Myth
Myth of the Week – the Underworld
October 31, 2015
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HadesIn keeping with the rather spooky themed time of the year, here is a post on the Greek Underworld (somehow I don’t think that picture of Hades in Disney’s animated version of Hercules is going to scare anyone though!). The problem of giving a definitive view of the Underworld is that there are a number of conflicting accounts. Even while doing my research for this I realised that the sources I was using had taken their information from a number of different places.

Before I focus on the people associated with the Underworld, I’ll give a very brief summary of the layout. It was thought to be, like many think of hell today, underground. I guess the name “Underworld” sort of gives that away, eh?

It was perceived as rather unpleasant, being described by some ancient writers as a “mirthless place” along with the general cold, dingy feel that is to be expected.

There were three judges in the Underworld; Aeacus, Minos and Rhadamanthys although like everything to do with the Underworld, their functions vary from source to source. (We’ve actually come across one of these before, can you guess which one…Ding ding ding, that’s right. Minos! He was the King of Crete and the guy who got Daedalus to build the labyrinth for the Minotaur. If you want to refresh your memory then click here).

There were four rivers in the Underworld. Acheron, Cocytus, Phlegethon and Styx. Annoyingly, Latin poetry adds in a fifth, Lethe, but originally there were four. Of course, the Styx should be known to readers of this website (because you’re all such avid fans of mythology!)

The Styx was the river Thetis dipped her son, Achilles, into in order to try and make him invulnerable. Achilles also speaks in the Odyssey Book XI about how terrible the Underworld is, uttering the famous line “I would rather work the soil as a serf on hire to some landless impoverished peasant than be King of all these lifeless dead”.

There are other aspects of the Underworld I would like to cover such as Elysium, Tartarus and so on but I fear this article will get far too long so I’ve decided just to leave them out and will hopefully cover them again some time in the future. As for now, let’s get onto some of the characters associated with the Underworld.

 

Hades

As we saw from the article on Zeus (which you can access by clicking here), Hades was one of the children of the Titans Cronus and Rhea and brother of Zeus and Poseidon. When he and his two siblings cast lots for their domains, the sky, the sea and the Underworld, it’s obvious which one befell Hades.

He is not only the god of the Underworld but the god of the dead, of death and many times he is even death personified. Thus, the terms Underworld and Hades can be used interchangably. Unfortunately, there are a limited amount of myths about Hades.

Possibly the most famous of what few myths do exist is the one of how he captured the heart of his wife Persephone.

And by captured I don’t just mean heart, but the kidneys, liver, lungs…ok so basically he kidnapped her.

Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and crops. One day Hades burst out of the ground on a gold chariot (I have to admit I was expecting something a bit less shiny and a bit more human skeleton-ish) and captured her. Zeus apparently saw all this but permitted it.

What followed was Demeter’s grief. She travelled far and wide searching for her beloved daughter and neglected the earth. The condition of the world deteriorated to such an extent that the land became barren and plague ensued. Zeus instructed Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to retreive Persephone and return her to Demeter.

Before she left, however, Hades tricked her. He gave her some pommegranate from the Underworld which meant that she then had to return to the Underworld for a third of every year. This is supposed to represent the seasons of the year. For one third of the year when Persephone was in the Underworld, Demeter’s heart was cold and in turn, the weather was cold. When she was with Persephone her heart was warm and so was the world.

Moral of the story kids: don’t go accepting pommegranates from strangers. You might just find yourself stuck in the Underworld for a third of every year.

That’s the end of the myth which is a little disappointing because half of it is about Demeter. Hades was also a rather forgotten about God in terms of worship. He was indifferent to worship and generally had no cult, although black sheep were sacrificed in his name. The Cult of Hades at Elis which opened a temple once a year and then only to priests as well as his temenos (a sacred enclosure around a temple) at Mount Minthe near Pylos are the exceptions to this.

 

Cerberus

The three headed dog who guards the gates of the Underworld. Some sources say that snakes may grow out of the mane on his back though I think he is generally seen as being snake-less. If society ever advances far enough that we can somehow create real life versions of mythological creatures, I’m choosing Cerberus. Either him or a dragon.

He is no doubt an impressive figure but can be beaten. Orpheus managed to get past him by putting him to sleep with his lyre playing skills. That’s quite an interesting myth actually as he was trying to save his wife Eurydice. He managed to do this successfully and was told that he could leave the Underworld with his beloved so long as he didn’t look at her until they had left Hades’ domain. While I have heard some varying stories on the moment when Orpheus looked at his wife one thing is for sure, she wasn’t out of the Underworld yet and as a result she became trapped.

There is a Middle English text called Sir Orfeo (very short, only 600 lines or so long) that is an adaptation of the Orpheus myth. It’s a very interesting read if anyone is interested. I tried writing an essay saying that the fairies were actually good people for kidnapping Orpheus’ wife. Yeah, go figure!

There is another time when Cerberus was beaten. For the final of his twelve labours, Hercules was set the task of capturing Cerberus and bringing him back to the real world. He did so and proceeded to scare King Eurystheus witless, the person who made Hercules carry out the twelve labours as a penance. In return for not setting the “hound of Hades” on him, Eurystheus released Hercules from doing any more labours.

 

Charon

Charon was the ferryman of the dead. He was usually depicted as a ragged old man and his job was to bring people across the Acheron and the Styx. The Greeks beleived he demanded payment for such a service and used to put a coin into the mouths of corpses before burial. That way they were ensured safe passage.

 

Sisyphus

I’m going to make mention of one other character in the Underworld because I think it’s a pretty cool myth. The details on his life, his actions or who he annoyed are varied but it’s pretty clear he ticked off someone. Just listen to this punishment!

For eternity in the Underworld Sisyphus had to push a massive boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down when it was almost as the top. Then the cycle would repeat itself. Over and over and over again.

It hurts just to think about it.

