Empire Talks

I have recently moved to London and blogging has taken a bit of a back seat to job hunting, finding new friends and routines, new weather and more.

London is an amazing city, the seat of the British Empire. The city is layered with every era of art, architecture, literature, philosophy and political upheaval usually only accessed through school books.

Just living here is an education.

Victoria

Museums are plentiful, free and lined with rare treasures, antiquities and artefacts. Brightly lit theatres boast among their cast members Hollywood actors and world class talent. Some shows run for years on end. Libraries, churches, houses of parliament, consulates, hotels, each are heartrendingly beautiful and well preserved.

As an Aussie in London, I’m struck with the power of “empirical” imagery in a the city streets, free to view from pavements for both rich and poor. There are statues of Victoria, Wellington, Nelson and Bodicea, an Obelisk taken from Egypt, dragon markers to outline the borders of the City of London, sphinxes on park benches, a Unicorn on the coat of arms, Griffins, a winged bull , Peter Pan in Hyde Park and the list goes on.

City_Dragon

As a child of the “new-colonies” as we antipodeans are historically referred to, such regal imagery in public places is somewhat curious and wonderful. The importance of such imagery does not go unobserved.

Herodotus was noted as “father of history” for his inquiry ‘historia’ into the events surrounding the Greco-Persian wars of the 5th century BC.  He collected his materials systematically and critically, and then arranged them into a historiographic narrative thus breaking with the Homeric tradition to poetically allude to mythic origins.

However, even Herodotus could not help tracing the genealogies of human kings to the divine nor recount the significance of the oracles on the behaviours of men.

Sphinx london

As James Romm wrote,

Herodotus worked under a common ancient Greek cultural assumption that the way events are remembered and retold (e.g. in myths or legends) produces a valid kind of understanding, even when this retelling is not entirely factual. For Herodotus, then, it takes both myth and history to produce truthful understanding.

London tells a story on its streets, its squares, its cornices and its parks. Not only are there everywhere images of leaders, monarchs, notable men and women of history but these leaders are co-conspirators with creatures of myth and legend as though standing in a line of history which reaches back into the realm of dreams and myths itself.

british-royal-coat-of-arms-on-somerset-house-london-s010xb

Such mythic imagery, gives the Empire gravitas. A propaganda of sorts. And yet, perhaps like Herodotus we learn that it takes both myth and history to produce a truthful understanding of ourselves.

Muriel Rukeyser writes:

The world is not made of atoms, it’s made of stories.

Indeed. An Empire is certainly made of more than guns and steel. It’s made of the narratives that weave the hearts of its people together.

Ulysses 31

This blog has often touched upon the point that the popularist genre, science fiction, has its roots in high myths and legends. What was once the domain of scholars, philosophers, theologians and literary experts –  is now the domain of geeks and nerds worldwide.

What better illustration of this relationship than the 1980s French-Japanese animation, “Ulysses 31″.

The 26 episodes of the series, describe the struggles of Ulysses and his crew against the divinities that rule the universe, the ancient gods from Greek Mythology.  The gods are angered when Ulysses, commander of the giant space vessel Odyssey, kills the giant Cyclops to save a group of enslaved children, including his son.

Zeus sentences Ulysses to travel the universe with his crew frozen until he finds the Kingdom of Hades, at which point his crew will be revived and he will be able to return to Earth. Along the way they encounter numerous other famous figures from Greek mythology, given a sci-fi twist.

