Monday, June 11, 2012

taboos & role models: the myths of heroes

The great thing about second hand book shops is that they provide a space to come across books you otherwise might have missed - like this book about ancient Greek myths by Luciano De Crescenzo. Not sure who invented the German title ("Back when men were still allowed to be heroes") - the original Italian one is "I Miti degli Eroi" - "The myths of Heroes".

It's a brief book, 190 pages, yet De Crescenzo manages to provide both the ancient tales of The Argonauts, Herakles, Theseus, the Minotaur, and more - and puts them into their historic content with knowledge and wit, and many quotes from the original texts.

Greece, it's the cradle of democracy, and also the cradle of epic drama tales and heroes, all of which turned to role models for our Western culture. Interesting to note that in Greece, democracy didn't mean one adult = one vote. Slavery was a part of the Greek society, as was war - which made the figure of the hero so important as protector. Yet the heroes weren't free from fault, just like the Greek Gods they were wrapped in conflicts, desires and dramas, and were primarily warriors: "In Homeric Greek, "hero" refers to a man who was fighting on either side during the Trojan War. A hero was more than human but less than a god" (Greek hero cult).

Greek mythology also delivered the name for Europe: in the myth, Europa was a woman of high lineage, abducted by Zeus, who turned into a white bull to trick her, as he "was enamored of Europa and decided to seduce or ravish her, the two being near-equivalent in Greek myth". And just as the Gods, the heroes weren't exactly bound by ethics, either. (and how this story seems like a great name myth for a continent still is unanswered, here's more: Europa/mythology)

There's another taboo that didn't exist back then in ancient Greece: homosexuality was part of the normal culture. And it was just while reading the book that the Orange Prize winner was announced, and it turned out to be: Madeline Miller with ‘The Song of Achilles’ - a story based on the Trojan War, and on the friendship (and beyond it, the relationship) bewtween Achilles and his close friend Patroclus. Savidge Reads has a book review with a summary that goes for a lot of the Greek heroes, gods, and mortals of that time: "we soon learn the gods have stated a prophecy which isn’t going to reach a happy conclusion for anyone concerned". 

Two other bits of news that were announced in these days: the Orange Prize - which ranks as one of the most prestigous literary prizes, and was established to recognise the contribution of female writers - will change its name, as Orange ends its sponsorship. But that's okay, they supported it for a long time, despite the criticism the gender aspect caused - the prize was even accused of being "sexist", as if it hadn't been a noteworthy gender gap that initiated it in first place. Here's more, in an Alternet article on Book Prizes and the Literary Canon. Looking at the ratios mentioned in the article for the Nobel Prize or the Booker Prize, the gender gap is more than obvious. A fact that got highlighted by the second bit of news, about the Cannes film festival this year: guess how many films by female directors were shown there? (here's the answer: no, not even one).

Global + European Reading Challenge: In the read this year, i am taking part in a global and in an european reading challenge. the idea: to read books from each continent of the world / several countries of europe. here are the other books from the series: reading challenge

Taboos & Role models: Parallel to the reading challenge, there's a string of posts on books that touch the theme of taboos and role models. Well, a developing string: this is the second post. the first post is here: taboos & role models: the un-sanitized antiheroine + the next top model.

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