Myth Monday: Izanagi and Izanami Do Some Stirring

As I’ve mentioned on previous Myth Mondays, my mythological education was primarily in Western Classics, so I’m most familiar with Roman and Greek mythology (with a little Norse and Egyptian in there too). I’ve been challenging myself to learn more world mythology. Last year I learned a lot about Mesopotamian/Akkadian/Babylonian mythology. This year I’m focusing on Japanese mythology and Irish legends. Because of my background, my Japanese series will occasionally veer into comparative mythology. I love drawing lines of comparison between different ancient stories and characters, and finding patterns in them.*

For this post, I’m focusing on the Japanese creation myth and some of the oldest gods and goddesses. You can find my sources at the end of this post, or in the links buried in the post. If you have sources on Japanese mythology you would recommend, let me know in the comments!

Izanagi and Izanami

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Source

Back in the old old old days, there were a bunch of gods that lived in heaven, but no earth, just an abyss. Izanagi and Izanami weren’t the first gods ever, but they were the first to be born: brother and sister deities. One day they were standing on the stairway between the heavens and the abyss-that-isn’t-earth yet, and looking down at the abyss. Seeing as it was a big waste of space, they went to work on it like craftsmen. They took a giant, magical, jewel-encrusted spear, and poked it into the abyss, stirring it. When they lifted it, drops fell off of the spear, and the drops formed islands.

And so Izanagi and Izanami created the islands of Japan. Having made such an excellent place, they decided to go live there. Along the way they got inspired to get married to each other.** The marriage ritual involved walking around a pillar in opposite directions. In one version I read, this was so they could happen upon each other as if they just met each other as a man and maiden. But in others there’s less detail and it’s just the way the ritual goes.

In any case, they get married. Everything goes fine for a while for Izanagi and Izanami, who are creating islands, rivers, lakes, etc etc etc, which are all deities, or kami, in their own right (according to Shintoism). Kami are the essence or spirit of any thing in nature, such as a rock, a river, or a plant.

In some sources the first kid that Izanami gives birth to is disfigured Hiruko/Ebisu, god of fishermen. In some sources, Izanami has a bunch of kids after Hiruko at this point, ending with Kagu-tsuchi, the fire-god. In the more trust-worthy sources those kids are born later so I’m going to stick with Kagu-tsuchi for now. When Izanami gives birth to Kagu-tsuchi the fire-god, it is very uncomfortable and dangerous, and Izanami becomes ill and eventually passes on to the Japanese underworld, Yomi.

Izanagi is NOT OKAY with this development, and tries to get her back by going to Yomi. Izanagi finds Izanami, but it’s too dark to see her. Izanami understands the natural way of things better, and tells her husband that she really shouldn’t go back to the land of the living; she already ate Yomi food anyway, which as we all know means she has to stay in Yomi forever.*** But if Izanagi insists, Izanami will try to negotiate with the lord of Yomi. The only condition is that Izanagi can’t look at her.**** Izanagi agrees, but to NO ONE’S SURPRISE he breaks his promise and sneaks in to see her. Izanami, being dead, is rotting away and covered with maggots and gods of thunder (I….don’t know why thundergods are relevant).

Izanami is understandably pissed off, and Izanagi decides he had better get the hell out of there (pun intended). Izanami sends Eight Ugly Females to pursue him. Through some chicanery and wiles, Izanagi successfully escapes, and puts a boulder across the entrance to Yomi.

Izanagi is covered with gross Yomi stuff at this point, so he goes through a cleansing process that is the inspiration behind Shinto purification rituals. During his cleansing, the other primary Shinto gods and goddess are born. The first is Amaterasu, the sun-goddess. Amaterasu is very important in the Shinto religion, being the sun and live-giving and all that, just as Ra is a primary Egyptian god and Apollo is a primary Greek/Roman god (granted, Apollo has to kick out Helios for the privilege). I wrote about Amaterasu very briefly in a previous Myth Monday post on eclipse myths. After Amaterasu, Tsuki-yumi the Moon-god is born, and then Susano/Susa-no-wo, the storm-god. Amaterasu and Tsuki-yumi are content and satisfied with their career tracks. Susa-no-wo, not so much.

TO BE CONTINUED ON A FUTURE MYTH MONDAY

*nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrd
**this happens a LOT in world mythology, not only Japan. Wikipedia has a whole page on it but other famous married siblings include Zeus&Hera (Greece) and Osiris&Isis (Egypt).
***This is similar to the Greek myth of Persephone, who is kidnapped by Hades and taken to the Underworld, and could have returned home if she hadn’t eaten three pomegranate seeds.
****This reminds me of the Greek Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Mortal Orpheus can rescue his wife from the Underworld only if he leads her out without once looking back to make sure she’s there.

Sources

Ancient.eu on Izanagi and Izanami

Davis, F. Hadland. Myths and Legends of Japan. Dover Publications, 1992.

Japanese Mythology on Izanagi and Izanami

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Myth Monday: Dionysus and A Resurrection or Three

It’s been a while since I’ve continued my series on Dionysus, son of Zeus and god of agriculture, madness, and a few other things. You can catch up on the other Dionysus posts here.  Previously, we went through Dionysus’ birth and childhood, and looked at his worshippers and some of the stories of his infectious madness ruining kings and pirates. Dionysus has a tendency to inspire passionate frenzy in his followers and frenzied outrage from his opposition.

