“Why I do not believe in a creator,” from Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry.

‘What is your word for God? What do you mean you have no word for God? Everyone believes in a Creator don’t they? Our more liberal minded White friends always want to know more about us, so they naturally come with questions Thirty-five years ago, a Native elder from northern California told us a creation story. Long ago, Coyote was floating through the air and wanted some place to rest. So he created the earth- although it was just an accident. So is coyote God? The Creator?

As we have learned from the world of physics, even scientific observation changes what is being observed (i.e., the “’observer effect”). In this case, the very question that any White person (say, an anthropologist) asks a Native person shapes her answer in decisive ways. Whatever the Native person has to say about the matter must now use the language categories of the colonizer. In this case, the key problematic words are god, creator, and believe. The question itself shapes the reality that the Native person must try to describe. Now she must struggle to use colonial language of god, creator, and belief to interpret her own world back to the well-meaning colonizer, who seems to assume that everyone in the world is similar to himself. The more these euro-christian friends hear about Coyote, however. the clearer they are that crazy Old Man Coyote is not exactly what they mean by the word god — even if he created something.

Here, I am not simply objecting to the language of god and creator as language embedded in a european worldview or christian ideology. It is much more crucial to notice that imposing these religious metaphors of a hierarchical divine as an overlay on Indian cultures irredeemably distorts the Native culture and destroys the intricacies and the beauty, that is, the coherence, of the Native worldview. An up-down Linguistic cognitive image functions to structure the social whole around vertical hierarchies of power and authority.

While all Indian people have stories of origin – called “creation stories” in euro-talk-these stories differ significantly from the eurowest’s. Osages remember that the dry-land portion of this world
was made in the long ago by o’po to’ga, the bull elk. So, why can’t we just say that Bull-Elk is the Creator and leave it at that? The first problem with that choice is that human people and, at least, elk already elk already existed. So did the earth. When the sky people/humans came down from the stars, they were brought down to earth by the eagle (another creator figure?0 but found it covered with water. It was Elk who then created the dry ground and all kinds of living things to help the humans to be able to survive…then they discovered another community of humans, the earth people, who were already here. So, Elk shared a role and responsibility in making the world – as did Eagle. But neither one is the sort of monotheistic “creator” like the one brought over the waters with the christian european invasion. Indeed, recall that the world and people already existed — particularly the oak tree in which the sky people first landed. Namely, there are no credible, historical American Indian stories that tell of a creation ex nihilo, a creation from nothing. Nor is there a super-personality who is ultimately in charge. This same structuring of beginnings plays out in all Indian traditions.

…Since our experience of the world is one of interrelationship, we cannot conceive of a human superiority to any of the other living things of the world. They are all “relatives.” And to put ourselves somehow in charge seems to Indian peoples to be a very dangerous move, which puts the balance of the whole in great jeopardy.

Experiencing all non-human persons as relations generates an affect or way of life in which there can be no hierarchy of being, either among a human community or between the different categories of persons in the world: two-leggeds, four-leggeds, flying ones, or what we call the living-moving people, for example, tress, corn, river, and mountains…

Disruptions of balance (from personal or cosmic) occur daily, so they must be mitigated with ceremonial reciprocity. Whatever we human beings acquire or receive, we must give something back.’

-Tink Tinker, “Why I do not believe in a creator,” from Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry.

 

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Nina Paley on The Gaia Hypothesis

“The Gaia Hypothesis posits the Earth’s biosphere is a single living organism. Living organisms by definition reproduce. How would a planet’s biosphere reproduce?

By sending reproductive cells of some sort to other planets.

Much (possibly most) of the Earth’s biosphere consists of bacteria. In fact most animals, including humans, consist largely of bacteria. Animals are mobile housing units for bacteria.

Humans are a peculiar animal. We’re creating our own extinction event. We seem hellbent on exploiting and destroying “nature,” yet we are part of nature, produced by nature. Why would the biosphere produce homo sapiens?

An extremely popular belief of our time is that humans will colonize other planets. Many humans consider this a more worthy goal than preserving biodiversity on Earth. Humans are willing to trash this planet in order to reach others.

