Thursday 26 June 2014


Centaur bites Lapith at Olympia
But does it look like a doughnut?
The biter in the picture on the left is a centaur, and he is biting a human of the Lapith tribe, in the wildest wedding brawl ever. Another centaur bites a Lapith on the temple of Apollo at Bassae (below). That the biters are centaurs shows that the Greeks made a mental connection between the large teeth of horses and human dental aggressors. Teeth were only acceptable when you were fighting for your life and had lost all other weapons—the Spartans did resort to their teeth and fingernails in the last stages of their death-struggle against the Persians at the Hot Gates of Thermopylae.

Centaur bites Lapith on Temple of Apollo
Only deviant heroes and gods in Greek mythology do biting. Tydeus was punished for sucking Melanippus’ brains out through his cranium. Rubens exposes the brutality of the moment when Kronos/Saturn sank his teeth into his own son’s chest. In the most savage of contact sports, the pankration, every conceivable form of assault was acceptable except eye-gouging and biting. This is why that scene showing that only subhumans used biting in combat was displayed on the west pediment of the temple of Zeus at Olympia, home of the original Olympic games. Ir screams at the viewer, Biting and Athletic Fair Play Don't Mix.
Ruben's 'Saturn'

Centaurs are often explained as primitive pedestrian humans' response to humans on horseback. When the conquistador cavalrymen arrived in the ‘New’ World, the Aztecs thought they were centaurs, according to Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s 16th-century True History of the Conquest of New Spain. Plenty of early Hispanic migrants to the Americas were surnamed Suarez—has the Uruguayan footballer internalized some ancestral tradition of descent from centaurs?

Far be it from me, of course, to suggest that Luis Suarez has huge equine teeth, or even that he may have behaved like an animal. Perish the thought. The name Suarez is probably derived from the Latin for a pigman, suarius, rather than a horseman, eques.  But the investigation currently in progress ghoulishly fascinates me—forensic dentistry apparently looks for an injury involving bruising and drag lacerations ‘shaped like a doughnut’. 

Tydeus' teeth sunk into Melanippus' skull

Forensic dentists are, moreover, sensibly warned that suspects are often not cooperative in providing plaster casts of their choppers, ‘so the dentist who is requested to assist authorities to collect evidence should see that provisions to ensure their personal security are in place.’ Who on earth would be the hapless FIFA dentist who subjects himself to Suarez’s centauric fangs?

Thursday 19 June 2014

8 Facts about Furies

Erinys versus Perp

1. I gave a paper by Skype this week to a conference in Israel about modern fiction and Furies, or Erinyes in Greek (singular is Erinys). On the very same day a modern Erinys was behind the headlines in Iraq.

Erinyes v. Orestes
  2.  Erinyes were fathered by the bloody drops which fell from Ouranos’ groin. His son Kronos hated him arbitrarily from birth and, given the excuse that his father was abusing not him but his mother Earth, castrated him. The drops fertilized  Earth. The Erinyes are Kronos' sisters and born of a toxic combination of arbitrary hatred, justifiable revenge and inter-generational strife.

3. Western oil companies in Iraq use a controversial corporation called Erinys Iraq. Its website says it isrisk management and security services company specialising in complex and high-threat risk mitigation services’. In the pre-Spin era  it would have been called a mercenary army. 

4. An Erinys spends most of her time asleep. She wakes up when someone with a grudge invites her to avenge them on the person(s) s/he believes have caused them grief. Erinyes torture the alleged felon by chasing her/him with whips and snakes until blood is drawn. Their arrival in your life means that it is PAYBACK TIME.

Erinyes asleep (bottom)
5.  According to Aeschylus’ Oresteia, in advanced civilisations Athena takes away the Erinyes’ power. She gets people to sort out their conflicts without bloodshed, confines the Erinyes in caves and renames them Kindly Ones (Eumenides).
6. The best new novel I have read this decade is Natalie Haynes’ The Amber Fury (2014). It contains a moving portrait of a teenage girl with behavioural problems and MISDIRECTED (although not arbitrary) feelings of vengefulness. She finally gets to a place where she may be able to become more like a Eumenis and less like an Erinys. If you don’t know anything about teenagers or about Greek tragedy, or why teenagers and Greek tragedy are a perfect fit, then read this book immediately.

