Myths Need Bad, So Dragons Were Drawn That Way

During the Middle Ages, dragons more often figured in accounts about the lives of saints and religious figures than stories of heists and adventures. Photo illustration by Meilan Solly / Photos via Wikimedia Commons and British Library under public domain

Dragon flies had a run in our pages, and we have featured some real life reptilian dragons, as well as a fruity dragon, but the mythical type never found its way here until now. As a cultural phenomenon it is as interesting as any other kind of dragon:

Why Dragons Dominated the Landscape of Medieval Monsters

The mythical beasts were often cast as agents of the devil or demons in disguise

David M. Perry and Matthew Gabriele

Illuminated manuscript featuring Saint Marina and the dragon Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The dragon resting on its golden hoard. The gallant knight charging to rescue the maiden from the scaly beast. These are images long associated with the European Middle Ages, yet most (all) medieval people went their whole lives without meeting even a single winged, fire-breathing behemoth. Dragons and other monsters, nights dark and full of terror, lurked largely in the domain of stories—tales, filtered through the intervening centuries and our own interests, that remain with us today.

As Halloween approaches, we’re naturally thinking about scary stories. Continue reading

Collapsitarian, No

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‘Wyrd goes ever as it must.’
Beowulf

After some weeks of letting the ideas in this essay settle in, and not reading (until now) any of the criticism of those ideas, it is more clear to me that I mistook Franzen’s position for something familiar, even close to home. Going back through my own postings on this platform, the mistake is understandable. We have been highlighting soft and gradual and mostly (but not all, by any means) comforting approaches to thinking about climate change.

I just revisited this post, thinking that Franzen’s position is like that word I heard 5+ years ago, but Franzen is not a collapsitarian. From my poking around, it is not clear that Paul Kingsnorth is one either. In that earlier post I linked to the About section on his website and it is still as funny ever, but now this:

Occasionally Asked Questions

Who are you?

I am 75% English, 25% Greek Cypriot, 100% European and 0% European Union. I share 96% of my genetic material with chimpanzees and 60% with bananas. I am descended from the Viking Earls of the Orkney Isles. I live with my English-Punjabi wife and our two children in the west of Ireland, where 85% of the men are descended from eastern Mediterranean farmers.

I’m a writer. I mainly write novels, poetry and essays.

Tell me about your writing

My non-fiction takes deep dives into big questions about how we might live in a world losing its cultural and ecological bearings at a rapid rate.

My fiction is mythological, otherworldly and multilayered, and is aimed at adults with at least one underworld journey under their belts…

It is worth reading in full, to see how his views may have changed in recent years, but mainly what caught my attention is the program of courses he has created, which look worthy of promotion, especially as captured in the photos (©Natasha Lythgoe) below and at the top:

The Wyrd School is a writing school unlike any other. Founded in 2018 by Paul Kingsnorth, an award-winning novelist, poet and essayist, with two decades of writing experience, we are home to unique writing courses, talks, and other events designed to bring the human and the non-human worlds back into contact, and to help you produce writing and art from the resulting sparks.

Wyrd is an old Anglo-Saxon word, often translated as fate or destiny. Continue reading

Strawberry Moon

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The full moon rises behind a tree next to the ancient marble Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, southeast of Athens, on the eve of the summer solstice on Monday. The temple, built in 444 BC, was dedicated to Poseidon, god of the sea. Petros Giannakouris/AP

Thanks to the CS Monitor for bringing this image to our attention in their “Photos of the day” series, which are always worth a visit.  The moon, we have been reading in the Monitor and various other news outlets, is a variety that occurs every 46 years. Wishing we might have seen it where Mr. Giannakouris saw it, but by the time we learned about this phenomenon it was already time for morning coffee in Kerala.

Journeys That Set Our Lives In Motion

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You do not need to be an admirer of the works of this author to appreciate the value of the story told in this book review (thanks to National Public Radio, USA):

In 1913, the 21-year-old Ronald Tolkien should have been studying for his exams. He was halfway through his Classics degree — the subject all the best students did at Oxford in those days. Getting admitted to Oxford on a scholarship was a great opportunity for young Ronald, an orphan who had always struggled to stay out of poverty. A Classics degree would have set him up for almost any career he chose. But he wasn’t studying. Instead, he was trying to teach himself Finnish.

Why would a brilliant student with so much at stake let himself go astray at such a crucial time? There were two reasons: love and the Kalevala.

Tolkien’s twin obsessions at the time were his future wife, Edith Bratt, and the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland. This collection of poems, myths, spells and hero-tales had been collected and published in the early 19th century, but the poems themselves are thought to be far older. Its unique voice, resembling no other European mythology, thoroughly captured the mind and heart of young Tolkien. “The almost indefinable sense of newness and strangeness … will either perturb you or delight you,” he wrote at the time. Continue reading

Tricksters, Animals, And Narratives We Are Meant To Learn From

“Reynard” is a defining document of a vast tradition in Western art: the trickster story. CREDIT ART AND PICTURE COLLECTION / THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

“Reynard” is a defining document of a vast tradition in Western art: the trickster story. ART & PICTURE COLLECTION, THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

Thanks to Joan Acocella for illumination of a narrative form we are quite fond of:

…Animal narratives have allowed writers with lessons on their mind to make art rather than just lessons.