 

So that’s the Underworld. Granted not quite as scary as some other stories that will be floating around this Halloween but hopefully you enjoyed it all the same. If you’re on my website for the first time why not have a look at what else I’ve written? And if you’d like to follow me on Twitter you can do so by clicking here and my Facebook link is here.

For now, enjoy your day and most importantly…

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

 

Ian Brooks

 

My Story
Why Our Teachers Are Letting Us Down
October 26, 2015
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teaching-wordleFirst off, let me start by saying that I love education. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. I love knowledge. I love the idea of learning and I think the opportunity of going into a classroom or lecture theatre and have someone inform you of a part of life that you never even knew existed is just magnificent.

I’ve been through the education system. I’ve attended Primary School, gone through Secondary School, passed the Leaving Cert (a dreaded set of exams that come at the end of six years in Secondary School in Ireland), attended college, subsequently graduated from college and am now studying for an MA. And after all that I have a couple of questions, a couple of worries, and a couple of complaints…about teachers.

In Ireland we attend Primary School between the ages of roughly 5 and 12. My thoughts on it? Brilliant. I went to a great Primary School. Some of the teachers were brilliant, but it was the principal that really stood out. He was incredibly enthusiastic. He gave us opportunities and would do extra-curricular activities with the students such as chess, basketball and quizzes just to name a few. The process was inclusive, fun and gave pupils the chance to do things they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

So Primary School gets an A+, but it doesn’t stay like that. In Primary School you’re learning the basics, developing and seeing what you can be. In college you have an idea of a career path and narrow your choices down to one or two subjects and if you do an MA like I’m doing now, you specialize in one particular aspect of those subject. Generally, any tutelage you get will be great so there are no problems there. You feel the lecturers’ and the tutors’ passion. You sense their enjoyment in what they’re teaching and that helps you to enjoy it as a result. Primary school and college are great. It’s the middle part that bothers me.

In Secondary School, a teacher’s job is to provide information, right? Give their students notes, right? Make sure they achieve good grades, right? Right. But it shouldn’t be. Or at least that’s not all it should be. A teacher should be able to motivate, inspire and make you believe.

I’ve had some good teachers, I’ve had some bad ones and I’ve had some downright terrible ones who even to this day I question how they managed to make it as teachers. They don’t know what they’re teaching, they don’t know how to teach it and really they couldn’t give the slightest care about you as a person.

Two of the best teachers I ever had weren’t great because they got the best results or had the best notes, they were the best because they could relate to the students, they cared and most of all, they inspired.

One of these was a substitute teacher. He subbed in for someone on maternity leave to teach History and Religion. Now religion at the best of times is a dull affair because usually all it entailed was writing our names down on a piece of paper and being thankful for all the things we have. So this substitute teacher came in with a list of instructions and half way through the first class almost everyone was asleep, including him.

BORING.

He saw that and stopped and asked us what we wanted to do. Yes, he actually gave us a choice because he wanted to make the class inclusive. Good move. Our options were either he would continue with the class text OR he would research a different religion every week and share what he found out with us. No prizes for guessing which one we chose. Not only did we feel we had a say in our own education, not only were we studying something we wanted to, we were doing something fun that would introduce us to a wide variety of cultures.

Another story about the same teacher. For history we were learning about the Incas and Machu Picchu. This is actually a very interesting topic but he took it one step further. He had been to Machu Picchu, brought in a slideshow of photos that he himself had taken and showed them to us via the projector. Then he spoke about his experiences. He kept everyone’s attention. He made everyone interested. It inspired people to learn, broaden their horizons and experience new things.

Contrast this with another History teacher I had and there’s no comparison. This guy sat at the front of the class, didn’t care about getting to know any of the students and would just get us to read from the book. End of. He didn’t know half the information he was teaching and he certainly wasn’t bothered if we were finding it interesting.

But as for the unequivocal best teacher I have ever had and I’m almost hesitant to say this because I know if he ever does read this praise, he’ll be walking into class the next morning with a big smug look on his face (I’m joking…sort of).

Anyway, an English teacher. And what he did that no other teacher was able to do was not come down to the level of the students, but raise us up to the level of the teacher.

He had recently returned from Africa where he had undertaken charity work. He told us wonderful stories about his time there, encouraged us to travel when we got older and it was easy to sense his enthusiasm and love for the country he had just left.

He was the first teacher in Secondary School who showed more care about how we developed and what we did as people that about results. He made us believe that we could be whatever we wanted to in life.

About two years beforehand, at the very start of the global financial collapse, another teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I went along with the usual teenage joke and said, “a millionaire”. The response? “Oh, the days of millionaires are over.”

What a depressing thing to say.

And wrong.

The teacher doesn’t know that. In fact, it’s blatantly untrue. Sure she might have been right if she had said, “that’s going to be a lot harder now”. That’s fine. But to say there will be no more millionaires? Preposterous.

This brings me to an important point. Teachers are what they are and do what they do. But they aren’t the things they teach. The teacher who teaches To Kill a Mockingbird hasn’t written a bestseller, the business teacher you have (I have no complaints with my business teachers by the way, they were both excellent), has never run a business. A science teacher isn’t Stephen Hawking and your Geography teacher isn’t some world-renowned geologist.

So it’s important that teachers know this. Know your limitations. Know where you fit in. You are the go-between. You are the link between knowledge and success. But don’t think that’s me trying to belittle you. I think you’re jobs are incredible. You have an opportunity to nurture interest and inspire the next generation. What disappoints me is that not enough of you do this. A good teacher is worth their weight in gold. A bad teacher, well, they’re in the wrong job.

I have one more story and this one really annoys me. Towards the end of my time in school, a teacher said to two or three of us to make a wise career move and get into the civil service because we would be “looked after” no matter what. I actually found the teacher to be ok too, but if that’s your attitude as a teacher, if that’s why you’re in the job, then that’s pretty disgraceful. Not only is it self-serving, it also shows a huge amount of disinterest towards the students.

