Friday, July 31, 2015

Serendipity? This is not a real post.

You guys,

Someone found my blog by searching "barfy foot massage."

If you don't recall, I wrote once about exactly that here.

Also, I checked when I was in Houston this week: it's still there. I still don't have the balls to walk in there: I'm not ashamed to say vomit smell makes me gag.

I miss my girls in Houston, but I'm infernally happy to be home.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dear Houston: Put The Death Rays Away. I'm Visiting.

If this is my last post due to melting under Texas heat, will someone please scrape what's left of the puddle into the ocean?

I'm heading to the office in Houston for a week on app says the temp will be a balmy 100 (or, if I'm really lucky, 99).

However, I will probably cause all sorts of trouble with a couple disturbed excellently evil hospitable ladies and who knows, maybe I'll get kicked out of another snooty French restaurant?

It'll be a sweaty adventure. With real guacamole, inappropriate shenanigans, and fantastic brisket.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mythic Monday: Scylla and Charybdis Part 2

"You will find the other rock lies lower, but they are so close together that there is not more than a bow-shot between them. A large fig tree in full leaf grows upon it, and under it lies the sucking whirlpool of Charybdis. Three times in the day does she vomit forth her waters, and three times she sucks them down again. See that you be not there when she is sucking, for if you are, Poseidon himself could not save you; you must hug the Scylla side and drive your ship by as fast as you can, for you ad better lose six men than your whole crew." Circe to Odysseus, The Odyssey, Book 12.

Scylla, the "savage, extreme, rude, cruel and invincible" monster who eats crews six at a time is still the better option than her sister monster, Charybdis.

Scylla and Charybdis are the worst of the feminine dangers Odysseus faces on his trip home: they are the final trial after leaving Circe's palace and passing the Sirens' isle. If Circe's island and the Sirens represent temptations of the flesh leading to death if not resisted and controlled (gluttony, drunkenness, and sex), Scylla and Charybdis are the inescapable power of Nature, often represented in Greek myth as an impersonal feminine rage. Neither Scylla nor Charybdis were out to personally murder Odysseus: both simply are what they are. It's up to Odysseus to take care around them, for neither care in the least about him and will continue to act accordingly to their natures regardless of his presence. It's a good lesson for Odysseus in humility: there is NO way to conquer either creature. He can only hope to survive. And survive he does: against all odds, he does it twice (although the second time Odysseus's raft is swallowed by the whirlpool and he finds himself clinging to the fig tree above her, watching as his little vessel is destroyed and belched up in bits).

The Odyssey doesn't specify any physical attributes of Charybdis other than her tidal powers of dragging ships to the bottom of the sea thrice daily. I suppose for a sailing culture her destructive powers are terrifying enough without necessarily discussing the actual creature causing the whirlpool, since by design no mortal would've ever actually seen her.

It's possible Charybdis was once considered a goddess of the tides. Aristotle refers to her as such in his work Meteorologica, and a her name is linguistically similar to "Keto Trienos" (Sea Monster, Three Times). Later, in Virgil's The Aeneid. she's described as the daughter of Gaea and Poseidon. That'd be the Great Mother Goddess (Earth) and the God of the Sea. Ah, incest in Greek Myth (Gaea was technically Poseidon's grandmother, after all).

As most monsters prove to be, Charybdis is one of the faces of the destructive power of the Goddess. She is described unrelenting, voracious, and unapologetic in her hunger. She stole oxen from Heracles and was banished to the bottom of the sea by Zeus's thunderbolt as punishment. In some versions of this later myth, Charybdis is a lovely girl and loyal servant of her parents who, in her punishment by Zeus, is turned into a giant "bladder of a monster" with flippers and a voracious thirst which could only be relieved by swallowing the sea three times daily.

It's worth noting that Charybdis appears in all three major hero quests in Greco-Roman literature: The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and Jason and the Argonauts. ONLY Jason and the Argonauts are able to pass the straits safely, because they carried Thetis with them as a guide. Yes: that's the same sea nymph Thetis who birthed Achilles and was the daughter of a sea god, but her tale is another post.