It is vanishingly unlikely humans will survive on other planets. But it is likely we will reach other planets. We will not colonize other planets with humans, but with bacteria.

Humans are Gaia’s way of sending bacteria to other planets, thereby reproducing.

…Over billions of years, these pioneering bacteria will evolve, growing a new biosphere of diverse life forms. A new, living planet – another Gaia – is born.”

[Via]

See also:

Is The Girl With All The Gifts antinatalist?

Gods in our machines. 

What we talk about when we talk about post-apocalyptic stories.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch on indie books:

In that old book of criticism, Lewis was justifying the fiction that he wrote. He didn’t like the terms “highbrow” and “lowbrow” fiction, choosing instead to label readers “unliterary” or “literary” depending on the kind of attention they pay to the texts in front of them. (If the reader read solely for pleasure, and did not reread books, they were generally unliterary.)

This snobbishness permeated the industry. The snobbishness went all the way into business practices and marketing, in contracts and in expectations. Paperbacks were considered disposable. Hardbacks were not. The returns system in the U.S. was predicated on that. Hardbacks required full copy returns, and if the books were damaged, then they would not count against a bookstore’s bill. Paperbacks were mutilated, the covers returned only, so that the book could be thrown away.

Contracts and deals reflected the perceived ephemeral nature of the material, and writers often fell prey to it. They signed deals that would be ludicrous if anyone had thought more than two years head.

The attitude was that nothing good could come from disposable products, even though the paper books often outsold hardcovers by literary (and accepted) writers by ten to one (and sometimes by 100 to one).

Here’s the thing, though: the only way to become a remembered author who survives the test of time is to influence a lot of readers. If a “good” novel has a 5,000 copy print run and sells out, and a “bad” novel has a 50,000 copy print run and sells out, guess which one has the better chance of being remembered? The one with tens of thousands of readers, not the one with only 5,000.

Books with a lot of readers tend not to be the critical darlings of the day. They tend to be the books that get the most word of mouth, books that are passed from hand to hand to hand or written up the most in blogs or discussed by savvy readers everywhere.

How do you become one of those writers?

 

The thing is…the books that often stick in the memory of the reading public are books that surprise in some way or counter expectations or make the reader lose a few hours of sleep because the reader can’t put the book down.

Those books aren’t manufactured and fussed over and edited to death. They weren’t written to be judged, as literary novels often are. Those books weren’t written to impress. They were written because they had to be, or because the author needed to eat. The author wrote it, someone published it, and then both moved on—even though the readers didn’t.

Indie writers are doing the same thing right now. They’re writing what they love. A few are still writing what they think will sell, although that trend seems to be moving past us now. (Thank God). Most writers are simply trying to put food on the table so they don’t have to go back to the day job.

Traditional publishers, whose sales are continuing to decline and whose revenue is spiraling downward, keep trying to justify their curation services. Want to know if your book is any good? The traditional publishers say. We’ll let you know that—forgetting, of course, that readers decide what’s good and what’s not.

It’s very threatening to someone “in charge” to see that others, unapproved others, are more successful, particularly if they’re publishing or writing or creating in a method that’s hard to control. Indie writers are very hard to control. They can put up their own books. They can write against the prescribed rules. They can fly in the face of popular wisdom.

[Via]

#BLAThoughtOfTheDay: Neil Gaiman implies that Norse Gods are more popular than Greek and Roman gods?

“I didn’t get any Greek and Roman gods in, because at the time I couldn’t convince myself there was any particular reason to bring Greek and Roman gods in. Now, a few years ago I read about the discovery of some ancient Roman coins in the mud of the Ohio River, and they’re definitely ancient Roman coins. There are differences of belief as to whether they were coins that somebody hid there and they got lost or whether they date back 2,000 years. But I don’t need any kind of proof on this. All I need is to be able to point to something in the way I could point to the Egyptian stuff. Now I have something that I can hold onto and go, “Well, there is a case now for ancient Romans knocking around America which gives me the whole panoply of Roman gods, too.”

Having said that, the other reason I never used them was at the time I felt they were overused, and I like the idea of using ones that were a little bit underused and was proud of myself for having done so.”

