Whoosh! Issue 21 - June 1998


By Kate Maynard
Copyright © 1998 held by author
4296 words

Introduction (01)
Gabrielle, the Amalgam (02-04)
Gabrielle's Backstory (05)
Women in Greek Society (06-13)
Greek Bards (14-16)
Celtic Bards (17-19)
Gabrielle, the Relegated (20)
Diminishing the Bard (21-23)

A Mind That Matters: Gabrielle As New Myth


....shopping list:  eggs, milk, new frying pan....

Gabrielle pens another episode.

[1] Many viewers of Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) have celebrated Xena, the consummate woman warrior battling baddies both historical and mythological, as the character who repaints the male-only portrait of the heroic Greek. Gabrielle, though, as educated poet/philosopher and bard, plays an equally subversive role in this tale. Because she is assigned the secondary function as chronicler of Xena's exploits, it is easier perhaps to overlook the ways in which the bard usurps a station in Greek society that was, almost without exception, entrusted only to men. Yet, it is the bard of Poteidaia, the feisty young woman who became an intellectual outlaw in defiance of societal expectations, who subtly undermines the Greek view of "the proper order of the world" and, hence, shatters conventions of history and mythology in ways that differ from Xena, but are no less important.

Gabrielle, the Amalgam

[2] The bard herself is a complex character who incorporates several archetypes. In fact, rather than what one might think of as an obvious example, that of sidekick to the hero, it can be argued that Gabrielle and Xena are more representative of the "two sisters", light and dark, who represent the one goddess in two aspects, much as in the Sumerian tale of Inanna and Ereshkigal [Note 01]. (But that is another essay in itself.)

[3] Certainly, Gabrielle could also be viewed as the disciple (or pupil) who serves not only as chronicler of the hero's deeds, but can also prove to be a betrayer, as was the Christian figure of the apostle, Peter. On the other hand, she could also be representative of the archetypal initiate who is in the process of being groomed to succeed the hero. Gabrielle is, in fact, an amalgam of many archetypes spanning mythologies of many different cultures and ages.

[4] On the surface, at least, she serves a practical purpose in XWP. Within a series that not only traverses time lines and geography, but presents a mosaic of mythologies, Gabrielle grounds the tale by reflecting those qualities which come to mind when we think of Greece in its Golden Age: a time of myth, of great literature, and a period during which the poets and philosophers sought to help man understand himself and adjust to the demands of the world.

Gabrielle's Backstory

[5] Over the course of three seasons we have learned little of Gabrielle's background. We know that she was raised in the Greek city-state of Poteidaia, which is erroneously pictured in XWP as a backwoods peasant village [Note 02]. Her family may be merchants rather than farmers, since they live within the village proper, but they are obviously not of the upper classes. We have seen or heard in episodes such as SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), THE TITANS (07/107), and ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313) that Gabrielle is familiar with obscure languages [Note 03], has spoken with philosophers, studied the stars, loves maps, is familiar with the contemporary Greek theatre, is skilled at oratory, speculates on atomic theory and is supremely literate, and is adept at both poetry and history. In a pinch, she has even been known to do a pretty good turn as a lawyer! [THE RECKONING (06/106) and THE EXECUTION (41/217)]

Women in Greek Society

...Now how many times have I told you to use the fork not your hands!

Gabrielle is the 'Marquessa' in HERE SHE COMES... MISS AMPHIPOLIS.

[6] It is an appealing portrait of a spirited young woman, yet at no time during Greece's Archaic, Classical or Hellenistic periods was education commonly available to the peasantry or to women in particular. The harsh truth is that unless Gabrielle was self-taught, she would have had virtually no opportunity for a formal education.

[7] During the time of the Classical Greeks (early 5th century B.C.E. to 336 B.C.E.), there certainly were famous (yet informal) schools founded by the likes of Plato and Aristotle, but the idea of education for the masses was still centuries away from actualization. The sophists ("wise men") were famous as traveling, self-proclaimed teachers, but their services were reserved for those who could pay, handsomely. Some state-sponsored schools were founded during Hellenistic times following the death of Alexander the Great, but they were by no means commonplace, and of those that existed, not all accepted girls.

