Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy should really be called Helen of Sparta since she was born in Sparta and was a Spartan princess. She was also a Mycenaen – part of the culture that swept into Bronze Age Crete. This period is probably fifty years after the period I am writing about but I did research into it anyway. We know a bit more about the Spartans and they were supposed to have been influenced by the Minoan civilization.

With that said, most of the Mediterranean cultures were influenced by this great civilization – maybe not in accordance with the wishes of the leaders since in Sparta laws were passed forbidding perfume, cosmetics and jewelry. However, girls were also educated at state expense and encouraged to be physically active. They also married later than many of their peers in other countries so maternal and infant mortality was less. They were also the scandal of Classical Greece since the women had so much more freedom than the poor wives in Athens. Although named for a Goddess, Athena, the women were kept closeted in their homes weaving with no company but slaves and other women. Even in Sparta, though, patriarchy ruled and the women had much less influence than those in Crete.

But I digress.

I think everyone knows the basic story:  that Helen was the most beautiful woman of her age. She was married to Menelaus, brother to Agamemnon. She was either abducted or chose to run away with Paris. (It doesn’t much matter if she was innocent. For most of the intervening centuries she has been considered a harlot.)They fled to Troy and a great war was fought that lasted more than ten years.  The war is the basis of the Iliad. As everyone knows, Troy was considered a myth until Schliemann excavated it.

Here’s what I did not know about Helen.

Another familiar myth is Leda and the Swan. Zeus takes the form of a swan to rape Leda. The child created by this union was Helen. Her beauty was frequently ascribed to her divine paternity. Because Zeus took the form of a swan, Helen was born from an egg. I am not kidding. Besides the painting that shows her rising from an egg, an artifact reputed to be a piece of the eggshell was a sacred object.

Since everybody in these stories are related, Helen’s half-brothers were the twins Castor and Pollux and her half-sister was Clytemnestra, wife to Agamemnon.

 

The Minotaur

I’m sure most of us know something about Theseus and the Minotaur. Here’s the backstory. The Greeks revered Zeus. Poseidon wanted to be honored too so he sent a white bull to Minos, the King of Crete. Minos’s wife Parsiphae fell in love with the bull. She tasked Daedalus (yes, the inventor with the wax wings whose son was Icarus) to build a special wooden box in the shape of a cow. Once inside the box, she had intercourse with the bull. Nine months later she bore a half-man, half-bull. The Minotaur.

The myth reeks of patriarchy and a desire to, in modern parlance, throw shade on Cretan beliefs.

First, in Crete Zeus was not the primary God. He was an upstart, more akin to a harvest God, who died and was reborn.

We also don’t know if Crete had a King. Certainly it was a goddess centered, matrilineal culture. Many archeologists have assumed Crete had kings, but for decades these archeologists were men. Men, moreover, who lived with a strongly patriarchal structure. It is possible the Priestess’s consort acted as a wanax, or governor. Kingships came with the Mycenaeans.

Third several ancient cultures revered the bull or, in Indo-Europe the horse. One of the rites was mock intercourse with this symbol of fertility by the Queen/Priestess. This act was supposed to guarantee good crops, lots of livestock and of course healthy children for the coming year.

But what about the Minotaur?

Well, many many ancient and not so ancient cultures employ masks in religious rites. Animals are a frequently the subject.  Is it so far a stretch to believe that the Minotaur is a masked man involved in a religious rite?

Besides painting Theseus as a hero (which I dispute but more about that later), this myth spins Crete as decadent and deserving of conquest. By the Myceneans, naturally.

Bull-leaping and Theseus

Bull leaping is probably one of the most well-known -if not the most well-known – image of the Minoan civilization. Most people believe the account written in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. It is important to remember the Greeks (the Mycenae and forward) borrowed a lot from other cultures. The civilization on Crete was very important. With that said, the Minoan civilization was Goddess centered while the Mycenae were patriarchal and that made a huge difference in how the invaders viewed the rites and rituals they saw.

In the Theseus myth, Minos exacts a tribute from Athens of 7 young men and 7 maidens to face the bull and perform bull-leaping. Minos’s daughter Ariadne falls in love with Theseus and gives him a ball of string to find his way through the labyrinth under the city and kill the Minotaur, (The creation of this beast is another story). Theseus does so, thereby freeing himself and the other tributes from Crete. He takes Ariadne with him but abandons her on another island. Great guy.

While tributes may have been pressed into service as bull-leapers, the bull-leaping was an integral part of the religious ceremonies. The bull was a sacred animal and the Cretan youth performed. Secondly, there are no labyrinths underneath Knossos and it is thought the pattern of building residences – all interlinked and connecting rooms – gave rise to the myth of a labyrinth.

