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Posts Tagged ‘Greek’

This is probably going to be a short one, partially because I’m busy with other endeavors, and partially because wordpress changed how their tracker widgit works and I now have no idea if anyone is actually reading this blog.  Really folks, a few comments so I know this is amusing to just me and two or three friends would do a writers confidence a world of good.  This is number twenty, let’s hear some shout outs.

And though this post may be short and sweet, it’s about one of my favorite cuddly wuddly balls of death ever.  Ladies and gentle-beings, my friend Manny, the manticore.

(Holds up Hand Puppet, looks at it grinning at me, and quietly puts it away and takes my meds.)

… Now, most people think manticores are Greek beasties, popularized by Pliny and spread around medieval bestiaries with the same frequency of griffin poop.   You’d have no idea how often those little balls in the floral patterns around coat of arms are really griffin feces.  Grapes?  Nuts? Abstract bits of frippery?  Don’t you believe it, griffin droppings all the way.

Actually, the manticore isn’t a Greek beastie at all, it’s up and up Persian, and at least as old as the Egyptian sphinx.  It’s name literally translates as man-eater, and that’s what it likes to do.  Crunch men, women, and tasty children between three rows of pointy teeth.  With the body of a red lion and the head of a man, that three tooth grin is what gives orthodontists the world over a case of the vapors.

After the basic form, man headed grinning lion, which is creepy enough, some later manticore gained appendages like horns, dragon’s wings, and a scorpion tail.  Of all these, the scorpion tail is the most common and most traditional.  In fact, the manticore is said to have a variety of poisonous outlets.  Its red lions fur often hides poison tipped quills, which the beast can throw with disturbing accuracy.  In some legends the manticore’s poison is some of the deadliest in the world.   Yet in others, it prefers to paralyze its victims so it has time to mock and strip away any pesky clothing that might get stuck in its teeth.  Because there is nothing quite so yummy as chilled, quivering peasant.

Now I personally have never found out just what the manticore meant in heraldry.  I half imagine that a few families, in an effort to be different, decided to shake things up from the usual hippogriff and unicorn motif.  It would be like Paris Hilton changing her little dog for a gila-monster.  It would cause talk, it would, but it  wouldn’t be exactly a wise idea.

And big surprise, later on the church made the poor dragon-winged man-eater a sign of the devil.  More amusingly, some see it as a unholy cross of the zodiac signs scorpio, aquarius, and leo.  Never mind that the Persians had a completely different astrological system.  Never mind that the manticore didn’t bother tempting people into sin or bringing about evil.  It ate people, often slowly and painfully, but that’s about it.  You might as well make a rabid polar bear the symbol of the devil.

In fact, thats a great idea for a cartoon series.  He can be chased off by the koala pope.

There have been incidents of the manticore showing up in graffiti on church walls.  Not because the manticore is evil, but because it would really piss off the church.  And I don’t mean modern graffiti either, I mean sixteenth-century graffiti.  When the crips and bloods were religious orders.

As for the manticore itself, it’s one of those sweet cute creatures I feel sorry for.  Much like the stories of man eating tigers in India. You snack on one or two wandering school children and you get a bad wrap forever.  The only reason there aren’t more stories of manticore hunters is because the Persians didn’t go chasing after their monsters like later knights.  They usually had since to leave the beasts alone in teh wilderness, and only took necessary measures when the creepy crawlies started to become a real nuisance to the livestock.

Also, a big fire breathing lizard is probably an easier target than something that grins at you after you are paralyzed.

But why can’t the poor little manticores be left alone to poison and snack on hapless people in peace, like the gods intended?  It’s not like you are going to miss a bat-winged grinning lion trying to sneak up on you.  Its grin doesn’t make it the ruddy cheshire cat, able to appear and gobble you up at a moment’s notice.  I think that time frame-needed a serious dose of PETA, Persians for Ethical Treatment of Anthropophages.

Writing Prompts

People for Ethical Treatment of Anthropophages, that’s a brilliant idea that is.

Uses for manticore quills besides poison.  I’m thinking hats.

Mythological graffiti artists.  I’m picturing huge letters above a great serpent.  THY ASS’TH BE DRAGON

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Okay, so last post I announced my new jewelry store, Dual Seed Studios http://www.etsy.com/shop/DualSeedStudios/about/  and you all should check it out.  I’ll probably have to do a post on just what “Dual Seed” means to me and why I chose it, no it’s not as dirty as you might think.  But this isn’t time for that, this is a time for myth and folklore and things that go bump in the night.  Or things that go bump in the bedroom.  In honor of my own obsessive endeavors, let’s look at two different sources of inspiration.  The muses and the leanan-sidhe.

Muses are so popular that I didn’t want to do a full post just on them, because much of it you might already know.  Nine women, born of Zeus, who represent all the arts and sciences of the ancient world.   Traditionally, they inspire artists and creators within their fields.

