Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Argonauts of...JUSTICE!

I'm going to see a traveling production of the Argonautika that's now here in DC. That's a play that's been made out of a poem that Apollonius Rhodius wrote about the Argonauts. I know a lot of people have heard of the Argonauts, but don't know much about them.

The Argonauts were kind of the ancient mythic version of the Justice League/Society, a collection of all the big heroes and doers of deeds of the day. A lot of the Argonauts were also in other big crossover events of the time, like the Calydonian Boar Hunt and the Trojan War. To help you understand them, I thought I'd explain in terms of the heroes we read about today.
By the way, if all those movies about the Argonauts had used some of the cool powers the original gang had, they would have been a lot more interesting, kind of like Heroes with nothing but oily dark-haired men in scanty costumes... !

Nestor was a tedious old windbag who was about 110, and was full of unwanted advice and lectures about how much better people were in the old days. Whenever Nestor opened his mouth, that's pretty much the readers clue to kick back and put your feet up, and pretend your visiting you're grandfather. For Nestor, read ALAN SCOTT.

Zetes and Calais were brothers. They actually had wings and could fly, because of their crazy origin of being the kids of the King of the Winds, Boreas. They were also really horny devils, because they were always pestering Hylas, the group's pretty boy. So, despite the gender difference think of them as HAWKMAN and HAWKGIRL.

Herakles I'm sure you already know; big strong man. Ordinarily, I'd want to associate Herakles with Superman, the JLA's strong man. But Herakles was generally portrayed as bone stupid. Therefore, for Herakles imagine HAL JORDAN.

Herakles had a little sidekick (lover, really), his cousin, Hylas. Hylas was a total pretty boy and always getting in trouble because of it. For Hylas, imagine KYLE RAYNER.

Okay, seriously, Herakles was so powerful that he actually created story-telling problems (since he could pretty much single-handedly beat the snot out of anyone the Argonauts encountered). In that sense, he is very very much SUPERMAN.

Odysseus was the Smart One. Oh, sure, he could fight, but he preferred to use his wiles and wits. He also had a really popular stand alone book of his own, where he fought lots of bizarre enemies. For Odysseus, picture BATMAN.

Philoctetes was a master bowman whose feet stank. Nobody could stand him, so the other heroes marooned him on an island. For Philoctetes, read GREEN ARROW.

Tiphys was the original master helmsman of the Argonauts ship, but he died mysteriously and was replaced by Ancaeus, another helmsman who had little use for religion or prophecy. For Tiphys and Ancaeus, I choose the original and the new MISTER TERRIFIC.

Atalanta. Well, she was strong and fast. And the only woman. That pretty much makes her WONDER WOMAN, by default.

Argus was the builder, the designer; he made their ship, modestly naming it the Argo. That would have to be JOHN STEWART, I guess, since he's the only architect/designer in the entire DCUniverse.

Butes was a great lover, a king, and a bee keeper. So even though he was more of a queen, we give this one to THE RED BEE.

Euphemus could walk on water ... literally. That's because he was the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. So Euphemus kind of has to be AQUAMAN.

Autolycus (yeah, like the guy on Xena, *sigh*) was a master thief and infiltrator. So to me that's got to be the quiet and sneaky MARTIAN MANHUNTER.

Orpheus is remembered mostly as a musician, but he practiced medicine, augury, and the magical arts. He was a magical utility tool, so we name him DR. FATE.

Medea was a trampy, vicious, witch. No contest: ZATANNA.

Iphiclus was a very fast runner and had trouble with impotence. Yes, really. Let Iphiclus be THE FLASH.

Aethalides; cool guy. He was the son of Hermes from whom he received the gift of total recall. Ironic that some one who could forget nothing is no longer remembered. He was the herald of the Argonauts. Let's term him ORACLE.

Bellerophon. Well, he did lots of cool stuff, but really he's remembered because of his flying horse, Pegasus, so THE SHINING KNIGHT is not a bad way to think of him.

Oh, you thought Perseus had Pergasus? No, that's a Renaissance add-on to his myth, perpetuated by Harry Hamlin. Don't believe everything you see in the movies, folks. Perseus had no natural superpowers, but was really smart and had a knack for picking up superpowerful objects and using them to kill crazy monsters and villains. Let's think of him as THE GOLDEN AGE STARMAN.

Poriclymenus had the superpower of shape-shifting into different animals. No, I'm not making this stuff up. Poriclymenus is BEAST BOY.

Lynceus had supersight, even X-ray vision. Not much more too him than that, and the closest thing I can come up with is DR. MID-NIGHT.

Jason was a very accomplished, naturally noble youth who tended to sleep with people he shouldn't. Let's just call him NIGHTWING, for short.

Polydeuces had a lot of relationships with Big People in Big Myths. But we don't care about that. Polydeuces was a great boxer, having defeated the great boxer and demigod Amycus. So Polydeuces can be WILDCAT.

There are lots of more Argonauts-- around 50 total -- but many of those are colorless also-rans.

We call them GEO-FORCE.


Anonymous said...

"Odysseus was the Smart One. Oh, sure, he could fight, but he preferred to use his wiles and wits. He also had a really popular stand alone book of his own, where he fought lots of bizarre enemies. For Odysseus, picture BATMAN."

