Breakfast with Pandora caters to everyone interested in ancient Greek and comparative mythology, good stories, the craft of writing, food, theology, education, and other humane things. Ask a question at teenage underscore heroes at yahoo dot com.
Today is Ash Wednesday, a traditional moment in the Christian calendar when everyone considers his or her sins and makes a commitment of self-examination for a time before the celebration of Easter.
During this time of self-examination, called Lent, Christians make a conscious commitment to prune back those behaviors and actions that have hurt ourselves and others, either by refraining from them, or actively correcting them.
Many people also fast from certain very enjoyable foods or drink. Among the most popular is meat, chocolate, and alcohol. (Watermelon is also popular among the less serious among us.)
I submit that we are at our own national Ash Wednesday.
Many or most of us are having to fast from things we have enjoyed, whether it be shopping, restaurant meals, or travel.
We also must, collectively and individually, take a look at those things we can do to better our finances and help others, too.
In addition to our cutting back, however, we might also want to refrain from
too little spending
Though no one's job is perfectly safe, if we all decide we must have 2 years' of savings in the bank before we spend again, eventually no one will have a job except the security guard at the bank.
Last weekend I and a companion went out to a folk art show. Usually, said my companion, the show is so crowded you can't turn around. This year it was crowded, but the artists were not too busy to talk.
I always feel a quiet, positive vibe around artists, which is probably why I am irresistibly attracted to female artists. These pieces, too, were mostly gentle and whimsical. There was a fair amount of tourist art-- that is, stuff the artists knew would sell, and made a lot of.
But there was the occasional piece that was one of a kind, and this is what I bought.
The medium is antique journal paper. There is handwriting on the journal, clearly notes from a nineteenth- or early-twentieth century American history class. There is a list of southern Indian tribes, including the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws.
On this medium the author has created his own copy of an ancient Middle Eastern winged thunder god, either Sumerian or Babylonian or Assyrian, something of that nature. The drawing is in pen and ink, with wonderful cross-hatching and color.
I asked the artist, Gabriel Shaffer, what he was thinking about when he created it. He didn't have much of an answer, though he said that his grandmother was full-blood Cherokee, which might have motivated him to use that particular journal page for the piece.
I loved this, though I haven't fully figured out what I want it to mean.
The point is that I didn't really have the money to spare to buy this piece. But I did anyway. Because we all need to make money. We all need to encourage each other. We don't need to buy a 12-bedroom house for $3.5 million at 17.9% interest with no money down. But art-- now there's something that helps everyone.
Almost everyone I clicked on had something to say. And I clicked. And I clicked. And I clicked.
I like the ability of OS bloggers to have "friends" in the same way as you do on Facebook. You can see a thumbnail of the bloggers' profile picture, and you can easily see who's connected to whom.
Also, besides commenting on an OS blog, you can rate it, which is a way of giving online praise. You can also tip people money.
And the more readers you have, the more likely your post will be posted to the Open Salon headline page.
You don't have to create a new blog to participate in OS-- you can cross-post your existing blog to Open Salon. So I'm doing that.
I don't know that I can come up to the standard of most of the folks at OS. My game is noticing and interpreting the myths that humans live by, whether ancient or modern. I hope that will be of interest to OS readers. Because I am trained as a mythologist, it's possible a few folk will have questions they want answered. So much the better.
I'm hoping I don't get addicted to reading OS blog posts, but I probably will. These are some favorites already:
This one is for grown-ups. Middle-aged grown-ups, it turns out.
This one is also for grown-ups; a rough, sad, kick in the gut.
Most of the posts are for grown-ups, BTW.
I love this woman's profile photo; also, her writing.
Maybe it is a good idea to talk a little about why I (heart) blogging. (If you click the link, you'll go to a bunch of others who've written on the same topic.)
When I was about 10 years old, my mother had a Royal manual typewriter. I loved its ability to create letters that were uniform in size and shape and way more beautiful than I could ever produce freehand. The beauty of the printed page made a great impression on me. I figured that anyone who could have his or her own words reproduced in such an elegant medium had to be an impressive person.
I, too, wanted to have my words printed beautifully. But being 10, I was not likely to break into books or journalism right away. So I used my mother's Royal typewriter to create my own newspaper. I called it The Berkeley Clarion (after the city where I went to school).
I made up news stories and typed them on to a regular sheet of notebook paper. I left space for art, which I drew myself. The stories were small potatoes: cats up in a tree, neighborhood baseball games. I figured the big boys were already covering the big stuff.
Later on I joined the staffs of school newspapers, in high school and college, and had my own words printed and my own name on the byline.
But I knew I could never be a pure journalist, because I had an aversion to getting out there and asking people questions.
I always liked working alone. The column was my preferred format-- the personal essay.
I wrote a column for a print newspaper for 5 years, without any inkling of more than 4 or 5 people reading it. But I loved writing it.
So when blogging got popular, I was intrigued. I didn't do it at first because I knew it would addict me. I also didn't do it because I like to refuse myself things that give me pleasure, simply to torture myself.
But I got over my neurosis and started.
I still don't have an inkling of more than 4 or 5 people reading BwP. There are eleventy billion blogs out there, and no one has the time to read .001 percent of them. But I'll continue to write, because I continue to love to see my words beautifully laid out, with the art I'm (mostly) responsible for.
I'd even venture to say it doesn't much matter what I write as long as I see it reproduced in those uniform letters.
I'm branching out in my mythology reading, and here's my first post on Norse mythology.
Photo: Greece, sky and sea, 2007.
