Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Winter is Coming

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
This week, I talk about the weather; the Apple of the Week, as promised, deals with hubris; we have a bunch of pictures and a list of The Christmas Knitting. So, cosy up with a nice hot drink, and let’s get on with it.

Next week, I will be posting on Thursday at the latest – I hope, or not at all. Because: I am going to England for the weekend! I think I may have mentioned a while ago that I am going with my eldest son, Andreas, to the Black Library Weekender in Nottingham. So we will be away from far too early Friday morning to way late Sunday or, technically, Monday. No blogging for me, since I will not be lugging my laptop along; I simply can’t be bothered, and I haven’t got a smart phone. I will bring my new camera, though, and take some pictures to show you how Nottingham behaves in November ...

But baby, it’s cold outside! The temperature here has dropped about 6 degrees Celsius in a few days – beautiful days they have been, with sunshine and clear skies, and the stars out at night, and the nearly full moon shining. On Saturday morning, I took some pictures of the frosted lawns and trees; and I could take more today, if I wanted. It melts during the morning, when the temperature climbs above freezing – but winter is definitely coming. 
Oh, and it snowed on Friday.

So, out come the knitted goodies, and of course I want to make even more hats and mittens and socks and, in general, lots of woolly comfort and guards against the cold. But more about that; now it’s time for the

Apple of the Week:

I mentioned hubris the week before last, as in ‘the suitors are repeatedly described as being hubristic’. Now, if you are familiar with the term, fine. You can skip this part – or read it because it’s vaguely funny and there is knitting involved.
But let me just explain what hubris is and how it works in Greek mythology and literature.

The word hubris basically means the stepping over a boundary, moving out of your designated area; doing or saying something that you are not supposed to. It would be hubris, for instance, for a human to attempt unaided flight. That is in the province of birds. It is also, to the ancient Greek mind, hubris to ignore the warnings of prophecies and oracles, in other words to think that you know better than the gods.

Let’s break it down: hubris is not the part where you drop a stitch in your complicated lace pattern – that is human fallibility. Hubris is not the part, either, where you forget to put in a lifeline – everybody forgets stuff. Hubris is the part where you cast on for your First Ever lace pattern, consider the concept of a lifeline and decide that you do not need it, because you are not going to screw up. (When I say ‘you’, it is strictly in the generic sense, of course – you are wiser than that, right?)
Now, you may have knitted a whole bundle of beautiful lace shawls and never had to frog the whole thing because of an irreparable mistake. That is probably because you are a great knitter and you know what you are capable of doing and, more importantly, what you are not.

But here’s the thing about hubris and the Greek gods – they can decide to let you get away with something for a while, to let you think that everything is just fine and dandy and that you can just carry on.
You, the beginner, knit your first lace shawl without frogging disaster, and it is lovely. All is well. You decide to try Estonian lace – after all, how hard can it be?
Kidsilk haze?
This blindness is called ate, and while you are afflicted by it, you are unable to see the impending doom ... In the above lace knitting scenario, that would be making a mistake, not discovering it until several rows later, and having to frog, or rather, laboriously unpick while swearing like a pirate and reaching for the whisky, Kidsilk haze. You get my point, I think.

So, hubris is doing something wrong and/or stupid, when you really should know better, and getting the wrong kind of attention from the gods.
The punishment is nemesis, often personified as the goddess Nemesis. Now, nemesis always matches the hubris in some way, being in the same category and perceived severity.

Now that we ‘get’ hubris, let’s move on to a classic example: Oedipus. We all know the term ‘Oedipus complex’ coined by Freud to describe a boy’s hatred of his father and love of his mother; according to Freud, this is a faze that all little boys go through and should move past to be able to form healthy relationships in later life.
The girls’ equivalent is the Elektra complex, named after the daughter of another Greek hero, Agamemnon, who was murdered by his wife / Elektra’s mother. But that is another story for another day.

