Most recent update:5/1/2004; 5:36:49 AM

 Saturday, April 17, 2004

posting problems redux
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CHATTER: Curse of the Ice Maiden

This was mentioned in passing in a brief item in Explorator a few weeks back, but the Telegraph fills in a pile of explanatory details. A few years ago, 2500 b.p. mummy of a 'Scythian Princess' was discovered in Siberia -- she was even the subject of a television documentary which regularly pops up -- and now people are demanding her reburial because of earthquakes and other 'bad luck' which seems to be happening. Here's a bit from the middle:

The discovery of the Ice Maiden was of great scientific importance. By studying her, archaeologists have been able to piece together much about a little-known people called the Pazyryks, fierce nomadic fighters and skilled horsemen who lived in the first millennium before Christ.

Previously historians had been forced to rely almost exclusively on the writings of Herodotus, who was fascinated by these warrior-nomads who grazed their herds at the ancient historical gateway known locally as the Pastures of Heaven. Today it is the point where Russia, Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan meet.

Herodotus wrote of virgin warriors, some of whom cut off a breast to make them better archers. He wrote: "No maiden may marry until she has killed a man of the enemy. Some die old women, unmarried, because they cannot fulfil the law."

The Ice Maiden, who died when she was about 25, was certainly an important member of society, though probably not a warrior or a princess, as local people claim, but a story-teller, a highly revered position in nomadic culture.

She was buried in a long coffin made of larch and a table was set out with horse-meat and mutton to accompany her into the afterlife. She worea tall wooden headdress and coriander seeds were sprinkled around her.

There were many such burial sites but most were ruined by grave-robbers during the Dark Ages. The Ice Maiden survived only because looters did not search further after finding another body buried on top of her coffin. She was preserved because her body had been stuffed with peat and bark and ice seeped into the grave.

Even the most sceptical admitted that during the work to excavate her there were suspicions of strange forces at work. Jeanne Smoot, an American archaeologist at the dig, told of a sense of foreboding that plagued the team, and frequent nightmares.

When they took the mummy to Novosibirsk, their helicopter's engine failed and it crash-landed. On arrival, the body was almost ruined when it was placed in a freezer that had been used to store cheese and began to develop fungi. The Ice Maiden was saved only when she was rushed to Moscow for treatment by the embalmers who worked on Lenin's body.

In Gorno-Altaisk, the shabby, Soviet-built capital of the stunningly beautiful Altai region, talk of ill fortune shadowing the Ice Maiden comes as no surprise. [the whole thing]

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CHATTER: Classical References

Dalla News starts our day with a pile of Classical mythological references which have made their way into modern parlance:

A memorable scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark brings to mind the expression "cutting the Gordian knot."

In that scene, Indiana Jones is confronted by a swordsman who elaborately and menacingly brandishes his blade. Indy watches the swordsman's agitated activity for a few seconds, then coolly draws his pistol and shoots him to the moviegoer's surprise and amusement.

"Cutting the Gordian knot" comes from an ancient Greek tale in which King Gordius secures his chariot with a knot so complicated that a prophecy arises: Whoever can undo the knot will rule Asia. Eventually, Alexander the Great encounters the Gordian knot and with the nonchalance of an Indiana Jones simply draws his sword and cuts it.

"Cutting the Gordian knot" is just one of many mythological expressions that enrich our communication. For example, we call a weak spot an "Achilles' heel," an expression drawn from the legend that the infant Achilles was dipped into the magical river Styx to make him invulnerable. His mother held him by the heel, however, so it wasn't protected and the heroic Achilles was killed in adulthood by an arrow to his heel. (Achilles also names the tendon at the back of the heel as well as the "Achilles reflex," an ankle jerk caused by tapping that tendon.)

Two other familiar expressions are "Herculean task," understood to be tough labor, and "Augean stables."

Hercules, a demigod, was son of the Greek god Zeus and a mortal woman. The story goes that Hera, Zeus' wife, was so jealous of Hercules that she sent him a dozen impossible tasks which he nevertheless accomplished, thereby becoming immortal.

One of Hercules' tasks was cleaning King Augeas' stables which housed 3,000 oxen and hadn't been cleaned in 30 years. Hercules diverted two rivers through the stables and voilà! Today, we liken any awesome cleanup often one involving massive corruption to "cleaning the Augean stables."

The myths of mortals Pandora and Cassandra also provide useful allusions. In myth, Pandora's curiosity was the source of all misfortune. The gods gave her a box into which each had put something harmful, forbidding her ever to open it. In time, her curiosity got the better of her, and she lifted the lid. Out flew all evil. References to "Pandora's Box" are common. Take this play-on-words headline about lawyer advertising, for example: "Lawyers open Pandora's briefcase."

Cassandra's mistake was spurning the god Apollo's advances. He cursed her with a "gift" of prophecy: She would predict the future accurately, but no one would believe her. The Cassandra myth is frequently alluded to in modern life. For example, Warren Buffet who repeatedly warned that the '90s stock market surge was a bubble has been called a "Wall Street Cassandra."

From Eros, the Greek god of love, we get the word erotic, while from his counterpart, Aphrodite, comes aphrodisiac something that excites sexual desire. Cupid and Venus, the Roman god and goddess of love, are not so complimented, however. From Cupid comes cupidity , which means an intense desire to possess or avarice or greed, and from Venus comes venereal as in venereal disease. [more]

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AWOTV: On TV Today

11.00 p.m.|HINT|Footsoldier: The Greeks 
Story of the brave Greek warriors who adorned themselves in gold,
fought under Alexander the Great, and became a virtually unstoppable
ancient war machine. Host Richard Karn.

HINT = History International

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