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Archive for July, 2016

I’m reblogging the legend of Hydra, first posted in October 2012. Here’s the second half.

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The Legend of Hydra, Part 2

No one knows when the ancient Greeks began telling stories about Hercules, but the saga of the Twelve Labors was pretty much in the form we know by 600 BCE. As the story goes, Hercules had suffered a fit of madness and murdered his own children. To atone, he had to perform ten great tasks, assigned by King Eurystheus of Tiryns. Since Eurystheus was a devout follower of Hera, the queen of the gods and Hercules’s enemy, all his choices were either deadly or deeply humiliating.

As his second task, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to go to Lake Lerna and kill the terrible Hydra. Hercules and his nephew, Iolaus, proceeded to the spring of Amymone, where Hydra lived in a cave filled with noxious vapors. Hercules covered his mouth and nose with cloth to protect himself and fired flaming arrows into the cave to get her attention.

Hydra charged out, her nine dragon heads spewing poisoned gasses, and they did battle. Hercules cut off some of her heads with a sword, but discovered to his horror that two heads grew back in the place of each one he cut off.

The task seemed hopeless, but Iolaus had an idea. Each time Hercules cut off one of Hydra’s heads, Iolaus ran up and cauterized the stump with a torch. This prevented any more heads growing in. The tide of battle turned.

Hera was watching from Mount Olympus. When she saw that Hercules was winning, she sent a giant crab to attack his feet. Hercules stomped on the crab and killed it. Working together, he and Iolaus were able to defeat the vicious Hydra.

They could not kill her, however. Hydra’s last head was immortal. Legends diverge slightly at this point. One version says that Hercules switched to his favorite weapon, a club, and thus killed Hydra without cutting her head off. The other version is that he did cut off her last head, and Iolaus cauterized the stump, effectively killing Hydra’s body. Her final head remained alive. Hercules buried it under a large rock, rendering it harmless.

Afterward, Hercules dipped his arrows in Hydra’s venomous blood. These poisoned arrows figure significantly in later parts of his history. Hera, meanwhile, rewarded Hydra and the giant crab by placing them in the night sky as the constellations Hydra and Cancer respectively.

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Yes, it’s summer — re-run season. So here’s a reblog of an early post from October, 2012.

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The Legend of Hydra

We often tell tales of dragons as a variety or species with numerous members sharing common attributes. Well, Hydra wasn’t like that. She was an individual with a story of her own.

Hydra was born into a star-studded monster clan. Her parents were Typhon (a hideous deity imprisoned beneath Mt. Aetna by Zeus) and Echidna (a drakaina, or beautiful nymph with the tail of a serpent). Cerberus, Chimera, and Ladon (the dragon who guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides) were her siblings.

Legend describes Hydra as a gigantic water snake. Her most famous feature, of course, was that she had several heads. Accounts vary wildly, but nine heads is the number most commonly given. If that wasn’t bad enough, when one head was cut off, two more would grow in its place. And that’s not all! (chanelling Billy Mays here) Hydra was so poisonous that if her breath didn’t kill you, a stray drop of her blood would finish the job. Even stepping into her footprint could be fatal.

Like her brothers, Cerberus and Ladon, Hydra was a guardian beast. She lived at Lake Lerna, where an entrance to the Underworld was located. Hydra’s job was to be its guardian. Mostly she stayed at her post, but occasionally she did emerge to terrorize the countryside.

Hydra’s legend is part of a much longer myth cycle, the Twelve Labors of Hercules. I’ll tell her tale in my next blog post.

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You. Yes, you! I challenge you… to write a poem!

This is based on a school framework that helps kids who think they aren’t poetic, to write poetry. It has lots of blanks to fill in. The empty framework looks something like this:

The Animal In Me, by (Name)

There is a (animal) in me with (animal part) like (simile) and (animal part) like (simile).

It (sound) like (simile). It (movement) like (simile).

It lives in my (human body part) and makes me (feeling or reaction).

(Choose one)

I wish (__________________________) OR

It makes me want to (_____________________) OR

It makes me feel like (_____________________).

So based on this, here’s what I did along with the students.

THE DRAGON IN ME, by Ms. F.

There is a dragon in me with wings like banners and scales like mosaic armor.