And although labyrinth now means maze, the labys (the root of the word) was the iconic Cretan double axe. It had nothing to do with mazes.

Lastly, there is a lot of speculation about Minos. Was he a king? Perhaps after the Mycenae arrived, a kingship was established. Was he a consort of the High Priestess who, it is now thought, was the earthly representative of the Goddess. The Priestess chose a – or many – consorts. There is now some thought that he or other men served as a wanax and kept the wheels of the government running.

Bronze Age Crete – High Civilization

Bronze Age Crete is frequently termed Minoan from King Minos. He may or may not be mythical. He is the King in the Theseus story with the Minotaur, the Labyrinth and the ball of string from Ariadne. Minos is reputed to be the King who demanded seven youths and seven maidens from Athens for the bull-leaping ceremonies.

This is Bronze Age Crete refracted through mainland Greek culture, a warlike patriarchal society quite different from the culture on Crete. There was bull-leaping – that’s true – and perhaps bull masks were used to suggest half-man, half-bulls. And the famed labyrinth is now thought to be based on the interlinked dwellings of Crete.

Unlike the mainland towns, the Cretan cities did not have protective walls surrounding them. (They did, however, have an excellent navy). They traded with Egypt as well as the civilizations on Anatolia and opened up trading routes almost to the Black Sea. The archaeological records suggests they were invaded though; Knossos and some of the other cities were sacked and burned more than once. One of the theories regarding the destruction of this wonderful civilization suggestions the explosion of Thera (Santorini) was responsible.

A cultured civilization renowned in the Ancient World for its metal working, art works and frescos, pottery and more, the Cretans also had indoor toilets and bathtubs.The remnants are visible on Akrotiri, a site on a neighboring island buried by ash and now excavated. I am writing about approximately 1450 B.C. but this civilization lasted several hundred years before and after. Such amenities were lost and had to be re-invented thousands of years later.

Money, scissors and more

 

Much research was and is required for the Will Rees mysteries. After all, they dressed differently, ate differently and mostly lived different. Most people then lived on farms. And, of course, there were no telephones, landlines or otherwise, no computers, no cars – the list goes on and on.

But as I research Bronze Age Crete for my next series, I realize how many things there are. Money, for example. Every Western country as well as China, India and more had money. Well, there was some money in the Bronze Age. In what is now Iraq and Iran, shekels were used. They were tied to a certain amount of barley. Consistent weights for gold and silver were beginning to be set up. But can I casually say my characters in Minoan Crete went to the market with their money and purchased something? No. Something must have been used; after all, Crete was the center of trade. Did they use a barter system or a combination of both? Obviously, more research is required.

I talked about needles in my last post. Well, let’s move on to scissors. Rees uses scissors and we would recognize them. Scissors were invented during the Bronze Age but they were not the scissors we know. More like two blades attached with a copper band.

And the people of Rees’s time period ate similarly to us. More meat heavy and certain vegetables were newish such as potatoes and tomatoes but we would recognize most of their food.  The Minoans ate differently. Sure, they ate lamb, seafood and goat, lentils and other pulses, grains such as barley and wheat. But did they consume dairy products? Had they learned to make cheese? So far, although there are competing theories, no one seems to know.

And did they eat beef? The bull was sacred to them. The Classical Greeks sacrificed Cattle by burning the hides and bones so the aroma would go up to the Gods. Did the Minoans sacrifice their Bulls and do the same? Or did they treat their cattle as they still do in India today: cattle are sacred and not eaten?

But they did consume beer, wine and a fermented honey similar to mead.

Bronze Age Tool

 

When we look back in time we often assume those civilizations that have gone before are primitive and the people barbarians. (A Greek word by the way. It meant that non-Greeks could only say bar-bar-bar. But I digress.) Nothing is further from the truth. Although some of the cultures look uncivilized to us and certainly the technology was not the same – or even present – some cultures enjoyed a very high level of – well – culture. The Minoans, for example, were affluent with beautiful art and a cohesive society that lasted at least a millennia. Because their Navy, the best in the World at that time, kept the island safe so the cities did not need to be surrounded by walls. I read one source that claimed that Knossos was the first real city. (I am sure other Mid-eastern scholars would disagree.) The Minoans also enjoyed indoor toilets. A visitor to Akrotiri can see the remains.

Akrotiri was a Minoan city outside of Crete. It was buried by the explosion on Santorini (Thera) and is under excavation.