Tough Love

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“The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt illustrates Dionysus and Ariadne on Naxos.

One of the mythical figures most associated with Dionysus is his wife, Ariadne.

Ariadne is probably most famous for her role in the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. Ariadne falls in love with a boy (Theseus, prince of Athens) and betrays her family (the royal line of Crete) to help said boy defeat her monstrous half-brother (the Minotaur) and escape the Labyrinth. After everything she goes through, Ariadne is abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. Understandably, Ariadne does not take the break-up well and curses Theseus, sending the Furies after him.

Dionysus finds Ariadne’s agony and fury extremely hot. You’d think Ariadne would be super done with guys at this point, but she lets herself be swept off her feet and marries Dionysus. There’s a story of a miracle on Naxos, in which wine gushes from the spring located where Dionysus and Ariadne were married. If anyone was going to have a magical wine-spring at his wedding, it would be Dionysus, who invented it.

AND THEN THEY LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER, RIGHT?

Nope.

Dionysus ends up in a war with Perseus (of the Golden Fleece fame), because Perseus is one of those kings who just won’t fall in line with the Dionysian cult. Ariadne is accidentally killed during their battle. Whooooooooooooooops.

After Ariadne dies, Dionysus throws her wedding diadem into the night sky and it becomes the constellation Corona Borealis.

Corona Borealis, Bootes

Dionysus, in spite of his raucous followers and orgiastic habits, doesn’t have a bunch of mythical lovers, and definitely had fewer than his dad Zeus, for example. Ariadne is the primary spouse or lover he’s got (although he had a couple of kids with a couple other mortal ladies).

You Can’t Keep A Good Girl Down

Dionysus regularly loses the important women of his life, but he does try to get them back. Remember his mom Semele, who burst into flame while pregnant after seeing Zeus’ true form? At some point Dionysus decides that was a Bad Deal and goes on the traditional underworld quest to get her back. He’s a bit luckier than Orpheus and Dionysus doesn’t have to do any of that “Don’t look back” nonsense. However, he does have to bribe* a certain shepherd (named either Hypolipnus or Prosymnos or Polymnus) to help him find an entrance to the underworld. Once Semele has been retrieved, Dionysus guilts Zeus into making her a minor goddess named Thyone.

There are stories that Dionysus rescues Ariadne and makes her a goddess as well, but those are more obscure and came along later. I like them, though, because Ariadne had a rough enough time as it was.

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Cerberus, three-headed guard dog of the underworld, by William Blake

Aside from the occasional rescue, Dionysus has a complicated relationship with the underworld. In his cult, Dionysus dies every year and resurrects in the winter with the grapevine, symbolic of his status as the god of agriculture and wine. The ancient author Hesiod uses the epithet “he who eats flesh raw” to describe Dionysus, which he also uses to describe Cerberus (three-headed dog of the underworld) and Echidna (the mother of monsters). This implies that Dionysus has at least some monster-attributes linking him to the more overt mythological monsters, if not an actual monster himself.

In some versions of his myths, Dionysus is in fact the son of Zeus and Persephone, but complications lead to Zeus moving the baby to Semele’s wound instead because THIS IS MYTHOLOGY AND NOTHING IS NORMAL. The Orphic Hymns (attributed to Orpheus, another dude who went to the underworld to try to save a girl), say that Dionysus hangs out in Persephone’s house during the time of year when he is dead (Orphic Hymn 53). Another Hymn (46) says that Dionysus was raised in Persephone’s house, rather than being raised by nymphs of Nysa.

So, like Persephone, Dionysus has a lot of seasonal connotations for his worshippers and a cycle of power and decline that he goes through every year.

TO BE CONTINUED on a future Myth Monday!

*Not a monetary bribe; Dionysus generally took the form of a really really really attractive younger dude. USE YOUR IMAGINATION OR DON’T, I’M NOT HELPING YOU.

Sources

  • Mythology by Edith Hamilton: This is my favorite mythology retelling collection so far. Hamilton does a good job of condensing everything but still telling a good story and telling it well, so that it’s entertaining and terrifying, but still getting across all of these random details and encompassing all of the many characters in Greek mythology.
  • The Age of Fable by Thomas Bulfinch: This does the same job as Edith Hamilton’s book, but his writing style isn’t as poetic or engaging. He includes details and stories that Hamilton doesn’t, though, and he tries to be as comprehensive (I was tempted to say “unbiased,” but no one ever manages that) as possible.
  • Dionysus: Myth and Cult by Walter F. Otto: Otto likes Dionysus. A lot. So much. It’s a little terrifying. Anyway, this book delves into the cult that worshiped Dionysus, the different rites and versions of Dionysus’ story, and the cultural and religious impact of the Greek god.
  • The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology by Edward Tripp: This is a more recent find, but it’s a decent encyclopedia of Roman and Greek mythological characters.

