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Elizabeth

PhD student in Classical Art & Archaeology at UVA with a focus on Greek heroes and iconography (yet forever awed by Roman 2nd and 4th style painting). Salsa and Argentine tango dancer extraordinaire. Weightlifter and Crossfitter the world over.
Elizabeth has written 50 posts for Mrs. Connery

Letter to my Dan Dan

Dear Dan Dan,

You’ve been on my mind a lot lately, and the past 2 times I’ve been to Tucson I didn’t go visit you. I’m sorry, I really am. I’m not ignoring you, I just miss you too much. Sometimes I feel like Sansa after Lady died, like I’ll never quite be whole again.

I guess I have so much to say that I don’t know where to start. Kind of like my dissertation at the moment… which I should be working on, so instead I’m writing this letter.

Do we have souls? And, if we do, when do die do our souls live on? Where? Somewhere with internet? I hope so, because otherwise you’d be hard-pressed to read this.

Anyway, I just… you’ve been gone almost seven years, and you’ve missed so MUCH. A lot happens during that time, ya know? (Some things stay the same, though, like me cleaning up after you. Your tombstone can get so DIRTY so quickly!).

Well, I still don’t know how to fill in 7 years’ worth of information in just a letter, so I’ll just highlight what comes to mind, shall I?

Let’s start with me. You died the summer after I graduated from Scripps, I had a steady long-term boyfriend and was about to start my MA studies at UA. Well, I got my MA, but left the boyfriend. I spent almost every summer being academic in either Italy (AAR) or Greece (ASCSA), and got into UVA for more graduate school. I’m focusing on the iconography of Greek heroes on late Archaic Athenian vase-painting, and as long as I don’t botch anything horribly, should be “Dr. Bartlett” by this time next year. “Elizabeth Bartlett, ABD” just doesn’t quite have the same ring, ya know?

Harry Potter defeated Voldemort (turns out he was the final– and accidental — horcrux). Snape always loved Lily.

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time came to an end with the 14th book, and though many people died it was a great ending and you would have been proud of Mat. I still love Nynaeve and Perrin the most, though.

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire got picked up by HBO and is about to embark on its third season. It’s full of sex and violence and British actors, and now Mom has read all the books, though there’s still another one (or two?) to come.

By the way, the Mayans were wrong. 2012 came and went, and the world did not end.

Stephanie is studying abroad in Prague, and her blog and pictures just make me want to be abroad, too.

I did spend summer and Fall of 2011 abroad, actually. Okay, I guess I can’t complain too much. And Brie visited me in Athens!

Though it’s the future, we do not have hover boards such as depicted in “Back to the Future II”.

We do, however, have a black President. He just got re-elected for his second term. Yeah, he’s no Bill, but we like him well enough.

Hollywood remade “Les Mis”. Wolverine plays Jean Valjean and the gladiator was Javier. Anne Hathaway did a stellar job as Fontine… and I cried horribly when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream”. Not because she was also crying  at the same time (it was a bit over the top), but because that’s OUR song. Remember when we did that duet of you on piano and me on vocals for the talent show at Stanford Sierra Camp? Man, what was I thinking. You were such a good sport.

Annie got married and is now a step-mom! You would have loved the wedding, there was a live fiddle band and square-dancing and lots and lots of cake. Ted got married exactly a year before that, and it was a great excuse to see Brooklyn and cousins. I am still NOT married.

Joss Whedon did it again with “Dollhouse”. It was only one season (thanks, Fox), and it was awesome. Not as awesome as “Firefly”, but up there.

I still can’t do as many push-ups as you could (100!!!, geez), but I could try. I did set a world record in the 100% Raw Federation for the squat (130kg) for my weight class and age group, and Mommy set a world record for deadlift (92.5kg!) for her age group and weight class. I’ve also become a personal trainer for both Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting, and I compete. Crazy, I know, but you’d be proud. If you were around I’d somehow talk you into coming to a gymnastics gym and getting you on the rings. I bet you could’ve done some crazy shit up there.

We sent a robot to Mars, and it took some cool photos.

A man broke the sound barrier with a free fall from space, and the whole world watched him not die in the process. It was really something!

Weed is now legal in 2 states in the US.

http://trextrying.tumblr.com/ . Yeah.

Gay marriage is now legal in many US states, and that number is growing! I think the main issue there (with our generation) is that it is still an issue. Equality for all, right?

Every year we (Mom and Dad) sponsor summer research for a graduate student in the math department at UA, as well as a yearly lecture series in your name. I’m sure you’d approve.

Bubbe’s the only grandparent left. She’s going to live forever, probably.

I discovered I liked chopped liver, and that I like making it, and that I make it well. You split, I choose.

I still can’t believe you were allergic to tomatoes. You ate them ALL THE TIME.

You were always my favorite sibling, you know 😛 Okay you were my only sibling. STILL. Best older brother a girl could ask for. Fierce friend for all who had the privilege to know you. Intimidating intellect for those who braved to converse about matters of the mind with you. Silly sense of humor.

