Disrupting the Trojan War: Part 5
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…at the fifth in a planned series of five essays on disrupting ancient texts.
These essays present my own understanding as I continue to evolve the approach I’m using to write stories set in the world of Greek mythology. And while each essay represents nothing more than my own personal opinions and a chance to offer readers a glimpse into my writing process, I hope other authors may find them useful in their own efforts as well.
The first essay explored issues of gender and agency.
The second essay dealt with ethnic and racial diversity.
The third essay proposed that seers represent an ancient understanding of neurodiversity.
The fourth essay handled the subject of LGBTQ Characters and Relationships.
This is part five, on the ability inclusion.
I’ve been an author and a web designer. In these fields, I’ve had to think about two different sides of ability inclusion.
Web designers put a lot of thought and effort into user experience. They need to consider the wide diversity of ways people may consume web content, from small-screen mobile devices to wide-screen monitors and smart TVs. Designers need to consider users whose slow bandwidth, antiquated technology, or lack of scripting support make some sites entirely inaccessible. Some users will require larger text, some will be accessing the site through a voice-based browser, some will need more color contrast, dyslexia-friendly fonts, a more visually distinctive cursor, sound captioning, or other accessibility accommodations.
The end goal is to make the content accessible to every user. But web design separates the user experience with content delivery from the content itself. Even the most inclusively designed site will fail if the content fails to consider the ability inclusion of all potential readers.
On the authoring side, I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into including characters my readers will identify with by representing, as well and as often as possible, groups of readers who haven’t traditionally seen people like themselves depicted as main characters.
The end goal is to create a more inclusive story world and an immersive reading experience.
Visual impairments in traditional Greek mythology were often depicted as supernatural punishments. The blindness of Tiresias was imposed by Hera after the seer sided against her in an argument with Zeus. The blindness of Homer was said to have been imposed by the ghost of Helen, who didn’t like her depiction in the Iliad. The self-inflicted blindness of Oedipus was intended as a punishment for violating the natural order.
In the Odyssey, the blinding of the cyclops Polyphemus at the hands of Odysseus is also framed as a justified punishment for a monster’s subversion of the norms of hospitality. Instead of healing or accommodation, Polyphemus calls out to his divine father only for revenge.
The storytelling of Homer and prophecies of Tiresias are inspiring, and even Oedipus becomes a holy figure in the Athenian precinct of Colonus. We next see blind Polyphemus in Virgil’s Aeneid, as inhospitable as ever but having adjusted to life without vision.
Mobility impairments in traditional Greek mythology were often inflicted by parents upon their infant children. Hephaestus, hurled off Mount Olympus by his mother, forever afterward required the aid of metal helpers in order to walk. Oedipus took his name from the lifelong limp he acquired when his father hobbled his feet and left him for dead on the slope of Mount Cithaeron. These differences in ability were depicted as the sins of a parent manifesting in the lives of their offspring.
But these characters also had the ability to overcome the sins of their parents.
In the Iliad, Hephaestus is shown as a mechanical genius who crafts the set of clockwork helpers that provide the mobility he needs.
And in his encounter with the Sphynx, Oedipus is able to solve a riddle that references a cycle of mobility challenges faced by humans from before they’ve learned to walk through old age, when a cane might be required. Oedipus was a clever man, but was perhaps more capable of solving this particular riddle because of his personal experience with mobility challenges.
In the Posthomerica, the Phylacian leader, Podarces, loses an arm in battle against the queen of the Amazons. In the version told by Quintus of Smyrna, Podarces withdraws from battle and dies soon afterward. Upon losing a limb, his military career is over and soon afterward, his life.
In the Mythoversal retelling, Podarces undertakes one last mission to save the Achaean army and another war amputee appears on duty on the Trojan side. This is meant to acknowledge the modern experience with warfare, in which medical advancements have allowed soldiers to survive wounds that once would have been fatal, but often with the loss of one or more limbs.
This brings our five-part series to an end, for now. An edited and updated version on the Mythoversal website will be announced in a future newsletter when it becomes available.
I hope these essays have been as helpful for others to read as they have been to me in thinking, planning, and writing about these issues and considering how to apply these lessons and principles in advancing the mission of Mythoversal. I also hope these essays will spark an ongoing conversation, which I look forward to learning from.
Thanks for joining me on this journey.
—Greg R. Fishbone, Mythoversal Author-in-Residence