The Legends of Luke Skywalker and The Myths We Cling To

36295579.jpgI finished reading The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu. Firstly, I loved it as a Luke story. It did a great job of presenting Luke from different angles and perspectives, while still keeping him a coherent character. Secondly, I loved it as a collection. The stories ranged from survival tales to tall tales to hero’s journey tales, and all of them were entertaining. Thirdly, that last category, “Hero’s Journey,” made me pause and think about the collection again. It turns out this book, consciously or not (but I’m assuming consciously), systematically goes through some major ways that we approach or study myths. It provides six different stories that each represent one kind of myth structure or category, but inside of the fictional world of Star Wars rather than dealing with our own myths. In so doing, it says a lot about how we tell stories to make sense of our lives and experiences.

Mild spoilers for the book below – I’m going to describe the overall premise of each story, but no details on what happens or how it ends.

Urban Legends

I know I’m not the first to raise questions about this implausible vulnerability, and I’ve heard the theory that maybe it was the result of deliberate sabotage. But if you believe the ragtag Rebel Alliance was capable of infiltrating the highest echelons of the disciplined Imperial military research labs, I’ve got a few choice plots of beachfront property I’d like to sell you on Tatooine.
The first story, called “The Myth Buster,” is set in a bar where the point-of-view character is listening to a bar-fly explain the “true” story of Luke Skywalker. Redy (the bar-fly) explains that what we thought we knew about Luke is nothing but one conspiracy after another, and nothing but propaganda to make the Rebellion look good.
This story reminds me a lot of urban legends, of which conspiracy theories are a sub-genre. Urban legends are those stories that everyone has heard but sometimes don’t know aren’t true. Some are scary, like Bloody Mary or the Killer in The Backseat. Others are Advice Stories like, if you leave a tooth over night in Coca-Cola it will dissolve (it won’t) so don’t drink Coca-Cola. Others are “this happened to a friend of a friend” like the Microwaved Pet story.

In this Luke story, we hear all kinds of twisted versions of Luke’s adventures in the movies, based around the idea that he was actually a guy named Clodplodder and was part of an intergalactic gang. They’re the kind of sensationalist facts and stories that you just know will be repeated by everyone who hears it, because it makes them feel like they know “the truth of the matter.” They won’t be fooled by nonsense legends of a Jedi Knight saving the galaxy.

Personal Mythology

He leapt from rebel star cruiser to rebel star cruiser, his flaming sword at the ready. A Star Destroyer focused all its cannons on him, and carelessly, he deflected the shots with graceful swings. He launched himself from a cruiser, tucked his legs under him, and tumbled through space, shooting bolts of energy from his sword in every direction. Star Destroyer after Star Destroyer disintegrated under this unnatural assault.

The second story is called “The Starship Graveyard” and (is one of my favorites and also) features an unnamed male Imperial officer whose ship goes down during the Battle of Jakku (a battle which occurs in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens). However, the person telling the story, Tyra, accidentally gives enough hints that we realize she is probably giving a cover story for her grandmother, the real protagonist of the story.  The Imperial officer is rescued by a guy who may or may not be Luke but who definitely claims to be Luke by the end but IS HE LYING AND JUST TAKING ADVANTAGE OF LUKE’S FAME, we don’t know????

What I’m calling “Personal Mythology” are those stories that we tell about ourselves, stories of our experiences that were very formative at the time, and that we’ve told so many times that they’ve grown in the telling, and so as we keep telling them their significance to our lives grows.

This story about the point-of-view character’s experience with Luke has grown in his or her mind so much that Luke almost seems like a hallucination or a god. This person that won the Battle of Jakku (according to the narrator), saved them from dying in the desert, and helped the scavengers escape a lake of boiling glass. Luke’s significance to this one character is enormous, and in their mind he’s become a sort of all-powerful legendary figure.

Hero’s Journey

“We take turns to uplift each other.”

The third story is called “Fishing in the Deluge.” It’s set on an oceanic planet and inhabited by people who allow “The Tide” to decide their lives and life around them. It’s told from the perspective of a local girl, Ava, but Luke visits the planet on a quest to find out more about the Jedi and Force-users. In order for him to be taught by them, however, Luke has to pass their coming-of-age test that allows young locals to learn how to feel the Tide (aka the Force).

The characters’s attitude toward the coming-of-age trial is evocative of “The Hero’s Journey.” The Hero’s Journey was codified by Joseph Campbell, and made even more famous by George Lucas who used it as a template for the original Star Wars movie. The Hero’s Journey is a basic structure full of common elements shared among most myths; for example, each hero experiences a “call to adventure” early on. If the hero makes it through their whole journey they become “master of two worlds”: both the one they came from and the one they have mastered during their journey, often divided into a physical and a spiritual world.

If Luke makes it through the quest (or hero’s journey, or coming of age ritual) that the local elder sets him, he will be able to master both the Force and the Tide. However, through the trial, Luke learns it’s not so much about mastering something as yielding to a bigger plan. And Ava, the other protagonist, learns a few things from Luke as well. It’s all about balance between two schools of thought and between two individuals, rather than a character successfully navigating a challenge.

Cultural Myths

There was no fear or terror in his face, only determination. How was that possible? Was he droid or man?

The fourth story in the collection is called “I, Droid,” and features a droid protagonist and many many droid slaves working in a deadly mine. Their experience with Luke Skywalker changes them in their hardware and in their software if you know what I’m saying.