 Eastern Front
7. The best new novel I read in the previous decade was Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones (originally in French as Les Bienveillantes, 2006) in which it is never clear whether the mad and murderous narrator thinks he is an Erinys or a human in the Oresteia. He hates many people arbitrarily. If you don’t know what happened in Ukraine and Russia during World War II then read this book immediately.

8. In Iraq, the largest oil refinery (in Baiji) fell this week to Islamist extremists whose acronym ISIS coincidentally sounds like another ancient supernatural female associated with death. There were many casualties amongst some ‘security force personnel.’ This is likely to include operatives from Erinys Iraq. 

Baiji Refinery: Erinys v. Isis
Not a fact but an opinion: Do mercenaries fighting for Erinys know what an Erinys actually is, and have they persuaded themselves that what they are doing in Iraq has anything to do with legitimate vengeance? The whole situation is a ghastly mess created long-term by European imperialism and economic exploitation, and short-term by Bush, Blair and corporations who hire outfits like Erinys Iraq. The violence of the hate-filled people in ISIS may often be misdirected but it is not arbitrary. It really is Payback Time.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Oedipal Confrontation in Deepest Gloucestershire

I have taken to art therapy to cope with the trauma
Imagine a narrow bridleway where even in winter there is only just room for two humans to pass. In a hot June, after spring rain, there is scarcely room between the high banks of stinging nettles for me to walk the dog. We have come half a mile since the last gap in the nettles or other escape route. Large horse ridden by tall man in impeccable riding gear appears from the other direction. Oedipal crisis.

When Oedipus was forced off the road on his way to Delphi, by a horse-drawn carriage, the self-important king it was conveying tried to beat the pedestrian Oedipus with a horsewhip. King Laius ended up dead. I noticed that my Mounted Magnifico was fingering his whip. The dog whimpered. I now knew—really knew—how Oedipus had felt.

I wondered whether the man, who was older than me, could logistically be my father if I had secretly been adopted. He uttered a command in a cut-glass accent: ‘COME CLOSER AND YOU CAN STEP ASIDE WHERE THE NETTLES AREN'T QUITE AS TALL!’ I was expected to walk straight into the face of large animal I had never met, which might rear, kick, or bite at any moment, and plunge into a wall of stinging nettles six foot high. ‘Can’t horses walk backwards?’ I mumbled. 

Equestrian Toff gestured behind him. He was followed by a miniature of himself, a boy of about 12 sneering down at me from a glossy skewbald pony. Could he be my son? Had I once had a supercilious boy-child I have forgotten about? The thought made me surrender. I retreated with the dog into the nettles. I am still suffering from the stings.

Laius was the one who ended up in the nettles
My previous equine confrontation was with a police horse charging at me outside Parliament during the demonstration against the privatization of university teaching in 2010. But this Oedipal Face Off  occurred near my home. I like horses: it’s the riders I have problems with. 

The moneyed people who ride horses round here have a sense of total entitlement. If they want to ride two abreast, and walk at two miles per hour, then you miss the train you are driving to get to earn a living. What is worse, they smirk and wave at you as if to say ‘Isn’t it GREAT that we have enough money to keep these GORGEOUS horses and you are so LUCKY to be delayed by such a CHARMING SPECTACLE?’  Before they return to their lovely mansions, their equids use the public highway as a toilet. It gets stuck in your car wheel hubs. 

'blame my rider' (pic cropped by S. Poynder)
I was brought up in a Midlands city. I agreed to live in the countryside out of love. I yearn to return to the wide, horse-free tarmacadam boulevards of my urban Nottingham youth. 

And I STILL don’t know whether horses can be made to walk backwards, or whether the Horrid Horseman was my dad.