Even though I focus on heroes of the ancient Greek sort, you’ll always be my number one. Miss you and love you forever and ever.

(cowboy Dandan and the Princess Elizabeth)

Hope the pecan pie is good wherever you are. Mine may not be as good as Dad’s, but I have some on your birthday. Always.

xxxxxxxx

Elizabeth

PS: I may be surpassing you in years, but you’ll always be my older brother. Always. I had to learn the hard way that life is short and precious, so it’s best to just live well, laugh often, and surround yourself with people and things that make you happy.

So here’s to you. Slainte! (you would’ve loved Ireland)

(handsome man!)

I’m Fascinating

I have interesting things to say, I do. I have funny and punny jokes to share, I swear. I have many thoughts on politics (hello election), money (yes, please), lifting (new 100% Raw Federation squat world record holder in the -148 class with a 286# squat!), boys (:D), material concerns (it’s cold and I love clothes), health (trying to keep it healthy), happiness (smile every day!), and food (…chocolate…). Many and more. I have tales to tell. But for now….

Call me Sisyphus

But for now? For now the thought of organizing the above into delightful blog posts to share with the world is daunting. If you guessed “because of the dissertation?” then you are correct.

Grammar, bitches

My teaching schedule tells me we’re halfway through the semester (my kids are such good students!), and I’m 90 pages into Chapter 2 alone. A Chapter that is about to get some serious attention from a red pen by my dutiful advisor. And then I wave goodbye to my social life.

Stress levels on red alert

Well, here goes….

I’m still fascinating, so sorry if I bored you.

😛

Let’s get Naked

It’s summer time, and it is hot out there. Who needs clothes? Let’s get naked!!! And jump in the pool, drink an ice cold drink, and sit by a fan while wearing sunglasses and smothered in spf 70.

Many people are uncomfortable in their own skin, and there are many reasons for this. A major factor is social media telling us all what is ‘ideal’ and we grow up never meeting that. I find people who lift weights or work out to ‘get healthy and strong’ rather than for aesthetic reasons are a bit more comfortable in their own skin, simply because of confidence and knowing what their bodies are capable of, rather than how well their abs are on display or how little their skin folds when they sit down. (Oh PS working out to ‘get strong’ often results in a better physique, just FYI.) Ahhh body image. Vanity. Mirrors. I wonder if other animals worry about this stuff? They’re naked all the time!

Since I’m a girl, I know more about how girls are affected by all of this, and this post will reflect that.

So, I went to an all-girls’ college for undergrad. This college was great, but it recognized that women have some serious body image issues and this often results in eating disorders and other unhealthiness. in an effort to boost confidence and self-esteem, Scripps College has a “Love your Body week”. They come out with shirts for this week of self-love that read (in the mirror) “you’re beautiful” and “hey, gorgeous”. Not only is this good for facilitating the shift towards a healthier body image, but it gets girls interested more in overall health rather than “can I fit into a size 2?”. 

The lifting world is so much different: girls WANT bigger legs and a bulbous booty and traps and lats and all those things that will assist them in moving bigger loads on the bar. I’ve heard many an Elite female CrossFitter, even, say “I want to put on a few pounds so I’m trying to bulk up a bit by drinking more whole milk.” Girls — and boys — are proud of their posteriors that make it difficult to find the perfect pair of jeans. Celebrate the booty.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the following phrase: “if I could only lose 10#, then these pants would fit!” I used to be guilty of this utterance. Can you blame me? “Beauty” magazines left and right are trying to dole out secrets to losing that extra 5-10lbs while posting photo-shopped images of celebrities and models on their covers. Who WOULDN’T want to look like that?!?! So, naturally, those peevish words are uttered by females more often than not, and now I just shake my head. Whereas, yes, it is true. If you lost 10# you would be smaller and those pants might fit, there is another way: change your overall body composition (less body fat, and equal or more lean mass) and those pants could also fit. It’s how I lost 2 sizes and lots of body fat but very little overall weight. First tip: eat meat. Second tip: eat fat. Third tip: lift heavy. Girls: I PROMISE you that you will NOT ‘bulk up like a man’ if you start using free weights (unless you also take testosterone and HGH and stuff like that, because then you will look like a man). Don’t believe me? These girls all weigh under 120lbs and are cute as a button and are all ridiculously stronger than I can ever hope to be. They do NOT look like men: Maria de la Puente and Julia Rohde (battle of the 53s).