Any myth is cultural, obviously, but what I mean specifically is a myth that defines or influences a culture once it is introduced and learned. It’s implied that Luke has become a legendary figure to any of the droids who met him at this point, and they will tell each other their story about him, and retell it as many times as they have to, until all droids have heard about how great Luke is and what a good droid friend he is. True or not, that’s the story that they’re spreading through their culture.

I’d like to see a follow-up that explores the problematic consequences of this story, where Luke has become a ludicrous figure of myth and any droid who comes across his path treats him like a demigod.

Rationalizing Myths

At least he can follow directions, I thought. Then I realized that this wouldn’t be so bad. I could still make it work. Instead of fighting against his instincts, I had to work with them. If I could manage the vapid Salacious Crumb, surely I could do the same with the overeager Luke.

The fifth story is titled “The Tale of Lugubrious Mote.” Lugubrious Mote is…well, a mote. A tiny space-flea from Kowak, which is the same planet as Jabba’s alien monkey jester in Return of the Jedi, for those following along at home. This story goes in a similar vein as the first story, except instead of Luke being a conman, Mote’s version of him is a little stupid and a lot gullible. Lugubrious Mote explains that the only reason Luke survived Jabba’s palace and barge is because of the tiny flea in his hair. Hm.

Rationalizing myths is a popular trend. We like to investigate myths and explore their origins, and what possible explanations could be behind them, whether the myth is a metaphor for why the sun and moon have the courses they do, whether the myth is a conflated retelling of a much more grounded-in-reality event, etc. Explaining away myths with reason kind of misses the point of myths, which is to put into words something we didn’t have words for before.
This narrator comes across as the most unreliable. Sure, everything Lugubrious says sounds plausible, but Luke’s dialogue, and to a certain extent his actions, don’t make much sense with what we’ve seen of Luke elsewhere. So we have to agree to dismantle Luke’s entire character,  or distrust Lugubrious. If Lugubrious is lying, his intention is most likely to replace Luke’s myth with his own personal myth, the legend of Lugubrious Mote.

History Turning Into Myth

Real magic is always knowledge. The galaxy is knowable, and that’s what makes it wondrous.

The sixth story is called “Big Inside” and features an archaeologist narrator who is hitchhiking her way to her scientific studies. Luke responds to her beacon, and the two of them find something interesting in space and wind up on an asteroid. Bad Things Ensue (it’s hard to talk about this one very much without spoilers).  The scientist is very keen to disregard anything about the Force, whereas Luke believes that science and the Force must go hand-in-hand considering the Force surrounds all living things, etc etc. The contrast was fun to read.

This story illustrates how, if enough time passes after an event, the event and the people living it become a legend. Or, if enough time passes without anyone experiencing a place, the place itself becomes legendary and unreal.

Luke and the archaeologist’s experiences in this story are, to anyone who hasn’t experienced them, completely insane. It’s the kind of thing that myths and hallucinations are made of. At the end of the story, they both admit that no one will ever believe them, but she’s going to have to try if she wants to publish any of her research.  In spite of the clash between her scientific pragmatism and Luke’s idealistic mysticism, the protagonist concludes, “I understood enough.”

A Long Time Ago

There’s a running theme in this collection that everyone wants to be the Luke of their own story, or their own personal myth. As they tell stories, they’re mythologizing him and in a way mythologizing themselves.  The point-of-view characters are making sense of Luke as a legendary figure, in whatever way they need to. They’re also making sense of their own lives, whether they’re an imperial-turned-scavenger, an archaeologist learning new things about how nature works, or a  child learning about how big the galaxy really is. Just like with myths in the real world, the characters in a galaxy far far away need myths to reason their way to the truth.

Myth Monday: Who’s Who in The Blood of Olympus

Welcome back to Myth Monday, where I talk about myths and books and myths in books. You can catch up on Myth Monday here. You can catch up on my Who’s Who in Percy Jackson posts here.

The Monsters

The Giants

This is the last book in the Heroes of Olympus series. The giants are the Big Bads, although as we’ve seen, there are plenty of other baddies. I’ll run down the list of giants who are still living at the beginning of this book:

Gaea: Gaea is the Titan of earth and the real villain of the Heroes of Olympus. She was married to Uranus (the sky) until she convinced her kids to chop him up in pieces. She was defeated by the gods in the Titan war. Throughout this series, she’s been trying to wake up, and in The Blood of Olympus, she succeeds at last in waking up via the use of, you guessed it, the blood of Olympus. 5/5 Monstrous Rating because a lady who can spawn anywhere on the ground is unsettling, and this lady is POWERFUL.

Porphyrion: Porphyrion is one of the giants who fought for the Titans, a son of Gaea, and the antithesis of the god Zeus. Porphyrion was raised from Tartarus by all the baddies working together back in The Lost Hero, and has become king of the giants. 3/5 Monstrous Rating because all of these giants blur together for me, to be honest.

Polybotes: Polybotes is a giant and the antithesis to Poseidon, god of the sea (and Percy’s dad). Polybotes gets a little pissed because during the war between the gods and the giants, Poseidon dropped an island on top of him. Polybotes has it out for Poseidon and all of his descendants, and shows up again in this book and ultimately has to fight Poseidon and Percy because we’re into poetic justice.  4/5 Monstrous Rating because he’s got a more interesting backstory than most of these giant bros.

