ceteris paribus…

It is probably reasonable to assume that the faith of our parents, if any, is assumed in our early years to be the only faith. I remember noticing and asking about the different iconologia and emblemata of the 14 houses of worship in my very small hometown. It was a disproportionately large number of options. For reasons that are beyond the scope of this post, I was a member of at least five different congregations belonging to different Christian denominations before the age of 12.

And prior to that age, the United States was ramping up to its Bicentennial celebrations and participating in the first two Olympics of which I was aware (some years before the Winter and Summer Games were split and staggered). On display at home was a vast array of old and newly minted patriotic symbols. Each nation of the more than 90 competing The Games (half the world at the time) had brought an entirely different selection of icons to the stadium.

Surely formal education contributed to an awareness of how much larger the world is than I might have imagined before adolescence. But the diversity of religious and national expression was given sharp emphasis by experience and observation. This has allowed me to acknowledge that dignity can arise everywhere on the planet – from each person who will allow it to manifest – regardless of place of birth.

There is a vogue in political thought here, the notion of American exceptionalism. The nation may unfortunately have been born with it. The soil here is not a magical home plate (to employ the metaphor from our “national pastime”). It isn’t where a person is born or lives that makes their accomplishments special. Accomplishment and the person who achieves it are both special – anywhere. I’m not running for office. I don’t have to perpetuate a myth.

As readers of this blog may have guessed, flags and maps fascinate me. A flag is not just the equivalent of a postal code. It is a declaration of a certain set of beliefs and, it must be said, opinions. A map is more than a tool for where to find things. For me, maps have long and collectively been metaphors for the intrinsic potential of what things may be found.

thank youSurfing the Zeitgeist is intended to share my perspective on the value and mission of creative expression – along with a certain view on the universality of potential. The above map shows the nations from which Visits have been made. I track this as a reminder that there isn’t just one zeitgeist to surf. Each visit is more than a “pin in a map” for me. It’s a vantage point – a reminder that my point of view is only one way of examining the zeitgeist. I’m curious about them all – and I think I always have been.

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Bubbling up…

Talented coauthor and dear friend – Leanna Renee Hieber – shared with me an opportunity to contribute for an upcoming anthology. She and I are among those asked to blur the line between fact and fiction in each of our separate pieces. During the writing I was able to refer to a pair of maps I’d made over ten years ago. At that time I was playing an online game that was a little light on details. Maps of Lemuria and Mu were made to assist other players in visualizing the play environment. And since they took a rather long time to create, I saved the files. I’m truly glad I did. LemuriaThe artistic approach for the fabled sunken continent of Lemuria began with a bathymetric map of the Indian Ocean and the coastlines provided by theory. In the case of Mu, there is not a precise border so the coast used a similar process to build out that of real, existing islands. mu mapIn the online game mentioned above, these maps were to record fictional claims on imaginary lands. They were used while I wrote to keep certain details straight. Sunken continents have always fascinated me – at least since 2nd grade. It seems odd that we’re taught the myth of Atlantis before the dynamics of continental drift. Details about the anthology can’t be provided here but updates will be when available and appropriate. I’m curious how each contributed piece (mine and that from Ms. Hieber included) might work together as a whole. When it is released, I believe I’ll be reading it with the same sense of wonder I hope other readers will.

Exorcising the Geist from the Zeit…

Depending on who it is speaking – the world is in poor shape. The cynic in me sees too many politicians seeking to sow fear and harvest votes. Similarly, the objective of advertising could be seen as the manufacture of a sense of need or want. These are symptoms. Pointing to them in cynicism does not mean I agree about the state of things. If one isn’t careful, however, the provocation to apathy based on futility could really grow discouraging.

I refuse to believe there’s nothing that can be done and no one to do it anyway. I reject ennui. It just doesn’t have to be that way.

Some years ago I praised a good friend for being on his best behavior as a general stance. I observed that many people are rarely on comparable footing – unless called to it specifically. Part of my hope in writing A Song Heard in the Future is that it may be seen as an invitation in the present. Perhaps if there is a more frequent call to being better the reminder might result in more evidence of good, including from myself.