Teaching is so important. It fills a huge role. If you teach you are taking someone’s life and their future and all their dreams and aspirations and molding it. Some teachers decide to help in the process, others just leave a lump of clay behind. It’s a shame too because some teachers aren’t just bad, they’re terrible, disinterested and lacking any sort of likeability factor.

If you’re a teacher and you find this offensive let me ask you one simple question. Why? Is it because it’s the truth? I can guarantee that any teacher who does their best to inspire their students and actually cares about their futures will agree with what I’m saying. And again, if you don’t agree then maybe have a look in the mirror. It could be time to up your game.

This isn’t an attack on all teachers, it’s an appeal that many improve. Education is hugely important but so are belief and the will to work. A good teacher can give you that. They can make you dream of future success, that there is a way to make it to the top no matter what your background or how many obstacles stand in your way.

To those teachers who go into school every day thinking of how best to tailor their classes to their students. To those teachers who do things differently in an attempt to make their classes stand out and feel fresh. To those teachers who love teaching for what it is. For those who have a passion in helping the next generation. For those who take pride in creating the best people first and the best results second, I can only say well done and that when your students do grow up they will remember you and be thankful for the experience and inspiration you gave them.

And as for those of you who are now annoyed with what I’ve said. Who feel I’m being unfair and that what I’m suggesting is hard work, I’ve got one word for you.

Change.

 

Thank you for reading. I hope what I’m saying makes sense to people and you enjoyed the post. If you’d like to follow me on Facebook you can do so by clicking here. I’m also on Twitter which you can access here.

All the best,

Ian

Myth
Myth of the Week – Achilles
October 22, 2015
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Achilles and AjaxAchilles is one of the most famous and best-known characters in Greek Mythology. He did, of course, make his name in the Trojan War but first let me give a little information on his background:

Hero: Achilles

Greek spelling: Αχιλλευς (translates into English as Achilleus)

Parents: Peleus and Thetis

Children: Neoptolomus, also known as Pyrrhus

Famous myths: The Trojan War

 

His father, Peleus, was king of the Myrmidons in Thessaly, the same people who Achilles would rule when he got older. His mother, Thetis, was a Neired who had a special relationship with Zeus. He was raised and educated by the centaur (a creature with the lower body of a horse and the upper body and head of a human) Chiron on Mount Pelion.

When his mother learned of a prophecy that foretold if he went on the expedition to Troy he would die, she hid him away in the court of King Lycomedes on Scyros disguised as a girl. While there, he fell in love with Deidamia, the king’s daughter, who bore him a son, Neoptolemus. His identity was then blown when Odysseus tricked him into revealing his identity and he joined the Greek army as a result. (Trickery is associated with Odysseus throughout the Iliad and in the Odyssey…he was the brains behind the Trojan horse!)

The Achilles Heel is something that has endured and is present in popular culture. We call a weakness or a vulnerable point an “Achilles Heel”. Also, a tendon at the back of the leg just above the heel is called the Achilles tendon, the name arising from this myth.

In an attempt to make her son immortal, Thetis dipped Achilles’ body into the River Styx (the river of the Underworld, also known as Hades) when he was a baby. The only part of his body that she did not submerge was the heel as she was holding onto it. Thus the river made invulnerable every part of Achilles’ body it touched so his only weak spot was his heel. He would eventually meet his death in the form of a poisoned arrow to the heel.

There is another version of the story that isn’t as well known and one that I certainly wasn’t aware of before doing some background research for this article. The story goes that Thetis had earlier children by Peleus and decided to test if they were immortal. She placed them in boiling water (yes, really!) and the results proved negative. (WARNING: Do not try this at home…obviously) Then Peleus, like a normal, sensible father (not too many of those in Greek Myth), prevented Thetis from trying the same test on Achilles.

I’m not actually sure how that would give rise to the Achilles’ Heel but I’m not going to argue.

Then we get to the big one, one of the most important myths in Greek Mythology, the Trojan War. No doubt you’ll have heard of it and the Trojan Horse, a phrase which remains in our society today.

There are a number of themes in the Iliad, one of which is the Wrath of Achilles. (The Greek for Troy was ιλιος (Ilios) and thus Iliad simply means the story of Ilios) Achilles is widely regarded as the best warrior in the Achaean (Greek) ranks but due to an argument with Agamemnon, the commander of the Achaeans, he refused to fight.

I must apologise also about the introducing of new characters but the Trojan Myth is just so complex that I’m unable to explain it without name-dropping here and there.

Anyway, Achilles refuses to fight. This is in part down to his argument with Agamemnon and in part due to a prophecy. We have seen already how his mother Thetis tried to hide Achilles on Scyros to avoid him going to Troy. Well, Thetis then went to Zeus and pleaded with him to alter Achilles’ fate and this results in Achilles having a choice.

Either he can fight and suffer an early death but his name will live on forever or he can not fight in which case he will live a long life but in relative anonymity.

Interestingly, he is the only hero in the whole Iliad who gets a choice in their own fate…he might be the only hero in Greek Mythology to get such a decision. Initially, Achilles, as we already know, refuses to fight.

This calls into question the heroic ethos and the idea of the “glorious death”. This heroic ethos is tied into the idea that “bigger is better”. The more people you kill, the more glorious you are. The more opulence you have to show, the more spoils of war you have gained, the more wealth you have amassed from plundering and pillaging, the better you are.

And if you die on the battlefield your name will live on forever. If you die a young man you remain in your prime in the afterlife however if you start to age your body degenerates etc. But basically glory was attained through fighting is the idea I’m trying to get across. It was the Age of Heroes after all and ended because, well, all the heroes ended up killing each other.