(Just for the record: I am aware that my transcribing of the names of characters is not wholly consistent: some of them I spell more like the Greek, some more like the Latin equivalent that is common to English. It’s a compromise between my own desire to be close to the Greek and the need to be understood.)

The story of Oedipus really is the stuff of tragedy – as told by the great playwright Sophokles: he is encumbered with not only hamartia, the fatal flaw that any tragic hero must have (and, let’s face it, that most of us do have), but even more a Fate that dooms him to kill his father and marry his mother. Now, Fate is unequivocal and inescapable; even for the gods. There is no room for bargaining, no short cuts, no running away.
Fate is revealed to the participants through the voice of the Oracle at Delphi, where Apollo speaks through a priestess. This institution was a major player in ancient Greek society and functioned for at least 2000 years, from sometime in the Bronze Age up till 393 CE, when Christianity became the only legal religion of the Roman Empire. Ordinary people, kings and governments sought the aid of the Oracle in matters of everyday life events, wars and crises.

So when king Laios of Thebes and his queen, Iokasta, have a son, they ask at Delphi about omens for his life – and are told that Laios will be murdered by his son. Trying to avoid this, they give the child to a shepherd – to leave out for the wolves or lions to eat, probably: they cannot kill the baby outright without incurring the supreme wrath of the gods, and this roundabout method was the way, then, to get rid of unwanted children.
The shepherd, though, gives the baby to a colleague from Korinth, and the boy grows up in the royal household there, not knowing that he is adopted. As a youth, Oedipus (‘Lumpfoot’, so nicknamed because of scar tissue after severing of the ankle tendons when he was put out) overhears someone saying that he is not his father’s son and decides to go to Delphi to ask the existential question: ‘Who am I?’ The answer he gets is certainly not the one he expected; the words of Apollo are: ‘You are the one who will kill your father and bed your mother.’
Not surprisingly, Oedipus wants to avoid this, and instead of heading home to Korinth and the people he still believes are his parents, he takes the other fork in the road and heads towards Thebes. On the way there, he encounters on the narrow mountain road an old man with an entourage; neither of them wish to move aside for the other, and the quarrel ends with Oedipus killing the old man and most of the entourage. And I just know that you have already guessed the identity of this old man, right? Yes, of course: king Laios was on his way to Delphi to ask for help in a new crisis.
It so happens that a sphinx has set up camp just outside Thebes and spends her days asking riddles of travellers and then proceeding to eat them, when they cannot answer. Which is rather bad for tourism. Oedipus is clever and solves the riddle – the sphinx promptly loses her will and reason to live and throws herself into a gorge. Crisis averted. The town of Thebes is delighted and honours the saviour by electing him king; because, incidentally, their old king was murdered recently by a band of highwaymen. Part of the job as king is to marry the widow of the former king ... and the stage is set.
For years, everything is great: Oedipus and his lovely wife Iokasta have four children, he is a good and caring king to his new home, all is well. Then blight hits: crops fail, livestock and women deliver stillborn young – something is rotten in the state of Thebes. The Oracle at Delphi in consulted again: Thebes is plagued by the continued presence of the unpunished murderer of king Laios all those years ago. Oedipus immediately launches an investigation – after blaming his brother-in-law Kreon for not solving the mystery at once; but they were busy with the sphinx problem at the time – to find and exile this evildoer, and threatens harsh punishment for those who hide him or fail to reveal their knowledge of him. Can you say tragic irony?
The blind seer Teiresias is summoned: he ought to know something. And he does, but refuses to talk at first, warning Oedipus that he really does not want to know. After being accused of murdering the king himself – we see a pattern emerging: Oedipus tends to blow up when crossed, one of his flaws – he says outright that Oedipus is himself the man he seeks; his sons are his brothers, his marriage is tainted. Oedipus understands nothing. He cannot see what is going on with his life.
Next, Oedipus accuses Kreon of having conspired to murder Laios; to which Kreon very sensibly replies that he would much rather be a trusted adviser to the king than bear the burden of responsibility.
Further facts come to light about the time and place of the attack on Laios; and Oedipus begins to wonder if he can be the killer – after all, he was there, on the road, at the time. But he is not a ‘band of highwaymen’; a witness report is needed. This is bad, of course: if Oedipus is the regicide, he has to exile himself; but it is nowhere near as bad as we know it to be ...

