Friday, May 30, 2014

Spartan Myths - Artemis Orthia

A later stone representation of an xoanon.
The Orthia was a wooden pillar.
I'm going to continue in a similar vein with another myth set in Sparta, not a myth about Sparta. Don't worry, I'll get there.

When the Spartans descended on the Peloponnesus, they brought more than just their sky gods with them. They brought the whole pantheon.

Apollo's twin sister Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt, was popular with the Spartans. She was the protector of girls and in Sparta that protection extended to the youths as well. However, she developed a darker aspect here than elsewhere in the world.

When the Dorian's conquered Lacedaemonia, they found a wooden post-like idol of Artemis already present in a willow thicket. This idol became known as Artemis Orthia. Once again, most scholars agree that an older goddess, Orthia was supplanted by the conquering goddess Artemis.

(Lacedaemonia is the name for the land that the Dorians conquered. The Dorian invaders became known as Lacedaemonians or Spartans.)

The idol, known as a xoanon, was a malevolent, nonhuman wooden effigy. Legend says, Spartans from the surrounding four villages quarreled while making sacrifices to Artemis Orthia. Most of the Spartans were killed in the ensuing fight and the remainder died of disease. Whether because of the idol's influence or because a miasma fell upon them due to their blood-guilt is unclear.

Following this, an oracle proclaimed that Orthia's altar must be stained with human blood and human sacrifices by lot were established. When asked why Sparta didn't just follow the practices of the Skythoi (Scythians) and sacrifice captives to the goddess, Apollonius said, "It is not congenial to any of the Greeks to adopt in their full rigor the manners and customs of barbarians (non-Greeks)."

When Lycurgus the lawgiver came to power in Sparta, he altered the custom. The sacrifices were abolished, but to slake the goddess' thirst for blood the youths of Sparta were flogged until they bled. An ordeal known as the Diamastigosis.

Standing at the rear of the amphitheater
looking down at the altar of Artemis Orthia.
This rite of passage was so popular that an amphitheater was constructed for the audience. During the Roman times the ritual became little more than a blood spectacle that sometimes ended in the death of the young men, coming full circle in a return to human sacrifice. Showing the modern myth that the future is more progressive isn't always the truth.

This is an instance of what is called a "survival", where a former deity, ritual or cult is absorbed into the new reigning deity's sphere. Sometimes only the portions that fit with the new deity's identity are absorbed piecemeal, other times they are engulfed whole. Thus "converting" the followers of the previous god. Or would it be more correct to say subverting the newcomers?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Spartan Myths - Apollo Hayakinthios

Apollo and the mortally wounded Hyacinthus
I haven't blogged much recently because no one wants to hear that I took the kids to school today and I think I'll do some writing before I have to go pick them up.

While researching Taming Theron and A Spartan Love, I found all kinds of, for lack of a better word, myths about Sparta. Some are just minor things, such as trying to apply a modern mindset to an ancient culture and one that even its contemporaries considered strange. Others are the result of the other Greek city-states giving them bad press. No one really liked the bullies on the block.

So I thought I would start with a real myth and explore its origins.

First the myth. Hyacinthus was a prince of Sparta. Both Apollo and Zephyrus courted the beautiful young man, but Hyacinthus preferred Apollo. One day while Apollo and Hyacinthus were throwing a discus, Zephyrus, the West Wind, blew the disc off course in a fit of jealousy. The discus struck Hyacinthus in the head, killing him.

Apollo was heartbroken. He refused to allow Hades to take the prince to the Underworld. Instead, he gathered the youth's blood to create a flower, the hyacinth. Aphrodite, Athena and Artemis carried the divine hero's body to the Elysium Fields.

Apollo mourns Hyacinthus
The likely origins. A tomb to Hyacinthus can be found near Apollo's altar and idol in the village of Amykles southwest of the modern city of Sparta and dates to the Mycenaean era. Most scholars consider Hyacinthus to be a local deity who predated the Spartan's and Apollo. His name with the suffix –nth shows him to be pre-Hellenic. (The Greeks called themselves Hellenes.)

When the Doric Spartans invaded the Peloponnesus, they brought their sky gods with them. The Spartans considered Apollo to be one of their patron gods. Since Apollo was one of the most likely to take a male lover, Hyacinthus was quickly accounted as his lover.

As is commonly the case when one god absorbs another's place and prerogatives, the older deity had to die. Hyacinthus met with an "accidental" death at another, although minor, sky god's hands. Apollo stepped in to fill the religious void, laying claim to Hyacinthus' sacred site and becoming known as Apollo Hayakinthios.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Spartan Love

Ancient Greek Battle Prep
A Spartan Love is coming along nicely. As is the case with my stories, A Spartan Love has been growing as it goes through my editing/revision process. The original rough draft was about 86K. Now at about 25% through my second draft, it is up to 96K. I have no doubt that it will be 100K+ by the time I submit it.

Most of the growth is due to world building. I try to get as much of that in the rough draft as possible, but it's not until I get the story back from my betas that I find any holes in my descriptions and explanations. Their questions let me know what I need to clarify. Just because I know my world, doesn't mean others do.

So the story gets longer and more involved. With two tiers of betas, that can be quite a bit of additional material tucked in here and there as unobtrusively as possible.

A Spartan Love is as much an adventure as a romance. After all, I'm not going to expect my warriors to avoid battle and valor.

Andreas and Theron live in 5th century BC Sparta. I try to make the somewhat enigmatic city-state of Sparta as historically correct as possible. However, many aspects of their society and thought processes were mysterious even to their neighbors, many of whom hated them and portrayed the Spartans in as bad a light as possible when they actually wrote about them. So sources are hard to come by and often contradictory and/or suspect.

I have also decided to write about the world Andreas and Theron think they live in. So as in Homer, the gods and their lesser brethren are real. As are ghosts, known as shades or phatasma(ta). I'm hoping that the stories retain a feel not unlike Homer's works, although not as flowery and wordy. I'm not really a songsmith.

The goal is to submit A Spartan Love before Taming Theron comes out. That way there will be minimal time separating the stories.