Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Creation Myth of the At'ein'zei

       I'm in the process of revising for publication Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear, v.4 of The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head.  In this book Ki'shto'ba and its Companions venture into the lands of the At'ein'zei, the People of the Root, a variant species of the Southern Nasutes.  They sojourn briefly in a fortress called No'ka'rim'bu'u, where Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer learns the following tale, extracted from Chapter 2 of the book.  If you're interested in comparing it with the Creation Myth of Di'fa'kro'mi's people, the latter can be found in the sixth chapter of the second half of The Termite Queen, v.1: The Speaking of the Dead.

I never lost my curiosity about Creation Myths, however, and the Remembrancer of No’ka’rim’bu’u was willing to relate her own.  The Nameless Mother, she said, lives in the Primal Cave among the roots of a giant tree that the At’ein’zei consider to be the centerpost of the world.  She nourishes it with the secretions of her integument, for if it should die, she would die as well and then the world would end.  This is why these people were called the Offspring of the Root.  The shell of the Primal Cave keeps the world stable; groundquakes happen when rocks slip out of place in the Holy Walls.
The Sta’ein’zei, the Remembrancer informed me, believe something similar, but their Cave contains no root and they have no myth of a Primal Tree.  Their beliefs lack this softer vegetable component – perhaps that explained why they were so warlike …
       Whatever the nature of the center of the world, the Highest-Mother-Who-Is-Nameless laid her first eggs without benefit of a King’s insemination, and she was so fecund that soon the chamber became crammed full.  This forced some of the eggs to burst out of volcanic vents onto the surface of the world, from which they shot up into the sky and hatched into stars.  These were the first manifestations of light above ground.  Still other eggs burst their shells within the ground and heaved up the mountains.  Others emerged as rivers and fungi.
       However, after a while the Nameless Mother grew lonely and caused some of her eggs to hatch into Kings, not for the purpose of insemination but to serve as companions for herself.  Then she hatched others into Alates so she and her Kings could have cooler light than that which came from the hot stones of volcanoes.  Thus, they call Alates “Fire-Wings” rather than “Star-Wings,” and light-making, which we regard as fit only for Alates of the dimmest wit, is a highly respected occupation among the Southern Nasutes.
       Even then, the Nameless Creator was not fully satisfied, so she resolved to populate the world with creatures like herself.  She produced a copy of herself and made a Holy Chamber for this First Mother near the surface of the ground, where she could lay eggs of her own.  At first the only Castes were Alates and Workers and King-Companions; they all had eyes and could do anything they liked except dig their way to the surface.  But the Mother and Kings and Workers soon broke that taboo – only the Alates remained faithful to the Nameless One’s command – and when they saw the world with its rivers and mountains and stars, they fell in love with it.
So the Nameless One was angered and she resolved to punish her creation.  She took away the Workers’ eyes so they could not see the world they loved.  Then she ordained that they should no longer be nourished on the Great Root but should live in the World Above forever, dependent on whatever they could glean therein.  Furthermore, they would have to contend with one another for living room and sustenance.  For that purpose she created Warriors, eyeless and dependent on Workers for their food so they could not grow too powerful.  The Alates, who had never disobeyed her, were allowed to keep their eyes and she rewarded them by making them a conduit of holiness from herself to her creation.
       Soon she realized her offspring were languishing in this dark world, where the only thing to eat was fungus and the only warmth came from the volcanoes and the only light, from the stars.  So she made the sun out of the excess of the world’s hot volcanic excrement so they would have warmth and light, and she caused the Primal Root to send up shoots and generate the first trees and all the other plants so there would be a greater variety of nourishing food.  Then, having become infatuated with the act of creating, she made the animals also, simply because she could.  She discovered that this new order of things amused her greatly.  She would sometimes thrust her head out of the ground so that during darktimes her eyes were visible in the sky watching her world.
She had disciplined the Mothers by immobilizing them underground and making them dependent on the King-Companions for procreation, but when this latter arrangement proved more of a comfort than a punishment, she decided to give her own Kings the same function.  Ever since then she has mated, but it is said that even to this day the Highest-Mother-Who-Is-Nameless does not really need her Kings and sometimes grows tired of mating and casts them aside, or even eats them.  When this happens, great storms and droughts and catastrophes come upon the world.
       All of this was quite novel and fascinating to me, since it was both unlike the Shum’za Creation Myth and reflective of it.  Indeed, our own tale was beginning to seem a bit oversimplified to me.  I have related only the barest chitin of the myth here.  It closely resembled the Yo’sho’zei version, although that latter was even more complex.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Life of Hercules: Birth and Childhood

Herakles as a boy strangling a snake.
Marble, Roman artwork, 2nd century CE
Public Domain, from
       You all know I based my series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head on the mythical character of Hercules (Herakles or Heracles in transliterated Greek).  Hercules is a familiar figure in literature and popular culture -- the mighty invincible hero character who happens to be a real hunk -- including innumerable movie and television renditions, TV adaptations, and frequent depictions in graphic arts and sculpture.  (Who wouldn't want to sculpt all those giant muscles?  Even this Baby Hercules had already developed some significant abs!)  I used to watch Kevin Sorbo's version in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys  (although I came to it late and never saw the beginning, and preferred the Xena spin-off).  That version left much to be desired, I thought, but it was fun. 
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt
depicted as the infant Hercules
grappling with the Standard Oil Company
Public Domain, from
       When I decided to base my series on Hercules, I used Robert Graves' compilation Greek Myths as my source and I had to do two things: first, I had to familiarize myself with the events of Hercules' life and, second, I had to choose which events would be adaptable to my termite culture.  Two of the events at the start of the hero's life seemed essential: how he came to be born and how and why he killed his first monster.

