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

sententiae antiquae…

An admission of a bias in thinking due to the near-total immersion in Ancient Greek mythology and philosophy must be made. There is the concept of (Abraham) Maslow’s hammer, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Recently, the question arose in two parts of whether writers in this modern zeitgeist are consciously using elements of the philosophy of Plato (et alia) in their works of fiction. Parallels seem strongly evident; are they always intentional? Are the tropes of ancient thought strong and pervasive enough that even those who are not aware of their origins – or seeking them out – are almost destined to use them?

George Lucas is known to have based Star Wars on his study of Joseph Campbell’s work, which was in turn a summary of many others, Plato included. Similarly, Lana and Andy Wachowski may have based their Matrix (at least, in part) on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

IDEA

The reimagining of Battlestar Galactica (2003-2012) probably could not avoid using Greek myth as source material with many of the characters named after the Olympians. BSG also paralleled Ecclesiastes 1:9 and Peter Pan when Six and President Laura Roslin (among several others) presented variations of “All of this has happened before, and it all will happen again.” The verse in the Bible goes on to postulate “…and there is no new thing under the Sun.” – an idea about which I’ve previously railed.

The past week’s musing has given me a series of ideas that may cause me to adjust my perspective for A Song Heard in the Future, my novel-in-progress set 3.5 millennia ago.

Some scholars of myth believe that Teiresias was a well-known character before he was written into the tragedies of nearly all kings of Thebes, including the trilogy of Oedipus’ life. Of the dozen or so tales that include Teiresias and still exist only a small percentage of them could be said to feature him as the main character.

Hesiod is said to have written about the famous seer almost 2700 years ago but that story has been lost. At roughly the same time Homer also included Teiresias but as a shade in the Asphodel Meadows neighborhood of Hades. The intent in Song is giving Teiresias back the lost story of his life.

If an author’s themes are preordained, if there truly is nothing new, the task at hand is to make the best of it. To craft the best from it. If Song is reimagined based on last week, there’s a very good chance the book will be better. Oddly, it will also take a few steps closer to the reason for researching Teiresias in the first place. Psychic abilities have always fascinated me whether they exist or not. (And I blame Spock for it.)

A leap to someone in Ancient Greece who could see the future seems obvious but the road was not quite that direct. During my middle school years, I sometimes would construct fantasy timelines of reincarnations I might have had. My birthday was in mid-December of 1964; who died earlier that year that I might have been? And who just prior to their date of death? And so on… This fabrication of an uninterrupted line of past lives would extend as far as my knowledge of history would permit.

Something very like this led to Teiresias but I allowed the tracking and musing to move into legend and then myth, as records grew less authoritative. To my mind, the jury is still out on the details of reincarnation. I’m not sure we can be certain who we may once have been. Here the innumerable ex-Cleopatras have to be discounted.

In psychical research there is a term “anomalous cognition” that is meant to describe having knowledge without learning it. The best example of this may be the understanding some aspect of a dream without the establishing that would be required if the same plot were presented in fiction. Psychic studies go beyond that point but it means knowledge without a source or explanation. There had to be a word for the idea that we can retain knowledge from past lives, if any.

In the field of psychology (if I have this right), anomalous cognition is used to describe specific exaggerated reactions. As both science and paranormal research employ AC and with neither usage hitting the nail on the head, there had to be a more precise word. With all due respect to reverse dictionaries, they nearly always far short. Finding a new word is simple. Read more. Talk to smart people. Finding an extant but unknown word that precisely fits a specific concept is not so easy.

Just yesterday, while exploring Plato’s ideas, I discovered the word anamnesis. This is precisely what I find fascinating in anomalous cognition while not preferring the term. What you knew in a past life is something your education may serve to remind you of that past knowledge.

Plato suggested that we are reincarnated based on what we know. Ultimately, aisa (“αἶσα” meaning “destiny”) doesn’t matter in our thinking and work. It is how we think and work that remains our own.

