters of the River God Achelous; the Sirens and the Satyr Marsyas contested the gods. In early classical mythology there seems a thin line between the gods and men. As though gods were just some slightly stronger, slightly more power group of people. The royal house of Thebes seems in particular to over step the bounds of insanity as demonstrated by Niobe’s speech;

“What lunacy makes you prefer a fabled god’, she said, `To gods you see? Latona, why should her shrine be revered, when my divinity lacks incense still? My father’s Tantalus, the only mortal gods in heaven allowed to share their banquet-board. My mother ranks as sister of the Pleiades. That great giant, Atlas, whose shoulders bear the circling sky, is one grandfather; Jupiter the other, my husband’s father too I’m proud to say. The Phrygian nation fears me. I am mistress of Cadmus’ royal house; our city’s walls, built by my husband’s music,” -Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 165

Niobe makes a valid point. Her father was a drinking buddy with the King of Olympus. Zeus counted as grandfather and father-in-law to her. Her husband was all by a god on the lyre and her mother ranked as a Titaness. Her brother Pelops rose from the dead. Why should she not consider herself equal to the Leto?

Likewise the rest of the royal house has cause to consider themselves a little bit better than mortal. Not only did Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, defeater of Typhon (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 4. 393) and brother-in-law of Zeus, wed the daughter of two Olympians, and two of his daughters were goddesses. Whom Pindar in the Olympian Ode II refers to as, "Daughters of Cadmus; Semele from your high place amidst the queens of heaven, and Ino Leukothea, you who dwell by the immortal sea-nymphs,” Additionally, his grandson Dionysius was an Olympian, grandson Melicertes was worshipped throughout the whole of Greece (Cicero, De Natura Deorum 331) and son-in-law Aristaeus was a god per Chiron and Pindar. (Pythian Ode IX) And of course, Heracles was a member of the royal house of Thebes

That being said, being related to a god doesn’t mean that you are a god as Tantalus, Niobe and Pentheus (bold despiser of the gods) all found out the hard way. But, it might give justification to the belief you can get away with effrontery to the Olympians.

Strongest Man in the World
Heracles beat, shot or generally roughed up a good portion of the Olympic clan as well as the Giants and myriad divine monsters in Greek mythology. He wrestles with Apollo until parted by their father. Pluto and Hera are wounded by his arrows. Heracles was the strongest mortal who ever lived. When Diomedes raged across the battlefield at Troy taking on goddesses, gods and men, he was the second strongest man among the Greeks Homer, Iliad 6.115). Idas when he battled with Apollo for Marpessa was the strongest man in the world at the time.

"Cleopatra daughter of sweet-stepping Marpessa, child of Euenos and Idas, who was the strongest of all men upon earth in his time; for he even took up the bow to face the King's onset, Phoebus Apollo, for the sake of the sweet-stepping maiden; -Homer, Iliad 9. 556 ff

Aloadai versus the Gods (They would have won if they’d started the war when the were a little older.)   Homer, Odyssey 11. 30 I saw Aloeus' wife; she was Iphimedeia, whose boast it was to have lain beside Poseidon. She bore him two sons, though their life was short--Otos the peer of the gods and far-famed Ephialtes; these were the tallest men, and the handsomest, that ever the fertile earth has fostered, save only incomparable Orion; at nine years of age their breadth was nine cubits, their height nine fathoms. They threatened the Deathless Ones themselves--to embroil Olympos in all the fury and din of war. And so indeed they might have done had they reached the full measure of their years, but the god that Zeus begot and lovely-haired Leto bore [Apollon] destroyed them both before the first down could show underneath their brows and overspread and adorn their cheeks."

In short the “Strongest Man in World” could get away with challenging divinity, could actually come to blows with a god and survive.

Water Deities
Mortals who challenged water deities seemed to have little to fear. If Peleus and Menelaus can get away with roughing up one of these deities why not any other god?

Then with a shout we rushed upon him and locked our arms about him; but the ancient god had not forgotten his craft and cunning. He became in turn a bearded lion, a snake, a panther, a monstrous boar; then running water, then a towering and leafy tree; but we kept our hold, unflinching and undismayed, and in the end this master of dreaded secrets began to tire. So he broke into speech and asked outright: `Son of Atreus, which of the gods taught you this strategy, to entrap and overpower me thus? What do you want from me?’ -Homer, Odyssey 4. 448

A mortal thinks he can win the confrontation because it’s only a water deity.

Divine Monsters
Argus slew the Mother of All Monsters; Echidna. The King of Thebes Oedipus defeated the foster child of Hera; the Sphinx. Both the above being descendants of the sea deities Pontus, Porcus and Ceto. Odysseus and Orpheus trumped the Sirens, the (no longer winged) daughters of the River god Achelous. Perseus roughed up the Graea and Gorgons, grand-daughters of Pontus.