… Or do they.  First of all, since I’m focusing on things that people might not have heard about the muses, originally there were only three of them, and they had nothing at all to do with Zeus.  Some said they were born of Uranus, the sky, and Gaia, the earth.  Others made them out to be more like water nymphs, born from springs and occasionally man made fountains.  We’ve already talked about nymphs and their semi-divine nature, and the connection between muses and fountains stays in the background long after the three become nine.

Also, originally they were sources of inspiration, but they didn’t have specific areas or arts to personify.  They sort of leaked inspiration like a leaky faucet, giving it to whoever they were closest too.  This included lovers of course, but in some darker tales it didn’t necessarily need to be willing lovers.  That’s right, some people took inspiration from muses, along with anything else they wanted, and do we really expect a ditzy hyper-nymph to be able to put up much of a fight?  Maybe the pantheon of muses expanded when more generations of Muses were born, and maybe they started hanging out with Zeus and Apollo and such for a bit of protection.  Not that you could trust those two infamous womanizers around anyone with a bit of curves. Even calling Zeus ‘daddy’ is likely just to turn the nasty horndog on more.

Then, in another part of the world but maybe just as old a concept, there is the leanan sidhe (no, that was not an awkward segue, shut up!)  One of the Irish (sometimes Scottish) fey, she is a beautiful and powerful creature who grants inspiration to her lovers.  Willing lovers only this time, anyone who tried to force himself on a leanan sighe is going to lose more than his balls.

Even when the leanan sighe has a new beau, the artist  in question is doomed to suffer.  The leanan sidhe is absolutely the worst of girlfriends.  She demands all your love and attention even as she insists you work on your art.  And even when you are a dutiful lover, she quite often drives you into complete madness.  The candle that burns brightest slips a bloody cog, to mix a metaphor.  Literally, almost all of the lovers, read victims, of the leanan sidhe live brilliant, and short, lives.  Usually ending with them gibbering in madness, overwhelmed either by faerie glamour or forced inspiration.  Uncontrolled ideas bubbling up through the brain pan can be just as dangerous as supernatural sex, probably more so.

Later mythologies have the leanan sidhe as kind of a vampire who feeds on her lovers’ life forces. She probably gets more of a boost from their love.  She doesn’t need to drain her little pets, but I bet she gets a giggle out of the self destructive path the little mad bastards cut through their lives.  There are always more desperate artists to fill her bed.

Now I talk about the leanan-sidhe as a singular figure, and to be honest the older myths have it as a type of fey, with lots of the ‘barrow lovers’ as the name loosely translates too, running about and causing brilliant but short lives.  More recently, in popular media especially, she is becoming a singular figure, and I’m kind of waiting to see if that happens more and more with the other old fey.  I’m wondering if the human story will condense several old myths together, much like they’ve done with various pantheons, until we have the Redcap, the Dionne Sidhe (singular), instead of a bunch of the buggers running around.

It’s also fascinating the connection between sex, inspiration, and water.   Those three things get combined far more than just these two examples.  The apsara of India are supernatural dancers who seduce and inspire gods and men alike, often causing at least trouble in their marriage beds.  They follow music wherever it is, and are connected with waters and clouds.  Saraswati, godess of knowledge and arts, gets linked to flowing water and pure water sources as well.  Of course the Roman goddesses of fountains are poor knock off copies of the muses (like everything else in Rome), but how many seers, male and female, scry through water for their inspirations throughout history?

On a personal note, though the original three muses were mostly focused on poetry and song, I always liked the idea of nine muses who covered art, history, and science.  There is a huge gap in modern times between art and science that really just doesn’t need to exist.  Both require inspiration, dedication, and a bit of bloody luck.  Why not search for that luck in the form of a beautiful nymph?  Men have found inspiration in far worse things.

Okay, insert obligatory joke of muses being all ‘wet’ here, goodnight folks.

 

Writing Prompts

Two thousand years in the future, what ‘arts and sciences’ exist and what muses have provenance?

Women’s lib, a muse goes into business for herself.  Maybe using an artist as a tool and ghost writer.

Modern psychological drugs versus leanan sidhe madness magic, who wins?  Certainly not the poor bipolar artist stuck in between.

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This may be a shorter post than most, but hopefully my ramble-nator six thousand will kick in and I’ll be able to flow with the best of them.  Don’t have a ramble-nator?  Oh you poor duckies, I got the chip installed when I was a young wee lad, fresh out of the test-tube, a slightly dirty one at that.   Wait, this has nothing to do with today’s monster.  Yay, the chip is working!