Achilles’ cousin and possible lover, Patroclus, was among the heroes trying to get him to fight. When the Achaeans started losing the war, Patroclus took it upon himself to get Achilles back in the war to rally and inspire the troops. Only, he didn’t actually get Achilles to fight. He stole his armour and took to the battlefield to face the greatest Trojan warrior, Hector.

Unfortunately for Patroclus, he was slain. When Achilles found out he became mad with grief. His mother had the lame-god of metal-working and craftsmen, Hephaestus, forge him a new shield and weapons. He entered the war in a furor (uncontrollable rage) and killed warrior after warrior.

Thus he has sealed his fate. He also challenges Hector in head-to-head combat, defeats him and then defiles the body. He takes the corpse with him but when King Priam, Hector’s father and King of the Trojans, sneaks into the Achaean camp and begs for his sons body back, Achilles agrees.

This is where the Iliad ends. There is no Trojan Horse, there is no final battle and Achilles is alive and well. However, Achilles has been foretold to die and because the life of Hector was tied to the life of Troy, we understand that it, too, will fall soon.

The rest of the story is part of the Epic Cycle and can be read in the Little Iliad of which only fragments remain.

One final mention of Achilles in Homer’s works is in the Odyssey Book XI. Here, Odysseus travels to the Underworld and meets the spirit of Achilles. The great warrior speaks what becomes one of the most famous lines in all of Greek literature when he says, “I would rather work the soil as a serf on hire to some landless impoverished peasant than be King of all these lifeless dead”.

Again this calls into question the heroic ethos and glorious death that was mentioned earlier but aside from that it is a pretty cracking line.

That brings to a close everything I want to say on Achilles. I’ve been trying to come up with some ideas of what I could write about for my next myth and received the wonderful suggestion that since Halloween is coming up, why not do a darker piece. So, my next Myth of the Week will be on Hades, the Underworld or something to that effect.

 

Fun Fact: The picture at the start of the post is of Achilles and the second greatest warrior of the Achaeans, Ajax. The image comes from a pot in a style known as Black Figure Pottery (shouldn’t be that hard to remember, the figures are black against a red backdrop). There is also Red Figure Pottery which is simply the revers of Black Figure (red figures against a black backdrop). Due to the way these pots were made they are still in incredible condition, despite being 2,500 years old! I’m not certain who created this pot or if it is even known or what it’s date is but I shall do my best to find out (Archaeology and Architecture were never my strong suit). But perhaps the coolest thing about these pots is that you can feel the finger grooves where the potters worked them by hand all those millennia ago.

 

Thanks for reading and if you have a suggestion on a myth – or any topic for that matter – that you would like me to cover then please comment below. You can also follow me on Twitter by clicking here and Facebook by clicking here.

Until next time!

Ian Brooks

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews Myth
Series Review – Percy Jackson
October 14, 2015
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Percy_JacksonTo my great shame, I only started reading the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan recently. Given that I’m currently doing an MA in Classics in UCD, that’s pretty bad. But better late than never I guess. I have a lot of praise for these books too, which makes it even worse that I didn’t enjoy them when I was younger. Rick Riordan is the self-proclaimed (I’m pretty sure it’s self-proclaimed anyway) “Master of Myth” and with good reason when it comes to Greek mythology at least. I just finished the five-book Percy Jackson series comprised of The Lightning Thief, The Sea of MonstersThe Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth and The Last Olympian.

The pentalogy follows Percy Jackson, a kid with ADHD, dyslexia and a horrible stepdad. He has never met his biological father and has attended numerous different schools only to be kicked out of all of them. It looks as he’s just meant to struggle in life until he has a strange experience with his maths teacher on a school outing to a museum. Then he learns that he is a demi-god, i.e. son to a mortal and a god (in this case an Olympian), and may also be part of a prophecy that could decide the fate of the world.

From there he goes to Camp Half-Blood, a camp for other demi-gods. He learns to fight and how to control his skills. He encounters a whole range of mythical creatures to ally with and oppose.

Do I have problems with the stories? Yes, quite a few actually. Riordan sometimes makes the mythological characters seem very stupid and petulant. I’m fully aware that the Greek Gods were greatly flawed with massive egos that are easier to burst than an overblown balloon with a pin. That’s what makes them so brilliantly fascinating but there are times when things seem contrived. Some of the escapes are made too easy because although the protagonists are in danger, their method of evasion makes it seem as if the threats were never actually that severe.

Another problem I have with these books is solely directed at the ending of the third book. I won’t reveal what is, but I thought it was weak, out of place and hard to imagine. I also feel like there was a great chance for something else to happen, perhaps a bigger fight scene or something along those lines. If anyone has read the books (I’m sure many people have…they’re really great even if I ranted a bit there) and has a view on the ending to Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse then please leave a comment below. I’m interested to hear what you thought of it.

There are other problems too. In places everything just happens so perfectly. Characters who have previously been missing for months just happen to turn up in the exact same field or park their friends are standing in. At almost every turn, someone intervenes just in time. The final book has an amazing title, The Last Olympian, but for me it doesn’t actually fit the story being told. The payoffs to some of the sub-plots are underwhelming.

So you’d expect me to say after that the series is middling at best and probably worth about a six or seven out of ten. You couldn’t be more wrong. These books are amazing, incredible and ingenious. Rather that just taking one myth and running with it, Riordan incorporates large numbers of myths and mashes them all up to create his stories.

One of the really great things in this series that requires a lot of creativity is the reimagining of Greek Mythology in a modern context. Let’s take Ares, the god of war and battlelust…he’s a biker with a short fuse and leather jacket. Hermes, the messenger god, is always on his phone. There are loads of them and for each one Riordan deserves credit.

I love Greek Mythology. I love the stories. It’s the reason I wanted to study Classics in college despite never having been introduce to it in school. And what Riordan does is breathe new life into these amazing creations. He introduces a whole new generation to the wonder and beauty of the stories set forth by the Ancient Greeks. For that I am truly grateful.

