A is for the Argo, the ship in Greek myth that carried Jason and his crew eastward to Colchis, to Aea, on their quest for the Golden Fleece. When I was a college student taking Greek and Roman mythology, our big course project was a “Herculean Labor” which we could design for ourselves — the professor would approve it as long as it was a way of delving deeply into the subject. I was fascinated by the voyage of the Argonauts, so I decided to study every account of their adventures I could find, and then to write (in the same poetic style and meter as the old mythmakers) a missing part of the tale — to fill in a gap left by all the earlier tale-tellers, if I could find one.
Sure enough, I discovered something intriguing: the accounts I read (most of which were based, I think, on the most thorough one by Apollonius of Rhodes) made mention of a people called the Chalybes — a dark, subterranean race who spent their days in caverns of fire and smoke, hammering and smelting. Apparently the Argo docked on their shores for a brief time, but nowhere could I find more detail than that.
Heh, heh — cavernophile that I am, that seemed the perfect point of entry for me. The challenge was more than just writing a harrowing episode for the brave Greeks. One thing the course had taught me was that the classical myths are all interconnected: a stone tossed into one sends ripples through many others. Certain overarching lines of story and theme emerge. Various defining events in the mythologic history are referenced by and shape the tales.
First, the voyage of the Argo seems to have taken place chronologically after the Calydonian Boar Hunt but before the Trojan War. I wanted that fact to be important in my part of the story. I had to be careful about which characters I used and how I used them. They all had to be present on the voyage; I obviously couldn’t use a character who had already died at that point; and I couldn’t kill off someone who appeared later. (And that was a challenge for me, because I knew I wanted to include a giant monster and lots of mayhem — of course. Why else write something, right?)
I had a whole lot of fun with the project, writing the story itself and a paper explaining what I’d done and the choices I’d made. One of my favorite aspects was that the Calydonian Boar’s severed tusk (carried as a trophy by Meleager) played an important role, and that the Argonauts recovered (rising from out of the blood-stained sea) a helm and armor that later passed into the possession of Achilles. This armor appeared in my tale out of bloody water, acquired through heroism and great violence, tragedy, and loss; it later figures largely in the actual myth of the Trojan War, since it’s the armor that Patroclus “borrows” when he’s masquerading as Achilles, which ultimately leads to much more wrath and tragedy.
Incidentally, I recycled and reworked this idea into a part of something I’ve been working on much more recently. So the morals there are to save everything you write and don’t be afraid to play with ideas — you never know when something will come in handy even years down the road.
The “net beneath the trapeze” was that, if I did make a mistake or introduce an inconsistency, that too would reflect the vast body of classical myth. Many of the myths do contradict one another and the chronology gets a bit muddled at times. (One oft-cited example is how Helen of Troy, if she were born when she was supposed to have been, would have been well into middle-age by the time the Trojan War even began. But then again, I noticed in re-reading Genesis lately that Abraham’s wife Sarah, even in extreme old age, was still in danger of being snatched up by kings who didn’t know she was a married woman; Abraham was still passing her off as his sister . . . . which goes to show, I guess, that a good woman is worth protecting and fighting over at any age . . . right?)
Anyway, here’s the next plea for reader contributions, if there are any takers: A is for Argo. Let’s try going through the alphabet again, and let’s do our best to go in order. For each letter, you can name (from some story you like) a vehicle (ship, spaceship, submarine, car, wagon, scooter, whatever) or an animal of some sort (preferably one that characters ride) . . . or (since we may get stuck) some object from a story, such as a character’s trademark prop, favorite thing, weapon, clue, book, etc. Think we can do this?
Have at it!