 

-Neil Gaiman

[Via]

So is Neil Gaiman saying that, though Greco-Roman gods are “overused” they are not as popular as the Norse? The fact there would be no appearance of them in American Gods seems to imply that Americans don’t favor them as much as Norse–that they do not have as many worshipers to make them relevant or prevalent. Which is illogical due to the the fact that 1) we know more about the Greco-Roman myths and 2) the entire West is built upon or around their mythos (philosophy, the Arts, arguably Christianity). So the reason they aren’t seen in his book seems to imply something about their status. The biggest fan base for Norse myth stems from the comic book craze (read: Thor). I still wouldn’t say it overshadows the following of Greco-Roman gods, though.

It seems like a weak argument — something overlooked when he was trying to build a mythos. He may have highlighted some marginal gods, but at the cost of his mythos.

 

 

Catherynne M. Valente on Tolkien:

“JV: You’ve also said that the typical mythpunk author was “over Tolkien by roughly second grade,” and indeed many mythpunk authors had or still have an interest in his work. While Tolkien is, of course, a granddaddy of fantasy as we know it in the West today, what role does he play in mythpunk specifically?

CMV: Well, I mean, I was being confrontational, and trying to differentiate mythpunk from the bulk of mainstream fantasy which is still in deep hock to Big Daddy T. The fact is, I am a Sindarin-speaking Tolkien dork, the kind that genuinely loved the Silmarillion and memorized the poetry. I love Tolkien. Thus, I have no desire to repeat his work. I think that great work can be done by confronting head-on the anxiety (of influence) toward Tolkien’s dominant work, toward the assumptions and prescription of his incredibly pervasive memes. But that’s different than the trend I was talking about. Tolkien himself was reacting to a long tradition of folklore and myth, going to the sources for inspiration. Afterward, many authors looked to Tolkien as a first source rather than a reaction, and a great deal of generation loss was experienced by the field as a whole.”

[Via]

BookTuber Tuesday – The Last Unicorn

 

Recommend a BookTuber video in the comments and it could make our Tuesday post!

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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Easter Rabbit Stew:

From ‘Robotics: Hephaestus does it again Inaugural lecture’ by Jean-Paul Laumond

“It was when I was preparing this lecture that I discovered that roboticists have a god: Hephaestus. In Greek mythology, Hephaestus was an ingenious, talented craftsman, known for the remarkable weapons he made. But he also made wheelchairs that moved about on their own (basically, mobile robots) and golden servants that helped him to move about (basically, helper robots), and he even made Pandora, a clay statue to whom Athena gave life. He had a tumultuous love life, as attested by the following passage by Apollodorus, a chronicler from the second century BCE:

Athena visited Hephaistos, wanting to fashion some arms. But Hephaistos, who had been deserted by Aphrodite, yielded to his desire for Athena and began to chase after her, while the goddess for her part tried to escape. When he caught up with her at the expense of much effort (for he was lame), he tried to make love to her. But she, being chaste and a virgin, would not permit it, and he ejaculated over the goddess’s leg. In disgust, she wiped the semen away with a piece of wool and threw it to the ground. As she was fleeing…

While Hephaestus is the god of doing, Athena, who appears here as the one who calls the tune, is the goddess of knowing or —to protect me from reprimands from the exegetes, especially in this assembly— let me consider her as such for the purpose this lecture. Hephaestus was thus seeking to possess Athena. He was unable to do so. Could the doing not aspire to the knowing? A hard blow for the roboticist.

Robotics stems from this tension. Although the myth contradicts a current tendency to confuse science and technology, it does nevertheless reflects my own experience regarding innovation —experience that I might sum up as follows: even though doing is not understanding, understanding enables one to do, but unfortunately, not always. And even though one may very well do without understanding, doing also enables one to have tools —sometimes surprising ones— for understanding.

Hephaestus is starting all over again with new Pandoras. They are no longer of clay, but mecatronic. And they are animated. The roboticist keeps on asking the question of autonomy: what adaptability can we hope to give these new machines? The analogy between humans and machines has to be made23; it cannot be avoided. In the end, does Hephaestus have the keys to knowledge? With his machines that adapt, that “decide” on their actions, what can he tell us about our own “functioning”? The question is both dangerous and beautiful.