[8] By and large, if a female wanted to get the kind of eclectic education exhibited by Gabrielle, she would either had to have lived in Athens or been born to wealth or royalty. Poteidaia is not only a long way from Athens by oxcart, it is doubtful that she would have received much of an education there had she been Athenian herself. Since democratic Athens did not allow women to participate in politics or public service, an education was considered wasted on women and girls, especially in a Greece where as many as 10 percent of all girl children were abandoned in a practice known as "exposure" [Note 04]. Only Athenian women of wealth were given any basic education, and only so much as was deemed necessary to manage the households during those periods when their husbands were absent or called away to war.

[9] This lowly status of women is further illuminated not as modern-day speculations borne from indirect sources, but is thematically entrenched in Greek literature itself. Consider these passages from The Classical Greeks by Michael Grant:

Literature provides a vivid commentary [on the inferior status of women]. Although in Archaic times, Homer's women, if not decision-makers, played a significant background part in what was going on, and Sappho revealed the temporary existence on Lesbos of a female society that enjoyed intense emotional and practical autonomy, the extreme, obsessive, poisonous, anti-feminist malevolence of Hesiod and Semonides of Amorgos speaks for a more widespread state of affairs. For the Greek masculine world felt a nervous fear of women and what they might be capable of doing. Indispensable for procreation though they were, they seemed a mysterious, perilous, defiling element, and their men were anxious lest they got out of line and out of step, breaking out from their ordained and domesticated niche.

And this is, very often, the implication behind their role in Greek mythology and literature. It is men who wrote nearly all of the literature, and Xenophon, for example, in his "Household Management", offers an idealized view of the conventional picture, in which women are firmly confined to the home, and subordinate to their husbands. Plato is prepared to let them be guardians, if they are good enough, which will be rare; Aristotle sees them as irremediably inferior [Note 05].

[10] One XWP episode in particular, THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER... (56/310), echoes these derisive sensibilities by portraying Gabrielle not only as an inept bard, but as one whose leadership decisions ultimately provoke calamity. In no less than three of Aristophanes' surviving comedies we see the exploration of that same theme, i.e., that the woman who steps out of line can only disrupt "man-made orderliness and regularity." So when the women of Aristophanes' comedies take command, they do so with disastrous results. It is interesting to note that the Amazons, the usurper warriors of Greek legend, symbolized as well the danger of the women's potential to undermine the "proper order of the world" [Note 06].

[11] Although the Athenians may have considered Macedonians (whom they derided as preoccupied with drinking and fighting) to be barbarians (the Macedonians considered their southern neighbors to be "soft"), it was the Macedonian influence during the Hellenistic Age that actually opened up educational opportunities for women, even though by that time some of the best-known poets had left Greece for Alexandria, having been lured away by the rich patronage of the Ptolemies. The reason for this change was decidedly undemocratic: the ruling royal families of the Hellenistic Age propelled women to the pinnacle of the social pyramid because without women, there would be no heirs for a political hierarchy based on royal dynasties.

[12] These royal women of Hellenistic kingdoms commanded not only fabulous wealth, but a status unprecedented in historical Greece. In the absence of their husband-king or in the absence of a male heir, they could exercise both political and military power. During the time of the Ptolemies when sister-brother marriages were acceptable, either sons or daughters could rule.

[13] Some of these regal queens, such as the Selucid queen, Laodice, from southwest Asia, became famous philanthropists and actively sought to better the condition of women. Only a royal woman could have had the power to effect such social change, for at least 80 percent of the Greek peasantry was otherwise engaged with growing enough food to survive. However, none of the women poets of the Hellenistic period seems to have enjoyed royal patronage.

Greek Bards

...so how's this face?,  not intimidating enough?, here let me try another

Gabrielle tells another tale in ATHENS CITY ACADEMY OF THE PERMORMING BARDS.