Enceladus: Enceladus is another Titan son of Gaea, and the antithesis to Athena. He is finally defeated in The Blood of Olympus by Athena and her daughter Annabeth working together. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for being an incredibly boring giant.

Hippolytos: Ok here’s a fun one (?maybe). Hippolytos is another giant/Titan blah blah blah, but he has a grudge against Hermes because apparently, back during the Titan war, Hermes a) stole Hades’ cap of invisibility and b) used it to defeat Hippolytos. RUDE. In The Blood of Olympus, Hippolytos wants nothing more than to defeat the gods and replace Hermes as the messenger of the Titans. But alas. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for being hilarious.

Periboia: Sooooo this lady is a little confusing because she’s referenced as the daughter of the giant-king Eurymedon, but Eurymedon might be another name for Alcyoneous. YOU DECIDE. In The Blood of Olympus, Riordan chose to make her the daughter of Porphyrion (because if we’re being confusing, we might as well go all the way). Periboia really wants to kill some demigods, and has to fight Aphrodite and her daughter Piper. 4/5 Monstrous Rating for extreme viciousness.

Thoon: Oh geez these keep getting more confusing. Ok, so this guy is also known as Thoas, and he has a brother named Agrios, and they’re both giants, ok, ok, good so far. The brothers killed by the Fates (the Moirai) during the war with the giants way back in the day. However, in The Blood of Olympus, Riordan basically combines both of the brothers into one character, Thoon, and he is the antithesis of the Fates and hoping to kill their faces. 3/5 Monstrous Rating because that’s confusing and there was a lot of hype for this guy and then he did nothing.

Mimas: *long, drawn out sigh* All right, Mimas. He’s a giant (surprise!). He was defeated in the giant war by: A. Hephaestus B. Ares C. Zeus YOU CHOOSE because different sources say different things. In The Blood of Olympus, Riordan combines these ideas in an interesting way by making him the antithesis to Hephaestus, HOWEVER, he explains that Mimas had to fight Ares as well, because Mimas’ brother Damasen (who we met in HoH) refused to fight because Damasen is a beautiful healing teddy bear of love. Mimas shows up in a temple to Phobos and Deimos (Panic and Terror) to terrorize Piper and Annabeth (but of course the girls own his face). 4/5 Monstrous Rating cuz he’s legit scary.

Orion: He’s kinda a big deal, you might have heard of him. He’s a giant but not a Giant, if you know what I mean. He’s possibly the son of Euryale and Poseidon, OR he’s possibly a magic baby made from a bull-hide and god-pee. Yeah, you heard me. Pick the one you like. Orion is not the classiest guy. His first wife Side gets sent to Hades for competing with Hera, but he falls in love with another girl, Merope, who he rapes and then Merope’s dad blinds him. Then, after Orion has been cured of his blindness (because Zeus understands not being able to control oneself (UGH)), he hunts with Artemis for a while. Orion finally gets killed off either because he brags about being the best and is stung to death by a scorpion; or because Apollo tricks Artemis into shooting him in an archery contest; or a combination! In The Blood of Olympus, Orion is back from the dead and ready to shoot any girl who looks at him sideways. Or really any girl, because Orion has no coping abilities. He’s finally decapitated by Reyna, the baddest girl of them all. 5/5 Monstrous Rating for being the Absolute Worst.

Supporting Baddies

The Suitors (led by Antinous): These losers are the guys in The Odyssey who hang around Penelope’s house and try to convince her to marry them, even though Penelope is ALREADY MARRIED to a guy who is just taking the (really really really) long way home. Antinous is the chief of these, the worst, and the first one Odysseus kills when he finally returns. In The Blood of Olympus, all of the suitors have joined Gaea’s army because of course they have, but they’re not the smartest ghosts in the bunch. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.

Lemures: Lemures are the bad kind of ghosts: upset, restless, and malicious. We’ve seen lares in this series already; lares are the chill, just-hanging-out-to-support-our-family kind of Roman ghost, whereas lemures are the kind that want to ruin the lives of the living. In The Blood of Olympus, the suitors fall in this category, and have all signed up with Gaea. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.

Lycaon: Lycaon was a king of Arcadia. There are bunch of different myths about him. Most of the stories (and certainly the most popular ones) entail Lycaon serving entrails of a child (his own??) into a meal for Zeus, in order to prove that Zeus doesn’t know everything. Zeus does not approve of this kind of shenanigans (eating kids OR trying to fool him), and turns Lycaon and his 50 sons into wolves. I love werewolves but this guy is pretty icky. Previously on Heroes of Olympus we saw Lycaon and his wolves in The Lost Hero, but in The Blood of Olympus they’re minions of Orion Still kinda the worst, and we don’t see what ultimately happens to Lycaon. 4/5 Monstrous Rating for being pretty darn monstrous.

Kekrops (Cecrops): In mythology, Cecrops was a king of Athens. In The Blood of Olympus, Kekrops is supposedly the mythical first king of Athens, and a worshiper of Athena. However, in this version, Kekrops has decided to work with Gaea because he thinks its the best way for his people and city to prosper. He’s also….a snake-person? Honestly I’m not sure where Riordan got the inspiration for snake-Kekrops and his treacherous plans against the demigods. 2/5 Monstrous Rating because it’s child’s play for Piper to sweet-talk the snake.