Let us bear in mind the image of the myth —and it is only an image, for even if the roboticist can identify with Hephaestus and can shape Pandora out of clay, he is neither Athena nor Geppetto. He will never give any humanity to clay or wood. A robot is a machine controlled by a computer; nothing else. Although animated, it remains and will remain an inanimate object without a soul that becomes attached to our soul [and without] the power of lovei. Let us allow the demi-gods to talk, let us enjoy works by Fritz Lang and Mary Shelley, and let us not be afraid. But are we actually anxious? That is not so sure. In any case, our Japanese friends aren’t, they who are so different from us; they for whom union is possible.”

[Via]

BookTuber Tuesday – American Gods Complaints

Recommend a BookTuber video in the comments and it could make our Tuesday post!

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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On Ghost in the Shell:

“The biggest problem – the one you already know about, thanks to the countless thinkpieces about it spewed forth from our left-leaning media cycle – is the racial one. Again, there’s an excuse: the film offers its multiracial cast, who occupy roles that are disconnected from their ethnicity, as a depiction of so-called “transhumanism” (a troubling phrase to begin with), which is supposed to tie into the big twist reveal about The Major and where she came from before all this cybernetic stuff happened. But, again, this excuse is as flimsy as wet paper – it’s obvious to anyone that Paramount (and affiliated Chinese production companies Huahua Media and Shanghai Film Group) needed to cast the biggest female star they could in order to sell their film, and the biggest star just so happened to be white. As a result of this decision, which was already artistically bankrupt, the story of the original Ghost in the Shell was rewritten to focus not on its ontological ideas about identity and consciousness, but on a hackneyed amnesia plot in which The Major – whose name is now “Mira Killian” – must discover her true identity as a Japanese girl named Motoko Kusanagi.

I don’t even know where to start with that.

Casting a white actor as a Japanese character would be troublesome enough. Changing that Japanese character into a white character in response is even more problematic. Revealing that that white character was actually a Japanese character all along is… well, “batshit insane” springs to mind.

This isn’t the remake’s only problem, but it’s surely the most damning one. It’s emblematic of a general disregard by all involved in the film for crucial sociopolitical issues that, in 2017, have been brought tooth and nail to the surface, by the bravery of those actually facing these issues daily. Marvel’s Iron Fist is one thing; that character was actually originally written as white. The rest is wishful thinking, no matter how well-intentioned (and correct, in my opinion) the fan-casting might be. This is beyond the pale, and it would utterly invalidate the film if it wasn’t already so busy doing that to itself by other means.

It’s undoubtedly a colourful, well-composed, striking-looking movie, but that’s about where its virtues end. Its depictions of a glittering cyberpunk future – a far cry from the gritty, overwhelmingly dense setting of the original – are stunning, but nearly masturbatory in their effect, as the same flyover shots are used again and again to show us the same amazing building-sized holographic advertisements we’ve seen before. It’s Blade Runner, if Blade Runner had no restraint or sense of visual purpose. Even within this fantastical future world, where nothing looks real, many of the film’s visual effects still manage to look artificial and dated. The action sequences are dull, with unfocused editing and no sense of impact, and far too infrequently placed in a film whose dialogue scenes leave much to be desired. The banter between characters is painful even in comparison to the 1995 film, whose obviousness was an issue – here the ideas are just as vapid as the dialogue used to express them. The general story structure is a latticework of bad ideas, from the clumsy way that old elements are redone (like the garbage man controlled by the hacker antagonist, or the hacker antagonist himself) to the inept way that new elements are introduced (like Killian’s mother-figure, the unscrupulous-then-scrupulous Dr. Ouelet, or Beat Takeshi’s Section 9 boss Chief Aramaki, who graduates from a technical strategist in the original to yakuza executioner here). The simplest way to describe it is to say that it’s a film whose only new ideas are bad ones, and whose execution on the old ideas is bumbling and inelegant.”

[Via]

#TBT – The Guild

That one time when YouTube had micro TV shows as well as vlogs that were worth watching. 2007.