Maybe there is nothing new under the Sun. When Song is published, however, I’ll invite you to curl up against a tree and read it in sunlight. If it surprises you – that may disprove predestination. If not, welcome back.


ἐπιφάνεια…

Sometimes it is difficult to hear a particular Muse clearly. More often than not, it isn’t just one speaking to me. Ideas for sculpture, writing, and other art are coming all the time – simultaneously. From time to time, I will have to pause one project in favor of another. Even in an ideal world, in which I could devote every second of the day to the arts, I’m certain this would be the case. It’s just the way it goes.

During any pause on a specific writing project, there is not a complete silencing of the voices of the characters involved. They are, in the back of my mind, still seeking deeper subtext and greater clarity about their motives and missions. There’s probably no way to stop this and I wouldn’t want to. When research and writing resumes there are new epiphanies that, I feel, improve the richness of the work in question.

Recently, my thinking returned to the story of Teiresias, which I am calling A Song Heard in the Future (based on a quote from Tennyson’s poem treating the same character). Before the pause I knew there were two major holes in the novel. Two characters – both of whom are women – were going to disappear into them.

Being a seer, Teiresias is frequently a giver of advice. As a person, though, he lives through some truly fantastic upheavals. It stands to reason that he might – from time to time – seek some advice. Part of Song deals with this but for a while I wasn’t sure how.

The advice in this case becomes the foundation of the third act. The two characters who provide it were apparently very active during my break from this tale. They were in danger of vanishing from the story after merely being messengers. It is perhaps a platitude that an author’s characters speak to their creator. In this instance, these two were defending their importance. It really is like they knew.

One of them “reminded” me that she also had to be involved in some of the first scenes of the book. I can’t argue with the logic. And how could I have missed it‽

In trying to stay as close to the source material of Greek mythology (the origin of so many tales of heroism), it seemed a little cowardly to let important characters fade from the story and follow other paths to the end of the saga.

The song may be heard in the future but I have to listen to it, and the Muses, now.

muses light


🜀🝠

…et lux in tenebris lucet…

There are at least three things it seems most folk know about Teiresias and might logically expect to find treated in any novel about him:

1. Hera and Zeus asked which gender enjoyed sex more.
2. Striking a snake could result in a change in gender.
3. Blindness was imposed as penalty.

Regarding the 1ˢᵗ item – in the argument between the Queen and King of Olympus, the central question grew to me to seem too adolescent (if not actually juvenile) for deities to ask. In what may be the most well-known version of the story (in Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus), Teiresias is purported to have replied, “Of ten parts a man enjoys one only.”

First of all, how could any author know? The audience must accept that answer for the sake of the story. In Ancient Greece, given the status of women, the point was not to empower or honor women. Besides, I would like to think, my Teiresias is more wise and clever than that. He might have more to say.

As to the 2ⁿᵈ – it seemed wise to interview women, both natural-born and trans, about how they experience a wide range of life and living. What was shared and resulting discoveries have been fascinating to me. Along with two books not previously mentioned in this blog, and in combination with years of listening to and observation of humans in their native environment, I think I’ve been able to craft a more comprehensive answer for Teiresias to provide for Jove and Juno.

two-more-books

Gender and the Interpretation of Classical Myth by Lillian E. Doherty
The Experiences of Tiresias: The Feminine and the Greek Man by Nicole Loraux

On the 3ʳᵈ – I’m not going to reveal the nature of the penalty of blindness before the release of A Song Heard in the Future.

Where Did I Leave My Keys?…

As I mentioned on Dec 1, mythology claims Teiresias worked in a bird observatory (oionoskopeion). Whether it was in Thebes or outside the city is a matter of some debate. And I’ve decided to go with Laurenberg’s placement – next to the Citadel.

A Song Heard in the Future*, the working title of my novel, uses TeiresiasTower for many critical scenes. I am painting it as the home and headquarters of the Spartoi, the Seer’s grandfather and great uncles. It served as his tomb until (presumably) destroyed by Alexander the Great (335 BC).