In the middle of all this, a messenger arrives from Korinth to say that the king there is dead, quietly, of old age. This is a great relief to Oedipus, who is thus, he thinks, acquitted of patricide – he is still, however, worried about bedding his mother. Iokasta tries to put him at ease with the famous line (that Freud made so much of) that ‘every man dreams of bedding his mother’ and that Oedipus shouldn’t worry too much about it.
Now, Iokasta has very good reasons for dismissing dreams, prophecies and the like: she believes that the Oracle was wrong so many years ago about Laios’ fate, because the son who was supposed to kill him died in the mountains, and Laios was killed by robbers – or possibly this man Oedipus who came from another city.

The messenger knows that Oedipus need not worry about his mother who really is his adoptive mother: he turns out to be the shepherd who brought Oedipus to the palace in Korinth instead of leaving him to die, when he got the child from a local shepherd. Iokasta slinks away into the palace (she knows at this point), while Oedipus chuckles at his wife’s ‘snobbery’: what does it matter if he were the child of slaves? If only ...

Next to arrive on the scene is the one surviving member of Laios’ entourage on the day he was killed; this man had been a shepherd, was promoted to bodyguard, but requested a transfer back out of town, when Laios was dead and the new king took his place (he must have recognised the attacker). He is here to clear up the matter of whether Laios was killed by one man or several: if it were several, then Oedipus is in the clear. The messenger from Korinth recognises him as the former colleague, and despite the poor man’s reluctance, the story of the boy who lived is gradually unveiled. And finally, Oedipus sees himself for who he is: the man who killed his father and bedded his mother.
He runs into the palace, finds Iokasta dead by her own hand, hanging from a rafter, and uses her dress pins to gouge out his eyes, the eyes that have seen what no man should see, the eyes that no longer have any right to see the sacred light of the sun or the faces of his accursed children.

From this blinding, we can get an idea of what Oedipus’ hubris is: not the killing or the bedding – that was all down to Fate and just his bad luck – but the mental blindness and the arrogant mistake of trying to avoid his Fate. This arrogance began, of course, with Laios and, to some extent, Iokasta, who tried to avoid being killed by his own son. By their very actions, they created the circumstances that made the whole thing possible: Oedipus did not knowingly or willingly kill his father and bed his mother – he killed an arrogant old man on a mountain road (ironically, they were both equally hot-headed and stubborn), and he did his duty by marrying the widowed queen of the city he did not recognise as his home.

Now, what can we learn from all this? The religious reasoning and morality expressed in the tragedies of the 5th century BCE can seem rather heavy-handed: the inescapable Fate, the hubris-nemesis symmetry; all that was being challenged at this time by the natural philosophers who sought material explanations rather than theological for the way the world works. And the citizens of the new democracy in Athens may have relished the thrill of this tragedy, but not taken it literally once they left the theatre and went back to their lives, which they believed to have some control over.
The question of free will versus preordination has been much discussed over the centuries, with religious and philosophical camps lining up arguments on both sides. This is not the time to enter into that discussion, unless perhaps to point out that it is not over; only now science has entered the field bearing DNA evidence that leads some to suggest that everything we think and wish and do is determined by our genes.
That may be so; but Fate or genes can only stack the cards – it is up to every one of us how to play them, and we retain the responsibility for doing it the best we can.

