GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Return Them’ by Margaret Day Elsner

Harry and company don’t steal Fluffy from Hogwarts, nor did they bring him there. Hagrid did, after he bought him from a “Greek chappie” under less-than-legal circumstances (*cough* animal trafficking *cough*). This is a far cry from the violent episode you’re probably imaging with Heracles literally dragging Cerberus out of the Underworld. But Timothy Gantz points out in his 1993 book Early Greek Myththat the iconography of this episode, and its development, depicts a shift in attitude about Heracles’ involvement in this labor. Early vases show him violently storming the Underworld to steal Cerberus; later ones show a more gentle encounter with Persephone allowing Heracles to borrow Cerberus. So while Heracles doesn’t necessarily steal Cerberus every time this episode is recounted, he does participate in the movement of an exotic animal across borders — with no real intention of returning him.

But we shouldn’t pillory Heracles as a proto-animal trafficker. Animal trafficking as we know it, the illicit trade for everything from bushmeat to elephant tusks to illegal house pets, just didn’t exist in the ancient world. What did exist in Antiquity was animal hunting, specifically exotic animal hunting. Think crocodiles from Egypt, panthers from Greece, and elephants from north Africa. Big game from conquered locales played a huge role in the Roman Empire, marching alongside war captives during the imperial triumph. Our earliest account of foreign animals’ participation in processions comes from Josephus’s description of Vespasian’s and Titus’ triumph where “beasts of many species were led along, all decked out with the appropriate adornments” (7.136). Exotic animals, dressed up and subjugated like their human counterparts, were paraded through the streets as prisoners, then later slaughtered in the amphitheater during the ludi, or games. The more fantastic the beast, the better.

So while these fantastic beasts weren’t trafficked, they were displayed as symbols of Rome’s power. And that’s what Cerberus/Fluffy does for his conqueror. Like the emperors Titus and Vespasian, in capturing and later displaying Cerberus to Eurystheus, Heracles didn’t display the might and prowess of the hellhound but his own. Similarly Rowling displays her own literary and cultural prowess when she places Fluffy at the trapdoor leading to the Sorcerer’s Stone. Here, she takes a prominent, seminal image from Western literature and adapts it for her own purposes. And she does so in a pretty clever way by placing Fluffy at the beginning of Harry’s katabasis (a descent into the Underworld) and associating him with heroes like Orpheus, Heracles, and Aeneas.

But who owns Fluffy? The ancient Greeks are no longer alive, and their stories no longer hold any real religious weight. You could point fingers at Rome, but Rome “appropriated” Greek culture long ago (part of a larger drive in Roman society to assimilate conquered cultures). Greek mythology now resides in the foundations of Western literature and art: you can plagiarize its particular iterations but not its general ideas. This is why Greece can argue for the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles but not, say, the dismantling of Washington, D.C. And yes, on Cerberus you could argue that Vergil cribbed Homer, and Dante Vergil, but whoever came up with Cerberus first is long gone — and he’s ripe for the taking.

[Via]

V-day stands for Vulcan Day – Tomorrow both books in the Circo del Herrero series are FREE!

mythpunk book like american gods but you know better

Starting tomorrow, both of our books will be free, but you can get the first one now at this link.

The sequel will be available as an Amazon Kindle download here.

XOXO

UPDATE: Publication of The Pre-Programming: Vol. 2 of the Blacksmith’s Circus Series by BLA and GB Gabbler has been pushed back

We will let you know when we have an official release date. Thanks for waiting! 

From “The Structural Study of Myth” by Claude Lévi-Strauss

“Of all the chapters of religious anthropology probably none has tarried to the same extent as studies in the field of mythology. From a theoretical point of view the situation remains very much the same as it was fifty years ago, namely, a picture of chaos. Myths are still widely interpreted in conflicting ways: collective dreams, the outcome of a kind of esthetic play, the foundation of ritual…. Mythological figures are considered as personified abstractions, divinized heroes or decayed gods. Whatever the hypothesis, the choice amounts to reducing mythology either to an idle play or to a coarse kind of speculation.