Gods and Goddesses (ranging from Minor to Obscure)

Nike: Nike (or Victoria in Roman myths) is the Goddess of victory. She’s experiencing a bad case of schizophrenia in The Blood of Olympus due to the infighting between Roman and Greek demigods.

Phobos and Deimos: Mentioned above, they’re the sons of Ares, and the gods of Panic and Terror, which are often found on battlefields. Obviously.

Kymopoleia: Kym was a sea-nymph, a daughter of Poseidon, and the wife of Briares (the hundred-handed-one). In The Blood of Olympus, she’s sick of Poseidon and other sea-gods getting all of the glory. Fortunately, our heroes are able to strike a deal with her so that she enlists with the gods rather than Gaea.

Asclepius and Hygeia: Asclepius was a mortal son of Apollo and a great healer. One thing led to another and he managed to raise someone from the dead, so Zeus threw a lightning bolt at him. At some point, Asclepius became a god himself, the god of healing. His daughter Hygeia (“Health”) is where we get the word “hygiene” from. In The Blood of Olympus, the demigods need Asclepius’ help to create a cure, you know, just in case. Hygeia is present only in robot-form because of reasons.

The Sources

Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of Fable. Dover Thrift, 2000. Print.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New American Library, 1969. Print.

Riordan, Rick. The Blood of Olympus. Disney Hyperion, 2014. Print.

Tripp, Edward. The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology. Meridian, 1970. Print.

Myth Monday: Ode to Bacchus

One of these days I will continue my blog series on Dionysus (Bacchus), god of wine, madness, and many other fun things. For now, here’s a poem on the guy that I read this last week by the Roman poet Horace. Follow the links for some background info.

Bacchus I saw in mountain glades
Retired (believe it, after years!)
Teaching his strains to Dryad maids,
While goat-hoof’d satyrs prick’d their ears.
Evoe! my eyes with terror glare;
My heart is revelling with the god;
‘Tis madness! Evoe! spare, O spare,
Dread wielder of the ivied rod!
Yes, I may sing the Thyiad crew,
The stream of wine, the sparkling rills
That run with milk, and honey-dew
That from the hollow trunk distils;
And I may sing thy consort’s crown,
New set in heaven, and Pentheus’ hall
With ruthless ruin thundering down,
And proud Lycurgus’ funeral.
Thou turn’st the rivers, thou the sea;
Thou, on far summits, moist with wine,
Thy Bacchants’ tresses harmlessly
Dost knot with living serpent-twine.
Thou, when the giants, threatening wrack,
Were clambering up Jove’s citadel,
Didst hurl o’erweening Rhoetus back,
In tooth and claw a lion fell.
Who knew thy feats in dance and play
Deem’d thee belike for war’s rough game
Unmeet: but peace and battle-fray
Found thee, their centre, still the same.
Grim Cerberus wagg’d his tail to see
Thy golden horn, nor dreamd of wrong.
But gently fawning, follow’d thee,
And lick’d thy feet with triple tongue.

-Ode II.19 by Horace

You can read my other posts on Dionysus here, here, and here.

Myth Monday: Who’s Who in The House of Hades

Catch up on Myth Monday posts here.

Catch up on Who’s Who in the Percy Jackson series here.

There are sooooooooo manyyyyyyyyyy monsters in The House of Hades, since much of it is set in Tartarus where the monsters go to die forever. Or whatever.

The Monsters

numina montanum or the ourea: These are, essentially, minor gods of the mountains, on god per mountain. They show up as a throwaway villain at the beginning of The House of Hades, literally throwing pieces of mountain at our heroes (I pictured this scene because, well, yes). 4/5 Monstrous Rating because I want one of my very own.

The Kerkopes (Akmon and Passalos): These brother jokers were the children of the Titan Oceanus (kind of a big deal) and Theia (a mortal?). They are described as either dwarves, monkeys, or gnomes. So…short? They’re most infamous for robbing and harassing Hercules (that Hercules), but Hercules eventually caught and possibly killed them (editions vary). They commit similar behavior in THOH, harassing our heroes until finally outgunned and outmanned by Leo (because Leo is a boss). 2/5 Monstrous Rating for being really frolickin annoying, besides which they’re not really monsters, on the third hand Leo recruits them to harass his enemies so they turn out good…sort of?

Iapetus “Bob” the Titan: Iapetus is the Titan son of the big two: Ouranus and Gaea, back in the day when they were still having kids and not murdering each other. Iapetus and his brothers eventually teamed up to murder their dad, and even later they were tossed into Tartarus by the gods, partly for being pretty terrible, but mostly for being on the wrong side. In a previous Percy Jackson story, Iapetus the Titan came up against Percy only to be thrown into the river Lethe. This caused him to lose his memory and become “Bob.”  In this book, Bob shows up again to help Percy out while he’s stuck in Tartarus, and slowly regains his memories. Of course, this forces Bob to choose whether to be a friend or enemy of our heroes, and whether to stay simple janitor “Bob” or world-destroying Titan Iapetus. I love Bob.

katobleps: This might secretly be an African gnu, but in mythological creature terms it was a bull-like animal with poisonous breath and lethal gaze. YEAH, BUDDY. In THOH, they’re infesting Venice and Frank kills a whooooooooooole bunch of them. 4/5 Monstrous Rating because Cows That Kill With Bad Breath. Check out this blog post for an incredible artist’s rendition.