Raising their swords, the two sons of Boreas flew off in pursuit. Zeus gave them indefatigable strength; indeed, without his aid, there could have been no chase, for whenever the Harpies came to Phineus’ house or left it they outstripped the storm winds from the West. But Zetes and Calais very nearly caught them. They even touched them, though to little purpose, with their finger-tips, like a couple of keen hounds on a hillside, hot on the track of a horned goat or a deer, pressing close behind the quarry and snapping at the empty air. Yet even with Heaven against them, the long chase would certainly have ended in their tearing the Harpies to pieces when they overtook them at the Floating Isle, but for Iris of the swift feet, who when she saw them leapt down from Olympus through the sky and checked them -Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2:262-

Zetes and Calais could have chased the Harpies to death, daughters of another ancient water deity called Thaumas. All these monsters were intellect beings, often friends or minions of the Olympians. Myths and legends abound of heroes slaying monsters; hence other men might think it possible.

Minor Nature Deities
The lower classes of gods did not appear so threatening. Haven’t men slain violent tritons?

"[At Tanagra, Boeotia] …It says the Triton would waylay and lift all the cattle that were driven to the sea. He used even to attack small vessels, until the people of Tanagra set out for him a bowl of wine. They say that, attracted by the smell, he came at once, drank the wine, flung himself on the shore and slept, and that a man of Tanagra struck him on the neck with an axe and chopped off his head. -Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 20.5

Have not mortal men subdued centaurs, defeated satyrs and ravished nymphs. If these gods were not invincible why would mortal men be sure the Olympians were?

A hero can boldly challenge a god in hopes of victory for five possible reasons;
Ÿ His connection to a divine family justifies the belief he can get away with effrontery to the Olympians.
Ÿ The “Strongest Man in World” could get away with challenging divinity, could actually come to blows with a god and survive.
Ÿ A mortal thinks he can win the confrontation because it is only a water deity.
Ÿ Myths and legends abound of heroes slaying monsters; hence other men might think it possible
Ÿ If these minor nature deities were not invincible, why would a hero be sure the Olympians were?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TFBT; To Lead Mankind in Revolt against Zeus

The intent of this paper is to document the Promethean revolt against Zeus discussed in the first two chapters of Anthony M. Ludovici’s “Man's Decent from the Gods". Like Ludovici, most readers would agree that in “Prometheus Bound“ Aeschylus’ Prometheus is the protector of mankind and a blameless hero”. Zeus on the other hand, the poet villianized as the “arch-oppressor.” The premise of Ludovici’s first two chapters boils down to a question in which he follows Professor Blackie,

“ … Prometheus appears as the most oppressed of martyrs, and Zeus
as the most unjust of tyrants, the question arises how an Athenian
audience, could tolerate such a representation ?"
Zeus appears extravagant in his wrath regarding culture-hero's deed, and inflicts upon the Titan a cruel and savage punishment. But Prometheus apparently conferred a benefit upon mankind. He gave them a coveted power, fire. Was this a deed that could be justly rewarded with the excruciating punishment?

Prometheus (Forethought) was one of the Iapetides, the brothers that lead the younger Titans in the ten-year war against the Olympian. He switched sides at some point taking along his brother Epimetheus. Prometheus, was first cousin to Zeus and brother to the fallen Titan leader s Atlas and Menoetius. Ludovici suggests that Prometheus was a perfect blend of the two races. All the second generation Titians who fought against the Olympian were the sons of nymphs rather than the sons of Titanesses. Ludovici refers to Prometheus as a turncoat and a traitor. “In the Theogony, even before his tricks are disclosed, Hesiod refers to him as a matter of course as " clever Prometheus, full of various wiles” Ludovici adds that Prometheus was “ believed to surpass mankind in cunning and fraud shows him, from the first, to be curiously associated with the mankind.” Ludovici suggest that he was even playing for popularity among men and suspect his aspiration to lead mankind in a revolt against Zeus

Ludovici suggests that, following the end of the Titanomachy before the division of spoils at Mecone, mankind lived an idyllic life, where the living was easy and wild food abundant. After Prometheus tricked Zeus into taking the worst part of the sacrifice for the gods (or after Zeus allowed himself to be tricked), Zeus removed fire from the earth and made life much harder. The “once and for always” agreement made at Mecone did not end up being the best for mankind. At which point Ludovici comments, “Outwitted by Zeus at Mecone, and finding himself even less popular than before with mankind because by identifying himself with them he made their position worse than previous … now makes his highest bid for popularity among the ignorant and inferior men. Thwarted and desperate, he resolves to reinstate himself in their favor by any means, at all costs. “

At which point Prometheus stole fire from Heaven. Either from Helios’s chariot or Hephaestus furnace. Both of whom are the most marginalized of the Olympian gods. (See my article “Friendship Amongst the Gods.”)
Zeus retaliates with the creation of Pandora; a mortal woman full of the gods’ gifts. She weds Epimetheus and shortly thereafter “Pandora then lifted the lid of the vessel in which the foresight of Prometheus concealed all the evils which might torment mortals in life, and diseases and suffering of every kind now issued forth” I always wondered how they got into to there.

Consequently, “the stealing of fire, with all its consequences, was by no means an unmixed blessing to those for whom it was stolen. We encounter this Promethean spirit, as the wrecker of mankind's happiness on earth. Ludovici suggests that knowledge of Prometheus crimes against humanity is why Plato’s twenty thousand friendly faces at the drama tolerated Zeus cruelty to the fallen Titan. He deserved it. Ludovici argues that “ The Greeks loved and revered Zeus very much more than they loved and revered Prometheus. Does not Hesiod speak of Zeus as the most excellent among the gods, as the father who distributed fairly to the immortals their portions and declared their privileges,”

Prometheus was chained to Mount Caucasus, by Cratos and Bia and tormented by an eagle every day devouring his liver that was restored in the night.