Ulysses_31_by_Bintavivi

Any lover of science fiction and fantasy can recognise many of the themes explored throughout the episodes:
  • The ship passes a moon that brings Numinor back to life, since it’s from his home planet of Zotra. When they investigate, the children disappear and Numinor suspects they’ve been kidnapped by a legendary witch.
  • Ulysses meets an old scholar named Heratos and his assistant, a young Zotrian woman named Atina. Heratos gives Ulysses a map that he says is to the Kingdom of Hades, but is actually to the Graveyard of Wrecks and Hulks which no-one has ever left alive, because the gods threatened Atina’s life if he did not deceive Ulysses. While there, Telemachus finds the black sphere which contains a map of Olympus.
  • Aeolus, King of the winds, kidnaps Ulysses to provide entertainment for his daughter’s birthday party. Unable to watch her father’s cruel sport, she frees the captives and helps them escape.
ulyssess
  • Ulysses encounters Sisyphus a king condemned to fill a crater with boulders for all eternity for having dared to want the secret of immortality. Zeus has promised Sisyphus he can leave if he makes Ulysses take his place.
  • The Odyssey comes across a lifeless city world. On hearing that its people had the technology to bring the dead back to life, Yumi takes Numinor to the planet to revive him. However, she learns why there is no life in the city.
  • A space storm revives the companions as crazed automatons who take over the ship and try to crash it into space glaciers.
  • Passing through the domain of the great Sphinx, Ulysses must answer his riddle to leave safely. His treacherous daughter kidnaps the children and plots to make Ulysses her slave.
ulysses
  • Ulysses is saved from a Trident attack by Chronos, the god of time, who wants to use him as leverage to be allowed to reenter the home of the gods.
  • The Odyssey arrives on a tropical planet, where the ruling tyrant uses a magic prism to shrink them.
  • Ulysses follows a Trident carrier in hopes of learning more about the way out of Olympus, and finds himself trapped in bizarre worlds. To save the children, he will have to give up his memories.
  • Trying to help a stranded astronaut, Ulysses tries to find a hidden base on one of the deadly twin planets Scylla or Charydbis.
  • Coming across a piece of Zotra that could bring Numinor back to life, Ulysses and Yumi pursue it to a swamp planet where they are ambushed by monsters who can copy their forms.
  • Pirates kidnap the children to force Ulysses and No-No to brave the danger of the Sirens, said to guard a map of the Olympus universe.
  • Ulysses and the crew land on a planet similar to prehistoric earth. They encounter a winged female named Sauria, whose people are under attack from mutant vultures called Keconopters.
ulysses 1
  • The crew of the Odyssey are enslaved by the magic of the enchantress Circe and turned into pig-people to build a tower that will house all the knowledge of the universe.
  • Princess Ariadne comes upon the Odyssey, and asks for Ulysses’ help in saving her lover Theseus, who has been exiled to her father’s labyrinth to be killed by the fearsome Minotaur.
  • Mercurius, the bubble-dwelling “grandson of the gods,” enlists Ulysses’ help in taking a jewel from the brow of the giant Atlas under the promise that it will give him the power to send Ulysses home.
  • The shapechanger Nereus calls Ulysses for help when Shark Men, servants of the gods, take over his planet.
  • Ulysses is saved from an attack by the most powerful magician in the universe who breaks the gods’ curse on his crew; however, as payment for his services, demands to hunt Ulysses’s best men.
ulysses 2
  • Princess Hypsipile of the planet Lemnos is found by Ulysses; she tells them that the women of her planet are being forced by the Shark Men to build ships for the gods.
  • The Odyssey is dragged to a planet populated by machines, and governed by the tyrannical computer Cortex. One of its inhabitants, a “female” robot named Nanette, falls in love with No-No.
  • The Odyssey responds to a distress call from Queen Calypso, who tells him that if he saves her planet she will tell him the way back to earth. Calypso has been ordered by Zeus to betray Ulysses, but she falls in love with him and cannot carry out the gods’ orders.
  • Ulysses and the children are sent back in time and meet the original Ulysses, Telemachus and Penelope of Homer’s epic.
  • Needing raw materials to repair the Odyssey, Ulysses travels to a world where the inhabitants are addicted to eating seeds which induce amnesia.
ulysses 3
  • In the final episode, Ulysses and his companions reach the Kingdom of Hades. They meet Orpheus, who seeks Ulysses’ help to find his love, Euridyce, who has been taken to the Kingdom of Hades by Charon. Hades the god of death, tells Ulysses that he must leave his companions behind if he wishes to return to Earth. He rejects the offer, which was a final test, and they all return home.