THE XENA TAPESTRY: THE WOOF AND WEAVE OF MYTH AND HISTORY
IAXS Project #227
By Virginia Carper (carperv@FRB.GOV)
Copyright © 1997 held by author
1641 words


EDITOR'S NOTE:

One of the more startling aspects of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is its apparent total disregard for history, mythology and chronology. Ms. Carper explores how this disregard actually enhances the show.



A RICH TAPESTRY


...

Gabrielle about to be freed


[01] An important feature of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is how it interweaves history and myth. Properly done, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS can become a rich tapestry reflecting our dreams. Xena transforms from a fictional character to become part of our personal understanding of myths and histories.

[02] To mold the fictional Xena into an historic and mythic character requires careful thought and research. If either the historic or mythic elements are out of kilter, Xena's exploits become ludicrous. To simply thrust her into the historical world would turn Xena into a FORREST GUMP, a pasted-on character out of synch with the world.


BACKGROUND HISTORICAL CHARACTERS


...

Gabrielle gives Homer some pointers


[03] One effective method to weave the mythic and historic parts together is to feature background historical characters. In THE ATHENS CITY ACADEMY OF PERFORMING BARDS (#13), Homer lends authority to Gabrielle and her stories. We know him as the author of THE ILIAD and THE ODYSSEY, two very well-known ancient Greek epics. BEWARE OF GREEKS BEARING GIFTS (#12) draws from THE ILIAD, Homer's version of the Trojan War.

[04] Hippocrates, the father of medicine, works with Xena and Gabrielle to heal the war-ravaged soldiers and villagers in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (#24). Xena instructs him on how to conduct triage. Later she acts as midwife to deliver the breech baby Centaur of Ephiny, the Amazon. Hippocrates' presence suggests that Xena's medical knowledge entered our history through his teachings.


CULTURAL MOTIFS

[05] Another approach is to have cultural motifs as a part of Xena's and her associates' lives. Autolycus watches orange robed monks go to worship in THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES (#17). Their town, a Tibetan village is roped with colorful prayer flags to the Buddha. Meanwhile, Xena's native village, Amphipolis, is a major town in historical Macedonia. Gabrielle's village of Poteidaia (Potidaea) is a former neighbor of Amphipolis. These motifs binds these people to our reality.

....

Xena, as the ghost of solstice whatever


[06] Charles Dickens, Santa Claus, and Xena make a heady mix in A SOLSTICE CAROL (#33). This episode follows the modern tradition of retelling Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Many stories of this type only skate along the surface. However, A SOLSTICE CAROL goes deeper in depicting transformation.

[07] Dickens wrote A CHRISTMAS CAROL to wake up Victorian England to the needs of the poor. He felt the need to reform all England, and this was the sledgehammer to do the job. Scrooge ignored the poor -- "Are there not enough workhouses?" -- until the Christmas Spirits forced him to understand who the poor were. Christmas Present tells him, "*WANT* and *IGNORANCE* are *YOUR* Children."

[08] A SOLSTICE CAROL in its interior world does that for the King and the gentle toy-maker, Sentaclees. The King comes to understand the meaning of kingship -- to raise his people up and provide for them. Sentaclees gains the courage to follow his true calling -- to provide for the needy.

[09] As with Dickens' original story, this episode is not based on the major tenants of the Christian religion. Instead, both stories use the ghosts of the past, present, and future to provide a catalyst for change. The unloving, selfish individual matures into the caring, generous soul.

...

Senticles ponders his situation


[10] An added bonus was the inclusion of modern American cultural icons such as Santa Claus (Sentaclees) in A SOLSTICE CAROL. The Solstice (Christmas) Tree provided the link between Santa Claus and the more ancient tree worship of the Teutonic and Scandinavian peoples. Another religious icon was Gabrielle's toy lamb. The Roman Catholic veneration of the Christ as the Lamb of God intertwined with Gabrielle's symbolic meekness and innocence.


BLURRING THE LINE BETWEEN FANTASY AND REALITY

[11] The inclusion of the historic Julius Caesar (DESTINY, #36) in Xena's world lends an understated authority to Xena and her exploits. Caesar provides an historical context for her change to the Warrior Princess. As with Autolycus and the Tibetan village, Xena and Caesar blur the line between fantasy and reality.

... ...

Left to right, The Xenaverse Julius Caesar, Julius Caesar on actual historical coinage


[12] Caesar is presented as a believable person. He quotes from his Gallic Commentaries (DE BELLO GALLICO) to Xena and to his friend, Brutus. When the escaped slave, M'Lila, is captured, Caesar tells Xena, "Gaul is divided into three parts," the first sentence of his commentaries (Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres). Later, he explains to Brutus how he could play Xena for a fool. "Men [women] are willing to believe what they wish" (Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt).