BookTuber Tuesday – Veganism is Feminism

Recommend a BookTuber video in the comments and it could make our Tuesday post!

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

all yellowB&N | Amazon | Etc.

On Hephaestus becoming less hideous:

Ursula K. Le Guin didn’t like Neil Gaiman’s representation of gods

“What finally left me feeling dissatisfied is, paradoxically, the pleasant, ingratiating way in which he tells it. These gods are not only mortal, they’re a bit banal. They talk a great deal, in a conversational tone that descends sometimes to smart-ass repartee. This chattiness will be familiar to an audience accustomed to animated film and graphic narrative, which have grown heavy with dialogue, and in which disrespect is generally treated as a virtue. But it trivialises, and I felt sometimes that this vigorous, robust, good-natured version of the mythos gives us everything but the very essence of it, the heart.

The Norse myths were narrative expressions of a religion deeply strange to us. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are divine comedies: there may be punishment for the wicked, but the promise of salvation holds. What we have from the Norse is a fragment of a divine tragedy. Vague promises of a better world after the Fimbulwinter and the final apocalypse are unconvincing; that’s not where this story goes. It goes inexorably from nothingness into night. You just can’t make pals of these brutal giants and self-destructive gods. They are tragic to the bone.” -Ursula K. Le Guin reviewing Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman.

[Via]

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

all yellowB&N | Amazon | Etc.

BookTuber Tuesday – “Books I won’t be finishing” #3

Recommend a BookTuber video in the comments and it could make our Tuesday post!

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

all yellowB&N | Amazon | Etc.

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Alt-Right Jane Austen By Nicole M. Wright

“There is a reason that alt-right adherents claim Austen for themselves, and it isn’t because their Dear Leader, who has not read a book in years (according to his own biographer), is a closet Janeite. By comparing their movement not to the nightmare Germany of Hitler and Goebbels, but instead to the cozy England of Austen — a much-beloved author with a centuries-long fandom and an unebbing academic following — the alt-right normalizes itself in the eyes of ordinary people. It also subtly panders to the nostalgia of the Brexiters, with their vision of a better, bygone Britain.”

[Via]

BookTuber Tuesday – “Series I won’t be finishing” #2

Recommend a BookTuber video in the comments and it could make our Tuesday post!

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

all yellowB&N | Amazon | Etc.

Quotes on Hephaistos from FACING THE GODS:

“As the proletarian worker is seen by the Marxist to be the workhorse of industrial society,  so is Hephaistos the only Olympian God who works…

Hephaistos is a quintessential fringe-person on Olympus…

Hephaistos-consciousness drifts a bit toward the Frankenstein phenomenon: his brother is the monster Typhon, but that goes beyond the fringe of Olympian society.

…The feet of Hephaistos tell volumes: they are turned back to front, and when he walks he goes with a rolling gait that strikes the other Gods as somehow hilarious…On this particular occasion his buffoonery has the effect of keeping the Gods from each other’s throats.

The island of Rhodes, Samothrace, Delos, Lemnos were much associated with a race of cretaures variously called Dakyloi, Telchines, Kouretes, Korybantes, or Kabeiroi; on Lemnos they were called Hephaistoi, in the plural. These names refer to dwarf-like servants of the Great Mother Goddess. Invariably, they occupy themselves with metallurgy at subterranean forges, deep in the body of the Mother herself, for the islands were in earliest times identical with the Great Goddess. As the Idaean Daktyloi (‘Daktyloi’ meaning ‘fingers,’ thus as the ‘fingers’ of the Great Goddess), these smith-dwarfs learne dtheir matallurgic arts originally from the Great Mother herself.

…Hera, the Olympian mother of Hephaistos, preserves associations from earlier, pre-Olympian times with beings of Dactylic nature. The importance of this incestuous pattern in the Hephaistian configuration is central.

Invariably the mythical smiths were set apart by some defect or oddity…

…But the fire of Hephaistos is fundamentally not a daytime, Olympian fire but a subterranean fire.

…Baccaccio argued that Greek imagination gave Hephaistos to the apes because apes imitate nature by practicing the arts and crafts.

