Ancient World Now:Bride of Odysseus in the Underworld

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #25.

Click here for previous episodes.

Today’s episode is dedicated to my loyal listeners in Michigan! Turns out the Detroit area is home to a slew of ancient world groupies! A free autographed copy of my book to the first 5 fans from Michigan to give me a shout-out at Thanks for listening!

Today I show you how to read an epic. You’ll learn how to break it down so you can analyze it in chunks, be it for fame, fortune, or fun! Impress your friends with your newfound ability to distinguish between an aristeia and a prolegomena! Actually, these two topoi are more readily found in The Iliad, than The Odyssey, which is our epic du jour.

The “sacrifice & prayers” topoi is one of the most common of topoi, along with the “catalogue or parade” of something or other. Book XI of The Odyssey begins with both. To the right you can see Odysseus with sword in hand, the blood gushing from the sacrificial animal, and Teiresias, the famous seer, getting ready to tell Odysseus “what it is”.

And like the sweet segments of an orange, whose nectar prevents scurvy, so too, Gwen Minor will separate out the various epic segments. Let’s roll!

Ancient World Now:The Medea-Die Kindermorderin

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #22.

Click here for previous episodes.

The Medea—why does Euripides add the article “The” to his play about Medea? A play called “Medea” would simply be about the character Medea, like Euripides’s play Alcestis or Hippolytus. But a play titled The Medea elevates the story from the personal to the universal. The Medea is about the rage of woman. If you have not experienced it, consider yourself lucky! Notice I did not say “a woman”. I left out the article—and what a difference it makes, n’est pas?

Medea was a princess of the Black Sea area called Colchis. But more than that, she was a powerful sorceress and granddaughter of Helios. One day a ship called the Argo came to Colchis and its captain was a man named Jason. The Argonauts included such well-known heroes as Orpheus, Castor and Polydeuces, Peleus, and the great Herakles (Hercules). Long story short: Medea helps Jason get the fabulous Golden Fleece, runs away with him, settles down and bears his children—and when Jason dumps her and sets himself up to marry a young princess, Medea exacts vengeance. Virgil had Medea in mind when he was writing of Queen Dido in The Aeneid, but Dido turned her rage inward and destroyed herself, while Medea gave new meaning to the phrase “Come to momma”! What was that song that came out a few years ago…Carrie Underwood’s Before He Cheats: “I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights. Slashed a hole in all 4 tires. And maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats…” That guy got off lucky!

The story of Jason and the Argonauts is older than The Iliad and in Homer’s time, it was universally known. Like all these great tales, there are numerous versions and side-stories. Thanks to Apollonios Rhodios, we get the many strands woven together. Today I will read to you from the 1898 edition of Bulfinch’s Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology, which will set us up for next week’s Episode which delves into the Euripides’s play The Medea. Bulfinch merely glosses over the revenge sequence, but Euripides takes a magnifying glass and makes us look at the dark side of humanity until it bursts into flames! Euripides is the go-to man if you want to understand the noir ways of your fellow humans. It’s all about suffering with him! Just check out the daily news stories to see how what it is is what it was.

Ancient World Now:Andromache & Hector

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #21.

Click here for previous episodes.

The parting of Hector and Andromache ranks as one of the most touching scenes in literary history, if not the most. In Book 6 of The Iliad, before going on to the battlefield for the last time, Prince Hector says goodbye to his tearful wife, Andromache, and their son Astyanax. When Hector approaches, the baby screams with fear at the sight of the bronze helmet with its horsehair crest. Both mother and father burst into laughter at the sight. The deep tragedy of their situation is cut through with this stroke of humanity.

Homer is not on the side of the Greeks or on the side of the Trojans. Homer is on the side of humanity and wants us to feel the pain of war. Andromache, for thousands of years, has been the epitome of the loving wife. Her sad plea for Hector to remain with them is for naught. He must go out to fight. Though she has lost both parents and all of her brothers to war, Andromache has two more loved ones to lose. Hector, of course, is killed in a mad rage by Achilles, and Astyanax is ripped from his mother’s arms and thrown from the walls of Troy by the Greek soldiers.

The most touching moments in The Iliad bloom up from scenes involving the Trojan royal household. Walk with me through Book 6 & Book 22 of The Iliad to sample the literary techniques Homer uses to take us to the war inside the hearts and minds of the non-soldiers, from the dutiful maidservant to playboy Prince Paris. Have tissues handy!

Ancient World Now:Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #20.

Click here for previous episodes.

So many of you have asked me: What do you think of Wolfgang Petersen’s film Troy?