Charybdis still haunts the Straits of Messina as the natural whirlpool on the northern end of the strait. I'm sure the sailors today haven't seen the creature herself who resides at the bottom of the sea there, but some of the art out there depicting Charybdis is fantastic and worth looking up. The watery sarlacc pit with teeth is my personal favorite. Since the tides still whirl in that spot three times a day, I imagine she's still there, waiting for ships to sail too close to the edge.
Charybdis depicted in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mythic Monday: Scylla & Charybdis Part 1

At some point in life, most people are forced to choose between two options knowing that regardless which is chosen, they'll lose. In current linguistic idiom, there are a few phrases that properly convey an impossible choice: the lesser of two evils, a rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep blue sea (ok, maybe that's not a currently used phrase, but it's out there nonetheless), etc.

In ancient Greece, a person was stuck between Scylla and Charybdis: two sea monsters known for eating sailors and destroying ships. Two monsters Odysseus had to outwit in The Odyssey in order to make it home. 

Location-wise, for reference, the theory is that Scylla and Charybdis menaced the slim passage between Sicily and Italy, now called The Strait of Messina. For you cartogrophiles out there, that'd be the point on the map where it looks like the toe of Italy's boot is kicking Sicily into the sea.

The Strait of Messina
Photo copyright Mapquest via Navteq
Also for reference, I've heard "Scylla" pronounced "silla" by many, but in general "c" is a "k" sound in Greek, so most mythological texts indicate it's pronounced "SKIL-uh" or "SKUL-uh" but if you speak Greek and want to correct me I'd welcome it. "Charybdis" would then be pronounced "khah-rib-dis" because "ch" is pronounced as a "k" sound. 

So, as these two harridans of the sea have enough to discuss between them to qualify for a chapter instead of a post, I'm splitting them up. We'll begin with Scylla this week. 

As many females in Greek mythology, Scylla becomes her dangerous self through no fault of her own. In all the versions I have found, Scylla is loved by the wrong god and a jealous rival poisons her. It's the details of her parentage, lover, and destroyer that differ. 

Scylla is the daughter of supernatural creatures: in one common version she's a naiad (a water nymph, sometimes the daughter of a river god) who unfortunately catches the eye of Poseidon, God of the Sea (and brother to Zeus, which makes this relationship the equivalent of the CEO falling in love with a mail intern in terms of power). Scylla didn't really have a chance at all in this version. One of Poseidon's other lovers dumped a poison potion into Scylla's favorite bathing pool, cursing her to a horrendously monstrous form for all eternity. However, it's worth noting that the written version of the Poseidon-lover myth dates later than Homer's version in The Odyssey (8thC BCE). 

In another common version, Scylla is cursed by none other than Circe (the powerful sorceress partner/mentor to Odysseus in The Odyssey) for being loved by Glaucus, Circe's love interest at the time. Again, worth noting that the love triangle aspect involving Circe is not mentioned in Homer's text. this doesn't mean the myths regarding Scylla didn't include both parentage and love interest: more likely it means Homer took Scylla's tragic background to be common knowledge and didn't feel compelled to include her history in his tale. After all, Scylla was merely one of the two feminine horrors Odysseus had to conquer to make it home. 

And of course, we have Ovid's version. Recall how Ovid is rather unkind in his opinion of females in general (see Medusa's tale). In Ovid's retelling, Glaucus is rejected by Scylla and goes to Circe for a love potion to force Scylla to come to him. Circe, however, is a jealous woman already in love with Glaucus and removes her rival with poison instead of a love potion.  

Ultimately, regardless of the origin of her fated bath's contamination, all the tales agree that the poison inflicted upon Scylla changes her into a horrible creature with six heads, each with three rows of teeth (great white teeth, perhaps? One of the associations of Skylla is "skylax", or "dog-shark"), tentacles, a fish tail, and a belt of DOGS. Yeah. Live snapping angry dogs.In some descriptions of her physical transformation, she's human female from the waist up, dogs at the waist, and fish or tentacles for a tail. 

