writing and righting wrong…

Back to the fabled past — in ancient Greece with Teiresias

In watching a documentary series (The Ascent of Women, written and presented by Dr. Amanda Foreman) about the devolution of the role and treatment of women (from the establishment of the Code of Hammurabi between 1792 ʙᴄ and 1750 ʙᴄ on), I’ve had cause to revisit my ideas for a novel about which I’ve posted here and will eventually return to the front burners. As readers of this blog may recall, the saga of Teiresias (working title: A Song Heard in the Future) is intended as my restoration of that mythological figure’s story as a central character rather than, in essence, the chief of the Chorus in the accounts of others.

Apart from his oracular talents the famous seer is also remembered for the chapter in which he is transformed into a woman. Before work on Song was tabled in favor of my science fiction/thriller Astral, I had managed to reconcile some of the conflicting aspects of Teiresias’ fragmented chronicle but I hadn’t managed to do the same for the tragic treatment of women in ancient Greece with what I believe the zeitgeist views as heroic efforts to correct that state.

The documentary established the serpent as a symbol of the power of men and their obsession with honor.

Snakes1

Therefore, one explanation of the change of the identity of Teiresias is the result of his having killed the male of a pair of snakes. In Greek mythology (then religion) women were seen as a much greater contrast to men than they are perceived today; they were regarded as a separate and inferior species and category of property. Women then had to be controlled and concealed from public life. Some of this ironic travesty in the cradle of democracy persists today.

The diviner was being punished when he was made female and, although the exact transgression against honor has been lost, he must have been meant as a cautionary tale – presumably for boys on the cusp of establishing their adult status. In brief, being a man meant in part avoiding demonstrating any feminine quality. The result was strictures on the behavior of both genders with the injustice of a much more strict code imposed on women.

Snakes2

The metaphor in the myth indicates that Teiresias was able to regain his masculinity by finding another pair of snakes and then killing the female. In the story I intend Song to be it will not be a failure in maintaining honor that first changes Teiresias. Given that there would be not need for an act of absolution.

When it is restarted Song will illustrate a quite different account of the acts and fate of the counselor to kings of the city-states with more validity for today’s culture. Rather than a demonstrating Teiresias’ time spent as a woman as a punishment, I may choose presenting it as an opportunity to defy convention. Something like that should help make him – and her – as more heroic. The restoration of honor will be, in my small way, an unworthy aspect of legend and history.

The snake metaphor will still be present but with a vastly altered metaphor and meaning. The former view of caution is inappropriate to a modern version – still simmering on the back burner.

Back to a possible future — in the Dalim star system of Astral

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on your marks…

The ouroboros can represent the cyclical or even the infinite. I wonder though – does the snake ever think to itself, “It seemed like a good idea when I got started.”

There is a mythical account of punishment imposed upon the immortal soul of Sisyphus, king of Ephyra. His torment in Hades was to perpetually move a large stone to a hilltop only to have it roll back down after each attempt. When I was first taught this story I remember asking, “Why doesn’t he just stop?” I was told that such things were part of the nature of Hell. I thought, “Well, that’s stupid.”

The tale may serves as a lesson on the dangers of obstinacy or in how to discern a no-win situation before too many resources have been lost. The moral of this particular story is also warning about hubris and other character flaws.

During the research for and early writing of A Song Heard in the Future there have been three problems for which I’ve been seeking solutions: 1) In ancient Greece, the practice of slavery was not only ubiquitous – none of the city-states could imagine a world without slaves. They were considered a necessary part of society, 2) the more loathsome custom of infanticide of the unwanted also seems to have been prevalent, and 3) the treatment of women had them treated as all but indistinguishable from cattle.

In Song, I have been attempting to make the characters more real and accessible. One mechanism has been the removal of monsters where possible. For example, it seems very likely that the fabled Chimera was not a beast with three heads but a pirate ship. Another part of the process has been to build a synthesis of the often contradictory plot threads in the shared universe (or common agora) of the mythological canon. Could a certain graceful spinner have been married Chiron before being present when Teiresias gained the gift of prophecy?

Any true hero would make the three significant injustices his or her cause to end and right. Heroes have to be more than marginally better than the society that produced them. In a purely fantasy setting (such as Clash of the Titans or Hercules) writers may ignore these issues.

As an author, I cannot in good conscience write a story in a setting that has these and other problems without said story being about proper address. With due respect to the tail-devouring snake, I won’t be giving up on Teiresias; there’s too much potential, too strong a message in the telling. I’m determined. The collective journey of heroes is, as it turns out, a staggered start. As my definition of a hero is somewhat strict, and perhaps superhuman, the song will have to be heard in the future.

Luck and inspiration has saved months of research and the purchase of several reference books from being in vain. I recalled a conversation I’d had with a friend about sociology and human nature. We’d concluded that very few notions (construed as race cars) ever leave the track. What resulted was an epiphany about a how I might craft an unexpected new tack on a cult sci-fi setting that’s long been a favorite of mine. Even more pleasing – the value of my work on Song can be included without much revision at all.

Many novelists and editors alike will tell you that crafting a story is about the choices made. Prioritization of one novel over another is not giving up. Simmering one while another’s on the boil is part of the process. An illustrator I am privileged to know once gave me good advice: the best outline for a story leaves the audience with no plot-holes to point to and no questions unresolved.

me-ta

I’m very confident that the new idea will be enjoyable to write and to read. I’m equally certain I will solve the problems mentioned above and be able to return to the novel set in ancient Greece. One has and will inspire the other.


 

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