Totally agreed. I have said it many times (and astonished and bored people near and far): the only reason Homer had Odysseus's adventures take place at sea is because it never occurred to him to dress him up as a bat and have him beat up suitors in the alleys of Ithaca.

Also: George Clooney played both a watered-down Odysseus ("O Brother Where Art Thou?") and a watered-down Batman ("Batman and Robin"). Draw your own conclusions.

Anonymous said...

That was a long way to go for a Geo-Force joke.

Anonymous said...

Isn't that rather harsh on poor Zatanna?

Anonymous said...

I'll be curious what you think of it. I saw the play in Berkeley a few months ago and liked it a lot for the most part.

Anonymous said...

I would have picked Jean Loring to be Medea's counterpart.

Verification word Xjiouzo: What they served at Jason and Medea's wedding.

From Mikelibrarian. When I tried signing on as an aol person it asked me for my password. Missing an opportunity to slam Jean Loring or Medea is not wortth the aggravation.


Marcos said...

Hylas was Herakles's cousin? I thought he was more like his ward, won in battle or something. Sheesh, did these guys always have to combine incest with their pederasty?!

And if Atalanta (home of the Baraves, not to be confused with Euphemus's home of Atalantis) was the only woman, what does that make Medea? Poor Zatanna...

Michael Jones said...

Frankly Tristan, I thought it was just the right amount of buildup.
For me the only Argonauts are Toronto's football team or Don Chaffey's movie. I love my Harryhausen.

running42k said...

The is also a Canadian Football League team called the Argonauts. Are you sure you aren't going to see them?

Sea-of-Green said...

Kudos to anyone who reads the actual Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes! It isn't an easy read by modern standards, and it wasn't an easy read by ancient standards, either. In fact, there are surviving literary critiques from ancient Rome in which the reviewers pretty much called Apollonius a hack. :-) (But then, to many ancient Greek and Romans, anyone who didn't write like Homer did was considered a hack.)

Atalanta was also known to be a very fast runner. She could stand in for the Flash as well.

Matthew E said...

I thought Argus was the guy who had eyes all over his body and could see for miles. No?

Anyway, it's because of stuff like this that I always wanted DC to do more with the Olympian.

SallyP said...

Now THIS is the kind of essay that I use to confound the sort of people who say that comics rot your brains. This is brilliant! It has analogies, and Green Mythology, and...and stuff!

And Hylas as Kyle just cracks me up.

Scipio said...

"I thought Argus was the guy who had eyes all over his body and could see for miles. No?"

Different Argus. Neither of whom should be confused with Ulysses' dog... .

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Argus could also be Steel, who I always think of as the DCU's go-to guy for inventions and gadgets. Mr. Terrific has mad skills in those areas (and most others), of course, but I always think of him as more of a strategist and thinker.

Anonymous said...

"Now THIS is the kind of essay that I use to confound the sort of people who say that comics rot your brains. This is brilliant! It has analogies, and Green Mythology, and...and stuff!"

The Iliad and the Odyssey were not crafted to be highbrow literature; they were the equivalent of action movies in the day. Well-written action movies, perhaps, but they were entertainment for anyone who didn't have anything better to do at night. Of course, these days Joe Lunchbox doesn't speak ancient Greek, so Classical lowbrow entertainment is now considered an upper-crust experience.

Sea-of-Green said...

Well, yes and no. :-) They may not have been originally intended to be "highbrow" entertainment, but they became that way even in ancient Greece due to the transcriptions being commissioned by (probably) a few Greek aristocrats (because that's who generally called for transcriptions in ancient times). Homer (assuming he really existed) didn't actually "write" the Illiad and Odyssey -- he's given credit for creating how the stories are layed out and presented (those stories were ancient before Homer was even born), but they were actually written down by someone else. Originally they were relayed to audiences in verbal form or performance. When they were first written down, they then became the "property" of the aristocracy and remained that way for centuries. Most people in ancient Greece and Rome couldn't read, unless they were upperclass or had ties with a scholar or religious sect, and "books" during that era were usually either handwritten scrolls or waxed tablets. Only scholars, priests, and rich people had access to books, so the stories essentially became the property of the upper class even in ancient times. The nonwritten form, on the other hand, probably continued to be performed and probably, eventually evolved into stories that we wouldn't even recognize today -- but either no one ever bothered to transcribe the "continued" form, or it's become lost.
Homer is credited with popularizing the epic poetry form known as dactylic hexameter -- and it's NOT easy to write in that form, trust me. :-) It's an ingenius form of writing -- easy on the ears and on audiences, but VERY difficult to write.

Scipio said...

Apollonius wasn't that bad, but his is one of the few epics of his era, and epic poetry is unavoidably compared to the original master, Homer.

Oh, and dactylic hexameter isn't that hard, as long as you're writing in Greek (or Latin). English is just ill-suited for it; just ask Longfellow.

Anonymous said...

Scipio Garling


God damn it.

John Chidley-Hill said...

Geo-Force? BA-zing!

Hale of Angelthorne said...

I always thought Atalanta would make an interesting superhero-superspeed, bow and arrow, ability to turn into a lion (but only after getting it on in a temple).

John Chidley-Hill said...

Atalanta WAS a character - - in the Pantheon in the Incredible Hulk.