Let’s turn the discussion to the health industry and the doctor’s office. And when you go to the doctor’s office, you sit there waiting for the doctor to come in, and your eyes wander around the room, briefly noting the posters of anatomy, until they settle on the chart. You know what chart I’m talking about: the BMI (body mass index) chart. I have always loathed this chart. Now, I am someone who has struggled to maintain a ‘healthy’ weight. I have seen the scale fluctuate drastically over the past 10 years, somewhat like a rollercoaster. The past few years, however, I’ve eaten consistently (high protein, no grain/sugar, lots of veggies) and lifted weights and exercised intensely (2 years of CrossFit and now 7 months of pure weightlifting), and it’s paid off. The only time I step on the scale and ‘worry’ about weight is a couple weeks before a meet, when I have to make sure I can weigh in under 69kg for my weight class, and whenever I step on the scale I realize there’s nothing to worry about. I eat. A lot. and I lift. A lot. And I weigh a lot more than people think when they see me. And then I remember: muscle is more dense than fat, and I have quite a bit of it. Don’t believe me? How about an Olympian, Sarah Robles?

Now back to the BMI chart, which assumes I am your average sedentary person (it’s not gender specific), and that I do not have as much dense muscle hiding under my skin as I do. I weigh 150lbs and am 5’5″.

Shamelessly ready for summer

According to the BMI chart, I am just on the cusp between “normal” and “overweight”.

Yet I wear a size 6, my body fat is under 20%, my bloodwork is very good, I don’t take medications, never had a broken bone, and I can snatch my bodyweight, deadlift twice my bodyweight and almost squat that much to boot. I can do 5 strict pull-ups in a row (that’s right, no kipping allowed). I can do a whole bunch of real ‘boy’ push-ups in a row (chest to deck) — not sure how many, but it’s at least 35.  My fastest 5k run time ever was just over 23 minutes (just over a year ago). I’d say… I’d say I’m pretty healthy, no? Not overweight?

The average doctor’s office does not take into account the athletic person. This person is built differently. In fact, athletes are built differently given how each sport shapes us (literally) in significant ways. I’ll demonstrate with some Olympic figures.

Many sports go a step further and have weight class divisions: boxing, wrestling, weightlifting (not CrossFit, though, but, then again, most people don’t consider that a “real” sport). This is only realistic. You can’t expect Mike Tyson to go up against Manny Pacquiao and have it be a fair fight. Mike could just sit on Manny and be done with it (I actually lost a BJJ match this way once, when they let the girl who weighed about 180lb roll in our class so she could compete, and she just plopped her arse down on me and it was all I could do to just breathe after that).

Lately I’ve competed in Olympic lifting and powerlifting, so I’ll use those as examples. Last Saturday I competed in a 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation American Challenge. It was a pretty big meet (over 100 lifters), and I did quite well. Despite the way they calculate ‘best lifter’ based on your Total and coefficient of that Total and your weight, I still won “best female lifter”. I also won “best Total in my weight class and age group” (yeah they even take age into account!). My mom also won a medal (she earned it, too, by deadlifting a wicked 92.5kg [203#]).

Back to weight classes and how it’s awesome they take this into account. So the best two pulls of the day were by my fellow teammates: Renee and Jen. Renee is in the -75kg weight class, and Jen is in the -60kg weight class. Renee pulled an easy 150kg (330#) (seriously she made it look easy), and Jen pulled 142.5kg (314#. Given that Jen weighs so much less than Renee, Jen ended up winning “best deadlift”, even though Renee lifted more weight. See how that works? It’s a pretty nifty and realistic system they have going on there. Olympic Weightlifting does the same thing with the Wilkes ratio — the ‘best lifter’ of the meet is not s/he who puts up the best Total, but the one who has the best Total:body weight ratio.

So I’ve talked about body composition, lifting heavy, weight classes, my mom rocking the lifting, rocking the recent Powerlifting meet… what else is there? Boys, I guess. I’m going to go out on a limb here and speak for the boys, even though I am (obviously) not a boy. While you hear many girls who first enter a gym say “I want to lose some weight and get rid of this belly pudge”, you hear a lot of boys enter a gym and say “I’d like to put on a bit of muscle but don’t know how to gain weight” (and then the girls just shake their heads and think “I can teach you how to gain weight! Piece of cake!”).

Well, I’m going to direct you to 70sbig.com. Because ’nuff said. Boys, you are not alone. And I commend your desire to get big and strong.

I think I just touched on another subject here mentioning the differences between why some girls and boys first step foot in the gym: reasons to train. Why do you train? What are your goals? Not just “lean out” or “bulk up”, but GOALS. What “results” do you want to see? Whether it’s a number on the bar or a number on the scale, write it down, make a plan, and get after it. You gotta work for it no matter what it is. There are no easy paths to victory. Oh, and eat meat.

Goals

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” ~Zig Ziglar

I’ve learned that unless you actually state realistic goals to achieve, you won’t work as hard. So, here I am setting some goals to achieve by June 2013.

Strength goals:

Deadlift 350#/159kg

Back Squat 300#/136.5kg

Bench Press 150#/68kg (with a pause)

Clean & Jerk 200#/90kg (or more)

Snatch 160#/73kg (or more)

Qualify for USAW National Championships as a -69kg (need a 153kg Total in a meet… best official Total to date is 140kg. The meet is early March, 2013. Let’s do this).