The Knitting:

The owls all have their eyes now; I got a bit of a shock when I threw the sweater in water (gently, of course): all of the yellow beads turned green! That was quite odd, though not a disaster, since the green beads looked fine on the green sweater. 
The effect was temporary, though: the semitransparent glass beads apparently are fully transparent when wet, and now that they have dried out, they are almost to being a slightly greenish yellow.

And I finished the Owl Cowl; I put buttons on this time, which turned out to be a lot quicker.

I am really enjoying this Hitchhiker thing; before starting the first one, I saw several comments on Ravelry to the effect that it is a fun knit and thought: ‘Fun? How come? I mean, I get that it’s an easy, accessible knit, being all garter, and the construction is kinda new (to me, at least). But how can it be fun?’ But it is fun. Turning the corners on the tooth-edge is very satisfying, with or without the beads. And now that I’m working one in some of the Trekking sock yarn that I dyed, I have to say again that I love this yarn: it is so great to work with. So, everything is shiny on that front.

The Bowtie socks are moving along, or rather, the first sock is; not very quickly right now for reasons cited below. But they will be good when they are done, and I’m still liking the wee little bowties.
And the Trekking yarn is nice, have I mentioned that? This skein seems softer than the one I used for the Watson socks; I think it may be because of the iron modifier I used to get the khaki colour. Something to note for future reference.

The Hitchhiker has been put to one side for now, however: I decided late on Tuesday that I want to bring my Carnaby skirt for the trip to Nottingham next weekend – and seeing that I’d done about a third of it, and once it’s knit, it needs to be washed and rinsed a gazillion times and dry and then have buttons sewn on, I thought I’d better get cracking.
So now, I have only a few pattern repeats to go, maybe just one more short row section and the box stitch panels surrounding it. My last ball of yarn is getting smaller by the minute, though – and this is only my own fault (it being the last, I mean): I’m knitting with Aran weight yarn instead of Worsted, and apparently I did not adequately take into account how much more yarn I would need. From the pattern, I calculated that 3 skeins would be enough, maybe a bit more, and so I dyed 4 skeins. Well, those 4 skeins might just do it, otherwise I’ll have to improvise some stripes down the buttonhole band with the walnut-coloured yarn, perhaps, or the undyed.

So ... the Christmas Knitting: I have done the 4 cowls, which leaves me with
6 hats, 
3 pairs of mittens,
2 scarves (including the Hitchhiker),
1 pair of socks,
6 little animals
and a partridge in a pear tree – uh, no, I mean a bunch of stitch markers.
That list looks rather daunting, all put together like that and not forgetting the skirt and the socks that are on the needles right now, and the cowl that I’m planning to do for the Knit1Geek2 hobbit-along ... and a few tree ornaments, and I really could do with a pair of flip-top mittens, and a Jayne hat would be fun, and ...

We’ll see: I will begin at one end and see where it takes me, and if it is too much, I’ll just not do it. No knitting for 40 hours a day to make it all in time; that way lies madness.

Oh, and here’s a tie-in to the serious business: if I were to declare that all of the above would certainly be finished in time for Christmas, no problem – the knitting gods would notice, and I would be very likely to trip over a ball of yarn and break my wrist. See? Hubris and nemesis in action.

Today being the last Sunday of the month, I went to the local knitting group this afternoon, bringing with me three blue projects: the Carnaby skirt to work on until I ran out of yarn, the Bowtie socks, and because they need to be tried on when I’ve done the gusset increases, I packed the Hitchhiker as well. Just in case. The crocking from the yarn in the Carnaby led to me talking about plant dyeing – and the pattern led me to advertising Ravelry. Nobody there had heard about it, so maybe there will be new users :o)

And speaking of travelling: I need to decide what knitting to bring – apart from not forgetting passport, tickets, toothbrush and other minor stuff, of course. It depends on the next few days’ knitting, so I will get back to you on that, before I leave.

That’s all for this week! I hope you have a wonderful week ahead and some glorious autumn weather to enjoy – or spring weather, if you are so inclined.

Happy knitting!

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