       Here is a summary:

      Amphitryon was married to Alcmene.  Zeus wanted to beget a great Champion, so while Amphitryon was away avenging the deaths of Alcmene's brothers, the King of the Gods ordered time to be suspended for 36 hours so he would have plenty of time to achieve his goal.  He then assumed Amphitryon's form and dallied with Alcmene for the entire time.  When Amphitryon returned the next day, Alcmene refused to sleep with him, saying they had just spent a whole night of pleasure together.  Amphitryon consulted the Seer Teiresias, who informed him he had been cuckolded by Zeus. 
       Zeus couldn't resist boasting about his exploit, even announcing that his son would be called Heracles ("Glory of Hera").  You can imagine how well this went over with Hera (Zeus's consort).  She laid a plot, saying that whoever was born before nightfall on the day of the birth would be the King of the House of Perseus, an honor Zeus intended for Heracles.  Then she worked to hasten the birth of Eurystheus, and she slowed the birth of Heracles by sitting in the doorway of Alcmene's room with her clothing tied in knots and her fingers locked together.  Hence Eurystheus was born first and the infuriated Zeus, who had gone along with Hera's pronouncement, was forced to make Eurystheus King.  However, Zeus forced Hera to agree that, if Heracles successfully performed Twelve Labors that Eurystheus set upon him, Heracles could become a god.

       Now those of you who have read The War of the Stolen Mother can see right away how I adapted this: Lo'zoi'ma'na'ta is clearly Alcmene and Bai'go'tha the Tyrant of To'wak is clearly Eurystheus.  Zeus is the consort of the Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name, and Teiresias can be none other than the Seer Thru'tei'ga'ma.  I couldn't have Hera be the schemer, because the Highest Mother wouldn't be that petty; she wants Ki'shto'ba to be hatched probably more than her kingly consort does, so I turn the Amphitryon character into the bad guy who tinkers with the eggs in order to make sure Bai'go'tha hatches first.  Thus the premise of Eurystheus/Bai'go'tha assigning the Twelve Labors is set up in both stories, although the motivation for Ki'shto'ba's acceptance of the tasks is quite different from Heracles's (but that's for another post).

       Now, when Heracles was born, he had a twin whose name was Iphicles.  Twin kings or heroes were very important for the Greeks, and thus I introduced the character of A'zhu'lo, a lesser Warrior, obviously not an identical twin.  Iphicles doesn't play much of a part in Heracles's life story, but A'zhu'lo plays a significant part in Ki'shto'ba's story.  The twins are close and love each other very much, yet a certain sibling rivalty exists between them.  This leads to some of the strongest and most poignant plot episodes.

       When Heracles was somewhere between eight months and one year old, he and Iphicles were sleeping when Hera sent two "prodigious azure-scaled serpents" (Robert Graves' description) to attack and kill Heracles.  The babies made a ruckus and Amphitryon rushed in with his sword, only to find Heracles strangling the serpents, one in each hand.  "As they died, he laughed, bounced joyfully up and down, and threw them at Amphitryon's feet."

       I needed to make very little change to that episode, except for the fact that the snakes' origin is left ambiguous.  One might say the Highest Mother did send them, to test Ki'shto'ba and to foreshadow its future power.  I must also say that the Roman statue of the event seems curiously passive -- Heracles might just be having a mild-mannered conversation with the snake, and only one snake is depicted.  As for the political cartoon version, well, it goes to show that ordinary people must have been more highly schooled in classical allusions than they are today -- how many people these days would know about how Hercules strangled snakes when he was in his cradle?

       One other quotation from Graves might be illustrative here: "One Termerus used to kill travelers by challenging them to a butting match; Heracles' skull proved stronger, and he crushed Termerus's head as though it had been an egg.  Heracles was, however, naturally courteous, and the first mortal who freely yielded the enemy their dead for burial." Ah, the Huge-Head, the stone-headed Warrior!  And anyone who has read any of the Ki'shto'ba stories knows our Champion is invariably courteous.

       And one final note ...  This prophecy of Zeus was spoken: "No man alive may ever kill Heracles; a dead enemy shall be his downfall."  I put my version in the mouth of Thru'tei'ga'ma/Teiresias and I phrased it thus: "No Shi would ever witness the death of the second-hatched nymph, nor would anyone ever eat its dead flesh."  And from a later Seer, "A dead foe, but no treachery, shall be [Ki'shto'ba's] ruin."  These two prophecies play a huge part in the unfolding of the Huge-Head's story.  Ki'shto'ba is close to invincible as long as other Shshi are present, and the ambiguity of the prophecy of its cause of death is a constant source of debate throughout the books.  In fact, v. 6 will be called The Revenge of the Dead Enemy.

       If you want to read the totality of my adaptation of these elements of the early life of Hercules, you can buy The War of the Stolen Mother at Amazon or Smashwords, or if you want a foretaste, you can read the pertinent chapter in the sample listed above as SM, Ch.4 (The Tale of the Huge-Head's Hatching and Nymphhood).