The arai: These are literal curses in spirit form, so not the most fun people to be around. They’re related to the Furies (Erinyes), so the whole family is killer. I really love how these are used in THOH: in Tartarus, Percy and Annabeth come up against a bunch of arai, and Percy realizes that all of the enemies he’s fought in his life have cursed him. He has to deal with their posthumous curses one by one and it’s really scary and really painful. 5/5 Monstrous Rating, would not curse again.

Sciron (and his giant turtle): Sciron was an infamous Corinthian bandit. He would force travelers to wash his (reputedly disgusting) feet and while they were doing that, he would kick them over a cliff into the sea. In some versions the hapless travelers were then eaten by Sciron’s giant turtle pet. In THOH, Sciron waylays the good ship Argo II and our good demigod friends, but Hazel is able to spin some magic and trick Sciron with illusions into falling himself, right into his turtle’s mouth. Hazel, obviously, is the real boss here. 4/5 Monstrous Rating because ew and bonus for the turtle because turtles are adorable even when they’re eating people.

Damasen: Soooooooo there’s not a lot of information to be found on this guy, but he was a giant, and he was from Lydia, and he definitely killed a drakon. So, good work. I enjoyed this other blog post’s summary on him, “Hot Damasen.”The pun is just too good. Riordan extrapolates on Damasen’s character quite a bit in THOH; Damasen is a giant who has been exiled to Tartarus for, I don’t know, NOT being a terrible person, I guess? He’s the antithesis to Ares, god of war, and is a great healer. 1/5 Monstrous Rating because he’s just a big old softie, really.

Akhlys: AKA MY LADY OF POISONS. She’s the goddess of misery but she’s also really great with poisons, I guess so she can make as many people miserable as possible. What a gal. In THOH, she poisons Percy and Annabeth with “Death-Mist” because it’s what all the cool kids are doing and so they can pass unnoticed among the monsters in Tartarus. You know you’re in a bad place when the only way to blend in is using a drug called “Death-Mist.” 4/5 Monstrous Rating.

Nyx: The goddess of night, obviously; this lady is a classic. She’s one of the oldest gods, sorta like Genesis 1:2, etc etc. She has lots of important children such as Light and Day (which is confusing to me, especially since their dad is Darkness). In THOH she is REAL dark and REAL scary, but Annabeth is a clever girl and winds Nyx and her kids up so much that they plunge themselves into darkness and accidentally fight each other while Annabeth and Percy escape. Classic. 4/5 Monstrous Rating.

N1.3Nyx

Tartarus: I mean whatever, he’s just the actual impersonation of the deepest darkest hellishist piece of real estate in Greek mythology. You can find a nice cosmological description of him/it here. He’s not really a big deal. I mean, Percy and Annabeth don’t even fight him; they just run really, really fast up an elevator (wait what). Damasen does a good job of distracting this merciless terror of the void. 5/5 Monstrous Rating.

Hyperion and Krios: We’ve seen these two Titans before in the Percy Jackson series. Typical Titan story – sons of Ouranus, killed their dad with their mom’s blessing, fought the gods and lost, etc etc. Also Iapetus’ brother. Percy and Annabeth find them in Tartarus and H&K reallyyyyy want to leave. 3/5 Monstrous Rating because you’ve fought one Titan you’ve fought em all.

Clytius: Clytius was a giant and a nemesis of Hecate, goddess of magic and stuff. Hecate killed him off in the war between the gods and the giants. In THOH, as a giant and a son of Gaea, he’s ready to kill and eat some demigods. He’s one of the big bads at the end of the book but honestly all of these giants are sort of blurring together for me. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.

Pasiphae: Pasiphae gets a bad rap. She’s a daughter of Helios (sun-god), sister of Circe (badass witch although not a very nice girl) and marries King Minos. Minos offends the gods, and Pasiphae, PASIPHAE, not Minos, is cursed to fall in love with a bull and have a half-bull baby. In THOH, she’s a really angry, bitter, powerful witch who wants some good clean revenge. I can’t really blame her. 4/5 Monstrous Rating.

 

The Sources

Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of Fable. Dover Thrift, 2000. Print.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New American Library, 1969. Print.

Riordan, Rick. The House of Hades. Disney Hyperion, 2013. Print.

Tripp, Edward. The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology. Meridian, 1970.

See also the links above for more sources!

 

 

Myth Monday: Inuit Folklore for Dummies

I read The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling recently and enjoyed a story called “Quiquern” about an Inuit boy and girl. It included a number of references to Inuit folklore, and for the readalong posts I wanted to include some background information on that, but it turned out to be surprisingly difficult. In my online search for Inuit folklore in general and “quiquern” references in particular, I found:

  1. legitimate sites that weren’t in English, to my great chagrin
  2. possibly-legitimate blog posts that didn’t credit any sources which made me side-eye and look elsewhere looking for online
  3. a hundred sketchy sites that merely quoted Wikipedia in its entirety

I also noticed that the main source for the creature “quiquern” or “qiqern” was, in fact, The Jungle Books, so I’m reallyyyyyy questioning its existence.