These books left me excited. I know there’s a follow up series called Heroes of Olympus and I can’t wait to read it. If it’s half as good as its predecessor it will be a great read.

 

Age Range: 8-14

Rating: 10/10

 

I hope you enjoyed this and if you’d like to share your opinion on the book or suggest to me another book I should read and review then please leave a comment underneath. If you like this then why not check out the rest of my website or follow me on Facebook by clicking here or on Twitter by clicking here.

Ian

 

My Story
4 Easy Ways to Get Kids Reading
October 11, 2015
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reading2In a world dominated by technology, it’s sometimes difficult to make time for the written word. A lot of the time people just don’t like reading. It’s boring, monotonous, slow. They much prefer to watch a movie with fast pictures and bright colours and massive explosions. Don’t get me wrong, I like movies. In fact, who doesn’t love a good fireball engulfing a whole city ending in total destruction. But it’s indisputable, reading is good for you, it’s engaging, it helps us to understand the world around us and also to succeed in life, from education to interviews to work placement.

Yet many of us don’t read, especially young people. And one of the problems facing parents is how to get their children to read. My nephew is almost two now and I’ve often wondered about the best methods in getting him to read when he gets a little older. What follows are just four simple ways of introducing young individuals to reading:

 

Read with your children

As Anthony Horowitz says, reading with your children when they’re young is a very unifying experience because it acts as a common ground between the two of you that video games or film simply can’t replicate. I remember my parents used to read to me but most importantly, with me. The experience didn’t stop as soon as I had a certain capability. With my dad, the book of choice was almost always The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. When it came to my mother it was books that were stories but were also designed to increase vocabularly.

This is a great way to encourage children as it is an active and engaging pastime that you are both invested in and I promise that it will be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life. It leads to points of discussion and a mutual interest that will endure. I still regularly talk to my parents about books they might be reading despite our tastes in genre being different.

Sow the seed now and it will last for a lifetime.

 

Don’t force them

This is where subtlety comes in. When I was younger, and the same is still true for me now, if someone kept telling me that something was beneficial and that I had to do it, I was more likely to go the other way and never do it. I don’t think I’m alone. Children don’t want to have things forced upon them. So encourage them. Give them rewards, give them suggestions. Get them to read because they want to and not because they have to.

 

Give them the right book

I am a firm believer that there is no such person who “doesn’t read”. When I hear the words “I don’t read”, I immediately hear the subtext saying, “I haven’t found the right book yet”. If your child is interested in spies, give them Alex Rider, not Jacqueline Wilson. If they like mythical creatures, give them Percy Jackson and not some historical thriller about the 1800’s.

That’s where research comes in. Don’t let that dissuade you. Research nowadays with relation to children’s bloggers is incredibly easy. There are so many bloggers and vloggers and websites that review books that all you need to do is a simple Google search and you will have a world of advice at your fingertips.

Oh, and when I say that there’s not such thing as someone who doesn’t read, I’m also talking to parents who don’t read. Reading isn’t a pastime or interest, it’s a right, a gift and something utterly magical. If you don’t read and you’re looking for books for your children, why not try looking for something that might interest you also? Who knows, you may even enjoy it.

 

Read instead of doing chores

This actually comes from the James Patterson school of getting reluctant children to read. Thankfully the school doesn’t actually exist because if it did that name would really suck. Anyway, what James did was make a deal with his son, Jack. If he had to do work around the house, he could opt out and instead read something.

The result?

Jack discovered a love of books. His reading ability improved quickly and he started reading books meant for people far older than he was. It’s an interesting technique to use and it might be seen as a little contrary to my advice of not forcing them, but I don’t think so. And, what’s more, it’s proven to work so it’s worth trying.

 

I can’t stress enough the importance of getting children to read. It’s vital and opens up an understanding into our world that they would have never had otherwise. So try it. Try to encourage your children. Read with them. Pick the right books for them. Do the research. It just might be the best thing you’ve ever done in your life.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to follow me on Twitter you can do so by clicking here and if you’d like to follow me on Facebook you can do so by clicking here.

Happy reading,

Ian

Myth
Myth of the Week – Daedalus and Icarus
October 6, 2015
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Daedalus and IcarusThis week I’m going to focus on the father/son combination of Daedalus and Icarus. The myth is well known in the modern day, even outside of classics and if you don’t know the story behind the two, hopefully the names are in some way familiar. Happily, I’m also going to squeeze in some background to the Minotaur which should help in understanding these myths.

Daedalus was a skilled craftsman, artist and inventor and features in two prominent myths (I’m going to ignore the one involving Theseus and Ariadne in this post). The first is that of the Labyrinth. At the command of King Minos, Daedalus built a near inescapable maze on Crete to house the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull creature. Minos then trapped Daedalus on Crete and refused to let him go.

The reason behind this was that Minos made an altar to Poseidon and requested a bull for sacrifice. However, when he saw the bull he kept it instead of sacrificing it (piece of advice, don’t go against the gods!). Poseidon responded by causing Pasiphae, Minos’ wife, to fall in love with the bull. She enlisted the help of Daedalus, the court inventor, who in turn created a hollowed out wooden cow for her to interact with the bull. In the end she became pregnant and that’s the origin story of the Minotaur. Minos became angry at Daedalus and thus kept him on Crete.

Daedalus, however, was not alone on Crete as he had with him his son Icarus whom he loved very much. Being a great inventor, he fashioned wings out of wax. He gave Icarus the warning not to fly too low or too close to the sun. Icarus promised however when he started flying he forgot all about the promise and started enjoying himself as is to be expected of a young boy who learned to fly.

This ties into something I mentioned last week in my post about Zeus, the gods aren’t fair. They aren’t fair. I guess we see that with Pasiphae also. She was just an innocent bystander and is punished for her husband’s wrongdoings. The same can be said of Icarus. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, dated 8 A.D., Ovid writes that it was because Icarus “Began to enjoy his thrilling flight and left his guide to roam the ranges of the heavens” that he was punished. This makes it sound like he was challenging the gods and suffered consequences as a result. This isn’t an isolated incident though.