No, I can't determine the logistic feasibility of wearing a belt of vicious dogs, but fishermen do tell the best sea-monster tales.

Scylla becomes a horrid cannibal "terrified even of herself", living in a sea cave across from Charybdis and attacking ships as they pass, plucking men from the deck and eating them alive.  

What I find terribly interesting AND telling in both versions of the myth is that Scylla herself is NOT said to love either Poseidon or Glaucus: she's merely a cardboard cutout who becomes a voracious eater of men through no fault of her own. Interestingly, it's worth nothing that the Circe's sorcery isn't considered "evil" until until Ovid's tale is taken up by 19th century authors. In fact, Ovid's tone is rather condemning of Scylla for being too shallow to accept Glaucus as he was, and wrote as if she deserved her punishment because of course, who cares if she loved him: he loved her and therefore she has no right to refuse. Honestly, I have suspicions regarding Ovid's luck with romantic encounters in his personal life. 

Odysseus doesn't kill Scylla. In fact, Scylla appears later in the Aeneid and in tales of the Argonauts as one of a sailor's most terrifying perils on the seas. It seems fairly clear Odysseus counted himself lucky to ESCAPE Scylla, and destroying her was never in the plan at all. That honor is attributed most often to Heracles (Hercules, for you Roman mythology folk). 

"As when a fisherman on a promontory takes a long rod to snare little fishes with his bait and casts his ox-hair line down in to the sea below, then seizes the creatures one by one and throws them ashore still writhing; so Skylla swung my writhing companions up to the rocks, and there at the entrance began devouring them as they shrieked and held out heir hands to me in their extreme of agony. Many pitiful things have met my eyes in my toilings and searchings through the sea-paths, but this was most pitiful of all."
Homer, The Odyssey,  Book 12

And so, Scylla goes down in history as the second most terrifying of two evils. Even Pliny the Elder mentions her as a known peril of the sea in his Natural Histories (Book 3), written in the 1st century CE. (I suppose it'd be dated prior to 79CE, since Vesuvius sort of ate the Elder Pliny. Pliny the Elder mostly likely died of asphyxiation from poisonous gasses while attempting to escape Vesuvius' eruption, the same eruption that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum). 

Ultimately, Scylla is the LESSER of the two evils associated with the Strait of Messina. Circe, the same sorceress who may have turned Scylla into a monster, advised Odysseus to sail closer to HER and avoid her counterpart at all costs, even at the cost of the crew members Scylla devoured. 

Circe knew that while Scylla would decimate Odysseus's crew, Charybdis could swallow his ship in one gulp and belch nothing but seawater. No sailor took on Charybdis...not even Odysseus.  

But she's waiting for next week. 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Mythic Monday: Hades and Cerberus...A God and his Dog

Double dose this week (it's a long post to make up for missing last week).

This is not a post about Death, or the afterlife, or heaven and hell.

This is a post about a lonely god.

Before Zeus and his siblings took over Olympus, they were all swallowed whole at the moment of their birth by their own father, Cronus. Cronus had received a prophecy that his son would kill him and take over his rule, and big daddy was having none of that teenage shenanigans, so instead of family therapy he decided to just nip all possibility of being overthrown in the bud. By eating all his children as soon as they were born: girls too, because you can never be too careful.

Rhea, his wife, got tired of losing her children and managed to trick Cronus into eating a stone instead of Zeus when the last baby was born. The story of how Zeus came back and became the ruler of Olympus is another tale...what's important here is that Zeus was the BABY of the family. His oldest brother, the god* who spent the most time languishing in the darkness of daddy's belly?