Sometimes the monsters in this world aren’t a species, but a unique event.  Sometimes that monster is a representation of a rare group, like Bigfoot being the de-facto spokesman for sasquatches everywhere, but sometimes there is only one beast in all the world.  Single, solitary critters that don’t fit into any category.  Unique and beautiful, in their way, and sometimes just so damn grumpy.  Like the Phoenix, who only gets noticed when the poor thing sets itself on fire, which seems a serious cry for attention if I ever heard of one.

Today’s bit of bizarre specialness is the Chimera.   I’m capitalizing it, because that’s as close to a proper name as we have for the beast.  Though this has changed over the years, in the original text Chimera was a specific being.  Not a group of beings, not a species, singular, uno, eine, the one, the only.  She, and Chimera was specifically stated to be female, was a three-headed, fire-breathing monster.  With the body of a lion, a second head of a goat, and a long tail that ended in a poisonous viper’s head.  At least she’d have someone to talk to, even if she was the only one of her kind.  Though it’s hard to imagine a snake, lion, and goat having a very deep conversation.  I’m not even going to try to figure out which was the brains of the outfit.

This sort of thing happened a lot with Greek myths, and it’s kind of why I wanted to focus on the subject.  A lot of the Greek originals were singular mothers.   There was one Minotaur, one Chimera, even only one Cyclops in some stories.  This changed over time, as the Romans adopted the tales and spread them, but in the beginning, there was only one.  Some of this could be put down to Greece actually not being all that big place, for all the influence it had on arts and history.  Most of their stories came in from their sailors and traders.  It’s a very human reaction to see something special and think it is a non-repeatable event.  You see it, so you have to accept it, but you don’t necessarily extrapolate there.  From miracles to monsters, if a guy runs into a slathering goat/lion who’s tail almost bites his nose off, he isn’t necessarily going to think about there being two of such a monstrosity.

So we can look at the dynamics of an island culture which seemed to have as may philosophers as merchants.  Or, we can look at their myth directly.  In which case. Chimera gets to blame all her problems on the same source that all psychologists agree screw up all daughters.  Her mum.  Echinda, the Mother of all Monsters.  A dragon blooded beauty with the bottom half of a twisting serpent, or sometimes two serpents depending on the vase painter.  She spilled everything from Cerberus to Scylla from her womb, with the assistance of a variety of fathers.  It’s clear that most of the kids got kicked out of the house early, and didn’t get much of motherly love while they were there.  Oh I’m sure she tried, but she had terrible taste in men and way too little knowledge of birth control.  Poor Chimera was born in the trailer park, mythologically speaking, and I doubt she got along with her siblings any better than she did her parents.

Chimera was eventually killed in a classic example of Greek street violence.  She was taken out by one of the many ‘heroes’ running around at the time.  I say heroes with an extra bit of sarcasm this time, because the guy did it by grabbing a flying horse and throwing spears down from a safe height.  Dragon slayers always take whatever advantage they can get, I understand that, but I was always unclear about what Chimera did to him to deserve the attention.  The beast mostly seemed solitary, only toasting those who came to bother her.

Over the years, chimera has become a word that means any hybrid creature.  It’s a handy category for gryphons and sphinx and Qilin alike.  These days, hybrid is becoming the more commonly used term, and I swear its simply because too many scholars are tired of hearing people mispronounce chimera.  Its Greek to me, as the old joke goes, but the ch in this case is not the English sound that comes with cheese and chess, but a hard k sound with a bit of phlegm in the back of the throat.  Kie-mera.  It’s not that hard.

I should also point out that Chimera was used heavily in art in medieval Europe, though the original myths were largely forgotten.  You see the image of a man with wings, or a man on a flying horse, slaying the poor beast on many a manuscript.  Why?  Because a goat head that breathes fire was way too good a symbol for that period’s idea of the devil to pass up.  Still, I won’t complain, as it kept the myth well alive.  Me, I want an alternative history, where Pegasus falls in love with Chimera, dumps the spear chucking hero into her maws, and the two of them head off into the sunset to have truly disturbing babies of their own.

I’m a romantic like that.

 

Writing prompts

Three headed monsters and the conversations they have with themselves.

Anti-hero insurance salesmen.  Seems they could charge a high premium on many a monster’s horde.

An Echidna reality show.   Desperate housewives have nothing on this.

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Wow, I’ve kept going for a whole month on these things, and so far the results have been positive.  Let’s keep at it.  Going for a bit of a two-fer this week.  Two creatures related in a most dubious manner. Kings of the sky, the griffin and the hippogriff.

Now the griffin is fairly well known, iconic in many ways.  With the backside of a lion and the front of an eagle, the griffin is a combination of the king of the jungle, and the king of the air.  Sometimes its shown with lion forefronts, especially in the really ancient portrayals, but the really menacing versions of it have the nasty grasping talons of the eagle and the powerful hind legs of a lion.