Ludovici therefore concludes that “the punishment of Prometheus, cruel as it was, appeared just and well- deserved to the ancient Greek mind…because; “1. “…of the infinite trust the ancient Greek had in the wisdom and justice of Zeus.
2. “…the career of crime imputed to Prometheus, in which Zeus figures not only as an outraged god, but also as a benevolent power who ultimately pardons the deceiver3. “…while in the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus we have only one section of a trilogy …. How do we know what the other parts of the trilogy contained, what balance they struck between the myths’ two principal figures Zeus and Prometheus and how much they modified the impression made by the Prometheus Bound?” Greek choruses are notorious for the sympathy they show the character on the stage; most disturbingly in “Medea”

Ludovici tried to show, the crimes of the Titan Prometheus proved a disaster to mankind, and that benevolent Zeus was conceived by the Athenian audiences at the dramas as being so deeply outraged by their suffering.“Zeus, therefore, stands for the sound principle in Greek life, for the beneficent power meaning well by man ; Prometheus stands for the reverse, for the malign power the power that descends to any shift, however base, in order to satisfy the blind Promethean ambition”

Note; There is some argument to the notion that “men” were mightier than gods. At least in the case of demi-gods. See James C.Hogan and David J. Scheneker; Challenging Otherness. In which they list a number of mortals who got the better of various gods. And my paper “Five Reasons to Fight the Fates”.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

TFBT: The Gospel at Colonus

I just watched the DVD I got for Christmas of "The Gospel at Colonus". Wow! Incredible! Moving! Top quality performance and production values. OMG! I don't know who the intend audience was? How many people are interested in Gospel music and Greek tragedies? There is a brightly garbed Gospel choir dressed up as the Grecian chorus. There are as many as 8 performances protraying Oedipus at any given time. It is amazing and inspiring. Most of the performers are actually weeping during and after the death scene. Unbelieveable. The cast had to be as big as the audience! Wow!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

TFBT: The Ten Greatest Mythologists of our Age

“Mythologist” is sort of an old fashion word. These researchers of The Iliad and Greek Mythology might be called Philologists, Classicists, Latinists or professors, scholars, researchers or lecturers of Classical Studies. And yes, this is only my uncredentialed opinion.

1) Aaron J. Atsma

Aaron J Atsma of Auckland, New Zealand is the creator and web-master of
This is a magnificent site I visit all the time. It is well written and well organized. All articles include the source material in common translation. As the name implies, Atsma’s research centers on the Greek divinities. His interpretation of myths, particularly in correspondences is often lacking a classical reference, but they induce that intuitive “Aha!” that helps make so much sense of the topic at hand.

2) Jenny Strauss-Clay

Jenny Strauss-Clay is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Classics at the University of Virginia she received degrees from Reed College, the University of Chicago and the University of Washington I find her writing clear, concise and thought provoking. I revisit her works constantly. Her works includ;
Hesiod's Cosmos Cambridge University Press, 2003. Which I refer to constantly and think is a requirement for anyone wanting to understand one of the foundation documents of Classical Studies.
· The Wrath of Athena: Gods and Men in the Odyssey. Princeton University Press, 1983. Reprint, Rowman and Littlefield, 1996.
· The Politics of Olympus: Form and Meaning in the Major Homeric Hymns. Princeton University Press. 1989.
Her articles include;
The Dais of Death Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol. 124, (1994), pp. 35-40
· The Generation of Monsters in Hesiod Classical Philology, Vol. 88, No. 2 (Apr., 1993), pp. 105-116
She has a website at

3) NS Gill

N.S. Gill is a Latinist and freelancer. She writes about ancient history and classics for N.S. Gill has a B.A. in Latin and an M.A. in linguistics at the University of Minnesota.
Her website is at Her site is well linked and covers a broad range of classical topics. I subscribed ages ago and get constant lively interesting updates.

4) Ian C. Johnston

Ian Johnston is a retired instructor (now a Research Associate) at Vancouver Island University (the new name for Malaspina College), Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. He received a BS from McGills in Geology and Chemistry, BA from Bristols in English and Greek and MA from Toronto in Engineering. Johnston has written about almost everything and translated books on the rest of everything. His books include
The Ironies of War: An introduction to Homer’s Iliad University Press of America (1988)
His articles include as brilliant series of essays on Homer’s Iliad
· Essay 1: Homer's War
· Essay 2: Homer's Similes: Nature as Conflict
· Essay 3: The Gods
· Essay 4: The Heroic Code
· Essay 5: Arms and the Men
· Essay 6: Hector and Achilles
· Essay 7: Homer and the Modern Imagination
· Essay 8: On Modern English Translations of the Iliad
Ian Johnston’s website is at It is designed to provide curricular material for various courses in literature and Liberal Studies. Johnston writes on myriad topics in addition to classical studies and all the articles at his website are thought provoking and professional.