Mythology confronts the student with a situation which at first sight could be looked upon as contradictory. On the one hand, it would seem that in the course of a myth anything is likely to happen. There is no logic, no continuity. Any characteristic can be attributed to any subject; every conceivable relation can be met. With myth, everything becomes possible. But on the other hand, this apparent arbitrariness is belied by the astounding similarity between myths collected in widely different regions. Therefore the problem: if the content of a myth is contingent, how are we going to explain that throughout the world myths do resemble one another so much?

A remark can be introduced at this point which will help to show the singularity of myth among other linguistic phenomena. Myth is the part of language where the formula traduttore, tradittore reaches its lowest truth-value. From that point of view it should be put in the whole gamut of linguistic expressions at the end opposite to that of poetry, in spite of all the claims which have been made to prove the contrary. Poetry is a kind of speech which cannot be translated except at the cost of serious distortions; whereas the mythical value of the myth remains preserved, even through the worst translation. Whatever our ignorance of the language and the culture of the people where it originated, a myth is still felt as a myth by any reader through- out the world. Its substance does not lie in its style, its original music, or its syntax, but in the story which it tells. It is language, functioning on an especially high level where meaning succeeds practically at “taking off” from the linguistic ground on which it keeps on rolling.

Prevalent attempts to explain alleged differences between the so-called “primitive” mind and scientific thought have resorted to qualitative differences between the working processes of the mind in both cases while assuming that the objects to which they were applying themselves remained very much the same. If our interpretation is correct, we are led toward a completely different view, namely, that the kind of logic which is used by mythical thought is as rigorous as that of modern science, and that the difference lies not in the quality of the intellectual process, but in the nature of the things to which it is applied. This is well in agreement with the situation known to prevail in the field of technology: what makes a steel ax superior to a stone one is not that the first one is better made than the second. They are equally well made, but steel is a different thing than stone. In the same way we may be able to show that the same logical processes are put to use in myth as in science, and that man has always been thinking equally well; the improvement lies, not in an alleged progress of man’s conscience, but in the discovery of new things to which it may apply its unchangeable abilities.”

 

“The Structural Study of Myth” by Claude Lévi-Strauss

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Mark Clamen’s Review ‘The Almighty Johnsons: Family Dysfunction of Heavenly Proportions’

The series has a relaxed pace, quite unlike other shows of its genre. The best of the first season, and its greatest charm, lay in the feeling that it was in no rush to get anywhere in particular. Scenes go on a little bit longer than you’d expect, and the characters (and the series) are often happy sitting exactly where they happen to be. In fact, when I first tuned in, as much as I enjoyed the early episodes, I wasn’t sure what the story was, or intended to be. There didn’t seem to be a season there, far less a multi-year story! (There was also the question of how it was to negotiate the How I Met Your Mother problem, where every new female character to enter a room might be – and really probably isn’t – “the Frigg.”)…

…A new era is coming, and the Johnson brothers seem destined to be at the centre of it. But there is nothing epic about it, Norse or Hollywood. It all happens in small scenes, without grand special effects – at barbeques, in alleys behind bars, and in the stacks of public libraries. The groundedness of our boys (a fridge full of beer, the trials of daily life and loving) is what consistently keeps the narrative from floating off to Asgard. The result is a playful and sometimes even blasé attitude towards to the story’s own mythic centre: a half dozen gods and goddesses piling into an old station wagon to do battle against their enemies, or a goddess whose gift appears to be a preternatural ability to organize parties, or when one of the brothers starts dating someone who is literally Hel, etc. The series is often laugh-out-loud funny precisely when it plays straight, with a character simply laying out the absurdity of a situation in the plainest possible terms and then taking a pull from a pint, or when Axl filters new revelations through the limits of his Star Wars-centric imagination.  For example, here’s how Mike Johnson explained why he kept certain aspects of their family history from his younger brothers for so many years: “I mean, what was I meant to do? Tell a bunch of bloody kids their mother is a fucking tree?”

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