[13] But it is more than quoting from his commentaries which makes Caesar believable in Xena's world. He acts as a Roman would when confronted with the likes of Xena. Like many Romans, he is a prude, and he chides Xena on her lack of clothing. In her cabin, he asks Xena, "Where is the rest of that dress?" Caesar, ever the practical Roman, lets Xena believe that he will join her. After capturing Xena and her pirate crew, he informs her that he would never betray Rome for likes of her. "I oppose all those who dare defy me, all those who dare prey on Rome." Throughout, Caesar remains true to his Roman roots.


...

Caesar and Brutus plot while Xena is occupied


[14] DESTINY is based on an actual incident in Caesar's early life. When he was captured by Greek pirates, they demanded 20 dinars of gold for ransom. Caesar goaded them into asking for more. Throughout the voyage, he joked to the pirates that someday he would return to kill them all. After he was ransomed, he did capture and put them to death. Xena's role as the pirate captain placed her firmly into Caesar's personal history.

HISTORIC AND MYTHIC ELEMENTS OUT OF KILTER

[15] However, THE XENA SCROLLS (#34) is a prime example of what can go awry if the historical base is off. For me, this was a disappointing episode. To thrust the mythic Xena upon the modern world destroys the belief of her existence. This episode makes her exploits inane.


...

There is a Joxer for every age


[16] First, the choice of Macedonia in 1940 was a poor one. Greece was in political chaos. Nazi Germany exercised political influence over the Greek dictatorship. Moreover, Italy invaded Greece. The idea of keeping Ares entombed to prevent world war does not make sense in this context. The Second World War had already started in 1939. By mid-1940, Germany bombed England, overran Europe, and prepared to invade Russia. Meanwhile, German scientists were experimenting with heavy water weapons, the precursor to the atom bomb. Furthermore, Adolf Hitler, since 1933, attempted to rid Europe of all Jews. Ares escaping to teach Hitler "a few things" seemed ludicrous.

[17] Second, the character of Janice Covington was 'off'. As an archeologist, Covington was not very convincing. To conduct an archeological dig in a war zone was incongruous. Why was she so driven to find those scrolls that she would risk life and limb? Then, after months of backbreaking work, why would she shoot up valuable artifacts with a pistol, a gattling gun, and a machine gun? Even so, if she were the fierce tough that she was supposed to be, she would be a dead-eye shot.

[18] Third, the story breaks down in its logic. If only the descendants of the original people (Xena and friends) came to Xena's tomb, who was Smythe? How did he know about the scrolls? How was he able to retrieve the other half of Xena's chakram when Covington could not?

[19] Finally, the last scene with Ted Raimi pitching the original Xena story to producer, Robert Tapert, subtracted much from the main story. The jump from 1940 to modern California was too jarring. It not only negated the 1940's story but also the original Xena story. This scene made Xena's exploits seem silly and hardly worth notice.


...

Did I mention there is a Joxer for every age?


[20] For me, THE XENA SCROLLS presented the fictional Xena as a construct to push a story line. My suggestions for a better story would have been to set it earlier in time, have Covington tell the story, and have Smythe be a descendent of Callisto. Leave out the last scene with Raimi and Tapert.

[21] The story would have been better if it was set in the last half of the 19th Century. This was the height of the Victorian era, a time of kings, peace, optimism, and curiosity. Ares' desire to destroy this cozy world would pack more punches. He could teach the Prussians a thing or two about war.

[22] The book-end scenes could have Janice Covington, an old granny, telling her adventures to her grandchildren. The brash American woman would be a marked contrast to the genteel Victorians, especially since her reckless abandon of exploration was reminiscent of Heinrich Schliemann dynamiting Trojan ruins in his search for the mythic city.

[23] Smythe, as a descendent of Callisto, fits into the philosophy of 'tied lives' that XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS explores. Xena and Gabrielle are one dyad; Xena and Callisto are another. His conflicts with Covington and Xena echoes the ancient obsession of Callisto with Xena.

MAINTAINING THE BALANCE

[24] If XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS maintains the delicate balance between fiction and reality, it becomes more than an entertaining story. The woof of fiction and the weave of history form a tapestry of philosophies. We can look at the colorful tapestry that is XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS and allow it to reflect upon our own lives. Thus, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS enters our personal histories and becomes a part of our lives.


...

At least he remembered his towel this time




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