5) Deborah Lyons

Deborah Lyons is an Associate Professor in the Department of Classics Miami University, her education was at Princeton University -- M.A. 1983; Ph.D. 1989. Her books include
· Gender and Immortality: Heroines in Ancient Greek Myth and Cult. Princeton University Press (1997). She covers a wide range of topics and is thought provoking.
Her articles include;
· The Sexual Life of Satyrs by F. Lissarrague and “One, Two, Three...Eros” by J.-P. Vernant in Before Sexuality, Princeton University Press, 1990.
Her website is

6) Gregory Nagy

Gregory Nagy is a professor of Classics at Harvard University, and the director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, a Harvard school in Washington DC. He is the Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard, and continues to teach half-time at the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He studied at Indiana University and Harvard receiving his PhD in Classical Philology and Linguistics in 1966. I find Professor Nagy inspiring! The handful of his books I’ve read from the library which is his total writings, are approachable, readable, instructive and full of insights. Nagy’s books include;
The Best Of The Achaeans; Concepts Of The Hero In Archaic Greek Poetry Johns Hopkins University Press (1981) This is another book I refer to constantly and found quite enlightening.
Greek Mythology and Poetics Cornell University Press (1992)
His articles include;
· Phaethon, Sappho's Phaon, and the White Rock of Leukas Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 77, (1973), pp. 137-177
Homeric Questions Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol. 122, (1992), pp. 17-60
I strongly urge you to take the free on-line extension offered by Harvard and taught by Professor Nagy and Kevin McGrath
Other websites include
The Center for Hellenic Studies, and a webpage at Harvard's Classics department under faculty profiles.

7) Carlos Parada

Carlos Parada is a former lecturer in Classics at Lund University in Sweden. His books include
Genealogical Guide to Greek Mythology Coronet Books (1993)
His website is Greek Mythology Link This is an incredible well organized, heavily linked depository of everything dealing with Greek mythology. The complexity and thoroughness of his efforts are unbelievable and incredibly valuable.

8) Ruth Scodel

Ruth Scodel is the D. R. Shackleton Bailey Collegiate Professor of Greek and Latin at the University of Michigan. She studied at Harvard University 1973-1978, Ph.D. June 1978
University of California, Berkeley 1969-1973 A.B. June 1973. I’ve found her writing refreshing and offering unique perspectives. Her books include
Listening to Homer University of Michigan Press (2009)
Her articles include;
Apollo's Perfidy: Iliad ω 59-63 Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 81, (1977), pp. 55-57
· The Gods' Visit to the Ethiopians in "Iliad" 1 Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 103, (2007), pp. 83-98
The Suitors' Games The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 122, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 307-327
The Word of Achilles Classical Philology, Vol. 84, No. 2 (Apr., 1989), pp. 91-99
The Wits of Glaucus Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol. 122, (1992), pp. 73-84
· The Achaean Wall and the Myth of Destruction Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 86, (1982), pp. 33-50
Her website can be found at

9) Laura Slatkin

Laura Slatkin is a professor at New York University (Gallatin School). She is also currently visiting professor on the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. She was educated with B.A. Classics, Harvard University, 1968, M.A. Classics, University of Cambridge, 1970, Ph.D. Classical Philology, Harvard University, 1979. I find her writing clear, concise and convincing.
Her articles include; Gender and Homer Epic (with Nancy Felson) in the Cambridge Companion to Homer, Robert Fowler editor. I loved that line “men, women, gods and goddesses, working out their very different fortunes in a universe win which kleos (glory) is the highest value." I like how this article takes a different prespective on Homer’s two greatest poems by contrasting the relationships of the genders in each.
“Notes on Tragic Visualizing in the Iliad” also. I appreciate your insights into seeing, particularly the thought that the mist that veils the divinities from mortals correlates to the final mist that covers the eyes of us. You really piqued my interest with the discussion on Achilles' sight.
. Her books include; The Power of Thetis University of California Press (1995). I simply adore this book and think it gave me a greater understanding of The Iliad and swift-footed Achilles than any other book I read.

10) Venessa James

Vanessa James is associate professor and chair of theatre arts at Mount Holyoke College. She was educated at University of Bristol, England, C.I.D and Wimbledon College of Art, Dip. AD James is another author who writes on myriad topics.
Her books include;
The Genealogy of Greek Mythology: An Illustrated Family Tree of Greek Mythology from the First Gods to the Founders of Rome Penguin Group, USA (2003) This accordion-style book, includes a full genealogy as well as color illustrations and stories about Greek gods. It perfect for those of us who need handy visual and textual materials when studying relationship amongst mythological characters. Of course, I am one of those people who can read a genealogy table.
Her website is at


Sunday, January 1, 2012

TLtS: A Garden

“Buttercups heart was a secret garden and the wall (hedge)was very tall.” -William Goldman in the Princess Bride.

This way of looking at the world is based on a concept as old as the Garden of Eden. That our hearts are secret gardens surrounded by tall hedges. We can perceive our small world as hedged off from the greater world and each thing in the secret garden; flowing fountain, apple bearing tree, woman at the well, as symbols and ways of interpreting the events of our day-to-day lives.

Under the red sky of first dawn

Stand a large blooming fruit tree.

Her tips reach up into the sky.

Her trunk down to world and sea.

Who sits beneath the apple tree?

She is Magdaline, the fairy.

The tree in the morning light casts

a cool oasis for her soul.