My storytelling has been mainly as a raconteur and presenter before Leanna Renee Hieber encouraged me so effectively. In the past, more than a few of the tales I told were the plotlines of roleplaying games. I never quite left the hobby. A few years ago I became fascinated with paper model terrain and started making some models of my own.

I can handle two birds with one stone – in mapping out Teiresias‘ home and making the paper model kit. When finished, the model will stand about 8 inches tall. If it turns out well, I’ll be selling the kit to gamers.

While writing this post and determining what title it should have, I remembered an old “joke” of mine regarding prayer and how frequently it seems to go unanswered. Imagine that muttering aloud about a wallet temporarily missing during the morning routine counts as a prayer. There could be millions of such distractions in a single day – worldwide. That could eat up a lot of time for addressing more important petitions to the Divine.

It likely won’t be in Song but I can imagine Teiresias might be asked, “Where will I find [missing item]?”

Teireseia's Tower scaleup

* The title is a quote from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem, Tiresias.

Right from the Start…

After Bulfinch’s Mythology and Mythology by Edith Hamilton, there have been four stand out books while researching my novel about Teiresias.

next blog

  • The Seer in Ancient Greece by Michael Attyah Flower
  • Forms of Astonishment: Greek Myths of Metamorphosis by Richard Buxton
  • Magic in the Ancient Greek World by Derek Collins
  • Thebes in the Fifth Century: Heracles Resurgent by Nancy H. Demand

Perhaps more importantly, I have so far interviewed about a dozen good folk who have different experiences than my own regarding philosophy, religion, life and living.

For purposes of the story, I have been assuming Teiresias would have lived about 2750 to 3000 years ago. I decided that he was born two generations after Deucalion’s Deluge. Though it’s largely the same story, the date doesn’t quite match what James Ussher calculated as the time of Noah’s Flood – 4359 years ago.

Mythological stories still resonate with us for at least two reasons:

  1. They are reinterpreted by each generation according to the Zeitgeist and
  2. Regardless of how long it may have been since the Flood, the deity, and the survivors – the myths tell us that – in some important ways – no one’s life experience now is very different from that of the people who heard those tales first.

It probably won’t be long before there’s a trend analysis app that helps us anticipate aspects of the future. I predict it won’t be called Teiresias.

Really‽… (Oh! Good!)

On Day One of this journal and account, it would be quite unfair to hint that Teiresias is the only muse for my present research, writing, and art. I have never known true encouragement for this sort of work. Not like this.

Leanna Renee Hieber is an established, successful author with seven books to her credit, including the upcoming The Eterna Files (releasing from Tor Books on 2/3/15).

Along with Bruce Boxleitner and Trevor Crafts, we first appeared together on a New York Comic Con panel together – Diana Pho’s Welcome to the Brass Screen (10/10/2013). Later that evening and during dinner, the seeds were sown for Leanna and I sharing an affinity in terms of creativity. We knew we wanted to work together but were uncertain as to how we might do so. I was not surprised to learn that she is also a talented actress and singer. Other projects of mine were going to require both. I began looking for opportunities to which I could invite her.

During this nearly-past year, she started expressing appreciation for my talents and perspectives. We began developing a character for an upcoming television series and as her (the character’s) back-story grew, we felt she had greater potential in a fuller story. This character prompted Leanna to select me as a co-author.

At first, the offer was a shock and surprise. I want to emphasize how astonishingly rare this kind of support has been in my experience. I had imagined becoming an author as early as 1976. (I was 12 years old.) My mother was antithetical to encouragement; she found what I wanted to write about frightening and potentially humiliating. Do I have to say how terrible it is to have a dream shot down by a parent?

My Very Dear Friend Leanna Renee is the precise and critical opposite. And I’m EverThankful we met. I recommend purchasing her novels. I’m working my way through them as I write my own, solo books (including the Teiresias tale) and she and I plan our future novels together (the first of which involves that very special character mentioned above).