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IAXS Project #034
Content © 1996 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 1996 held by Whoosh!
2271 words

What can we say?
Callisto just had a je ne sais quoi about her

[1] Why does it appear that Xena was a "bad girl" turned "good", while Callisto was completely "evil"? Why did the audience feel compelled to side with Xena? And, why would anyone pity or pray for Callisto's soul?

[2] These questions occurred to me after watching "Callisto", episode no. 22, of "Xena" Warrior Princess". I would like to share with you my thoughts about possible answers.

[3] Before discussing these questions, however, let's first examine what we know about Xena and Callisto.

Callisto wanted Xena

[4] Xena became known as a "warrior princess" while leading her army with a goal of conquering the world. This was what we picked up from the Hercules: The Legendary Journey's episodes, "Warrior Princess", "The Gauntlet", and "Unchained Heart". In these shows, Xena saw Hercules as an obstacle to overcome if she were to succeed in her plans.

[5] In "Death Mask" and "The Reckoning", we picked up a few more pieces of information. For example, we learned from Xena and Toris that Xena formed her army to initially fight off the warlord Cortese and later felt she had to extend her area of "protection" to beyond her village for a buffer. It was sometime during this period that she began to think she needed to conquer the world. However, from Ares we were told that Xena's purpose was to "make it a better world". Do not forget the decrees Ares tried to bribe her with: taxation only on the profits, teaching, healing, and protection for the elderly. Thus, what we find in Xena was a person who had good intentions. Although we all know what the road to Hades was paved with, was it any wonder that Xena lost track of "right/wrong" and was easily misled by Ares?

Ares wanted Xena too.
Duh! Like who did not?

[6] We know that Ares never showed himself to Xena before she left her "wayward ways" due to her comments in "The Reckoning". However, it is not inconceivable that Ares made his way known to her through other agents. For example, where did Xena get the idea that she needed to conquer the nearby villages? Someone, probably one of her soldiers, could have put the idea into her head. Ares could have easily had agents in Xena's army and he was capable of giving each of them different and specific plans to propose to Xena. At the very least, Ares could have indirectly encouraged Xena in the actions he liked and discouraged her when she started to stray from his point of view.

[7] What else do we know about Xena? She started out as a good person trying to do a good thing and got lost along the way. How does that compare to Callisto?

Callisto had an unbridled need to mete to Xena the punishment she felt Xena deserved

[8] Little is known about Callisto except that her mother and sister(s?) were killed during a raid by Xena's army. Xena did not know whether someone from her army started the fire or if one of the villagers knocked over a lamp in the confusion. Xena nonetheless accepted the responsibility for the deaths because she knew that the people were so afraid of her army that they stayed in their huts and burned to death rather than face her army!

[9] There are two key things we do not know about Callisto. Unfortunately, these things are critical to determining why Callisto was the way she was. First, where was Callisto during the village's destruction? Second, how old was Callisto when Xena's army attacked? In order to determine reasonable and probable answers to these questions, we must use circumstantial evidence and conjecture.

[10] Callisto was probably at least a teenager, perhaps not quite as old as Xena, when the warrior princess' army attacked. I estimate that she was not more than 5 years younger and yet, I would assume that she was older than Gabrielle. Moreover, it's reasonable to assume that Callisto was at least a "warrior in training". It is doubtful a young girl who just "wanted" to be a skilled warrior could have become proficient enough to lead her own army and take on Xena in what may have been about 6 years. (NOTE: I base this time frame on the idea that Xena was a warlord for about 10 - 12 years. The first years, I presume, was spent building her army and stretching her muscles. The raid on Callisto's village probably happened sometime in the middle of Xena's "reign". If it had happened too early, Xena might have been so shocked at the accidental deaths, that she might have been stopped at that time. If it happened near the end, it would have been fresher on her mind and Xena would not have had to ask Callisto's soldier about it.)

[11] Callisto, then, probably had at least six years to hone her skills, recruit an army and start off in her pursuit of Xena. And what happened? By the time Callisto found Xena, Xena was no longer an evil warlord, but had started doing good!

[12] Imagine Callisto's frustration. The person she saw as "evil incarnate" had become a "goody two sandals", possibly even a heroine! So, Callisto concocted Plan B: Work on destroying Xena's "good" image and maybe even get Xena mad enough to come after Callisto.

[13] Let's reflect for a moment on what we have discussed this far. We have two women, each of whom lost loved ones during raids by warlords, but each having a different way of reacting. Xena, roused her fellow villagers to fight off the warlord and when her brother was killed, vowed to prevent anyone from harming anyone else in her village and off she went with her army to make a better world.

[14] Callisto, as far as we know, did nothing to try to stop Xena's army from attacking her village. In fact, we do not know what she was doing at all. There are a couple of possible scenarios which might explain why she became so angry.

Chakram catching is a rare skill

[15] First scenario. Being a young "blond" teenager, Callisto was out in the nearby forest hunting "snipes" with a local "hunk". This scenario would most likely create a very high level of "guilt" for Callisto. Just imagine, you are out in the woods having a great time and come back in time to hear your family burning to death! That would be a major guilt trip, and there were not many psychiatrists' couches around to work it out on.

[16] Second scenario. Callisto was in the village, and although she had warrior skills, she froze. She hid and could only listen as others in her village died. This scenario would also produce "guilt" which could have motivated Callisto's behavior.