Hades is the only God I can find in myth who is BOTH the oldest AND the youngest boy in his pantheon. Hades was the firstborn son of Rhea and Cronus, and last regurgitated by Cronus. Whether it's this experience or just his nature that makes him the serious God is hard to say, but he's decidedly

So, fast forward to Zeus freeing the rest of his family. Then the six of them overthrow the rest of the Titans and take over the world. To avoid future conflicts, they decided it'd be a good idea to just split up the inheritances between the boys. As his powers were over water, Poseidon took over the seas. Zeus, with his lightning rod personality, took over the skies. Earth, personified as Gaia and more powerful and older than all three of them, was equally shared.

That left the underworld for Hades.

It's important to note that Hades is NOT Death. Death is not a God: the actual loss of life, is a force of nature. Thanatos is often the Greek personification of Death, who is the collector of life. Hades is KEEPER OF THE DEAD and Ruler of the Underworld (afterlife).

Contrary to the recent Titans movies, Hades doesn't appear too upset about ruling over the dead in his mythology. In fact, he seems to prefer it. Compare Hades' behavior to the other gods' and you'll find a more serious, quieter entity. Hades doesn't sleep with anything he can get his hands on: he doesn't have a bunch of bastard demigods running around. When petty jealousies and silly conflicts over apples and territory cause Greece and Troy to attempt to annihilate each other, he doesn't get involved other than to welcome the valiant dead warriors to their rest. In fact, in most accounts Hades prefers to be left the hell alone by his living relatives.

Personally, I think this is due to the way his life started: he spent the longest time of all his siblings imprisoned in Cronus. He's also the oldest: psychologically the oldest is often the child with the most responsibility instilled in an early age. Did Hades feel he had to take care of his siblings when THEY were swallowed as well? Who knows...but his behavior after gaining freedom is not that of a frivolous God. In fact, of the six Olympian Gods (in order of birth: Hades, Poseidon, Demeter, Hestia, Hera, and Zeus), Zeus (the baby) is the most reckless.

He takes his role as keeper of the dead very seriously, and not in the Christian idea of punishment. Hades the Realm consists of a few key areas with five rivers flowing around and between. Tartarus is what we would now think of as Hell: it's a place of punishment for those who've earned it. The Elysian Fields, or Elysium, is where souls who've earned peaceful rest go: it's the equivalent of Heaven only with more frolicking (as far as I can tell). Elysium began as a place for only demi-gods and heroes, but morphed into a place of virtuous rest later in myths.

When the dead descend to the underworld, they are ferried across the first of the five rivers by Charon, the Ferryman. In some myths the first river is Styx, in others it's Acheron. In ancient times, the coins put on the eyes of dead at burial were for their ferry toll: it was believed that without coin Charon would leave the spirit on the shores of Styx, and they couldn't get to the Underworld.

Acheron - River of Woe
Cocytus - River of Lamentation
Lethe - River of Oblivion
Phlegethon -River of Fire
Styx - River of the Underworld (often in myth Styx the river that surrounds the Underworld).

The next entity they pass is Cerberus, the three-headed Hound of Hades. Cerberus and Hades seem to get along much in the way any pet and owner do. There are tales of Hades visiting and patrolling with Cerberus, and Cerberus serves two essential guardian functions for Hades. He keeps the living out, because the living have no place in the Underworld, and he keeps the dead IN. Cerberus is feared and hated by both sides, which puts him in the position of lonely guard dog, standing alone at the gates.

Just like his master, Cerberus has a lonely existence. They're both quite solitary creatures: even after Hades and Persephone marry they're only together three months out of the year (the tale of Hades and Persephone is a post and a half all by itself, but suffice it to say Persephone spends the winters with her husband in the Underworld).

And yet, they seem to prefer their duty over silliness, and mostly solitary existence over constant noisy parties, wars, and the general cacophony of life. Maybe Hades was the original Olympian introvert. He was definitely the serious older brother to the rest of the Olympians. Personally, I've always wondered if Persephone appreciated the three months of cool quiet with a God and his Dog.

*Hestia, Demeter, and Hera were all born before Hades, to technically Hestia spent the longest time in Cronus's belly. However, this post is focused more on brother-to-brother power dynamics, so I skipped the ladies. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Adventures in Babysitting - Han and Evil style

Last weekend I babysat overnight for my sister and brother-in-law so they could have a kid-free anniversary date. As this was my first time sleeping at their house and watching a 2.5 year old and a 1 year old at the same time, they were understandably somewhat concerned.

