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”

Jumping In…

As this is the first official post, I thought I’d explain the title “Surfing the Zeitgeist”. It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor with a hint of staying ahead of the curve. If the zeitgeist were an actual spirit in the paranormal sense, rather than being possessed and controlled by it, what would the converse be? How would it be properly bound and what could it be made to do?

In a very strange way, I have fallen into researching and writing a novel. And it isn’t the novel I thought I’d write first; something more directly arcane was the intended launch/debut.

Before what I believe to be a compelling story emerged, I had been musing on a fictional timeline for some themes that have always been of interest. The plan was to track the concepts of justice (diké), hope (elpis), and equality (isotés) back to the Dawn of the Heroic Age, i.e., the aftermath of the Flood. In Ancient Greek belief, the story of Noah was equivalent to the Deluge of Deucalion.

I think I expected the center of the myths to fall in Athens or Corinth but Thebes became the focus, a city-state described as the “anti-Athens”. It was a quote from the fragments Sophocles that metaphorically caught my eye: “At Thebes alone do mortal women bear immortal gods.” It is a reference to the sons of Semele and Antiope – Dionysus and Heracles, respectively.

Some assumptions had to be made:

• In the Greek version, how many years ago did the Deluge happen?

• How long is a generation?

• Was the father of Dionysus Asopus or Zeus?

• How long after the Flood did the Argonauts sail and did Heracles really travel with them?

And so on…

The timeline rather quickly became both an outline of concept tracking and a tool of projection into the future. What will justice, hope, and equality mean in the distant future? With that thought, the novel began to haunt me – and then compel.

One character stood out in the timeline I was crafting. He has almost always been, in essence, the leader of the Chorus and never the lead. Teiresias, the famous blind seer, quickly became the fulcrum of the timeline – past to future – and the central character.

But his (or her) mythology is about as consistent as any other story Ancient Greek oral tradition presented. It isn’t possible to craft a unified lineage and timeline from Prometheus bringing fire to mortals through to the Fall of Troy. And with Teiresias there are conflicting accounts about whether he was born male or female, how he or she became blind, and how many children the prophet may have had (and by/with whom).

I had to give my own account regardless of whether Plato and Homer would agree.

And what have I learned at this point in this exploration?

• What will writing a novel do to me? –  As mindful of Diké, Elpis, and Isotés as I may be, I can always do better.

• Don’t get distracted. – If most of the action is set in Thebes, don’t worry about what’s happening in Endor.

• Write my own story. – If the novel’s premise involves denying some of the “established lore” – stick to what the story requires.