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The Bow of Apollo

We talk of the 'Greek and Roman myths' as though these are a sort of anthology of stories, but technically this is not correct. In fact there is one Graeco-Roman myth. It's a long, rambling tale with more byways and sidetracks than a National Express bus route, but all one connected story.

In fact that story is the greatest collective achievement in literature. Authors have been adding and re-interpreting aspects of the tale starting with the anonymous storytellers of before 1200 BC right through to June 2024, when I added my own modest contribution of 'Medea: Queen of Witches' to a growing collection of modern books re-telling the old, old stories.

An example of how these tales are really each episodes of a single myth can be seen in the Bow of Apollo. This bow was given by Apollo to his grandson Eurytus. There are different versions of what happened to the bow thereafter, but the most common version (though Homer disagrees) is that Hercules took the bow when he killed Eurytus in a dispute over Eurytus' daughter Iole. (Hercules wanted the girl, but daddy understandably didn't want to hand her over.) Jealous of Iole Hercules' wife killed him with poison – another long story - and the bow ended up in the hands of a Thessalian shepherd who leveraged this possession to become king.

This king's son joined the army headed to besiege Troy, taking the bow with him. However, through another mythical misadventure too long to relate here, he ended up stranded along the way on a remote island. A prophecy said that Troy would not fall unless the Bow was present at the scene, so Odysseus went and got it. By some accounts he also retrieved the son, who went on to kill the adulterous Paris with that bow.

Odysseus still claimed possession of the bow, which went back to Ithaca with his household effects. Odysseus himself was more than somewhat delayed and returned over a decade later to find his house swarming with suitors for his wife Penelope. Taking the Bow of Apollo from the wall, Odysseus mowed down the lot.

Thus one item crops up in what today might be considered three separate myths (and another two minor ones). People do the same, even more often. And that's a good thing. The more one becomes familiar with one aspect of the myths, the easier it is to follow the rest.

Writing 'Medea'

She voyaged all across the Mediterranean, visited Africa and ended up in the Middle East, but for such a well-travelled lady, Medea didn't seem to want to leave home. However this month we did it. All it took was a concerted push by the publication team and 'Medea: Queen of Witches' is finally out the door and making her way in the wider world. (Where initial sales of the book have been very encouraging.)

This was the longest I have ever taken to write a book. Usually I have two projects going on at the same time and I try to wrap up both within a year. For example at present I'm going through the initial edits of one book while completing the research notes and ToC (table of contents) for the next. However, because 'Medea' is part of the 'Unauthorized Biography' series published by my own imprint – Monashee Mountain Press – this meant that when more demanding publishers needed my attention the Medea text went on to the back burner.

In the end this was no bad thing because I was able to read and research more as well as take more time to ponder the inferences of various legends. And nothing fills up an empty afternoon like wrapping a wet towel around one's head and engaging with the recondite Byzantine Greek of the Scholia in Euripidem or the Latin of the Codex Marcianus. From such obscure volumes I was able to extract nuggets of information about Medea's life which have been obscure for over a millennium.

Had a mainstream publisher offered me the chance to write this book, I'd have taken one look at the effort to financial reward ratio and firmly declined. Rewards are not always merely financial though, and in other ways this has been an intensely rewarding book. Next up is Odysseus, and I hope to tell his story in less time than it took for him to get from Troy to back home in Ithaca.

The dry un-fallen leaf
Hey, guess what? I'm retired. My beard has gone white, my hairline has receded while my waistline has expanded, and it's finally time for me to kick back and let the pension from a beneficent state ease me into my golden years. Days of gentle gardening and dominoes at the seniors' club await.

As if that's really going to happen.

This week the negotiated amendments to the contracts for my next two books were emailed to me, along with the edits for one of my current projects. This happened at a bad time, as I'm already deeply engaged in indexing another book due out in the summer and preparing for a large panel discussion to be held at the end of the month. Meanwhile I see that I'll be teaching overlapping classes in the summer, which will involve some fancy footwork in arranging online seminars.

All this has pretty much nailed me to the keyboard of my computer, so there's a reckoning awaiting in the garden where the grass would be knee-high in more places were it not for the dandelions sprouting merrily all over. We also need to dig and plant the potato patch if we want the usual harvest in September. Fortunately my long-suffering wife has already transplanted the tomato seedlings and done some other essential gardening tasks – and all with a minimum of sarky comments about my non-involvement. Dominoes though, will definitely have to wait.