The meme of “Keep Calm…” and innumerable and often frivolous permutations, and despite the commercialization, stems from good advice. The British Ministry of Information produced the original and actually motivational poster in the summer of 1939, in preparation for WWII: “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Philosophically speaking, may we expect a better destiny by looking to inspire and inform? I would not presume to know the path. I can’t actually draw the actual map from here to “there”. But it seems logical that it involves beginning to turn away from doomsayers. While writing about Teiresias, I couldn’t have his prophecies be entirely of gloom and doom. Nor could his life and times be completely tragic. My motto has for a long time been, “The only raw material needed to manufacture hope is time.” The novel’s main character may prove to be of similar outlook.

I’ve long been leery of people who claim to know all of the answers. That’s not what I’m claiming here or in the novel. The first answer – the first step – is all I’ll point to right now. We have to expect better. That is one way to encourage better.

MediterraneanForgive me for not including a map to a better future. Unlike Teiresias, I cannot see it. This map represents many of his travels in my book and some of the paths followed by his three daughters.

Tracing a Path…

Researching Greek mythology has worked better for me having adopted the view that the entire record is of a “shared fiction universe”. The best known stories from Pandora to Aeneas – and everyone in between – exist as amalgamations of many ancient tellings. Not every detail is identical when comparisons are made. There are certain contradictions, given multiple accounts, that are impossible to reconcile.

Argonaut-map-trim
The best example may be what happens when trying to establish the route of the Argonauts and duration of their travels. No fewer than five chroniclers of Jason’s journey draw widely different lines on the map between Colchis and Iolcus. If the trip was ever made, there can only have been one return trip. At least four maps are wrong.

Pindar and Hecataeus can’t be right because the world isn’t actually shaped as they thought it was. (One cannot sail from the Caspian Sea around the Arabian Peninsula to the source of the Nile.) The route chosen by Timaeus could be right but the surviving heroes would have taken years to return, not mere months. There is quite a bit of portaging involved in the path Apollonius of Rhodes prefers – including over the Alps. Helping drag a penteconter over a mountain pass is low on my to do list.

How a tale is told and what choices the author makes depend on intent. But they also reveal assumptions by the author and the zeitgeist in which he or she writes. When the world was small and known, exploration was not a virtue and therefore wasn’t an activity heroes got up to.

Henriette Mertz postulated that the Argonauts’ adventures took place largely in the Americas and suggests a Western Civilization emphasis. She moves Colchis from the Southern Caucasus to western Bolivia, South America, making it a metaphor of Tiwanaku.

In A Song Heard in the Future, two of the major characters about whom I’m writing do become Argonauts. One is a daughter of Teiresias and the other is a man who plays a very important – if symbolic – role toward the end of the Heroic Age.

I cannot say I’m completely aware of what may be my own biases. Nor would I be able to assess to what extent I think in terms of the zeitgeist. I’m as eager to find out as I hope future readers may be. The exploration of self may unavoidably be part of writing any novel (whether I draw a map or not). I hope that can mean writing a book is an invitation.

Mapping It Out…

And so – as I approach this story – it matters to me to try to understand the characters and how they live. There is some evidence in scholarly text that Teiresias had an observatory.

“Fantastic!” I thought. “I love astronomy.”

But it’s not that kind of observatory. More reading showed that it was an oinoskopeion or a site for ornithomancy: divination by means the flight and songs of birds.

Some of the sources hinted that a map existed showing the tower. I’ll admit to becoming a bit distracted by this. I had to find the map. Sometimes items for sale on ebay can be valuable for research – whether they are purchased on not. One seller had offered a page from the atlas produced in 1660 by Joannis Laurenberg. A rough map of Ancient Thebes was featured and one of the dozen or so buildings included, all ringed by seven temples and seven gates, was the Tiresiæ Auguraculum. (With apologies to the seller, the Buy It Now price was/is $120. There was no chance I’d buy a copy.)

In the image below, the site of the Bird Observatory of Teiresias is shown near the center and toward the lower left. It would have been to the east of the Citadel of Thebes and the main market forum. The tower, if it existed, would likely have been taller than most of the Citadel. By comparing it with another (hypothetical) map* of Ancient Thebes, it might have stood on the northern lobe of the Ismenian Hill.

Map of Thebes

* a topographical map from William Smith‘s “A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography”