Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Here be dragons

Hello, and welcome back! I hope you are having a good week. The weather here is not as warm as it has been, and somewhat grey & wet – but that has its advantages, too. I ran 6 k this morning in 15°C, and it was a lot easier than running in 23°C a couple of days ago.

This week, it’s all about heroes and monsters, about overcoming danger – or adapting to your circumstances. Not surprisingly, perhaps, a bit of history as well, and of course an update on my knitting.

Apple of the week:
Apollon (replica painted to look like the bronze original)

With the Ravellenic Games coming up and all the talk about various ancient Greek games, I wanted to talk to you about a god who has an affinity to one of the games, viz. the Pythian Games in Delphi. 
The god in question is, of course, Apollon (in Greek; the Romans called him Apollo because in Latin, the –n at the end of a word disappears, much like in French). Today, I will tell you two stories of Apollon: first, how he came to be the master of Delphi and why the games are called Pythian, and then something about the laurel leaves which were given as a prize to the winner in the games. 
Both of these stories are what is known as an etiological myth, one that explains the origin of a name, a custom, or a ritual.

Slaying the monster:
Delphi in the mountainous region Phokis is the home of an ancient oracle. Not surprisingly, perhaps: Delphi is the centre of the World. Once, Zeus let his two eagles fly at the same time from the easternmost and the westernmost corners of the world, and they met in Delphi. Anyway, the oracle originally belonged to Gaia, Mother Earth, so it is truly ancient.
Apollon slaying Python (engraving by Chaveau)

According to the legend, Apollon came to visit the oracle and was denied access by the huge snake named Python who lived there and guarded the oracle. After a great battle, Apollon slew the monster and became the new lord of the land.

In keeping with the tradition, Apollon acquired the title Pythios, and thus the priestess of the oracle, who received the divine communications, was titled Pythia. The games in honour of Apollon were the Pythian Games.

We have records of these games dating back to 582 BCE, but by then they were already established. They took place every four years, right between the Olympic Games, and included competitions in music and poetry: a hymn to Apollon, flute and kithara, singing, acting, dancing, and painting. And sports such as running and chariot races, like in the Olympics. The musical contests were the original ones: Apollon is also the Leader of the Muses, the nine goddesses of various art forms.

Oedipus visiting the Pythia in Delphi (vase)
The oracle was in function for at least 2,000 years, giving guidance to anybody who asked: ordinary folk, legendary characters such as Oedipus, Middle Eastern kings, the leaders of democratic Athens, and Roman Emperors, until it was shut down in the 390’s, when Christianity became the only legal religion in the Roman Empire. The various Games were cancelled at this time, too, and for the same reason.
The collective name for the prophesising priestesses of the ancient world is Sibylla; the Roman writer Varro gives a list of 10 sibyls, among them the one in Delphi. (And what, btw, is professor Trelawney’s first name? Exactly.)

The story of a hero or a god battling a great snake, with or without wings or legs, is one of the basic Indo-European myths. It is, of course, a story about good versus evil, civilisation and light overcoming the dark forces of chaos and destruction. We find this story across a vast expanse of time and space, from
India, where the warrior god Indra slays the great snake Vŗtra to free the waters of the sky (very important in an area that is prone to droughts), to

the Norse god Thor struggling with the Midgard Worm on several occasions. During a visit to Utgard, Thor is challenged by Utgard-Loke to lift up his cat, and as we all know, cats grow to tremendous lengths when lifted. Thor heaves and lifts and finally manages to get the cat to take one paw off the ground – and later finds out that this ‘cat’ really was the Midgard Worm, which coils all the way around the world. So that was quite a feat, really.
And during the ending of the world, Ragnarok, Thor and the Midgard Worm kill each other (another story for another day, perhaps).

Sometimes the monster is winged or goes under a different name: any prince or knight worth his salt will know how to slay a dragon like St. George did; Harry Potter stabbed the basilisk – and Neville sliced the head off Nagini.

So much for monsters; let’s take a look at our protagonist in a different setting.
This is why the laurel tree is sacred to Apollo: once there was a girl, Daphne, whom Apollo ... shall we say, fell in love with. He tries to woo her, but Daphne is not interested. Apollo has not been brought up to know that when a girl says no, she means no (remember, he is the son of Zeus), and becomes rather insistent. Daphne runs. Apollo runs after her. Away they go, weaving between trees, ducking under branches, fording streams, uphill and downhill, dodging rocks, she desperately trying to get away, he still trying to entice her: ‘Come back, sweet girl, I love you. Don’t you know who I am?’
Apollon & Daphne, sculpture by Bernini

Finally, she has to realise that she cannot outrun him – he is a god, after all. So she prays to her father, the river god Ladon, to save her. And of course Daddy saves his little girl from the nasty man lusting after her – by turning her into a tree. Her feet sprout roots that dig into the soil, her soft skin becomes dry, wrinkled bark, her arms extend upwards with fingers lengthening into branches.

