dear Brutus…

dna chain

In mid-May of 2014, at the 60th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was quoted as stating the equivalent of “There’s no gene for invasion in Chinese people’s blood.”

In late June of that year, Jürgen Klinsmann, the head coach of United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) said, “It’s not in the U.S. DNA to go out and play for a draw, nor is it in the German DNA, we’ll both be playing to win.”

The phrase “not in our DNA” has long been a bête noire for me. The connotation is, more often than not, used to state an aversion somehow built in to the behavior of a person or group. As such, it is a reversal of the late ‘90s business jargon of “corporate DNA”. In that context it was meant to express what was part of a company’s vision, mission, and culture. It has evolved into what could become a dangerous misconception based on casual misuse.

While technically correct, behavior is not dictated by DNA, the metaphor has become very common in American political discourse. In May of 2011, then presidential candidate Herman Cain voiced the opinion that being No. 2 economically and militarily is not in our DNA. This bad habit is not limited to the GOP either; their critics often charge that “unlike the conservatives, it’s just not in our DNA.”

Often this is used to hint at one position having moral superiority over the opposing side. Last year, President Obama opined that discrimination casts “a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on.”

Misuse of “DNA” and what result it may or may not produce is probably unrelated to doubt of or actual opposition to science. For the most part, we trust doctors to use true understanding of genetics to treat or prevent disease. Increasingly we expect forensicologists to employ the same discipline either to convict or exonerate in matters of jurisprudence.

But at the same time the suspicion that the moon landing was a hoax persists and the anti-vaxxer subculture has been gaining strength for more than a century; it’s nothing new.

If we’re not careful about science, whether from ignorance or Luddism, in fiction or reality we run the risk of making potentially tragic mistakes. The Inquisition tried Galileo for heresy in 1633. He was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. Pope Urban VIII had acted out of anger and fear of science and its implications. Considering other acts of the Inquisition, Galileo got off lucky. It took the Vatican almost 360 years to come full circle on their decision with Pope John Paul II finally admitting the errors of the Catholic Church in that regard.

Misapprehension of science including genetics did not spare Alan Turing unfortunate and severe persecution. The father of artificial intelligence and hero of breaking the German Enigma cipher machines during WWII was honored in 1945 with induction to the Order of the British Empire. Six years later he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

The following year he was convicted of gross indecency (homosexuality was considered criminal in the United Kingdom from 1885 to 1967) and given a choice between imprisonment and probation. He chose the latter but that forced him agree to hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. It is a widely held belief this judgment led to Turing committing suicide.

It may be hyperbolic to suggest that “It’s not in our DNA.” could lead to future attempts to cure racial or ideological diversity. There probably won’t be further recourse to medicine to enforce conformity with regard to gender binary. But misconceptions, like their cousin – superstition, die hard.

There are dangers in a political climate where one side seeks to make opposition illegal, or worse, misuse science to eradicate it. I can’t – and I don’t think we should – avoid the worry that any belief that fault lies in our stars (i.e., that our behavior is chained to our DNA) could end in catastrophe.


Tell me. Let me not guess.

It took a while…

For artThis chart shows the lineage of most of the characters involved with the major plotlines of A Song Heard in the Future – as a single, rather extended family. Scholars of the Greek myth might be able to detect a few contradictions between this and attempts by other. For example, according to some, Hecate was a virgin goddess. Aeëtes could not have been her husband – and father with her of Circe.

Parentage is just one source of discrepancy. There may be two characters named Chariclo – one marrying Chiron (with Carystus and Melanippe as children) and the other Everes (giving the world Teiresias). I’ve decided that Chariclo is just one person – nymphe – having had two marriages. More than a few myths will show a character as the son or daughter of another, while a related telling indicates the name of the son or daughter is actually the spouse. Is Antiope the daughter of Asopus and Metope or of Nycteus and Polyxo?

Then there’s the omission of a spouse, usually the wife. While there are myths that state Teiresias had at least three daughters. There are no accounts of the other parent(s). I’ve made my own selections here.

The last of the puzzles posed by mythology is there is no evidence in any myth that Historis (the presumed eldest daughter of Teiresias) married and had children. Her wedding to Poeas, the Argonaut archer, is another choice of art.


Talos, from Jason and the Argonauts (1963, Columbia Pictures)*

* Ownership of the image of Talos is neither claimed nor implied. In mythology, the automaton was created Hephaestus. In the film, by Ray Harryhausen.

Two red stars indicate the divine partners of Alcyone and Antiope. A simple search will find the names I’ve not shown. From the perspective of these two women, it may not be completely wise to disclose the presumed Pops.

A few characters’ names appear more than once on the chart: Chronus, Everes, Chariclo, Melanippe, and Teiresias/Teireseia. The first four are immortals and, therefore, capable of being sexually active in many different generations – sometimes century or longer apart. With the last, the seer undergoes a famous transformation and becomes part of two different families.

It may not be possible to build a family tree of Greek mythological characters without what some would consider errors. The stories involved are part of an anthology written by Greeks and Romans over almost a millennium. The authors didn’t always compare notes. A very respectable effort was made in A Genealogical Chart of Greek Mythology (2003, University of North Carolina Press). Two factors prevented me from using it for Song: 1) It contradicts some of the connections I required and/or omits some of the characters I needed to use and, 2) the price is pretty high.

Writing is making decisions.

Was this trip really necessary? Given the need to keep track of more than 85 named characters (not to mention those not appearing on this chart), each of whom has at least some established history (according to Plato, Ovid, Pausanias, et al.); I think it vital.

Of course, I’ve no way of knowing if the book, when published, will include this chart or one like it. The reader may not benefit from it as much as I or the story itself have/will. Included or not, it will help me make things clear.

Note: The Olympioi and Titanes are, of course, the Olympian deities and the Titans, respectively. The Nomioi were the denizens of the non-human wilderness, including lesser divinities. It would have broadly included the centaurs (kentauroi), satyrs (satyroi), nymphs (nymphai), and river gods (potamoi). Mortoi means “mortals”.