It roars like a geyser. It soars like a queen of the sky.

It lives in my heart and makes me fearless.

It makes me feel like I can do anything. 

So, friends — I challenge you! Put your animal-inside poem in the comments.

Ready? Go!

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While hunting Pokemon with my daughter last Friday, I encountered another garden dragon.

celosia1

This is a Celosia called Dragon’s Breath. The variety was bred by Sakata Seeds America and introduced in 2015. It won some awards in the garden industry, and it’s easy to see why.

I’ve known of Celosia for some while. Their distinctive “flame-puff” flowers are hard to forget. But the massed display was a sight to behold.

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Considering the esteem kites hold in many Asian cultures, it may not be surprising that a sport grew up around them. The goal in kite fighting is to sever the other player or players’ strings. Some competitions are one-on-one duels, while others involve masses of kites flying at once. The winner has the last kite in the air.

By tradition, once a kite’s string is cut, nobody owns it. It is common for boys and young men to run after loose kites and try to claim them. (Yes, that whole Kite Runner thing is based in fact.) Sometimes people are injured while chasing kites, when they crash into an obstacle or even run into traffic.

Another form of competition involves cutting the competitor’s line and then tangling the two together, so the winner can fly both kites at once. In this case, victory is not final until both kites reach the ground. One can imagine that in this competition the losing kites are kept as trophies.

Traditional fighting kites are made of light-weight materials such as paper over bamboo frames. With such simple components, this would have made the sport accessible to people regardless of their economic status. In modern times, players can use nylon, mylar and similar fabrics, with frames of plastic or fiberglass. The string closest to the kite is coated with a mixture of ground glass and glue. The glue strengthens the string, and the glass makes it sharp enough to sever a competitor’s line. Because of the risk a kite will be lost, they usually aren’t highly decorated.

Kite fighting is a tradition in many South-Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Korea, and Japan. Each country has its own variations of kite design and rules. In the USA, we tend to want to keep our kites so the sport is not widely practiced. But many American kite festivals do include demonstrations of kite-fighting for the interested.

Now that’s a kite to paint a dragon on!

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Although kites are known all over the world, they are an important cultural art for the Chinese. Kites are believed to have been created in China’s Eastern Zhou kingdom (770-221 BCE). The first documented mention of kites comes from the writings of the philosopher Mo Zi (circa 470-391 BCE).

Initially, simple kites were shaped to mimic birds in flight. The frames were of bamboo covered with paper. Some accounts state that they were used as signalling devices, for instance as a distress signal during a siege. Others say kites were flown for religious reasons, to try to feel at one with the Heavens. Even today, there are temples and public parks in China where people fly kites as an act of devotion.

Over the centuries, the technology improved and new forms developed. People began to use silk rather than paper, and painted it with elaborate designs. So I’m sure there were bird-style kites with dragons painted on them, like my Flamefang, but that isn’t what people mean by a dragon kite.

True dragon kites are made in centipede-style, which consists of many small, square sails connected with string. Each sail has feathers or flags on two sides, for stability. There is an elaborate head piece, also of bamboo and silk, painted to look like a dragon’s head. Actually, the whole kite is painted with incredible, intricate designs. Though small, the many sails create enough lift to take to the air. The kite flies with an undulating motion similar to the way dragon dancers carry their dragon puppets in parades.

Along the way, kite-making became a fine art and cultural touchstone. This web site explains more of the history and process behind dragon kites. Like the elaborate Chinese lanterns I saw last fall, they can take months of patient effort to create. Today, kites are made in China using traditional methods. You’ll find them hanging in art galleries and public buildings, and who knows what those cost. This being the modern era, you can probably buy smaller models made of nylon and plastic in toy and hobby stores.

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I’m in the thick of edits for my anthology, Wee Folk and Wise, so time is short for blogging. Release is expected in September. Stay tuned for details!

Anyway, here’s the latest addition to my personal flight of dragons. Flamefang is a kite that my husband gave me for my birthday. We tried to put him in the air last weekend, but the wind was too strong even for a dragonish kite. (Hint: when whole trees are in motion, it is too windy for kites!)
Flamefang

Come to think of it, this is probably a good time to request any topics you readers would like me to cover. As long as it has to do with dragons, of course.

So, any suggestions out there?

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