After all, Sean Connery picked up a weight or two 

AND he liked to pick up a book or two, as well.

and played a professor, as well as a father to a professor (and archaeologist… oh it’s all fitting together so nicely)

Which leads me to… Academic goals:

Finish dissertation, defend dissertation, get doctoral degree.

Keep up to date on “to-do” list for dissertation in order to accomplish above goal.

Present stellar papers at (at least) two conferences this year (Darmstadt, CAMWS).

Publish the AAR pottery article! (This is a group effort, but it WILL get done! And soon!)

Get stellar teacher reviews for my course on mythology and epic at the University of Richmond.

Personal goals:

Continue to be awesome every day.

Visit friends and family often.

Quality over quantity every time.

…unless you are Sean Connery, in which the two are mutually exclusive.

Better. Stronger. Smarter.

My name is Elizabeth, and I am a forever student.

Say it with me now.

“I am a forever student.”

Even though I have 2 degrees, working on a 3rd, and am technically now a professor, I will never stop learning (nor do I wish to).

I believe that it is a healthy endeavor to always strive to learn something new. Reading is a good way to do that. So is doing (experience — and mistakes — make the best teacher?). Combining both is even better.

Now I’m not suggesting that you read the dictionary or encyclopedia from A-Z, or read all non-fiction (though if you haven’t ever read a non-fiction book for fun, might I suggest you pick one up. I promise you they are not boring). In fact, using a well-written book of fiction as an instrument to replace reality with a fantastic place of wherever an author’s imagination took them is a learning tool in itself. Teach your dreams to become reality, and perhaps become a better writer in the process. Ideas of one person can only hope to manifest other ideas in another. Such visions then sprout and grow and produce masterpieces such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Once and Future King”. History (as in non-fiction) often influences the fiction and forces the reader to constantly be on their toes to distinguish one from the other. This is most prevalent, I think, in fictional autobiographies such as those by Margaret George. And then there is Umberto Eco, a writer and scholar who manages to produce novels of splendid prose, short witty anecdotes of travel, and also essays on linguistics and physics that he writes in such a way as to grasp your every intellectual sense.

Teaching, on the other hand, is one of the best methods of self-instruction I have ever come across. The more one teaches, the more one learns. I know from my own experiences that I learn from students, from their questions and insights; I learn from the material I read to make me a better teacher (and keep me ahead of the students). This applies to both academic instruction and coaching in the gym.

I’ve often heard that as you specialize you learn more and more about less and less. I can understand that — once I think I know all there is to know about a hero such as Ajax, I come across a new article or book that provides a whole new store of information. Yet as I’ve delved deep into the work of Greek hero cults and iconography I’ve neglected my studies of other aspects of ancient Greece — not to mention ancient Rome! So every now and then I make an effort to brush up on that material.

Now I find that I have to maintain and expand my knowledge of these subjects. I’ll be teaching a course on Greek and Roman mythology through epic literature (Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Metamorphoses) to undergraduates at the University of Richmond in the fall. I’m pretty excited, to tell the truth. I get to write the syllabus and design the class in a way I see fit. Of course “Xena” will play a role, as will other modern pop culture tributes to ancient mythology and epics (“Troy,” “O Brother Where Art Thou” and “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”, to name a few). But what is really great is that it’s forced me to check off a few things on my forever “to-do” list, such as “re-read Virgil and Ovid”. I had forgotten how engrossing the stories are, even in translation.

My parents just started a summer course on Homer’s “Odyssey” taught by Norman Austin (a very distinguished professor). His approach to the epic literature is different than my own, and I’m always curious to hear what my folks have to say about what Prof. Austin’s lecture of the day focused on. Learning from other teachers, who have been teaching a long time, is an opportunity one should never pass up. Seek the brilliance of others to help your own mind shine a little brighter. Go out and take seminars on new and familiar subjects. If you’re good at a skill, or just interested, take a class in it to learn more. No matter how good you are at something, there is always someone out there who is better. No matter how much you know on a particular subject, there is always someone out there who knows more. These are friends you want to make.

So is networking. Some may claim that’s an ugly word, but it’s a necessary one if one wishes to be successful. Not only because the saying “it’s not what you know so much as who you know” is one of the truest sayings ever to leave man’s lips, but also because you can learn from  people who know things. This sounds like a simple concept, one that should be self-explanatory, yes? But too often do we neglect the best resources we have for information: each other.

Be humble, be modest, be eager to learn. From something as simple as drawing a picture to something as complicated as speaking Navajo to something acrobatic such as a back tuck… there’s always something new to pick up.

The Art of Getting Married.

Over Memorial Day weekend I got to travel to Bloomington, Indiana to spend blessed time with family and my folks as we celebrated a new addition to the Bartlett family: a new cousin and his son! My cousin Annie found a tall, caring, funny, smart, musical, wonderful man to call “husband” (but I’m pretty sure she’ll never address him as such, because that’d be a little out of character).