Throughout the Metamorphoses there are instances where the gods act unjustly or are overzealous in punishing humans. Tales like those of Diana and Actaeon, Arachne and Minerva and the fate of Daphne due to a petty argument between Apollo and Cupid are all examples of instances where the gods either act out of turn or are a little too severe.

Back to Icarus. The boy flew too close to the sun and his wings melted and he fell into the sea and drowned. Despite having an unhappy ending and being quite short, the myth of Icarus escaping with his father is one that endures today. But while Icarus met his end here, his father did not.

He managed to escape to Sicily and was taken under the care of King Cocalus. Minos, angry with his escaping, pursued him. He was caught in a trap though as King Cocalus daughters’ boiled him alive in a steam bath. Nasty way to go!

Daedalus continued to invent and created many marvels but I think I’ll conclude this piece here rather than finish with a big long list.

 

Fun Fact: In University College Dublin, the college I study at, there’s a Daedalus Building. Unfortunately, it’s not used by Classics. Grr!

 

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post. I’ve mentioned Ovid’s Metamorphoses here and will hopefully getting around to doing a post about the work in due course. For next week I’m not certain what I’ll write on yet, but I think someone like the great Greek hero Achilles would be interesting.

If you have any suggestions or requests then please let me know. You can do so in the “comment” box below or by contacting me on Facebook by clicking here and on Twitter by clicking here.

Until next time,

Ian

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews
Series Review – The Chaos Walking Trilogy
October 3, 2015
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chaoswalkingThe Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness is a very unique creation and deserves all the sales, publicity, awards and praise it has gotten over the years. I only finished the third book recently despite the fact it came out in 2010. In truth, I read the first book years ago, back in 2008. The reason wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I thought it was great, but there was a moment in the book where I found myself hating Ness for what he wrote (if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then you have something to look forward to…or not).

The three books in the series are The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and The Answer and Monsters of Men and are written in a different way to any other book I have ever read. The Point of View is first person from the perspectives of Todd and Viola. There is a third PoV in Monsters of Men but I don’t want to give anything away. The story opens with Todd and his dog Manchee who can kind of talk. By “kind of” I mean that every living creature has Noise. This comes in the form of thoughts that can be heard by everyone, whether you speak them or not. For creatures like horses and dogs, these thoughts could be very basic but for humans it is simply their normal interior monologue.

There is, however, one exception. Female humans don’t have noise. Not that there are any. Prentisstown, where Todd lives, is comprised solely of men. At every second of every day, Todd’s life is very loud. He hears and sees the thoughts of every man of every second of every day. That is, until he discovers a quiet spot. A place free of Noise. A place that shouldn’t exist.

It is from here he starts to learn that everything he knows, everything he has been told, is a lie. He must escape Prentisstown and its dastardly and devious Mayor, David Prentiss, and his marching army. He then meets Viola Eade, a girl his own age, and the first female he has ever seen other than in the Noise of the inhabitants of Prentisstown. Viola is weak and starving and the two must learn to trust each other and work together in order to survive. Along with Manchee they flee, as they pursue safety and the truth. The truth about Todd’s mother. The truth about the fate of every woman in Prentisstown.

That is just a taster of what is to come. The trilogy extends far beyond what I’ve mentioned and deals with war in a great many aspects. It’s amazing to think that a single mind was able to create this. The amount of hours Ness must have put into thinking about, planning and crafting the stories is mind-boggling. The voice is spot-on, the idea is grea and the books pace themselves wonderfully. Sometimes it can be tough to take a story to heart because the writing for the intense, exciting scenes just isn’t snappy enough. In the Chaos Walking Trilogy, the writing is sublime.

Another element of this trilogy that makes it so brilliant is the way it is presented on the page. I remember reading an interview with Ness even before I had read the first book and if I remember correctly, he spoke about how limiting writing can be when contrasted with movies or other art forms where the product can change shape or noise level or arrest the viewer with varying camera shots. And so, he wanted to apply that to the trilogy. The font type and size vary from PoV to Noise which makes for a very unique read and one that engages you more readily than other books. This is certainly one of the aspects of the trilogy that makes it stand out as a unique work.

It’s a trilogy everyone should read and if you want to be a writer, I would suggest studying it very closely. The way Ness flits from one Point of View to the other is effortless but the difficulty of executing it correctly must be off the charts.

There’s very little hanging back and taking it slow when it comes to Ness. He drives the narrative faster, sometimes at such a pace you simply cannot handle it anymore and you find yourself being drawn into reading so furiously that you skip words. I don’t want to say anymore about it because discussing the second and third book in more detail might mean giving something away in the first one and this is most definitely something that shouldn’t be spoiled.

 

The Chaos Walking Trilogy is a rare creation by an even rarer author. I read it, put it down, and even while I was away from the book I was thinking about it. Do yourself a favour and buy the books.

 

Rating: 10/10

Age Group: 13+

 

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post and enjoy the books even more. They really are that good.

Happy reading,

Ian Brooks

My Story
5 Ways for Writers to Deal with Rejection
September 30, 2015
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rejectionRejection isn’t easy, especially in writing. Having completed your manuscript, edited it, polished it off and then finally submitted it, you’re hopeful. Then you get the rejections. They start to trickle in and at first you say, “It’s ok, it’s only one” but bit by bit they mount up and the months of effort, sometimes years, that you’ve put in feels like it was all for nothing. The end.

But it doesn’t have to feel like that and now I’m going to provide you with some of the ways and methods I’ve used to come to terms with rejection.