…The furnace itself is an ‘artificial uterus,’ as Eliade has pointed out; the smith stands in the service of the metallurgic processes that occur in the furnace just as the Idaean Daktyloi served the Great Mother in her labor. Whereas the heroes o fsolar masculinity perform great tasks to free themselves from bondage to the maternal background, Hephaistos remains always in the service of the feminine. And the Hephaistian passion for creative work is deeply of the Mother.

This intimacy between Hephaistos and the feminine world finds mythic expression through an incident of his boyhood. When Hera flings him in disgust from the gates of heaven, the crippled child falls into the sea and is rescued from drowning by the sea-nymphs Thetis and Eurynome, who take him home and nurture him for nine years.

…To the feminine ego the Hephaistian constellation may appear perhaps even more problematical and threatening. Hephaistos connects to her deepest feminine-maternal impulses, yet wants something other than simple maternity….Hephaistos goes contra naturam (his feet turned the wrong way round!) in a way that profoundly threatens to undermine or rechannel the essence of purely natural feminine creativity. Hephaistos may be, therefore, a monstrous offense to feminine naturalism, a sick-making disharmony in the tones that vibrate between feminine ego=consciousness and the Great Mother.

…And yet, in a subtle way unseen by Hera, Hephaistos is a precise response to Athene, from hermaphroditic femininity to hermaphroditic masculinity. If as W. F. Otto says ‘Athene is a woman, but as if she were a man,’ Hephaistos is a man, but as if he were a woman.

Because she sees in Hephaistos a failure, Hera tries again and produces, finally, Ares. Whether or not Ares satisfies her is not said, but he certainly does reflect his mother’s ferocious, battle-crazy animus…

In temperament, too, the brothers are very unlike, Ares thriving on strife and drinking too deeply of the bloody waters of mortal combat, Hephaistos rather the peace-maker who tends to shy away from conflict.

Hephaistos, it is told, won the hand hand of Aphrodite as reward for freeing Hera from the chains with which he had bound her. What sort of marriage this was remains in the dark, but it seems quite clear that Hephaistos spent much of his time on Lemnos with his smithy-friends, leaving the voluptuous Aphrodite home alone to mind the house. Her affair with Ares, begun during these interludes and carried on while Hephaisots was introverting at his underground forge, is marked by high erotic intensity: it is a as through in the coming together of Ares and Aphrodite two sexual opposites meet which were simply not present tin the Hephaistos-Aphrodite combination.

Not that Hephaistos is at all effeminate and soft. The many drawings and paintings of him show generally a robust specimen of the masculine sex with heavily muscled arms and thick neck. And he is, after all, God of smiths and craftsmen (‘hardhats’!), probably the least effeminate elements of the population.

Even more than Hephaistos, Dionysos is ‘a man but as if he were a woman.’ But whereas Hephaistos tends to tie down and fixate (a kind of compulsion to ‘show them’), Dionysos is the God of dismemberment, dissolution, and loosening.

The mythic ties between Hephaistos and Athene show, both in their quantity and profundity, a deep-going association between these two figures. More than Aphrodite, Athene is the ‘soul-mate’ of Hephaistos. Yet a kind of cloudy mysteriousness shrouds their relationship; no single tradition was ever clearly established on this subject, and so what confronts us is a blurred image based on rumors and conflicting reports…Whether, as in some reports, he marries her or not, the outcome is the same: Hephaistos seeks impetuously and passionately to make love to Athene: at the moment of climax she pushes him aside, and his semen falls to the earth where it impregnates Gaia…” – James Hillman, “Hephaistos: A Pattern of Introversion,” from Facing the Gods. 

On Hephaestus’s Pandora: “Hesiod never her calls her the first woman—or even a woman, period.”