A wedding truly is an art. Or a piece of music. Some people go for a Mozart feel, some for a Rachmaninoff feel, and some a Gershwin. Some go for Paul Simon. The trick is figuring out the perfect match for the perfect couple. Annie and Jim definitely fit the bill at their barnyard wedding with a bluegrass band. The bride wore a vintage dress with a wreath in her hair, and the groom dressed smart in a white suit. They danced to “Pretty Flowers“, a banjo song (written by Steve Martin). Instead of a DJ playing the top hits and Rock’n’Roll classics, the guests were led in some square-dances.

The father of the groom sang impromptu with the band. The father of the bride gave one of the sweetest and funniest toasts I’ve ever heard. There were 15 cakes of various flavors (my favorite was Mexican Chocolate). Meatballs were on the menu. Children, friends, parents, …all had a fabulous time celebrating the love these two have for each other.

They danced late into the night, perfecting the craft of “having a good time”. 

To continue with the lovely “old-timey” feel of the weekend, some family and I spent Memorial Day in Nashville, IN, where we tasted slow-churned home-made ice cream, walked the streets of an adorable town, visited the local art museum, and ate fried rolls with home-made apple butter (well, they did, I didn’t).  

My Wonderful WoW

(world of WEIGHTLIFTING, that is)

So a while back I wrote a whole post on CrossFit. I found it in October 2009, and I still love it. Despite its growing popularity and now mainstream culture and marketing, I still love it. I love what it’s done for me, my parents, and others, and that it promotes being active and healthy and caring about your body (not just the image, but your actual body).

Another thing I love about it is that it introduced me to other sports, such as Olympic Weightlifting. I have openly embraced the snatch and the clean & jerk. They’re not dirty euphemisms, they’re lifts!

Snatch: 

Clean & Jerk: 

CrossFit was my gateway drug, in a way. After a lot of debate and encouraging from friends and coaches, I finally decided to go “wod-free” and just lift. I got a taste for it during my 3 weeks in Oxford, and realized it was certainly worth a full 2-month trial. In December 2011, when I got back to the States, that’s what I did. I started going to Bare Bones Barbell Club (part of my parents’ CrossFit gym in Tucson) and began just lifting (well, once a week we have “conditioning”, which is pretty much a WOD). New coach, new lifting partner, new shoes, new goals. I came back to the States with a DL of 122.5kg, BP of 60kg, BS of 110kg, a C&J of 72.5kg, and a snatch of 57kg. My goal was to try out ‘just lifting’ to see if I really did make the gains I hoped to in such a short time period. I told myself “I’ll give it 2 months and then, if I like that path, keep going until I either plateau or get bored”. I hoped to add about 2-2.5kg a month to my Olympic lifts.

Well, now it’s the middle of April. In 5 months’ time I’ve put over 7.5kg on my C&J and 5kg on my snatch. Slightly behind target schedule, but I’m still steadily improving so I’m okay with it. I have competed in 2 Olympic lifting competitions (69kg class): 1st one I tied for 4th place and my Total (130kg) qualified me for University Nationals. 

At University Nationals I got 5th place with a 134kg Total going 4/6 on my lifts with a snatch PR of 62kg.

I beat out some other girls who have been doing this a VERY long time, but I also watched the top girl, Allie Henry, get a 194kg Total, reminding me I still have a LONG ways to go with this sport.  I have another meet in a month, and my long-term goal is to qualify for American Open at the end of this year (I’ll need to get a 145kg Total at a sanctioned meet). Yesterday I almost hit a 66kg snatch, and my best C&J to date is 80kg so things are looking good.

79kg C&J caught on video: 

As for other weightlifting, the power lifting sort, my gym hosted a local push/pull meet and I came in 2nd in the bench (63.5kg) and 3rd overall (with a DL PR of 125kg). My BS, as of January, is at 115kg. I mean to max that out again very soon and hopefully see a nice PR. In June I’ll compete at a full PL meet where I hope to set new 100% Raw Federation World Records for my weight class and age group.

I still do CF now and then. I signed up for the CF Open with my gym, Crossfit Works, and am proud to say 2 of my scores contributed to helping them make it to Regionals! They compete first weekend in May and I’m excited to head up to Denver to cheer them on. They’re going to be amazing (they always are).

And what has all this lifting and little cardio done for my physique? Do I have man muscles? A big belly? Do I have manly bulging muscles? Is this me: ?

Well, no. I have better abs than ever, to be honest, and I eat a LOT of yummy food (especially meat). My arms are more defined, my booty is the bomb (well it was before), and I still have feminine curves where I need them. I’m 5’5”, I weigh 69kg, and depending where I shop I’m a 6 or an 8 (BMI is a lie, by the way).