Her heart is a secret garden,

its hedges thick and high, we know.

Through this strip of green herbage, strewn

between home and the wild unknown,

strode the thirsting hero Odin,

whom her mother had forbidden.

“Once in my youth, I gave, poor fool,

a warrior apples and water

and may I die before you cool

such thirst as his, my daughter”

M&R:It’s Not in my Nature

I could smell our husbands sneak into the A-frame cabin. They’d extinguished the little campfire out front after our sons settled down in their sleeping bags. The boys slept atop a bed of fallen oak leaves. It was their first “camp out”. I’d just finished reading the girls a bedtime story in the loft. My sister-in-law Roxanne was quietly lighting fire. It wasn’t cold yet, but she thought it would be fun. I’m sorry; it’s not in my nature to think positively. I, positively, thought our men folk should leave their clothes on the front porch and hit the showers before huddling with Roxanne and I around the glass-fronted fireplace. They reeked of wood smoke; acrid and stinging.

I was just about to say so, when Roxanne grabbed her husband by the lapels of his charcoal gray wool jacket. She breathed deep as she snuggled up against the cotton shirt that covered his swimmer’s chest. The top couple of buttons were always undone so his shirt could accommodate his impossibly wide shoulders. Her flaming auburn hair rested upon his exposed smooth white skin and up against his dimpled chin. “I love the smell of wood smoke.” She sighed. “It brings back such good memories.” Both men nodded enthusiastically in agreement.

My own husband heard the click of my heels striking the rough-hewn steps. He smiled as he looked up. He always smiles when I enter the room. I just had to smile back. “What memories?” I asked lightly as I offered my left hand to my beloved. He helped me on down the steps. He kissed my hand lightly with mustached lips as I drifted to his side. It wasn’t the usual glacial smooth, bejeweled and manicured feature he was use to, we were roughing it here at the Scamanders’ summer cabin, but he kissed it just as reverently and passionately. I did a double take. My hirsute hubby can still delight me.

“I want to hear the boys’ memories first!” Roxanne announced as though she’d just discovered a brand new game. She lead us all to the dark brown leather sofas light by the token fire.

I never get use to Roxanne without heavy makeup and gaudy, er I mean heavy jewelry. However, in such moments I always realize that her true beauty, the reason why everyone loves her, lies in her big smile, her joy of living, her love of everyone and the ample bosom and wide flung arms that so embrace life.

Once settled in and cuddled up to our hubbies, she says, “John first.” There was no reason to assume Stan would go first!

“Boy scouts.” He replies with a quick grin.

“Are we thinking of some particular evening around the troops campfire?

He blushed. That got us all interested!

“We use to do skits around the campfire. One of the skits that the older boys.” John indicated himself, “did was a stunt involving the newest boys to the troop; the old What’s the first thing you’d take off if you were going swimming? The joke is, you get some newbie out in front of everyone, sit him down and then cover him with a rain poncho. You ask him the question, he tosses out his shoes. You ask him What’s the next thing you’d take off if you were going swimming? He tosses out his socks. You keep it up until he is down to his breeches. Then you say, Actually, the first thing you’d take off is the stupid poncho. While you pull the poncho off of him.”

“That’s awful!” Roxanne laughs as she waves the offensive thought away with a downward thrust of her open hand. Then settles back in to the crook of her husband’s muscular right arm. Stan and I smile approvingly.

“So, when I was one of the older boys, we came up with a twist. We’d all grown up in the “Hawk Patrol”. As we got older, we and our brothers took over three additional patrols. Now if we were pulling the trick on our younger brothers or cousins in our patrols, everyone would be suspicious. But, once upon a time, I’d gotten to be good friends with Thor, a big blonde boy who’d grown up in the “Viking Patrol”. The Vikings had taken over the remaining patrols. I got Thor in on the plot and he recruited an innocent little newbie cousin of his. We also let the scoutmaster in on the joke. That night we called up two newbies rather than the traditional one. For some reason we had two fires burning brightly that night, so it sort of seemed natural. A cold wind flew from our back, so we were all hunkered behind the logs we’d usually be sitting on. The fiery campfires crackled hard in the wind, sending sparks of to the leeside and invisible smoke, so we all sat up wind. Us older boys and the men with us had little kids on our laps and cuddled up under our arms to keep them warm. We’d instructed our guy to toss out two shoes at a time and two socks and such, so the other kid wouldn’t be undressed before him. When his breeches got tossed out from under the poncho, the crowd went wild. When his boxers came out the men chaperoning the trip turned on us. I remember one man looking at me with absolute shock in his blue eyes. Before, they could intervene; the emcee said “the first thing you’d take off is the stupid poncho. As he lifted the poncho, our guys rose to his feet…full dressed. He’d been wearing double shirt, double pants and had spare underwear in this pocket!”

We all laughed and clapped at the joke he’d pulled on the troop. Later he told us, the troop had responded likewise.

Roxanne looked to her husband, who was still smiling at his best friend’s story. “I suppose you are going to say the smell of wood smoke reminds you of you two’s glory days in the woods as firefighters?” She’d tried to smirk as she asked the leading question, but she couldn’t hide the pride in her green eyes from me. They’d bet during those glory days, as a firefighter for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), he’d been a hero to Roxanne. Whenever the topic came up, she’d gaze at her hubby as her own private knight-in-shining-armor.