“Indeed, what is regarded asthe first example of the ekphrasis of an artistic object in Western literature, the shield of Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, is a description of an object that did not and could not physically exist…

Thetis, Achilles’ goddess mother, approaches Hephaestus for new armor
made by the divine craftsman himself. Upon entering Hephaestus’
workshop, Thetis sees him putting handles on a set of twenty automated
tripods on wheels, mechanical servants able to move back and forth to the
Olympian feasts. These automatons give the audience a foretaste
of an even more dramatic set of the god’s creations. As Hephaestus puts
away his work and leaves his forge to speak with Thetis, he is assisted by attendants made of gold who are like living young women in appearance (zo\e\isi nee\nisin eioikuiai). Unlike the tripods, however, the poet says these automatons possess intelligence (noos), sense (phrenes), voice (aude\),
vigor (sthenos), and have been taught skills (erga) by the gods (417–20).
The passage is curious. The only roughly similar instance in Homer is
the gold and silver dogs Hephaestus made to guard the palace of king
Alcinous in Odyssey 7.91, but these are not described as animate…

At the request of Thetis, Hephaestus sets about making Achilles’
new armor. Although he does make a corselet, helmet, and greaves, these
are tersely mentioned in only a few lines at the very end of Book 18. The
principal focus of the poet’s descriptive energy is on the shield, and the
context of the description is not a static appreciation of the completed
work but rather the dynamic process of the god fabricating it. The emphasis
is on the making, yet it is not even so much the making of the shield per se
as it is the god’s creation of the images ornamenting it.24 First mentioned
is Hephaestus’ depiction of the earth, sea, and heavenly bodies (483–89).
Then follow the three dominant scenes: a city at peace (490–508), a city
at war (509–40), and a bucolic harvest scene (541–605). Lastly, two lines
specify that the river Ocean is depicted around the outermost rim of the
shield (606–7). Starting with the city at peace, the description becomes
immediately and intensely detailed, presenting the motivations of individuals
and the sequential action of the stories that would be difficult if
not impossible to convey by solely visual means. In the city at peace,

we know that two men involved in a dispute are arguing over restitution
for someone one of them accidentally killed and that the aggrieved
party refuses compensation. We know that they take turns laying their
cases out before a council of elders and that two talents lying before the
elders are to go to the one among them who gives the best counsel. In
the city at war, an army marches out from the city, takes up its ambush
and attacks. Yet the action is not described as a series of vignettes but as
a continuous moving narrative, as if the shield were running some sort
of movie in animated metal. Hephaestus even depicts the divinities Ares,
Athena, Hate, Confusion, and Death as present in the scene.

The description in these major scenes is not limited to the visual.
In the city at peace, the poet describes the song of a marriage procession
passing by in the scene, the bystanders speaking up in the manslaughter
dispute, the speakers taking turns, and in the harvest scene, singing,
whistling, and the music of the lyre. In one striking image in the harvest
sequence, the absence of sound is described: the king stands behind his
workers in silence—a condition paradoxically easy to describe in words
but difficult to do in mute images. The cast-metal images on the shield
recapitulate the metallic maidens. The images are presented as vigorous
and moving; they can sense, reason, and argue. Like the maidens, they
are endowed with speech. They know the crafts of peace and war. In the
ambush scene, the soldiers “battle like living mortals” (ὡμίλευν δ’ ὥς τε
ζωοὶ βροτοὶ ἠδ’ ἐμάχοντο, 18.539) similar to the way the “golden maidens
scuttered about their master like living women” (ῥώοντο ἄνακτι / χρύσειαι,
ζωῇσι νεήνισιν εἰοικυῖαι, 18.417–18).26 The use of the simile here underscores
both the lifelikeness of these images and their nature as representations.
Both the figures themselves and their poetic descriptions make them both
real and representational at the same time…

Homer’s description is embedded in Hephaestus’
action of laying out the metals and placing the sculpted scenes, while at
the same time Hephaestus’ work of creating images in the visual realm
parallels Homer’s in the verbal realm. This adds further depth to one
aspect of the poem that has been long recognized: the scenes on the
shield are emblematic of the story of the Iliad itself, so that the shield is
a multilayered image of the poem, created by and embedded within the
poem…