Check back in 5 more months’ time and hopefully I’ll be showing you my amazing 90kg C&J and 70kg snatch, paired with a 140kg DL and 125kg back squat and 68kg bench (WITH a pause). I’ll even show you my abs.  Just don’t ask me to run a mile for time.

And, of course, when I’m not in the gym I’m on my computer, writing my dissertation (exercise for the fingers!)

Finger Weight Lifting

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Xena

Fun fact: in Greek “Xena” really means “stranger” or “foreigner”. I’ve certainly had the honor of filling that role many times in my life, and recently.

I am Xena!  

I am not ashamed to admit that I own all 6 Seasons of the CLASSIC TV show, “Xena: Warrior Princess” starring Lucy Lawless. The show is full of absurd fight scenes and corny jokes, and also lessons of love and friendship. The episodes are filled with quips on Classics, history, love, friendship, and kicking ass.

When I become a teacher, I’m going to include clips from this show. I kid you not. In fact, I think a great quiz would be to have the students watch an episode of Xena from Seasons 1-3 and then write down the following: 1) inspiration for all names of people and places; and 2) everything that was WRONG with the episode. I can’t blame writers for taking serious liberties with history or mythology. They keep us on our toes!

Greek history: Solon, Callisto, the Trojan War, Greek geography (apparently it takes no time at all to travel around Greece by foot), music, ancient currency, ancient dress (okay not really), centaurs and Chiron, Elysian Fields/Hades, Amazons (who live in “Amazonland” according to John Boardman hehe),

Hercules (sadly not called Herakles), shamans, Greek temple architecture (…no), the gods and their interactions with humans (this actually happens quite a lot in Homer), and so on. Ares especially 

Roman history: crucifixion, Caesar (who is also Cupid who is also the guy who kills Jason Bourne’s wife AND the son of Theodin in LOTR – busy guy!), 

Cleopatra, Christianity, Livia, Vestal Virgins, medicine (Galen), the brutality of the amphitheater

Other cultures!!!: Indian (Krishna), Chinese (where Xena travels to repay a debt to Lao Ma), Japanese (Samurais). During the later seasons of the show Xena travels East (just like Alexander and later Romans!). She learns secret arts of fighting and power and of gods while in India, and later Gabrielle discovers her own power and how strong she really is while in the Orient.

Do you believe in rebirth or past lives? The writers of Xena sure do. It all comes with the idea of “soul mates”, I suppose. Xena and Gabrielle (…and Joxer) are always meant to find each other, no matter what the year.

Real life lessons learned from Xena?

1)      Don’t believe everything you see on TV

2)      Friends are the most precious commodity

3)      You can walk ANYWHERE

4)      Gods exist, but they don’t rule you. You control your own life.

5)      When in doubt: wear leather, carry a big sword, and kick ass.

6)      Good ALWAYS conquers evil.

Lucy Lawless loves to sing. Therefore, Xena loves to sing. There are many musical episodes in this show, some reference “Bye Bye, Birdie”, some “Footloose”, some are anti-war messages… and some, like this favorite of mine, are all about girl-power (kind of a major theme of the show). Enjoy 😀

Hero, Icon, Role Model

A little kid comes home from just another day at school, unceremoniously dumps his backpack on the ground, stomps into the kitchen, and sits down at the kitchen table for a tasty afternoon snack. His father places a plate in front of him. “Ants on a log”. Delicious. As he picks up the first one, careful not to get the excess peanut-butter on his fingers, his father asks him the usual “what did you learn at school today?”
“Stuff”, he replies. –“Did you have a good day?” –“Meh.” –“What’s your homework?” The little boy stalks over to his backpack and pulls out a piece of paper. On the top is printed the following question:

“Who is your hero, and why?”

A deceptively difficult assignment, in my opinion.

Take a moment and answer that question for yourself — who is YOUR hero, and why? Answer this question before you read on. Alyssa has demonstrated this process already http://myhero.com/go/hero.asp?hero=Cooley_MMS_.

(Cover of “Hero” magazine, Issue #5…and 99% sure this image has nothing to do with this post except for the word printed on it.)

Thought of a hero yet? …Good.

Now, riddle me this: how did you define the term “hero”? WHAT, exactly, is a hero?

Checklist: Is your hero living or dead? Does your hero transcend nature? Is your hero male or female (and are you the same or different gender?)? Do you personally know your hero? Is your hero a fictional character? If the question had been “who is your role model” would you have chosen someone different? What about “icon”? Is your hero a celebrity, athlete, or politician? A martyr? Did you have a hard time choosing just one hero — if yes… who are your other heroes?

WHY is this person (or persons) your hero(es)?

Does your hero personify an idea you wish to portray or emulate?

Would you say you “worship” your hero? If so, how? Is it akin to religion?

In the case of the grade-school essay assignment, “hero” has an assumed definition of “role model”, or “someone to emulate”, “someone who inspires” – personifications of morally good values and ideals.