“Control burns actually.” He said picking a safe topic as he rolled his own green eyes her way.

Back in the day, in Northern Arizona, the firefighters who hadn’t returned to school in the fall would start smoldering ground fires that would burn up the accumulated logging slash and debris on the forest floor. They started low fires at the top of the ridge and forced the flames to back down the slope. The flames would often be extinguished by the higher humidity of the night and rarely torched the ponderosa pine canopy.

“Is there one in particular? Maybe with your best friend in tow?”

“No, he was in school. I worked with two of his equipiers in the checkerboard country.”

“Checkerboard country?” his wife asked, batting her eyelashes prettily in confusion.

“When the railroads were spreading through the west, the government gave the railroad’s hundred -year leases on sections of wooded land, so they could harvest railroad ties. When they were done with the land, they sold the leases to the lumber companies. When the leases expired, the land reverted to the BLM.” My husband explained with a roll of his blue eyes. “They left quite a mess.” He’s smart about that history stuff.

Everyone turned back to Stan; “We were working Rocky Gulch.”

Stan failed to mention that this was a report area west of the bunkhouse where my husband lived is summers in between fighting massive fires all over the west with the Coconino Hotshot. Rocky Gulch was one of the places where the vast Colorado Plateau started to give way to the drainages the feed the Verde River and hence the Salt River that quenched the endless thirst of metropolitan Phoenix in the hot, southern, inhospitable part of the state. But, in Rocky Gulch, the ancient Ponderosa Pine with their vanilla scent still reigned supreme in the fall. Orange leafed oaks occupied the rougher land. The slanting sunbeam of the autumn sun sharply lit the russet soil. It was a beautiful place.

“I met up with your boss “Big G, Little O” and your Fire Management Officer. The FMO had a drip torch in his hand, burning out islands of untouched fuel in the previous day’s burn. “Big G”; a mountain of a man with a shaved head” Stan said with a nod and a knowing look. This from Stan who is a man-mountain himself. “followed along behind flinging grass seed into the old burn like Johnny Appleseed. “

Apparently, the upper part of the gulch crackled and popped with fire. Occasionally jackpots of young growth would flare up. Fire smoldered everywhere through the duff. Banks of smoke drifted blindly about. The air was so thick with smoke that he’d had a hard time spotting them in their red Bullards, yellow Nomex shirts and green Nomex pants. Stan said to them, “How many acres you got going? “ Ten thousand, they answered!

We all laughed in surprise. Both our men-folks smiled at the memory and reminisced about the “good-old-days” They seemed not to recall the long hot days of back breaking work digging firelines in the face of roaring forest fires. They were both careful to never use the word “backfire”.

“Roxanne?” I asked as the hilarity faded.

“Sunday breakfasts, dearie.” She answered to my surprise. “My first husband and I had a tradition of gathering up the girls on Sunday morning and driving up to the foot hills to make breakfast. We’d cook over an open grill in one of the picnic grounds. He would always bring split wood or scrape two by fours. My oldest and her little sister would scrounge up some pungent pinyon or stick juniper branches to add to the flames. I would always soap up the bottom of our coffee pot and frying pan before committing them to the flames. The view of the valley and city below was spectacular!”

I knew their picnics had always been by a lake. I knew they eventually ended tragically. Maybe she tries to just remember the good parts.

“The fragrant smoke! It was always breezy where I grew up. I recall my girls and I laughing and screaming as we tried to dodge the smoke while flipping the bacon or turning the eggs. We actually made toast on the open grill! My little tomboys would play tag in the scrub oak patch on the edge of the picnic grounds. I was always telling them not to do that! My husband and I would read the Sunday paper. They never wanted to go home.”

Everyone turned to me. I leaned into John’s shirt and inhaled deeply. I looked up into his blue eyes. My black gaze turned to teary-eyed Roxanne. I quickly turned to Stan, now biting his lip lower lip. Honestly, I was thinking of our late son-in-law Todd in the backfire on Battlement Mesa. It’s not in my nature to always look at the bright side. But it is theirs. I pushed my face into my husband’s auburn locks to hide my dark eyes and breathed deeply, again. “I love this smell. It reminds me of this moment right now, with all the people I love best.”

“Oh!” gushed my beloved and my best friend. Then silence fell in the room.

“Do you all really love this smell?” my muffled voice asked them.

The chorus answered yes, and before they could stop me, I flung the door open on the woodstove and all that sweet aroma of hearth and home puffed into the room, purging all my dark thoughts. I giggled gleefully. Everyone else roared with laughter. I grabbed Roxanne and laughingly led her to the back of the house while the men rushed to close to stove and sweep up the released embers.

I left my best friend laughing heartily and rushed back to the “great room”. “You boys reek of smoke. Leave your clothes on the front porch and hit the showers before come to our beds!”

John’s mouth hung open for a moment before I disappeared.

“What’s got into your wife?” Stan chuckled.

I didn’t hear my husband answer at first, then “It’s just something in my wife’s nature. I love her for it.”

