When the Winter 2016 theme of Myth was announced to the LPR staff, I felt a flutter of possibility ripple through my body. I’d just returned from Italy, having done my fair share of cavorting before various Roman temples, and my mind immediately turned to the Medusa myth. As my eldest son tells it, Athena came upon Zeus “getting funky” with Medusa in Athena’s temple. Athena cursed Medusa, hence the snakey locks and turning-people-to-stone thing. Myths take all forms. They are a collected body of stories, told to explain nature, history and customs. Myths occur in every culture. Remember the urban legend of Mikey and Pop Rocks? Thank goodness for Snopes, who confirmed my theory that Mikey lives. (In my home, we’ve got our own faux version of Snopes called reliablesource.com, to which we “refer” whenever some outlandish story is told at the dinner table.)
When the LPR staff decided to invite a guest to edit our Winter 2016 Myth issue, our choice seemed clear-cut. Baltimore poet and writer Patricia VanAmburg balances literary credentials with scholarly training in classic myths. Lucky for us, Patricia is as excited about the intersections between myth and literature as we are.
Here is guest editor Patricia VanAmburg, to tell us more about her thoughts about LPR’s Myth issue.
I have been a writer/poet since the moment I learned the alphabet. I have been a teacher for most of my adult life. My favorite class has always been world literature because I marvel at the diversity and sameness of its stories—especially those of the ancient world.
One of the defining moments of my life was my introduction, by Maryland poet Edgar Silex, to the Sumerian myth of Inanna. I had been teaching the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh (c. 3000 B.C.E.) for many years before I first read the Inanna text of the same era, a story in which the female hero takes an inward, spiritual journey. Immediately, I started a library of mythology which expanded to archeology because I loved the visual symbols that went with the earliest texts.
This is how I learned about the work of archeologist Marija Gimbutus, who claimed that millions of small prehistoric figurines were evidence of a very early mother goddess worship. A seminar on Gimbutus’ findings in the early 1990s provided my first trek in search of ancient artifact. Soon after, I travelled through Turkey (the Greek/Roman ruins at Ephesus) and the Greek Islands gathering material for a course I would teach at Howard Community College titled Ariadne’s Thread: the link between the images of prehistory and classic Greek Myth.
Later in 2004 and 2006, I arranged student/faculty trips to Greece and Crete. In Athens, we visited museums and ruins including those of the Acropolis and the ancient Agora. On Crete, we saw the ruins of palaces (c. 1600 B.C.E.) at both Knossos and Phaestos and the archeological museum of Herakleion with its wonderful bulls and snake goddesses. We also visited Mycenaea in the Peloponnese, and the ruins of Apollo’s temple at Delphi. Some of these travels will be featured in a slide presentation for the 2015-16 LPR Salon Series.
More recently, I have searched for stories and ruins in Italy, France, Brittany, Vienna and Cyprus. In Vienna, I sought the tiny fertility figurine named goddess or woman of Willendorf. On Cyprus, I was searching Aphrodite—sometimes called Cyprus by the Greeks because of her rumored birth amidst sea rocks of that island. I have seen the very place from which the legend sprang, as well as, the temple ruins of Paphos and the wonderful museum of prehistory at Nicosia.
I can tell you that the Aphrodite of Cyprus has more in common with the Sumerian goddess Inanna than than she has with the Venus of classical myth and western art. As a fertility goddess, she also has something in common with both Willendorf and the Greek kore Persephone. It is all about season—season of place and seasons of life—cycles and lapses:
Some Mythic Lapses
by Patricia VanAmburg
Visions of Demeter dangling
darling Demaphon in the fire
causes his startled mother
to lose her faith in the gods.
Metira’s startling lack of vision
causes disappointed Demeter
to turn heels on earth and
lose her faith in humanity.
Envisioning mother burnout
human and divine
causes darling Demaphon
to lose his immortality.
A lovely vision in flame
Persephone awaits Demeter
eats three seeds and
forgets about spring.
Online Editor’s Note: Submissions for Myth open on Aug. 1 and remain open until Oct. 24.