Right off the bat in Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, a famous Icelandic account of Norse mythology, we get this passage:
Near the middle of the world, a building and a living hall were constructed... The place was named Troy and is found in the region we call Turkey. It was built much larger than others and in many ways with greater skill; neither cost nor the resources of the country we spared. There were twelve kingdoms with one high king, and to each kingdom belonged many groups who paid tribute. In the city there were twelve main chieftains. These rulers were superior in all human attributes to the other people who had preceded them in the world.
One of the kings was named Munon or Mennon. He was married to Troan, the daughter of Priam, the chief king. They had a son who was named Tror, the one we call Thor... By the time he was twelve years old, he had acquired his full strength. Then he was able to lift from the ground ten bearskins, all in a pile... In the northern part of the world he came across the prophetess Sibyl, whom we call Sif, and he married her... [Thor had sons and grandsons, ending with] Voden, the one we call Odin, an excellent man because of his wisdom and because he had every kind of accomplishment.
Being a true newbie in Norse mythology, I was surprised at a few things:
a) Thor, the Norse god of thunder, starts off as a human grandson of Priam, the legendary king of Troy whose city was destroyed by the Greeks in Greek mythology.
b) The author latches on to Troy and its people as the greatest in the world, rather than Athens or Rome, both of which got bigger and had a lot more popularity in ancient times.
c) Odin is a great-great-umpty-great grandson of Thor. I was under the impression that Odin was older than Thor, or at least, being Norse gods, they were of the same age.
Next, Odin, who has the gift of prophecy, finds out he will be great in the northern part of the world, and so he decides to set off from Troy with a large group of people:
So, too, they took with them many precious things. Wherever they went on their travels, tales fo their splendour were told, making them seem more like gods than men. They journeyed without stopping until they had reached the north, where they entered the region now called Saxland. There Odin settled down for a long time, taking possession of much of the land.
All translations from Jesse L. Byock, buy the book here
These people came to be called Aesir, because they were Asians, and their city was called Asgard, or Asia Yard.
It's possible Snorri was interested in a migration of people from Asia to another land because he was familiar with a very famous story that was still popular in the Middle Ages (when Snorri wrote), also about a people who migrated from Troy to somewhere else.
Anyone care to comment on who that was? I'll put the answer in the comments anyway in due time.
Recently I had a request from a reader to consider Hindu mythology in relation to Greek. I demurred, saying that I'd had a brief encounter with it in graduate school and found it difficult and elusive.
I think mythologists should stick with what they know, especially if they are concerned they'll put a foot in their mouth about what they don't. But it's true that learning new stuff is a fun activity.
Photo: Maybe Greece isn't the "omphalos" (navel) of the universe after all.
Over Christmas I acquired Jesse Byock's Penguin translation of The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson (nice long review here). I figured I would probably give it to son to read, as I've never been much interested in Norse mythology, despite its use by a favorite author of mine, J.R.R. Tolkien, as a source for his Lord of the Rings.
But the other day I read the introduction and was intrigued by this sentence:
Even though the Edda relies heavily on native traditions, a good argument can be made that it also shows awareness of two Latin literary genres of the Middle Ages: writings about mythology and about language and poetics.
Byock doesn't spell out what "mythology" constitutes nor does he go beyond saying that the author of the Edda "knew at least something of the ideas current in the general Latin learning of the Middle Ages", but he does seem to leave open the question whether the Prose Edda borrowed something from classical Greek mythology. Always a contentious issue to figure out where stories have come from, sometimes a very large political issue.
Me? I'm just interested to know how and where there is an "awareness" of "mythology" in the Prose Edda.
So I'll be reading the work in the next week or so and blogging about it as the spirit moves. What is your experience with Norse mythology? Do you remember that Marvel comics superhero from the Norse pantheon? A Mighty Marvel No-Prize for the first commenter with the answer.
And if a copy of a book about Hindu myth comes into my hands, I guess I'll take a look at that, too.
Photo: Thor, comic character from Norse mythology mentioned above, identified by MoominLight.
The Super Bowl is the American National Liturgy, and it was especially instructive last night, in this time of fragile, transitional mythology.
We had Faith Hill singing "America, the Beautiful," followed by Jennifer Hudson with the National Anthem. Don't think I've ever seen those two songs performed back to back before a sporting event.
General Petraeus, war hero, did the coin flip. Also the flight crew of the Miracle on the Hudson was there.
Jets flew over.
Bruce Springsteen sang at halftime, but did not include "Born in the USA." When he screamed, "Is there anybody alive out there?" I almost checked to see if I had, indeed, survived the bad news of 2008.
To me, it all felt humbler than usual, and more admitting of our hurts. Jennifer Hudson had a horrific year, losing family members to violence. General Petraeus' presence reminded us of the still steep climb we have in the Middle East. And the flight crew, with Captain Sully Sullenberger's kind, Everyman face, conveyed the message that America runs on honest professionals, and that grace is both pervasive and extraordinary.
Then, for a second year in a row, the game lived up to its billing, with the athletes giving it everything they had up to the final seconds.
The commercials, too, seemed to defer to the game itself. There were no splashy rollouts of new products or much creativity at all. Just lots and lots of movie previews.
My grandfather told me that during the Depression, when he had a nickel, he could either buy himself an apple, and fend off his hunger for a few minutes, or a movie ticket, and forget about eating for hours. It's possible that Hollywood is banking on the possibility that movies will be our way, again, of bringing back a sense of order, control and community into our lives.
For sure we need to reorder our mythology priorities. We are no longer in Cowboy Country, Imperial America, Mission Accomplished Land. The Super Bowl showed we are still proud of ourselves. But we have to figure out what kind of pride, through what kind of symbols, we're going to show.
Photo: The athletic stadium at Delphi, Greece, holy place of the Olympian god Apollo.