Such tales are no doubt as old as animal paintings on cave walls. The earliest evidence we have of them is the beast fable, a form that is said to have come down to us by way of Aesop, a Greek storyteller who was born a slave in the sixth century B.C. Actually, no solid evidence exists that there ever was an Aesop, any more than there was a Homer. As with the Iliad and the Odyssey, we are talking about manuscripts that date from a period much later than the supposed author’s, and were probably assembled from a number of different fragments. In any case, a beast fable is a very short story (the Penguin Classics edition of Aesop renders “The Tortoise and the Hare,” perhaps the most famous of the fables, in five sentences) in which, typically, a couple of animals with the gift of speech learn a lesson from their dealings with one another. This moral is then stated at the end of the fable, and it is usually of a cautionary variety: don’t eat too much, don’t brag, watch out for this or that. As early as the third century B.C., these stories were being gathered together in various editions, usually for children, to teach them Latin (most were in Latin until the late Middle Ages) and some basic rules about life. Continue reading

Hermes Appears, Again

Striking Mosaic Found In Greek Tomb Dates From 4th Century B.C. by BILL CHAPPELL

Striking Mosaic Found In Greek Tomb Dates From 4th Century B.C. by BILL CHAPPELL

We are now in our second month without the classicist among our ranks, but we amateurs can still do our part to share stories of interest from the world of classics. Hermes was there all along of course, for about 2,400 years since the image above was created, but amazingly we are still finding new hiding places for a character mentioned in these pages more than once:

Archaeologists have uncovered an intricate and beautiful floor mosaic in a large tomb in northern Greece. Dating from the last quarter of the 4th century B.C., the mosaic covers a space of nearly 15 feet by 10 feet. It features two horses, a man and the god Hermes; it was found in a tomb that was discovered in August. Continue reading

The Story of “Kalyana Saungandhika”

Kalyana Saungandhika–Bhima and Draupadi

The true Kathakali experience that I’ve referred to previously is only understood fully within the context of the grand Indian epic stories that they express. The rightful heirs to the throne of Hastinapur were 5 Brothers called Pandavas. The brothers were beaten in a game of dice by their 100 cousins called the Kauravas and were sent to the forest. The arrangement was such that the Pandavas were required to spend 12 years in the forest (Vanavaasa) and one year incognito (Ajnaathavaasam). If they were to be recognized by the Kauravas during the year of living incognito, they had to repeat the 12 years of forest life.

Many incidents good and bad occurred while they were undergoing Vanavaasa and the story of Kalyana Saungandhika is about one such incident, which also happens to be the favorite of ‘Kathakali’ performers.

Arjun, one of the 5 Pandavas, won his future wife Draupadi through an archery test and due to a misunderstood statement by Kunti the mother of the Pandavas, Draupadi had to accept all 5 of the Pandavas as her husband. Continue reading

Kathakali – An Introduction

Tiraseela

Tiraseela – the cloth that is used both as curtain and dramatic effect

Kathakali is one of the oldest theatre forms in the world. Originating in the area of southwestern India now known as the state of Kerala, it is a group presentation in which dancers take various roles in performances traditionally based on themes from Hindu mythology, especially the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

One of the most interesting aspects of the art form is its elaborate make-up. Characters are categorized according to their nature, which determines the colors used in the make-up. Continue reading

Vavar Mosque – Erumely, Kerala

Photo credits : Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo credit: Ramesh Kidangoor

Revered by both Hindus and Muslims, the town of Erumely is famous for the Vavar Mosque as well as the Sastha Temple. The Ritual of Petta Thullal during the annual Sabarimala pilgrimage  is a unique feature of this place. Pilgrims who visit the temple consider it their sacred duty to offer donation to a representative of the Vavar Mosque. The reason for this devotion is that Vavar was considered to be a contemporary and friend of Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity of Sabarimala Temple. Continue reading

Uthrattathi Vallamkali – Aranmula

Photo credits : Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

The world famous Aranmula boat race will be held this year on September 20th. The uthrattathi Vallamkali sees 26 boats participating in the two days of festivities. The festivities involve the oarsmen singing traditional boat songs and wearing white Mundu and turbans. The boats are decorated with golden lace at the head of the boat and a flag and ornamental umbrellas in the center. Continue reading

Athapookalam

Photo credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

The first day of the Onam celebrations starts on Atham day during the Malayalam month of Chingam, which this year falls today, 7th September 2013. The date is ten days before Thiruvonam. The creation of Athapookalam is an important part of every Onam festival. This special, circular arrangement of flowers  is one of the most iconic Onam traditions. Continue reading

Hermes, Circa 1969

As one of the contributors referred to in this post, and as the one who took the photographs in that post, it occurred to me that I should comment further on the reference.  And in doing so, perhaps I could add to the small collection of personal statements that have been gathering on this site since mid-2011.  I am 100% sure I took the photograph above during that same visit to Greece in 2008.  As I snapped this photo my mother was at my side and we both remembered having stood in the same spot in 1969. Continue reading