As for the pension, so far my best guess is that I've earned about three bucks an hour. That's once I factor in the time spent hanging on the phone with various departments and dealing with paperwork that asks things like 'If you are not section 37(b) compliant you must download and complete a FsD form and file it with us before the deadline' [followed by a download link to the form - which does not work]. Overall, it seems that for a self-employed person who is his own Human-Resources department, getting a pension is a second job in itself.

At present I sip my after-breakfast coffee and ponder which priority jobs will have to be displaced by top-priority jobs that morning before I go on to the ultra-priority tasks of the afternoon. And truly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Apparently some newly-retired Japanese men are described as 'nurochibazoku' or 'wet fallen leaves'. Lacking friends, job or hobbies, they track around after their wives at home like a wet leaf stuck to a shoe.

Me, I'm still far from fallen leafdom and plan to remain on the twig for a long time to come.
Now that April's here ...
Ah …. spring. My least favourite season. Spring is meant to be a time of daffodils, butterflies and bunny rabbits, but in my corner of the mountains it is also a pain in the posterior. Let's start with that true harbinger of the season, which is not the first tulips but my need to file a tax return – in three countries. Thereafter (for example) I have to explain to the IRS that my earnings from sales in China of books from an American publisher are being taxed in Canada because I am an 'independent alien entity', and then I need to do something similar with His Majesty's taxmen who also want a bite out of my earnings.

Then there's the awakening and correspondingly ravenous wildlife, which varies from raccoons who want to eat whatever is just coming up in the garden to coyotes who want to eat the cats to grizzlies who want to eat me. (The first bunny rabbits of spring have an even more perilous existence.) Meanwhile, forget the daffodils -the first signs of spring are a horde of cheerful yellow dandelions that start colonizing the lawn. Meanwhile, I'm out with a chainsaw cutting down branches that broke under the snowload, fixing fences that likewise collapsed and clearing away lumps of rotting vegetation that we failed to cut away last autumn. Meanwhile, I'm still doing winter stuff like chopping firewood and watching with a mixture of dread and despair as the Canucks ice hockey team stumbles towards the play-offs.

Give me the bleak mid-winter any time. Dangerous wildlife (and I include tax men here) are safely hibernating, the cats snooze in front of the fire, and you can't do gardening when the snow is two meters deep outside. But you can get out on top of the snow to go on long treks in the mountains – where the trails are now mosquito-infested bogs. It was ever thus. Twenty-eight hundred years ago the poet Hesiod remarked that his contemporaries liked to spend the winter lazing and telling yarns in the warmth of the blacksmith's shop before having to to deal with the work of the coming spring.
Olaf Odysseson and the Toijalan war
Recently I have been highly diverted by reading the claims that the Trojan war was actually fought in Scandinavia, and what we read in the Iliad and the Odyssey are actually Scandinavian heroic legends that were brought south and rewritten by Homer for a Greek audience. To substantiate his claim the main proponent of the idea, one Felice Vinci, points out that people in the Iliad and Odyssey occasionally complain of cold, fog and even snow. Surely this fits better with Scandinavia than the dusty plains of Ilium? ('Toijala' aka 'Troy' is an otherwise unassuming town in Finland)

Admittedly Mr Vinci, whose background is in engineering, doesn't have much in the way of formal qualification as an ethnographer, historian or classicist and he seems unaware that modern-day Istanbul - also on the Hellespont - gets an average of seven days a year of snow. The fact that the Greek ships in Homer share a few features with Viking longboats would be more convincing if the Vikings didn't come 2000 years after Achilles and therefore if any ideas were transferred, they would have gone the other way - from Greece to Scandinavia.

Overall. I'd rate this attempt to map Homer's epics on to the Baltic as a sporting try, but ultimately only slightly more convincing than those readings which 'prove' that Troy was in fact Atlantis, or situated off the coast of Cornwall, as some British amateur historians once attempted to demonstrate.

What makes this more interesting it that it represents a wider inclination for people to claim parts of ancient history or myth for themselves and their culture. Nineteenth century historians took a pretty good stab at arguing that the Greeks and Romans were all blonde Aryans with a master-race mentality, just as some modern historians carefully torture the evidence to inform us that Cleopatra and the emperor Septimus Severus were Black, along with a substantial portion of the population of Hadrian's Wall and Londinium. We can go back even further to Renaissance paintings where Helen of Troy and Agamemnon look very much like contemporary Florentines.

It's great that people find ancient history so appealing that they want a piece of it for themselves, but it would be even better if they stuck to the facts. Alternatively, they can await my newly-conceived thesis that the Trojan war was actually a Canadian affair fought on the shores of Lakes Huron and Ontario. It's a little-known factoid that 'Toronto' was originally spelled 'Troyonto'.

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