So, what does this have to do with tools.

Well, I would guess that modern households have a particular tool now, the design of which has not changed since Neolithic times.The humble needle, once made of bone.

In Minoan times, the needles were made of bronze. If one thinks of the short tight jackets with short sleeves and the long skirts, it is not difficult to see that sewing would have been a required art. (The Minoans excelled in the fiber arts: weaving, dyeing and more and the items they made were important for trade.)

The iron needle did not come in until approximately 1195 B.C. – after the smiths had learned to harden iron.

Bouchercon 2017

Well, another Bouchercon is over. What a fun one this one was. Besides the usual interesting panels, it was held in Toronto. What a fabulous city.

Susanna Calkins was our wonderful moderator with really thought provoking questions. And the panel: Lois Gresh, Jonathan Putman, Andrea Penrose and Beverly Todd were all fascinating speakers. You can see from the photo how intently I’m listening.

On to St. Petersburg next year!

Ancient Crete

Although I am planning to continue the Will Rees mystery series, I also want to begin a new and very different series. These mysteries will be set in Ancient Bronze Age Crete.

Needless to say, the research has been intense!

I have learned so much. (There is still a lot more to learn, not just for me but for the archeologists too. All that we know now is from the archeological record, myths and various interpretations.)

But I digress.

These ancient Minoans were a civilized society with indoor toilets, beautiful art, and some very intriguing cultural differences. For one thing, they worshipped a Goddess and appear to be matrilineal as well as matrilocal. (That means inheritance went through the mother and when she married the man lived with her.) They worshipped snakes and apparently snake handling was part of the ceremonies.

Like most of the Goddesses then, she was the deity of fertility. Women enjoyed a high rank, something that many of the early archeologists found hard to believe.

The bull was revered. A symbol of the male principle, the bull was sacrificed at important ceremonies. Yes, this is the culture with bull-leaping. Probably most people know of this from the myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur in the labyrinth. It turns out that the people who became the Classical Greeks interpreted the Minoan culture through the lens of their own beliefs.

Genres at Mavens of Mayhem

On Saturday I spoke to the SINC (Sister in Crime) chapter to which I belong: the Mavens of Mayhem. SINC was started by Sara Paretsky in the 1980’s to support women writers. At that time, women writers were hardly ever reviewed. (Many sources I see in the Library are still like this. Book page mystery section reviews about 85% – 90% men and the few women who appear are heavyweights like Louise Penney. So there is still a lot of work to do. But I digress.)

So Sisters in Crime was begun and now there are chapters all over the country.

Anyway, I put on my librarian hat and spoke about genres and the difficulty of placing a book in the proper slot. Of course there is a lot of discussion on this; many librarians don’t want to “pigeonhole” but I feel it is an aid to the patron who reads only mystery or only romance. Of course within the genres there are sub-genres (noir, historical, cozy for example) and especially now days there are a lot of books that are more than one genre. The Devil’s Bible by Carpenter is mystery, historical, fantasy and even a little romance. (It is a great book, BTW.) Then the question is, where do you locate such a book so readers will find it?

Since several of the writers and beginning writers in the group have books that cross genres, we had a great discussion. One of the members referenced her attempt to find a book Dinosaur barbecue. In the catalog it was listed: Cookery – Dinosaur.

I will leave the peculiarities of subject headings for another day.

Amazon and music

 

I order a fair amount from Amazon even though I am one of those dinosaurs that actually likes to go into a store and browse. I order books too even though I work in a library and I haunt Barnes and Noble and visit the smaller book shops regularly. Amazon has books I need for my research that I can’t get by any other method.

But what I really use Amazon for is streaming music. I have a variety of playlists and I buy music, both old and new, to download to my phone, all the time.

The problem with Amazon is this: Music unlimited. Now I am willing to purchase the songs and I do, (And sometimes Amazon takes them away again even though I have bought them and downloaded them. I hate this. But I digress.) But I CAN’T buy some songs because they are music unlimited and Amazon wants me to pay $7.99 a month for access to them. I do not download that many songs per month. Besides, the time I would need by itself stops me. I am sure that Amazon believes that customers want the songs so much they will pay that amount of money. But I won’t. I think its gouging. And its not like Amazon doesn’t already make huge profits. So I don’t buy the song at all.

Still. Amazon’s control of this marketplace is both irritating and frightening. They can go into my phone and remove something I’ve paid for? Seriously? And the billions they are already earning isn’t enough? So here in a nutshell is the good and bad of the digital world. I can get odd books and yet Amazon has so much power over music as well as my phone.