Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Life of Hercules: Another Digression (the Calydonian Boar)

Fifth of a series. Here are the earlier posts:

Thel'tav'a employing her
dart shooter
(I couldn't find a picture I liked
of the boar hunt, so here is my
rendition of my Atalanta character
in v.4 of the Ki'shto'ba series)
       Heracles himself didn't take part in the Great Hunt for the Calydonian Boar, and neither does Ki'shto'ba in my version of it.  However, Atalanta did, and Atalanta was one of the participants in the Quest for the Golden Fleece, so I wanted an equivalent character in my version.  That character is Thel'tav'a the Intercaste, who turned out to be an excellent addition to the storyline. 
       Meleager was the son of Oeneus, the King of Calydon, but was said to actually have been fathered by Ares (those gods really did get around, didn't they?)  The Fates informed Meleager's mother Althaea that Meleager would live only as long as a certain brand in her fireplace remained unburned, so Althaea immediately extinguished the brand and hid it away.
       When King Oeneus failed to include Artemis in his yearly sacrifices, she sent an enormous and vicious boar to kill his cattle.  Oeneus then invited all the great warriors of the region to hunt the boar, with its tusks and pelt being the prize. 
       Atalanta was the daughter of Iasus, who was so disappointed that she was a girl that he exposed the infant in the forest and left her to die.  (Again, this happens.)  Artemis sent a bear to suckle her and then she was raised by a clan of hunters.  She remained a virgin and always carried arms, including bow and arrows.
       Atalanta came to Calydon intending to join the boar hunt, and Meleager immediately took a fancy to her.  Many of his men, but especially his uncles (his mother's brothers), objected to including a woman in the hunt, but Meleager maintained that if Atalanta was not allowed to participate, he would cancel the hunt altogether.  Thus, the hunt began under poor auspices.
       Two Centaurs were taking part in the hunt and they decided to rape Atalanta, but she shot and killed them and continued with the hunt.  Several others hunters were killed (including some by "friendly fire") in an ill-advised and somewhat comedic melee.  In the process Atalanta wounded the boar with an arrow, and ultimately Meleager moved in and finished off the creature.  He then flayed it and presented the pelt and tusks to Atalanta, saying that her strike would have soon been fatal in any event and so she deserved the prize.
       This mightily offended Meleager's uncles, one of whom maintained that if Meleager wanted to give away the prize, he should have had it on the basis of seniority.  In a rage Meleager killed this uncle, after which the other two uncles went to war against him.  Meleager killed both of them, whereupon the Furies drove his  grieving mother Althaea to commit the act which would doom her son:  she burned the fated brand.  Still on the field of battle, Meleager felt "felt a sudden scorching of his inwards" (as Robert Graves phrases it) and his enemies easily killed him.  Althaea then hung herself.  Thus the Greek tragedy unfolds.

        Afterward, Atalanta went home and her father accepted her as his offspring. Of course like any good parent he couldn't wait to marry her off.  However, oracles had warned the swift-footed Atalanta not to marry and so she announced that she would marry only a suitor who could beat her in a foot race.  If they couldn't beat her, she would proceed to kill them.  Many suitors lost their lives, but Melanion (with Aphrodite's help) devised a trick.  The Goddess of Love gave him golden apples and told Melanion to leave them at places along the race route, and sure enough Atalanta couldn't resist stopping to pick them up.  Thus Melanion was able to beat her and she was forced to marry him.  After this, the myths become garbled, with several versions.  The gist is, Atalanta and her spouse profaned a temple (either of Zeus or of Cybele) by having sex therein.  As punishment they were turned into lions (who, Graves says, are known to mate only with leopards and so the pair could no longer enjoy each other) and they were set to pulling Cybele's chariot.

       So how in the world can these tales be adapted to my termite culture?  It was easier than you might think!  The story does not happen in real time but is narrated by the Remembrancer of the fortress of Ra'ki'wiv'u.  The egg from which Thel'tav'a (Atalanta) hatched was part of a culling that some Shshi fortresses carry out when they become overcrowded.  The fortress of Ra'ki'wiv'u exposes these doomed eggs in the nearby forest rather than chopping them up outright in the Charnel Hall.  The termite planet has no mammals, so a big reptilian rather than a bear nurtures the nymph for a while, after which it was reared by one of the Casteless Ones, whom we first met in v.2: The Storm-Wing.  She turned out to be an Intercaste, a genetic sport with characteristics of both Warrior and Alate.  Living on her own in the forest, she never learns how to speak, but she is a formidable hunter and fighter, as well as the fastest runner around, and she invents the bow and arrow ("dart shooter") to supplement her weak jaws.  Finally, she is rescued by her home fortress and taught how to speak, although she never fully masters the art.
       So what did I do about the male-female attraction part?  Termites have no sex drive, as I've said many times.  Instead, the High Chief Bao'kai'zei (Meleager) becomes her mentor and when a giant carnivorous ground bird shows up in the neighborhood, a hunt is organized and everything plays out as in the myth.  You may recall that the Yo'sho'zei fill the role of Centaurs, so it's quite possible for Thel'tav'a to kill two of these (they see her as their strongest rival and hence try to kill her, since raping doesn't work).  The hunt itself is portrayed as just as inept as in the myth, and the Mother of the fortress has hatchmates who represent the uncles.  Since the Shshi have never tamed fire, what do I do about the brand?  I make it a branch from a tree called a "flame tree" that must never be eaten and it's hidden away until in her grief the Mother brings it out and consumes it, thus dooming her offspring.  She can't hang herself, but she can starve herself to death.  It's amazing how these things can be successfully modeled.
       Ra'ki'wiv'u is known for its annual festival and Warriors' Competition.  Thel'tav'a obviously answers prophecies about the 10th Companion, but she refuses to abandon the memory of her mentor Bao'kai'zei and give her loyalty to another Champion unless that Champion can defeat her in the competition, and particularly in a footrace.  Ki'shto'ba is not known for its speed, so the situation seems hopeless.  How that is all resolved I'll leave for you to read in the book! 
       And I might make two other points.  The name Thel'tav'a means "loyal to the good" and the name Atalanta (according to Robert Graves) means "unswaying."  Close enough, don't you think?  Finally, if you're like me, you haven't got a clue as to how to pronounce "Meleager."  In Xena: Warrior Princess (where Meleager is turned into a totally different character), they called it "Me-lee-gar."  That's only one of several pronunciation errors I spotted in Xena.   The dictionary says "mel-ee-ey-jer" and Wikipedia gives the IPA equivalent of the same, so I'm sticking with that.