 

Don’t Live in Denial

Or don’t live in any other river for that matter…right I’ll stop with the puns. On a serious note, if it happens, it happens. One of the beautiful things about rejection (yeah, I said beautiful and rejection in the same sentence) is that it’s evidence that you tried. That’s a lot further than other people get. When people ask me how my writing is going I’m quite happy to tell them that I’ve written four books, submitted three of them and come out of it with more rejection slips than I can count. I’m just happy in the knowledge that every rejection slip is evidence of my attempts. It’s progress, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

But the heading was “Don’t Live in Denial” because if you deny your rejections and your failures, you limit yourself. The successes are great in life, but we learn nothing from them other than perhaps how to act in success. It’s the failures that will really shape our lives, our personalities and how we react in situations of adversity. Failure is the groundwork for success, the foundation, the building blocks and without it no one would ever make it.

This begs the question, why deny? Why go through all this effort and then not disclose the result? Shame, fear, anger or maybe it’s a romantic idea that you’re the special one and that you can produce a piece of quality work that will set the world on fire off the top of your head. If that’s the reason forget it.

Accepting failure is, I believe, fundamental to being successful.

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Don’t take it personally

I’ve read stories about people who get rejected and then send emails to the agents/publishers who rejected them wondering what the hell was wrong with them. “How dare they reject my work,” they say while shaking their fist in the air.

Piece of advice, don’t do that. The amount of unsolicited manuscripts received each year by agencies and publishing houses is simply massive. These people don’t have time to go through every submission in great detail, never mind actually represent everyone who submits. They have to make snappy judgment calls and if they decide not to take your work on, it’s nothing personal. They aren’t doing it because they don’t like you or they don’t want to represent someone like you, it’s simply because they don’t feel your submission was right for them based on the quality and subject matter of the work.

 

Learn from it

Let’s do what we are all told when we’re about five years old.

Learn from your mistakes.

It’s incredible how the advice given to us in our youth could actually be important, isn’t it! Anyway, if you are rejected, and I’m talking about a fairly comprehensive rejection by a number of agents, then the overwhelming likelihood is that your work is flawed. Your style is lacking. You might have the greatest story in the world but if you can’t communicate it properly then it’s not going to work. Or perhaps maybe the story isn’t right. It could be boring. What means a lot to you may mean nothing to someone else. Go back, analyse, be tough on yourself when editing and figure out why it’s not working. Maybe the story isn’t interesting, but maybe it’s something simple and only requires a minor tweak.

Hey, even J.K Rowling didn’t make it on her first try!

So learn from it. Take a class. Don’t be proud and don’t think that you’re wrong and the world is right because if that’s the case and you want to become a commercial author, then you’re going to have to be wrong too. If you’re lucky enough and an agent rejects you but does give advice, take it on board. Break down the advice, apply it to your text, and use it to create the very best piece of work you can. If you don’t get feedback after a rejection, then take action. Join a writing class, hire an editor. Just don’t sit there thinking you’re the best thing since sliced pan (Irish saying!) and that everyone else is beneath you.

 

Don’t get disillusioned

Immediately after getting rejection I used to go onto the internet and play a song. It helped me deal with the barrage of Apologies but we just feel that at this point in time your work isn’t right for my client list messages. The song was “Another One Bites the Dust” by the timeless Queen. Don’t get me wrong, at the end of it I hated Freddie Mercury and his voice but it did a lot to help me because while I realised what the rejections meant, I also was able to see the funny side of it, take a light-hearted approach and laugh.

And when it comes down to it, it’s just writing. It’s not the end of the world and there are more important things in life. A bit of context goes a long way.

 

Never Give Up

Rejection in anything, be it love, life or work, can be extremely difficult to deal with and can unfortunately lead to us getting down on ourselves and a lot of self-doubt. What makes writing doubly difficult is the amount of time you spend alone, constantly allowing that doubt to fester and grow. It’s an occupation that breeds doubt and spending that much time in one’s own head isn’t healthy.

Don’t give up.

That’s the thing. When I eventually do get my first book published, whenever that may be, along with whatever successes and failures I may have in my life, I want one thing in particular to be said about me…that I had an interminable spirit.

I have quit in the past. I won’t deny it. I have given up because whatever task at hand became too difficult. Now, even though I might doubt my ability sometimes, I won’t be able to forgive myself if I give up. Sometimes it takes time to build up a resolve but if you’re focused on succeeding, if you truly want to make it in the industry of your choice, then you will keep trying. And what’s more, you’ll be a success. If you get the right advice, put in the hard work then you will make it.

And you know what, failure is always the first step.

 

Thanks for reading. I hope that if anyone is feeling a bit down on themselves due to rejections then this might offer them a bit of encouragement, advice, but most importantly hope. If I have the ability to believe in myself then you definitely have the ability to believe in yourself.

Good luck with your writing!

 

Ian Brooks

Book Reviews
Book Review – The Ring of Solomon
September 27, 2015
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The_Ring_of_SolomonRecently I read The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud. The book is part of the Bartimaeus Sequence (formerly the Bartimaeus Trilogy) and was published in 2010. Despite being published after the first three books, the events take place long before them. In my “Must Read Books for Children and Young Adults” post (which you can read here) I mentioned the trilogy. In truth, it had been so long since I had read them I forgot a great deal of the content, however the one thing I did remember was that they had captivated me. The Ring of Solomon is no different and I found it very difficult to put the book down once I had started..

The book centres on a Djinn named Bartimaeus who is clever, cunning and hilarious…there are some really good examples of comedy in this book, most of which come in the form of footnotes to relay Bartimaeus’ inner thoughts and explanations. He has been summoned by a cruel master called Khaba and must do his bidding until such a time that Khaba frees him or, well, Khaba makes a mistake and Bartimaeus eats him.

One day while dealing with bandits in a desert, he comes across Asmira, an assassin sent by the Queen of Sheba to kill Solomon of Israel. Why? Solomon has in his possession an all powerful ring (yep, you got it, it’s the ring of Solomon) which can summon a legion of spirits at any one time from the Other Place (the place where Djinn and other spirits come from). But she isn’t the only one planning and plotting and a hidden conspiracy is in action. Bartimaeus finds himself stuck in the middle of it all and as the blurb says, “He’s going to have to use every ounce of magic in his ever-shifting body to wriggle his way out of this one”.