Apollo catches up in time to see the transformation happening, to see the love of his ... well, week, gradually become inaccessible to him. He hugs the tree, moaning (as in weeping, for cryin’ out loud! Get your mind out of the gutter), and vows that from this day forward, the laurel will be his and will be held in high esteem by him and all who follow him, in one way or the other.

And so, the winners in the Pythian Games held in Delphi are crowned with garlands of laurel leaves, as are poets.

And finally, The Knitting:
I am currently working on two rather large projects: the Regrowth shawl, that I have mentioned several times already, and the secret gift knitting. Both are coming along, getting bigger day by day. Now, with large projects it can sometimes be difficult to sense any progress, because an hour’s worth of knitting produces a very small part of the whole thing. In this respect, though, my two projects are quite accommodating.
The Regrowth shawl is worked from several different charts, of which only some are repeated, and I am past all of them now; so every knit row is different from the preceding, and I can tick off each of them on the chart.
The rows are becoming very long. I have no idea how many stitches are on the needles; I am using a circular needle, KnitPro (KnitPicks or Knitter’s Pride in the US) with cubic needles size 4 mm (I just love the cubics, they are so much easier to hold than the usual round ones) and a 150 cm wire. I did count the stitches a good while ago – or rather, I counted till the marker in the middle and doubled the number – and at that point I had about 420 stitches. I’m not sure I want to know how many there are now ... it takes at least 30 minutes to knit a row, and in a bit I’ll be at the Owl chart with the quadruple yarnovers.
Okay, moving on, before I’m struck by the enormity of that. I may count the stitches and tell you next week. If I dare – but by then I’ll be almost done, so it won’t be as daunting. I hope.

The other project is in multiple colours, so for that I can gauge my progress from the colour changes.

Maybe because of this almost monogamous knitting – so unlike me! – I have been visiting my queue and thinking about other knitting plans. My Ravelry queue is deceptively short; I have only 9 or 10 things in it. That doesn’t mean, though, that my total to-knit list contains less than a dozen projects: I only put stuff in the Ravelry queue that I really plan to knit within the foreseeable future, either gifts or something for which I have the yarn in my stash. All the ‘ooh, nice, I might do that’ go in favorites (I’m getting a red squiggle now, because my spell check is British). And, obviously, my own designs exist only in my head and / or notes, so they can’t go in the queue. But really, I have enough on my plate, knitting-wise. I have no reason to consider new projects. Hold that thought.

Anyway, the other day I noticed a new episode of Cast On: Brenda is back from her tour of the States, so let’s hear what she has to say. Among lots of other interesting stuff, she talks about her souvenir knitting project: the Color Affection (red squiggle again). Made famous by the Yarn Harlot and knitted by over 4,000 Ravelers, it is a 3-coloured shawl: it starts out with one colour, adds one more in stripes, then the third, still in stripes, and finishes with the third colour by itself. Brenda talks about the lovely hand-painted Canadian sock yarn she found in Toronto, the exciting colour combinations, the knitting and blocking of it (do check it out on Ravelry, it’s quite pretty).
I have seen and read about this shawl before; Hoxton of Electric Sheep has talked about it; it is nice, but never really called to me, begging to be mine. But this day, while I was out walking and listening, I found myself seriously considering it. Here’s what I thought:
# 1: Hmm, it does sound rather nice, I might do that, and those miles of garter stitch would be brilliant for reading. I could name it my Book Affection shawl or something (creative, right?)...
# 2: What am I thinking?! I have two big deadline things on the needles; in the days between finishing those and the start of the Ravellenic Games I have six things I really want to get moving, for the Games themselves I have three projects in 17 days – or rather, 16 and a bit, since they start in the evening – and there’s a lot of other important stuff to knit, so this shawl would be something like item number 23 on my list, and I might get round to it, if all goes well, in Dec– oh, jeepers, Christmas knitting! Let me reshuffle. I might get round to this shawl in February.  Providing I don’t add something more urgent to the list in the meantime. Forget it.
# 3: Sock yarn ... I don’t have ready access to Canadian hand-paints, but I do have several single skeins of fingering weight Shetland wool in my stash, some of which I got for that Dangan blanket that I frogged. I could probably put together a pretty combination ...

And you know what? I did. I got home, found the box with the fingering weight wool, and laid the skeins out in threes. I actually found a great combination and a few other nice ones. I resisted the urge to download the pattern and cast on. Now I just have to put that aside for a few months. I may still forget it.

That’s all, folks! Thank you so much for stopping by, I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings – and do come back next week. Until then –
Happy knitting!

No comments:

Post a Comment