In the case of comic books, a hero is usually a “super” human figure, blessed with unnatural abilities, often strength, and cursed with equally unnaturally gifted foes.

A “super” hero, if you will. More than human.

“Hero” is a term that gets thrown around a lot. This is a shame (yet I am certainly guilty of this crime). The word “hero” should not be taken so lightly, methinks. When a soldier dies for her country, she is honored as a “hero”. When a husband opens the pickle jar, his pregnant wife exclaims “Oh! My hero!”. When Theseus slayed the minotaur and saved the people of Athens from having to sacrifice 7 boys and 7 girls for future years, he became a national hero.

Epic heroes have been around for a very, very, very long time (think Iliad, Odyssey, and Gilgamesh). Hero worship was part of the religious system in ancient Greece and Rome. Heroes were worshipped in a similar manner as were divine figures. With the rise of Christianity, one could argue that the idea of the saint replaced the need for the hero — a transcendental figure one could pray to who was once a living person. In the Middle Ages, heroes of old and new heroes emerged in the literature — Hercules and tales of King Arthur and his Knights. I could try and trace the path of heroes through history, but that would take a very long time, I fear.

What I would rather discuss are the ways in which heroes are categorized. There isn’t simply one type of hero, after all (or is there? I could be very wrong. It happens). Maybe the hero you chose fits into one (or more) of these categories. … and maybe the figures who fall in these categories are better described as “icon” or “role model” (you be the judge).

Category #1: Political heroes.
Whether we think of these figures as “good” or “bad”, their names are stuck in the history books as leaders who left their mark on the world. Some of them include: Mao (in fact much of Chinese hero worship scholarship was written during the 1960s, during the Mao era – “thought control in Communist China … a strict order to write about certain subjects in a certain manner” [Sheridan, Mary. “The Emulation of Heroes.” The China Quarterly, 33 (Jan.-Mar. 1968): 47]); Lenin; Kim Jong Il; Napoleon; Hitler; FDR; Jefferson; JFK; Washington; Lincoln; MLK …. Some of these leaders were heroized during their lifetime, and others posthumously. Interestingly… it’s the Americans I listed who were heroized posthumously. “Heroized” could simply mean “became a revered national figure”, but one must be revered in order to be considered a hero.

Category #2: Supernatural Heroes
Or, more colloquially, comic book heroes. The “Super” man theory is actually one that was developed by early philosophers, and should not be discarded as a childhood notion of a larger than life figure who saves the day. Though these heroes are mythological in character (ex: Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, X-Men), they all have extraordinary (physical) abilities that they use in order to protect the weak (except Batman… who has no genetic alterations yet takes it upon himself to use fancy gadgets and superior fighting abilities to catch the bad guys). These heroes are like “super cops”. And they have their “super villain” counterparts, as well. And ridiculously amazing costumes that many of us don once a year (it’s called “Halloween”, and it’s the best excuse to play dress-up after age 10). 

Category #3: Celebrity Heroes
That is, pop culture heroes, many of whom died young: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley (funny how the ‘young’ Elvis is more often revered, yet the older Elvis is more often imitated), Michael Jackson… I could go on. Popular heroes in America have shrines, and people make pilgrimages to these shrines, such as Graceland for Elvis. Other American pop heroes with popular shrines include Will Rogers, Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickock, and Jesse James.

 

Hero athletes might also fall under “celebrity hero” status. In America, baseball is the national past time, and when we think of baseball we think of Babe Ruth. Even before his death, “Babe Ruth Day” (April 27) was celebrated in baseball parks all over America.

Category #4: The Martyr/War Hero
A martyr is someone who dies for his/her (often religious) beliefs. War heroes certainly are no exception. They are people, just like you and me, who sacrifice their lives during the struggle of injustice. They fight for a cause, and do so selflessly. Heroes of war have always been revered and honored (the mound that covers the 192 soldiers who died at the Battle of Marathon when the Greeks fought the Persians is still a site visited today) . And, a little closer to home, one can visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, or battlefields, or military cemeteries in order to pay respect to those who fought for us. 

Even CrossFit, a fitness movement that is taking over the world (or so it seems), honors war heroes. There are certain WODs (“workout of the day”s) with names that form a group called (appropriately) “hero WODs”. They are named after soldiers who died in the line of duty. Whenever a CrossFitter performs one of these workouts, that person will often give more of him/herself toward the workout, fight harder through the pain, resist the desire to quit, because s/he is doing it “for that hero”. It’s a method of hero worship in its own way.The “worship” aspect is performing the workout with 100% intensity as a tribute to the soldier who gave his life for our freedom.

T. H. Auden wrote “no hero is immortal till he dies”. And yet, a 1993 sociological experiment done in Philadelphia asking people who their hero is found that the most common answer was “my mom/dad”, no matter whether the parent was still living or not. After that came celebrities, then politicians, then Jesus [Klapp, Orrin E. “Hero Worship in America.” American Sociological Review, 14.1 (1949): 53-62.]