I then took my search to where I should have begun it:

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The library had a lot of books on Inuit history and culture, which are good and relevant, but not precisely what I was looking for. They had exactly one book with “Inuit Mythology” in the title, in kids’ nonfiction. They had many picture books that retold Inuit tales (or at least claimed to).

For those of you adrift on the same ice floe as me, I’m going to share the results on my search. Obviously, I came at this topic from a place of extreme ignorance; I did my best not to spread misinformation. If you have some great sources on Inuit mythology, hook me up. Otherwise, you can check out my sources at the end of this post.

Important fact: there are lots of different Inuit tribes, just like the Native Americans of North America, but in the broadest survey they’re divided into: Central Inuit, which is mostly super far northern Canada; Alaska Inuit; and Greenland Inuit. A lot of the folktales can only be found in one of the distinct geographical swathes.

Like other mythologies, Inuit folklore and tales are deeply rooted in their religious beliefs. The core of their belief is that everything has a soul. Once a person or animal dies, their soul becomes a spirit, and it’s REALLY IMPORTANT to keep the spirits happy. If you’re dealing with a good spirit, you want to befriend them. If you’re dealing with an evil spirit, you want to not piss them off. Angatoks, or shamans, interact and communicate with spirits the most.

Often a main character will get a seal-skin, or an ermine-hat, that will allow them to transform into that animal (or at least disguise themselves?) when needed. One boy gets a beluga canoe that can go really fast and underwater when needed. Sometimes these items rely on the animal’s goodwill, other times it isn’t mentioned.

Most of the folktales involve humans dealing with animal spirits, whether dead or alive. If you’re dealing with a dead animal, especially, you want to treat its body with care. If you killed it for food, for example, there are rules on how you skin it or treat it. You don’t want its spirit to come after you later.

Inuit folklore doesn’t have a single accepted creation myth. One thing I found interesting is that the Alaska Inuit have a lot of Raven stories, similar to Raven stories in other North America native mythologies. The Alaska Inuit have some stories about Sparrow and Raven being the first, and creating the earth by forming things out of clay, including people. Raven directs the first people to kill a giant sea monster and use pieces of the carcass to create more islands for them to live on.

The mythological figure that recurred the most in my search was Sedna. She is referred to sometimes as a sea goddess, sometimes as the mother of all sea creatures. She also possibly has some role in the afterlife: CANNOT CONFIRM. Her story is pretty dark: she starts out as a human girl. The version from Greenland has a loon who tricks her into marrying him by taking on human form. Once Sedna realizes what a mistake she’s made, her dad rescues her from the loon’s island, but the loon chases after and the dad realizes what a mistake HE made.  He tosses Sedna into the ocean, but she holds tight to the boat, so he has to cut off her fingers one by one. She drowns and becomes the sea goddess; her fingers turn into sea creatures.

the_legend_of_sedna_by_sraiya
Art by Sraiya: Source

Greenland has a story about a girl who marries one of the “little people” or “gnomes” (it’s translated in different ways so I’m not sure of the exact connotation). The girl’s father has had to fight off a bunch of normal-human suitors because they’re jerks, but the gnome son-in-law wins him over and eventually the family gets to gloat a little over the girl’s previous suitors by sharing the food their gnome friend acquired for them.

Giants tend to be pretty nice dudes in these stories, rather than monsters and/or villains like I see them in other mythologies. One story I particularly loved (from the Bering Strait Inuit) is about a woman named Taku who escapes her abusive husband and befriends a giant named Kinak. Kinak looks after her for a while, and even after she returns to her husband, Kinak continues to look after her and, ahem, take care of anyone who makes her unhappy.

There are quite a few stories where family members or in-laws try to murder the main character. Women are scarce so sometimes a freeloading bachelor will come along and decide to murder her husband and “liberate” her. Another story has a boy go into some kind of berserker rage and, after killing his enemies, accidentally kills his grandmother as well. Usually the murderer or attempted murderer is punished in some way; often a murder will be “justified” because someone broke the rules of hospitality (as guest or as host).

“The Adventures of Kiviog” (Central Inuit) combines a few different common themes that I’ve touched on. The boy Kiviog is given a seal-skin by his mother, which he uses to go avenge the murder of his father (killed before Kiviog was born). After he’s completed that, he gets a little entangled with a witch, and uses his seal-skin to escape. He eventually marries a wolf-girl, who is in human form but is also a wolf???? but Kiviog’s wolfy mother-in-law gets super jealous and murders her daughter, and takes her skin as a disguise. Kiviog realizes what she’s done and escapes. If there’s a moral, I’m guessing it’s something along the lines of “humans and animals shouldn’t get too cozy.” It also implies that the treacherous wolf mother-in-law will starve to death, because she’s too weak to hunt her own food.

I’m still really ignorant of this branch of mythology but it was fun and stretching research Inuit stories. Again, if anyone can point me in the direction of some good sources, I would appreciate it.

 

Sources:

Angutinngurniq, Jose. The Giant Bear: An Inuit Folktale. Inhabit Media, 2012.

Bial, Raymond. The People and Culture of the Inuit. Cavendish Square Publishing, 2016.

Christopher, Neil. On The Shoulders of a Giant: An Inuit Folktale. Inhabit Media, 2015.

Wolfson, Evelyn. Inuit Mythology. Enslow Publishers, 2001.