M&R; Stan’s First

Stan’s left hand grasped the arsonist’s throat, pinning him to the ground. His sledge-like right continued to make hamburger out of the guy’s face. The servants shoved the other soldiers around. His maternally cook Nana cursed the officers for the soldier's stupidity. The maids cried and screamed. The end of a rifle barrel pressed itself into Stan’s cheekbone. He kept beating the offending soldier.

Out of the corner of his green eyes he saw his elderly butler thrown to the ground, his face pushed into the dirt and a pistol pointed at his head. It had been a practiced act. The soldier pinning him down was scarred, older then the fresh recruits being shoved by the servants, his face hardened by experience, to Stan's quick judgment a seasoned veteran from the recent war.

The fist stopped wailing and the index finger on Stan’s right hand pointed in accusation. Stan spoke out of habit in his father’s language. He accused in his mother’s and the soldier’s native tongue to no affect. He threatened in the Greek he’d learned in school; nothing. In his last attempt at civility Stan said, “Quos ego…”

One of the officers snapped to attention at that, kicked the soldier off the old man and helped the red-jacketed butler to his feet. Apparently, he’d studied Virgil in school also.

The day had started out as any other Stasinopoulos (Stan) Scamander spent at the family home. He owned a large estate by the banks of the river, fair with orchards, lawns and wheat-growing land. After an early breakfast served by Nana he headed downstream for his favorite swimming hole. He followed the sandy riverbank beneath the grassy fields and gnarled trees. He waved “Hello!” to one of the field hands releasing water from the irrigation channel above. The Kazdagi Valley still waited for him as it always had.

The Karamenderes still meandered towards the Hellespont. Tenant farmers above and below his home tended their fields already . A few light clouds specked the morning sky. His thick thighs and muscular legs carried him towards the high dirt embankment overlooking a stretch of deep water. A smile crept on to his face upon looking into the deep-eddying waters, as usual. He shucked out of his clothes and dove in.

Stan was an “oops” late in his father’s life and much younger than his siblings. If it were left up to him, he’d do nothing but, swim in the river, lie in the sun and sit in the shade with some sweet young thing. However, the death of his beloved parents and departure of his relatives had left all the family fortune and sizeable influence in his hands to tend. In addition, there was Nana to answer to. The family cook had been more of a guide, mentor, disciplinarian, and protector than his own lovely mother. While at home, business and Nana left the mornings to him. He had swum for sometime this morning before a wisp of smoke caught his attention. He’d turned mid-river to see smoke rising from his home. Unbelievably his impossibly wide shoulders could carry him upstream. He swam directly against the current to the closest point on the river to the billowing white smoke. The water was shallow there and mud too soft for walking. Stan glided through the water until it was inches deep, then bellowing like a bull, he shoved out on the dry land, and ran naked towards home. The military officers had come, hat-in-hand for an audience. While they waited for his return, their escort milled around outside the house. Nana had chastised one pimply-faced recruit for wandering into her kitchen in muddy boots. He impishly retaliated by knocking over the water she had boiling on the stove. It was a skillet of grease. The fire had just been knocked down when Stan arrived. The servants had to restrain him again when Nana told him the mosaic in the dining room had been damaged in the fire.

Stan cancelled his business trip to the capitol. His maternal grandfather was very understanding. The ministers who’d hoped for his assistance in propping up the government could wait. And the nouvex rich spawned by the war and consequent expulsion of the Greeks would be there to fawn over him another day. Stan stayed to oversee the repairs. The days began to return to normal. With the exception of the angry servants glaring at the soldiers, workmen scurrying out of sight whenever Stan was present and even higher-ranking officers dancing nervously about. A cloud of sullenness hung about the place like the lingering whiffs of smoke. Stan almost regretted returning home from his midday swim.

But, on the third day after the fire, he arose from the river and ascended the sharp embankment with some excitement. He hurried along the sandy trail towards home; dressed this time. The expert sent to restore the mosaic would be arriving midday. To Stan’s surprise, rather than the moody silence hovering over his home as of late, he heard Nana’s loud laughter and the modest tittering of the blushing maids. They’d set up a canvas just off the kitchen under which the expert could work. He stood at the door to the kitchen flirting with Nana, who kept insisting that he come in while he insisted on waiting for Stan. The man had the round head, olive skin and black short hair of his entire race. He, also had the national moustache, heavy eyebrows and perpetual five o’clock shadow. He was shorter than Stan, most men were, muscular and handsome with sky blues eyes and a dimpled chin. Atop his curly, ebony locks laid a stylish Fedora stained with plaster.

“Master Stan!” he called with a smile as he bowed and doffed his hat.

“Master Stan” was an expression used only by Nana and she beamed at the youth beside her. So Stan had to smile back. But, he was a little surprised at the man’s youth. They were about the same age; early twenties. Stan too had jet-black hair, but his was straight. He had a hairless body, surprisingly pale considering how much time he spent outdoors; a barrel chest, a square jaw and green eyes. His green eyes continued to look at the young man a little perplexed as Nana introduced him to “Timoleon”.

“You were expected someone older weren’t you?” he teased. “I’m a third generation restorer of roman mosaics, been doing this since I could follow my father and my uncles into their shop. Shall we go in?” Tim suggests.

Part of the plaster wall had been knocked down during the effort to stop the fire. Stan knew the entire mosaic would have to come down, so the wall could be repaired. The other workmen feared to help in that task. So it would be left up to Stan to help Tim remove it.