One could hardly form an argument against modern heroes and modern hero worship, given that we erect monuments and memorials to certain individuals, which are usually larger and more magnificent than those to “ordinary” persons. “While honor creates status, commemoration expresses the peculiar value of the hero as symbol. Monuments, likenesses, relics, legends, and periodic celebrations may be taken as mnemonic devices to preserve the collective image of a hero” (Klapp 1949: 58).The idea of a monument is not just a way to honor the hero/es, but is a method of perpetuating the memory of the individual(s) commemorated.

So. “Hero.” Can we answer the “what” part of “what is it”? This topic gained much popularity by European thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries: Rousseau wrote about the idea of the hero, the Romantics started to redefine the idea of heroism as it concerned the individual (it was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost), and in 1841 Carlyle published 6 in-depth lectures On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic.

In the 1960s, the idea of heroes and heroism gained new popularity. Charles Horton Cooley (1964) connects hero-identification with religion and other transcendental metanarratives. For Cooley, hero-identification was precisely a way for the individual to mark self-transcendent aspirations associated with moral idealism. Joseph Campbell (1968) defined the hero as one who, in response to a call, leaves the familiarity of ordinary life to enter a sphere of transcendental conflict; in returning from which, the hero raises the level of ordinary life itself. Daniel J. Boorstin (1968) maintains that heroes in modern culture have been replaced by celebrities. Whereas heroes were famous because they were great, celebrities are great because they are famous.

…do heroes even exist anymore? Truly? Bertolt Brecht wrote Life of Galileo (1943) during the height of Nazism, and in it he immortalized the following conversation between Andrea and Galileo —
Andrea: “Unhappy the land that has no heroes.”
Galileo: “No. Unhappy the land that needs heroes.”

 

And as for MY answer to the original question: “who is your hero?”. Well, I’ve had to answer to this question, and the answer came easy: my brother.

HERAKLES: A (Brief) Discourse on Heroes, Part 3

Herakles (or “Hercules” to many of you), that Panhellenic hero-god everyone knows and loves, who has muscled his way into modern pop-culture… truly immortal.

 …from Ryan Gosling to Kevin Sorbo… 

…all the way to Disney.

Muhammad Ali may have “wrastled with an alligator”, but Herakles wrestled everyone and everything. Known for his incredible strength, his first feat was to kill a lion whose hide was so tough no weapon could pierce it. So he wrestled it, eventually killing it with his bare hands.

Vatican 20262 -- Herakles wrestles the Nemean lion, Athena looks on.

Hence he was depicted wearing the lion’s hide as his identifying garment. Sometime he wields bow and arrow, sometimes a large club, sometimes both. He often has curly hair and a beard, and a few painters took pains to ensure the viewer understood his hair was curly by inserting thick blobs of slip as if to represent tight curls.

Vatican 16546 -- Guess who?

He was the hero “par excellence” for all of Greece. He was worshipped on the islands, on the mainland, in northern Greece, and even as far as Sicily. Later the Etruscans revered him, as did the Romans. He appealed to all — the traveling hero with brute strength.

It makes sense he appealed to athletes. Offerings were made to him by competitors before the Games at Olympia. What is lesser known is that he appealed to musicians, as well. Herakles is a patron hero of ALL athletes, including those of the mousikos agon(musical contest). Almost everyone is familiar of the deeds of Herakles and the monsters he bested, his muscular athletic build and victorious nature, but few are familiar with the stories concerning the musical education of Herakles. It is no surprise, then, that only a handful of the many visual representations of Herakles during the late Archaic periods depict him playing a lyre as a musical contestant. A handful of Athenian vases dating to the late sixth century depict Herakles holding a kithara (a fancy lyre), standing on a pedestal, flanked by Athena and either Hermes or Dionysos.

Athens, NAMA 635 -- Herakles in center playing a lyre, flanked by Athena and Hermes.

Vatican 16590 -- Herakles in center, playing a kithara, flanked by Dionysos and Athena

Here he is the guitar hero: performing at a mousikos agonin the hopes of winning the monetary prize and golden crown. Musical contests took place in nearly every ancient Greek city. At some major Greek Games, contests in music and similar arts formed a part of the program, on a par with athletic contests. The kithara was the most esteemed instrument, and the first place prize in kithara singing was a gold crown worth one thousand drachmas (perhaps worth as much as $150,000 in modern terms). The contestants won prizes for their success just as athletes won prizes for theirs.

The ancient athletic contests were religious in function, held in honor of a god (Olympics for Zeus, Pythian for Apollo, Panathenaian for Athena… and so on). These musical scenes could be seen as religious scenes, though not as obviously religious as Herakles sacrificing at an altar.

NY Met 41.162.29 -- Herakles roasting meat on spits over an altar

However, the issue of Herakles’s piety is a topic for a whole other blog post.

Watch this space.