It's possible I didn't alleviate said concern when I responded to her "how's it going" texts with "I don't know what you're talking about: I sold them two hours ago and am out buying a TV" or "well nobody's on fire, anymore" and maybe "Han likes a shot of gin before bed to help him sleep, right?"*

Highlights of our adventures are as follows:

  • Evil gave me serious side-eye when I got her from her nap. She's at the nook-sucking stage, and reminded me a lot of Maggie Simpson with her little 'tude. 
  • After bribing her with snacks, she warmed up enough to use my chest as handholds to attempt to stand up. So she could pull my shirt down and drop giant legos in. Then she bit my nose twice, which is her version of a kiss, so there really was no room for argument. 
  • Incidentally: the nose biting earned me serious side-eye from her father when he found out she's willing to kiss the babysitter since she's apparently stingy with kisses. 
  • Han was extremely excited to eat blueberry pie for dinner. YES I FED HIM REAL FOOD FIRST. 
  • No one could find the ipod with Han's "moos" to charge it before bedtime, when a bleary-eyed little boy typically eats a last snack quietly while watching twenty minutes of Netflix My Little Pony episodes. Panic ensues, but the ipod proves elusive so Han was relegated to MLP on the big tv instead. He dealt fine. 
  • We discovered the ipod on the kitchen table the next morning, right where Han left it (under a piece of paper). 
  • No, I don't know why he calls all cartoons his "moos." But it's adorable so I don't really care why he does. 
  • I expected a fair number of "but auntie Jess I need to" requests at bedtime, and my favorite boy delivered spectacularly. The first few were the normal water/cheese stick/sing me a song requests. 
  • The first two times he got out of bed to bang on his door (he can't turn the handle yet) and holler "Auntie JESS I NEED YOU" I quietly put him back in bed, helped him find all his MLPs, and settled him back down. 
  • The third time I didn't get him. He was quiet for a minute, then he started balling and yelling "MAMADADDY I'm CRYIN!" which was really goddamn hard to NOT laugh at when I went in the room. But he missed his mama and daddy, and he was worried they wouldn't be back. So we did another round of Twinkle Twinkle (thank GOD I know the words to the one song he wanted). 
  • The fourth time I opened the door and said "Han, you can't keep getting out of bed." in a nice but low voice. AAAAAND he went into full toddler meltdown, which was also hilarious and difficult to not laugh at. Sigh. I'm not a nice lady. He hung in my arms like a boneless ragdoll, snotting and sobbing all over my shoulder. So I closed the door and rubbed his back and hummed "baby mine" from Dumbo (don't know the words, just the tune) until he relaxed. 
  • And then, he killed my ability to sleep for the rest of the night. He turned his pale little face to mine (in the dark, toddler eyes are little black pits of darkness, did you know that??), put one little hand on my cheek, and whispered something completely unintelligible. THEN HE WAVED GOODNIGHT AT THE FUCKING CEILING BEHIND ME. Yup. Not creepy at all. 
  • After that, he slept just fine. Evil had gone to bed at 7:30 the night before and slept 'til 8:30am (with a diaper filled to at LEAST her body does one little person create so much poop??). I gave up after four hours of sad, fitful creepy sleep and just lay awake until the sun came up.  

The next morning all was well, except for tired Auntie Jess. If you're wondering, of COURSE I'd babysit overnight again. I just know now that I need to wear his little energetic imagination out before bedtime. I do adore them, after all. Sunday night I got a text from my sister: Han wanted Daddy to "rub my back and sing me a song like Auntie Jess does."

MWAHAHAHAHA. Corruption begins.

*No Hans or Evils were at any point sold, on fire, or drinking while I was on duty. I mean really, people...selling them would only result in money for getting poltergeist/ghost experts in to un-haunt my house.