Although the god’s skill makes the figures so
realistic they (seem to?) move and speak, and although the poet aims at
vivid realism, the audience is deliberately reminded that these are but
images, representations in metal.32 In the next example, however, we shall
examine an image that actually becomes alive: Hesiod’s Pandora.
Though not often singled out as an example of ekphrasis of art, the
creation of “woman” in the poems of Hesiod, Theogony 570–615 and
Works and Days 60–109, where she is given the name Pandora, echoes
themes and language seen in Homer.33 Like Achilles’ shield, Pandora is
made by Hephaestus, but from clay instead of his usual medium, metal
(Theog. 571; WD 60–61, 70). The god, in effect, makes an archaic terracotta
statue in a form “like that of a modest maiden” (παρθένῳ αἰδοίῃ
ἴκελον, Theog. 572; ἐίσκειν / παρθενικῆς καλὸν εἶδος, WD 63; παρθένῳ αἰδοίῃ
ἴκελον, WD 71).34 In Works and Days, the gods then bring the statue to
life specifically by giving it powers that Homer says were given to Hephaestus’
metallic maids: voice (aude\) and vigor or strength (sthenos, WD
61–62, 77–79; cf. Il. 18.417–20). Just as the maids “were taught their skills
by the gods” (ἀθανάτων δὲ θεῶν ἄπο ἔργα ἴσασιν, Il. 18.420), so “Athena
teaches her skills” to Pandora (Ἀθήνην / ἔργα διδασκῆσαι, WD 63–64).
Goddesses bedeck her with glittering raiment, jewels, and flowers.35 Works
and Days then goes on to detail at length the gods’ gifts of Pandora’s
interior character: craftiness, deceit, shamelessness, and irresistible allure.

…Faraone rightly notes that Hesiod never her calls her the first woman—or
even a woman, period. He merely states that her shape, vigor, and voice
are like that of a mortal woman and that all women descend from her
(Theog. 590)…

In one sense, Hesiod appears to exalt verbal representation, since his
words can describe Pandora’s true nature and belie her deceptive visual
appeal. But if this is true, then Hesiod’s words are also exposed as weak
and unavailing, for Pandora’s—and hence all women’s—attractions are
insuperable. Aphrodite herself instilled cruel longing within Pandora (WD
65), and no amount of words can prevent men from desiring women.
Moreover, Pandora’s appeal is purely visual. When she is led out in
public for the first time, both gods and men are awestruck as soon as
they lay eyes on her.To emphasize the visual dynamic, Hesiod equates
seeing Pandora with springing Zeus’ trap: θαῦμα δ’ ἔχ’ ἀθανάτους τε θεοὺς
θνητούς τ’ ἀνθρώπους, / ὡς εἶδον δόλον αἰπύν, ἀμήχανον ἀνθρώποισιν· (“The
immortal gods and mortal men were struck with amazement (thauma)
at this marvel, as soon as they saw this utter snare which men are helpless
against,” Theog. 588–89). Though given speech, she does not speak
in either of Hesiod’s poems. Given that speech is elsewhere a particular
quality of the living, that Pandora has this quality but does not use it
makes her even more of a contradiction and raises further questions as
to what kind of being she is.

…As Hephaestus’ metallicmaids demonstrate, there is no clear line between an image of life and life
itself. What keeps an image in human form, endowed with power, ability,
and speech, from being alive? At the same time, the images portrayed in
these passages are not only looked at, they also look back. Seeing and
being seen are active processes here. The scenes in Homer reach out to
the audience of listeners/readers/viewers and engage them emotionally
and viscerally. Pandora exerts her irresistible power simply by being seen.

…By the nature of his description, Homer invites comparison between the
visual image of the shield and the words he uses to describe it, which
communicate knowledge that the images cannot. Yet both images and
words are the poet’s creations, so that the result is a complex mirroring
not only of the visual and verbal representation of the shield but also of
the making of the shield and the making of the poem itself. In Hesiod,
the powerful reality of the vision of Pandora is actually the counterpart
to the words which describe her character; rather than compete with
one another, both the visual and verbal are necessary to describe her
completely. Artists and poets both create images, and one form of imagemaking
can, or perhaps inherently does, reflect the other. Visuality and
narratology are two sides of the same coin.”

-James A. Francis, “Metal Maidens, Achilles’ Shield, and Pandora: The Beginnings of ‘Ekphrasis.’

On Time and Words:

#TBT – Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale

That one time Hephaestus had a circus act made in his honor because he clearly must really like the circus as theme. 2008.