Depictions of griffins go back five thousand years, far longer than you might expect. The Greeks were crazy about these things, documenting them in stories and engraving them in stone.  The origins most likely go back to Persia, where you can still find some ancient statuary of them in cast bronze.  The Egyptians used them too, though if they needed a cat/bird hybrid for guardian work they were far more likely to go with the human-headed sphinx.   And despite its tendency to demonize monsters and beasts of every sort, the Catholic Church decided that their mixture of sky and earth made the griffin a fine image to represent their divine and earthly God figure.  Griffins show up in churches all over Europe, and that might be why they have played an important part in heraldry today.

It’s interesting, but despite the wings most art is of them sitting, stalking, and rearing up in a lion like pounce.  You hardly ever see them depicted in flight, and it’s not a huge wonder why.  With a lion ass hanging down in gravity, the poor bastards probably looked a bit daft.  Bet the silly things were all self conscious about it too, what with the famous pride of lions (sorry, I can’t help that pun) and the haughty vanity of eagles.

Like the roc and dragon that I’ve already touched on, you pretty much have to assume that griffins would be apex predators.  Hell, they are a blend of two extremely large and well respected carnivores.  Though they’d be more than happy to vivisect most heroes, they are usually more of a threat to livestock.  And horses, the big old sweeties just love horses, nummy hoofed treats that they are.

Which brings me to hippogriffs, which are a little rarer.  With the body of a horse and the head and wings of an eagle, these things are a little more confusing.  Would they eat meat or alfalfa?  Hell, horses can be damned delicate creatures. I’d hate to think of one of the beasts foundering in mid air.  Unless it was done with proper comedic timing, say while flying over the Kentucky derby.  And think of the droppings, ugh!  Just the thought of them anywhere near my car after it’s just been washed gives me the willies.

So where do hippogriffs come from?  You guessed it, from a griffin and a horse getting down and doing the nasty.  There actually was an expression, ‘as rare as a hippogriff’ or ‘as rare as griffins and horses mating,’ which just meant pretty damned rare.  Either way I try to picture it my head goes a little squidgy.  Would a female griffin in heat make do with some likely stallion if there weren’t anything else available?  Or did some pervert male griffin just decide to play with his food now and again?  I’m sure that some horse trader somewhere tried to force such a breeding.  Hippogriffs were said to be smarter and faster than their griffin parents.  Some liken their speed to that of Pegasus, one of the fastest mounts in the sky.  Ugh, mount… sorry my head is still in the no no place.  I so would not want to be the stable boy for that breeder, no matter how well he paid.

Griffens weren’t known to have many extraordinary properties, though there were exceptions.  Some said that their kidneys, eyes, and feathers had curative properties. Alchemists said that their feathers could be used for flight and invisibility talismans.  Others thought they guarded treasures and had hordes of precious stones, or could be cut open to find sapphires and opals in their gut, like craw stones.  I’ve heard that sometimes they were thought to have predictive abilities, able to peer their eagle eyes into the future to see what was coming.  If I was a big winged cat, I’d sure want to be able to predicted coming rainstorms at the very least.  Beyond that, I’m not sure why a griffin would need to see the future. It’s not like they’d have many threats, or need to peak at lottery numbers or anything.

They were sought after as rides and curiosities, many rich and noble fools would love a griffin in their menagerie.  Sailors tended to see them as bad omens, and hippogriffs as good, the damned horses always having that odd connection to water I mentioned in the last post.  For the first time, I’m pretty sure griffin meat would taste terrible.  They probably smelled too, rolling around in carrion will do that for you.  Oh yes, did I mention the carrion?  They were said to leave their prey up on high cliffs or trees to let it properly age.  It was one of the ways you knew a nest was close. Yet the disgusting things have still shown up on family crests as symbols of bravery and strength, proving that when you’ve got huge talons and a savage beak you don’t need to smell nice to earn respect.

Personally, I think they’d make great pets, though as insufferable as a house cat I’m sure.  Maybe if one could breed them out of other birds and cats?  A parrots and lynx hybrid would be nice, or a puma-peacock mix.  There have been some stories of similar creatures in South America, with spots and the heads of owls.   Winged cats in general of course show up all over the place, but none quite as ferocious and impressive as the original.

If you ever run into one, treat it as a dangerous and slightly dumb beast.  Try and make friends, but don’t expect any sign of reason. I bet they’d love a scritch behind their big long ears, if you didn’t lose a hand in the process.

Writing Prompts

Griffin hunting.  If the medieval nobles went after boars and great stags, you know someone somewhere developed a griffin spear.

Griffin shows. It’s like a cat show only with fewer ribbons and more flesh wounds.  You’d better show respect to the crazy old lady on the corner, she’s got seventeen of the buggers.

Cowboys and their hippogriffs?  Let’s see how the old west changes when you throw in faster transportation and the ability to herd dragons.

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