“Oh my God!” stumbled from Tim’s plump lips. “ I’ve seen this mosaic before at the Gaziantep Museum in Zeugma, er you know Seleucia. It’s an incredible copy.”

Neither Stan nor Nana corrected him. Tim peered closer . The right bottom portion of the wall had collapsed during the fire suppression but most of the mural was intact.

Before him sat the Titan Oceanus and his wife Tethys. The god was portrayed with a protruding forehead, shoulder-length hair and a long face. He was tan, with a long bulbous nose and high cheekbones. The protruding forehead came in handy since a pair of lobster claws sprouted from his forehead rather than horns. The goddess Tethys was as fair as any Slav from beyond the Northern border with fine white skin, long straight black hair, the round head typical of her nationality and eyes of a deep but clear light blue. Tim now stared harder at the wall.

“This must be an original by the same artist?” he said to himself with hesitation and self-doubt.” Neither Nana nor Stan corrected him. “How odd?” he mumbled before turning to Stan. He stopped, frozen as he stared into Stan’s deep, but clear light green eyes, fine white skin, shoulder length black hair, long face, long bulbous nose, rounded head and protruding forehead. Oh, Stan sported the dark national moustache. Tim began glancing between the art and Stan.

Nana laid a comforting hand on his forearm. “Stan’s father bought it due to its similarity with him and Stan’s mother Makbule.”

Stan and Tim spent the rest of the day carefully removing, arranging and cleaning the mosaic pieces. Nana stepped out of the kitchen several time to double check whenever she heard chuckles or loud laughter coming from the two men.

The next day Stan’s swim took a little longer than usual and in a hurry to arrive on time , once again swam directly to his normal diving spot, and threw himself up on the bank. He startled Tim.

The artist sat beneath a tree; shirtless and shoeless. In one hand a hardbound book in the other he’d just lifted a sandwich Nana had made. When he recovered from the shock, he glanced at his open book and then burst into a grin. He quoted from the open volume, then glanced at the ruins situated on a hill across the river.

Stan was shaking the river water out of his long black hair when Tim spoke. He stopped his head instantly, “You are reading The Iliad in the original language?”

Tim laughed and told about his attempt at college to learn Ancient Greek as Stan dressed and then accompanied him home

“I was thinking you should stay for dinner.”

An invitation that was a big shock to Nana and the staff.

That began their routine after that. Tim,after working all morning on the mosaic, would walk to the river to fetch Stan for lunch. After which the two young men worked on the mosaic all afternoon. Stan who had never entertained informally, proved a gracious host. Eventually Tim moved into a guest room and even rose early some morning to join Stan and Nana for breakfast. One day the mosaic was repaired and in place. After a splendid dinner for the officers and workmen involved in the repairs, Stan and Tim shook hands and parted ways.

The next day Stan stumbled down for breakfast and listened to Nana chirp away as she flitted about the kitchen. Stan strolled the sandy bank beside the gliding stream just like every morning of his life. He dove into the deep stretch beneath the ancient ruins and swam as he always had. Close to lunchtime he glided to the shore and bellowing like a bull, he shoved out on dry land. He rose from the water smiling. It was not that his smiled faded, just waned for a moment. He strolled home beneath the cottony clouds and between the swaying fields of wheat. Nana stood by the door of her (new) kitchen as she always had. Stan noticed the missing tarp. She lead him to the family dining room beneath the (like new) mosaic. She’d made his favorite lunch. He smiled wider at her in thanks and began to eat silently.

“Miss your friend?”

Stan wiped his lips with a napkin, before asking, “Who?”

“Your friend Master Stan.” Nana asked quietly indicating with a node the place where Tim had sat.

Stan’s deep, clear, light, green eyes stared quizzically at his foster mother. He glanced at the empty chair and then thought for some time. The concept of “friend” had never crossed his mind before. He looked again at the empty chair in the heart of his home. He smiled wide and nodded his head enthusiastically as he returned to eating.

Nana knew that her charge was finally going to start working on filling those empty chairs around the table.

TLtS: The Devil is Afraid

I turned towards home. The dog stopped to sniff at something. Ahead in the middle of the road squawked a raven. That herald of evil, that black bird which is not so much a symbol of evil as representative of the havoc and chaos that lies in evil’s wake pecked at garbage in the street. Out of the corner of my eye, floating into the dark trees behind, I saw the mist rising up. It rose like incense at a ceremony, like the wispy smoke of candles at a ritual, like the sulfurous fumes of brimstone. The raven shifted about from foot to foot. It kept glancing my way, turning this way or that to try to make itself invisible. It kept low upon the dewy drenched road. I heard gunshots. (Probably, the state boys trying to scare the geese off the runway before the arrival of the morning jet.) I knew there would be three shots; like the someone intoning a bell. The raven was afraid of me and my dog; my familiar; that primordial friend of man.

I have read many interpretations of the armor of God. Most understandable to me was that Christ is armed with the Word; the Way, the Truth, the Logos and shielded by faith. Satan’s weapon of choice is “Fear”. I pondered these words many times without applying them in the simplest terms. As Christians, we know the power of the Word and Faith. Satan knows fear.

The devil is afraid!