Well, filmmakers always tamper with characters and situations from the original story, and Petersen is no exception. But I ask where,  in Homer’s name, is the real tale of the death of Ajax? And where, indeed, is Laocoon, the great seer, who with his sons was dragged to his watery death by a sea serpent when he tried to tell King Priam that the wooden horse would bring about the end of Troy?

The “greatness” of great story lies in the portrayal of the depth of human character. That a director has 180 minutes in which to show the scope of human triumph and tragedy is unrealistic. One must go to the source of these great stories in order to learn from them.

And how do we as humans display character? By the small things we do each day. In times of peace, it might be something as simple as nodding to the driver who yields their right of way. Or by patiently accepting the customer service routine from eager teen clerks because they are in training. And in times of crisis and war, we might reveal our character by resolving not to look at images of humiliation, or by remaining speechless in a time of sorrow and shame. These minor actions and inactions reveal the complexities of the human mind, heart, and spirit in ways, that in the rush of our lives, we often fail to see. It is precisely the lack of these simple human gestures that keeps modern film epics from attaining greatness. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy is by its very nature crippled in its attempts. But, hey, using technology to create the image of the “launch of a thousand ships” was pretty cool! And then Brad Pitt as Achilles, well, what can I say?

Listen to this week’s podcast to find out how Petersen’s film differed from the original epic. Enjoy!

Ancient World Now: Introspection in the Character of Odysseus

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #12.

Click here for previous episodes.

Now that I have told you the three most important tales of the ancient world, The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, we can turn our attention to going deeper into the characters and familiarizing ourselves with the cycle of stories surrounding each epic.

Ever since I was a little girl, I had the distinct feeling that Odysseus was really a scoundrel. In all the stories I knew, he was dishonest. He lied, he stole, and he got away with things. That was how I saw it. It just wasn’t fair. It didn’t matter to me that he triumphed over divine obstacles, was revered by his fellow soldiers, or that his wife Penelope thought he was worth waiting for (although I did so love the story of the bed he carved from the olive tree). What mattered to me was his truthfulness. Are there degrees of honesty? Or is honesty like pregnancy, you either are or you are not? Consider these questions and ask someone else what they think. Let’s create a dialogue of issues of great import—we seem to have less and less of that in our daily lives these days! To me, honor and truth were all. If I worked hard and told the truth, why should a man like Odysseus, who lies, runs and hides, and looks out for his own best interests to the peril of others, be held in high regard. Indeed, he is called “hero”. In today’s podcast, I delve deeper into the character of Odysseus, trying to get at the qualities others admire, while honoring my own personal biases against him.

In fact, one of the many benefits of the process of writing is that it brings clarity of thought. After much meditation, and revision after revision, I have come to an understanding with myself on the matter of Odysseus. I had to address the question as to why truth and honesty matter so much to me. I find it impossible to lie. To me, there are no little lies, and telling an untruth about something insignificant is as despicable as telling an untruth about something significant. Why does it matter so much to me, when people all around lie in their everyday lives and see no harm in it? Some of my very biases against Odysseus have to do with my own personal life struggles. The mark of good literature raises good questions, and this question, like all things worthwhile, made me face myself and who I am. For this new insight into my understanding of myself, I thank Homer and his wily hero, Odysseus, and hope you, too, find wisdom through these ancient tales.

I would be very interested in hearing what comes out of your discussions. Please leave a comment or write to me at the website by clicking on the “Contact” button above. I’ll post your comments in all their various hues. Oh yes, and be sure your little talk about honesty doesn’t “come to blows”, as there are many ways of seeing it! Have fun and see you next week!

Reference books used in today’s podcast: The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature, and Art by Oskar Seyffert and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Classical World by Michael Avi Yonah & Israel Shatzman.


Ancient World Now: The Iliad

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #3.

Click here for previous episodes.

Diomedes was one of the most revered heroes of the ancient world. Though we don’t hear much about him nowadays, he had as many adventures as Achilles and Odysseus! He is quite overshadowed by those other characters. But a huge chunk of The Iliad is devoted to his “aristeia”, or glory day on the battlefield, during which, he wounds Aphrodite, goddess of love.

This dramatic painting is by Arthur Heinrich Wilhelm Fitger and shows the mad chaos of Aphrodite’s desperate move to save her wounded son, Aeneas. And if you are a good student of the ancient world, you know that, yes, of course she saves him. Virgil’s Aeneid is the tale of Aeneas’s trials and tribulations after the Trojan War. Stay with me and you will hear my version of The Aeneid, soon to come as a podcast.