The book is told from two perspectives. The first is Bartimaeus in first person which is quite simply a show-stealer. He has a brilliant voice and is a terrific character and one that I truly enjoyed spending time with. As for the other perspective, that comes from Asmira but is written in third person. Again, the read is enjoyable but simply can’t compare to Bartimaeus.

Is there anything I would change about this book? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. For instance the blurb lets on that there will be a greater role for a certain group of characters than there actually is and at times the ending seemed a touch inconsistent. Still though, it’s a mighty fine book. I couldn’t help being overcome by a sense of nostalgia as I read it because Stroud manages to create such a unique world and it was a pleasure to revisit it. Not only was it great to revisit it, I’m now tempted to go back and read the original trilogy…and I have a feeling they are even better than The Ring of Solomon!

 

Rating: 9/10. This one flitted between an 8 and a 9 but eventually I gave it the higher number based on nostalgic purposes.

Age Group: 13+. Fantasy readers will love this book

Myth
Myth of the Week – Zeus
September 24, 2015
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ZeusMy original plan was to do some posts about Greek mythology, with my first two posts being “Gods” and “The Trojan War”. The problem was that when I had finished writing them up, I realised they were really long and a little boring. So instead what I’ve decided to do a weekly write up about various characters in myth. In other words every post will be dedicated to a single figure, such as Achilles or Zeus. My hope is that by focussing on one at a time, I’ll be able to do these wonderful creations justice while also keeping the articles short and making them as enjoyable as possible for you, the reader. One thing to note is that the Greek pantheon and Roman pantheon are pretty much the same, although their names differ (when it comes to the Olympians only Apollo retains his name in Roman mythology). Now, that’s enough waffle from me. Onto our first mythological figure.

 

Zeus

There’s no better place to start than the head honcho, the King of the Olympians, the chief god, Zeus. Let’s start off with a little character file:

God: Zeus

Greek spelling: Ζευς (yes, I know…very similar)

Roman counterpart: Jupiter

Parents: Cronus and Rhea

Wife: Hera

Children: Too many to name but some big ones are Athena, Artemis, Apollo, Heracles and Helen of Troy.

Functions: God of the sky and justice

Symbols: Most commonly depicted with the thunderbolt. Another common image is the eagle.

Zeus is the big man when it comes to the gods. Sure others have tried to overthrow him, such as the giants (this war is known as the Gigantomachy) and Typhon, but in the end they all failed.

Interestingly, the gods in Ancient Greek culture aren’t portrayed as being perfect or all powerful as we tend to see in modern religion. There are questions as to whether Zeus can do what he likes when he likes or if even he has to bend to the will of the Fates. In terms of imperfections, the gods are attributed with the same shortcomings as human society. They bicker, fight, are unjust and have extra-marital relations to name a few. Zeus himself has sired a great many children, most not with his wife Hera, and his adultery constantly leads to conflict between the two.

 

Zeus and Cronus

He’s also been involved in some pretty cool myths. The story of his birth, for one, stands out as a fine example. His father, the Titan Cronus, swallowed his children when they were born so that they wouldn’t be able to threaten his reign. When his wife Rhea started growing tired of this she hatched a plan and after giving birth to Zeus, she wrapped a rock in blankets and gave it to her husband. Cronus swallowed it unaware of the plan and when Zeus grew up he challenged Cronus and defeated him, first forcing him into disgorging Zeus’ siblings. When he had successfully rescued them, he locked Cronus along with his fellow Titans into the depths of Tartarus.

This done, Zeus split the world between himself and his two brothers, Poseidon and Hades. Poseidon got the sea, Hades claimed the Underworld while Zeus’ realm is the sky.

 

Zeus and Semele

Another interesting myth featuring Zeus is the one about his affair with a Theban princess named Semele. Zeus fell in love with her and impregnanted her and after learning of their adulterous and illicit affair, Hera grew jealous and angry. She tricked Semele into asking Zeus to grant her a wish. Semele then went to Zeus, made him swear on the River Styx and asked him to reveal himself to her in her true godly form. The problem with this is that mortals are not supposed to gaze on gods in their true form without bursting into flames which is pretty much what happened to Semele.

This sounds like a pretty devestating myth but it’s not over yet because Zeus managed to save the unborn child and sewed it into his thigh! The child then grew up and was born and became Dionysus, the god of wine and harvests.

 

The Temple at Olympia

The Greeks were big into their temples and the most important one in honour of Zeus was the Temple at Olympia. It was built somewhere between 470-456 BC (naturally enough we can’t be perfectly accurate with dates when it comes to researching so long ago. For instance, Homer’s Iliad is dated to c.750BC and Homer’s Odyssey is dated to c.700BC).

The designer of the temple was Libon of Elis and it contained a gold and ivory statue of Zeus which was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

 

FUN FACT: In the animated Disney version of Hercules, Rip Torn voiced the character of Zeus. Torn has also featured in such films as Dodgeball as Patches O’Houlihan and in Men in Black 1 and 2 as Zed. In the movie adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Sean Bean portrayed Zeus. Sean is best known for starring in The Lord of the Rings as Boromir and in Game of Thrones as Ned Stark.

 

Thanks must go to Dr. Martin Brady and Professor Michael Lloyd as I have borrowed from their lectures on mythology and Homer. Also I’m grateful to Dr. Conor Trainor for providing me with the information regarding the Temple at Olympia.

 

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. Next up I’ll be dealing with the father/son combination of Daedalus and Icarus. Hopefully their names ring a few bells!!! If you would like to follow me on Facebook you can do so by clicking here or if you’re on Twitter you can follow me by clicking here.

 

Ian