[17] Third scenario. Callisto tried to fight, but was knocked out and when she came to she found her loved ones dead. This scenario is by far the weakest of the bunch. Although it would produce some guilt, it would not be of the magnitude of the personal anguish that the other scenarios would generate.

[18] So, after all was said and done, what were Xena's and Callisto's motivation? Xena was trying to do something that would save and protect her village. This started from Xena's first efforts to organize the villagers and then later in leading her army. Callisto was trying to alleviate the pain that her guilt had given her. In this way, she was similar to Malus who stated that he could only ease the pain he felt over his son's death by spilling the blood of the one responsible. If we examine why Malus felt that way, we would understand that he was also feeling guilty that he was NOT in the village when his son was killed! This was similar to the guilt that Callisto would have felt had she not been in the village when the attack began!

[19] Another factor that probably played a role in Callisto's actions was Ares. Although it was never stated, Callisto's actions would have drawn Ares's attention early in her attempts to get to Xena. When Callisto first started her campaign to destroy Xena's reputation, Ares might have seen that as a way to draw Xena back into his fold. At the very least, Xena might have been taught a lesson for leaving him!

[20] Therefore, Xena appeared to be the "good girl" who went astray and had returned to the "right path", while Callisto was a "tortured" girl who was her own worst enemy!

[21] The editor made the following comments, and then author of the paper offered a response.


[23] Ares tempted the "new" Xena with good works in order to get the "new" Xena's attention. That scene really had nothing to do with the OLD Xena. The most telling scene about the old Xena, other than those found in "Warrior Princess" was in "Dreamwalker" where the "new" Xena had to beat up the "old" Xena. The "old" Xena was very chilling and could care less about what the new Xena now prized. Also, remember, the old Xena lamed a horse in "Warrior Princess". It wasn't until "The Gauntlet" that she started saving babies.

[24] I understand your argument that Xena was good to begin with and that she was just momentarily driven by evil by accident, and that because of her hidden "goodness", Hercules was able to draw her out into good again. However, I found the Ares argument irrelevant to that line of thought.

[25] By using that scene from Reckoning as an example all you are really saying is that the "good" Xena wanted to change the world for the better, and I don't think anyone would argue with that (not to mention having any relevance in whether the "old" Xena was really evil or just misguided). I personally do not think the "old" Xena would care about Ares' offers, so clarifying the paragraph in mind of convincing an old skeptic like me, might make your arguments stronger and purpose clearer.

[26] I disagree since Ares said "you were always working to make it a better world", which I felt meant he knew Xena's motivation for conquering and played on it even when she was the old "evil" Xena. I will admit that I did not make copies of the first three HTLJ episodes and my memories of just "how evil" Xena was may be colored by all the reruns of her episodes that I have watched! Still, I stand by my theory that she did start out good and that was why Hercules was able to turn her. I think Hercules would NOT be able to be as successful with Callisto, but Gabrielle, with her perceptions might, and yet even she told Xena that Callisto's heart was eaten away with hatred!

[27] Re: "It wasn't until "The Gauntlet" that she started saving babies."

[28] I am not sure about that last statement. Xena seemed pretty certain that her army did NOT kill women and children (remember comments to Callisto and to Gabrielle at the campfire, that Callisto's village was ONE time that women and children were killed.)

[28] [Editor's comment: Women and children were killed in the attack during "The Gauntlet" - true not under Xena's direct commands, but it was her army; and when Xena gave the order "Take the village" in "Ties That Bind", she did not offer the caveat "No women and children"; it was implied she was going to destroy the village with everyone in it, and that included lots of women if not children. I would suspect the "old" Xena's concept of not killing women and children was, first, more a general concept that she would not go out of her way to kill them. Second, it was more of an attempt at some semblance of a code. Most sociopaths have little quirks or eccentricities. I would place her "no kids and women" rule as an eccentricity than as some moral imperative. The rule, in my opinion, was added in "The Gauntlet" in order to soften her; she was pretty amoral in "Warrior Princess". When that did not work, they then frizzed out her hair in "Unchained Heart". THAT worked. It's scary how well THAT worked.

[30] I took Xena's interest in the baby as merely a reaction to the horror that her army would follow Darphus. Her taking the baby was a power play against Darphus. Darphus ordered the baby killed. Xena said no. The order was still going to be carried out, so Xena had to add the additional risk that whoever killed the baby would be killed by Xena. Although Xena had lost a previous political battle, she still had (barely) enough power to save the baby's life.]

[31] Re: Ares' offers in "The Reckoning"

[32] I disagree. I think the old Xena WOULD have been interested in Ares' offer, BUT I don't think Ares would have made them. I think he made them JUST to try and get Xena back into his camp. I also think he would have tried to dissuade her from declaring them once he got he back under his influence. I felt his answer that she could enact them "if that was what she REALLY WANTED to do".

[33] Having said that, I think I realize what our differences of opinions stem from, and that is what is meant by the "old" Xena: Xena BEFORE Ares or Xena under Ares influence. Everytime we have seen Xena come close to coming under Ares spell, it appears to be just that--a SPELL. I do NOT think Callisto is under the same spell...I think Ares had to use special measures with Xena, which I think is one of the things that so attracts him to her.

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