Next week we begin The Odyssey!!!

Ancient World Now: The Iliad

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #2.

Click here for previous episodes.

Like most writers, I am a fiend for books and paper, and find it difficult to keep up with it all.  So today, I organized my work space for maximum efficiency and came across a slip of paper with this note written in my handwriting: “Epipole of Carystos, daughter of Trachion…wanted to go to Troy with the Greeks—was stoned to death.” Just something I ran across in my research that I wanted to know more about. There are so many tales related to The Iliad, that study of the cycle of stories could easily take over one’s life. In the editorial process, some great tales I’d written up never made it into the book I did for Scholastic. Here is one of them, a very sad tale of the young newlyweds, Laodamia and Protestilaus.

Laodamia was the new wife of Protestilaus, a Greek warrior sent to fight at Troy. It was prophesied that the first soldier to step foot on Trojan soil would be the first to die. Protestilaus, seeing great honor in being the first to die for the cause, leaped from ship to shore and was slain immediately by Hector. Laodamia had only been married to him for one day. She so mourned her loss that the gods took pity on her and allowed her to see him for three hours before he proceeded to the Underworld. When she saw him, she fell into his arms, plunged a dagger through her heart, and accompanied him to Hades.

Enjoy today’s podcast. We finish up The Iliad next Monday and then begin on The Odyssey!

Ancient World Now….one day…hey, wait—i counted wrong! Inaugural Podcast

Podcast launch date: Today…
Next podcast: The Iliad-Part II, in one week

Here it is…….Click here for direct link to audio Episode #1

Click here for up-to-date list of all podcasts.

I can’t do math to save my life! It is no surprise that I counted wrong! But who’s counting?!!!

And for those of you who were paying attention the other day, here is the follow up
to the Heinrich Schliemann saga……One morning, so the story goes, Sophia & Heinrich went to the site where their workers were digging. They had laid bets that in this one particular spot on the Greek mainland, Agamemnon’s Mycenaean kingdom had stood and prospered. As they were approaching the work site, Sophia caught a glint of  gold. Thinking fast, she declared, by George, that it was Heinrich’s birthday, (how could they have forgotten) and all the workers had the day off! When the workers cleared off, the couple dug up one of the most important archaeological treasures ever to be recorded. Sophia donned the gorgeous gold jewelry, they took pictures and notified the press, and a firestorm of renewed interest in the ancient world (picking up where eighteenth century discoveries of Herculaneum and Pompeii left off) immediately swept the globe. This photograph inspired designers to fashion jewelry in the old, old styles, and nineteenth century ladies fell all over themselves trying to keep up with the new trend.

Okay, now to the podcast…drumroll, please…..I am crossing my fingers that this works properly, but as with all things tech, there’s bound to be a glitch. Let me know what you think! And contact me ASAP if something is amiss. From here on out, podcasts will be available every Monday. Thanks to everyone for your help and support. Let’s roll!

Ancient World Now….three days…..

Podcast launch date: Monday, June 14, 2010.

First episode: The Iliad 20-30 minute podcast.

From the time Heinrich Schliemann was a wee lad in Germany, he dreamed of finding the location of legendary Troy. He dedicated his entire life to this dream. He came to America and made a gold rush fortune out west. He did the mail-order bride thing and hooked up with a Greek girl named Sophia, who was also a big fan of all things Homeric. Together, they combed Greece and Turkey in the hopes of locating Ilium. While Heinrich has a bad rap in today’s world for his rough & tumble archaeological practices, you gotta hand it to him, the man was passionate!

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about his young wife, Sophia, and show you how she influenced ladies accessories in the mid-nineteenth century.

Tune in to the maiden podcast of Ancient World Now to see what inspired these two characters!

Ancient World Now….four days…..

Podcast launch date: Monday, June 14, 2010.

First episode: The Iliad 20-30 minute podcast.

Who was Paris? And how did he get so lucky? Goddesses! Helen! Playing the lyre whenever he wanted! Hanging out in the palace while everybody and his brother fights his battles (literally)!

Little did you know that he was callously cast aside, nay, exposed on a mountaintop, soon after birth because his mom had a nightmare that he would bring down her family!

Some time later he was picked up by a shepherd who raised him to manhood. But discovering he was a hot young swashbuckling prince of Troy is another story.

This Judgment of Paris by Lucas Cranach the Elder is from around 1528.  If you want to see it “in person” you’ll have to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Find out how these three ladies tried to bribe Paris and what they used to entice him in the maiden podcast of Ancient World Now!