[14] Ironically, although XWP subverts history by presenting us with the image of an educated, literate woman, it undercuts Gabrielle's achievements by dismissing the importance of her status as a bard. To be a bard or philosopher, not to mention an oracle, was a noble and esteemed position in ancient times, and most bards could serve not only as orators, poets or dramatists, but a bard-philosopher could rightly claim the mantle of scientist, historian, politician, mathematician, astronomer or citizen-soldier; some were even noted as priests, as was Gabrielle's acquaintance, Euripides [ATHENS CITY ACADEMY OF THE PERFORMING BARDS (13/113)]. They were not mere entertainers, as "art for art's sake" was a concept foreign to them (with the exception of some Alexandrian poets), and their services were highly sought by rich patrons throughout the Greek world. They were considered the possessors not only of knowledge, but of wisdom, and the glory of any great warrior, ruler or even athlete could not be assured except by the immortality granted him or her by a bard who could recite the tale of their exploits and deeds.

[15] In addition, bards of Ancient Greece, and particularly those of Athens, were very much a part of the social consciousness of the society and their literature was informed by the social, political and philosophical concerns of the day. They were, without exception, reformers or rebels, having tremendous influence in matters of state, and were not only shameless about peddling their influence, it was considered their duty to do so.

Poets, says Aristophanes in The Frogs, are the teachers of men, and in that play the palm is given to Aeschylus (over Euripides) because his poetry is more edifying and because he offers the better political advice for the welfare of the state.
    -- Moses Hadas, A History Of Greek Literature

[16] The status of bards in the Greece of antiquity is underscored not only by the archeological evidence of the numerous outdoor public theatres they erected (many of which could accommodate thousands of spectators), but by the integration of bardic contests or presentations into the numerous games and festivals that played such an important part in Greek life. Athens itself hosted numerous competitions specifically for its poets and dramatists, who contested fiercely (and were not above skewering each other within their works) not so much for the monetary prizes awarded the victors, but for the prestige. Since bards had a wide-ranging influence in all facets of Athenian life, such prizes could be compared to winning the Oscar and the Nobel in a single competition.

Celtic Bards

[17] Gabrielle's chosen profession would have been an esteemed one not only in the Greek world but also among the Celts of her time. As John Sharkey noted in Celtic Mysteries: The Ancient Religion: "To be a warrior among warriors was the ideal life for the Celt, but to die in a fight surrounded by friends, poets and a hundred dead enemies was the supreme consummation...".

[18] Caesar, Julius Caesar himself divided the priesthoods of Gaul into three groups: the Vates who practiced soothsaying and studied natural philosophy; the bards who celebrated the brave deeds of their gods in verse; and the druids, who were concerned with divine worship and the interpretation of ritual questions. The grueling education of a druid, who served as shaman, priest, philosopher, poet, physician and judge, involved years of study, which included such subjects as grammar, poetic forms and philosophy. Certainly Gabrielle would have found her talents well-suited to life among the Celtic peoples, whose bards immortalized the tales of their many powerful queens, such as Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni [depicted in THE DELIVERER (50/304)], Queen Medb of Ireland or Cartimandua of the Brigantes.

[19] The importance of eloquence to the Celts was not lost upon their contemporaries in Greece. In the second century B.C.E. the Greek writer, Lucian, described a symbolic scene he witnessed during his travels in Gaul:

An old man, clad in a lion skin, with a beaming smile, led a group of followers whose ears are attached to his tongue by thin gold and amber chains. They followed him eagerly, praised him and danced around him. The explanation that Lucian was given was that the old man, named Ogmios (An echo of the Druidic Ogham), represented eloquence, for it grew with age, and was more powerful than brute strength, hence the lion-skin of Hercules. [Note 07]

Gabrielle, the Relegated

[20] Any true Greek, Roman or Celt of ancient times would be shocked at the peripheral status relegated to the bard of Poteidaia. It is a shame we have not yet seen Gabrielle receive the respect merited by her profession. The lesson that intellect, imagination and artistic achievement is just as important as fighting skill is not only a message that needs telling, but which also has its basis in historical fact. And because bards regularly received monetary remuneration for their work or performances (just as the Xenastaff members are recompensed for their tales), we could further speculate that it is actually Gabrielle who, via storytelling, finances the adventures of our mythological duo. Little wonder the bard seems tight with a dinar and enjoys the haggling process.

Diminishing the Bard

...argo?, I don't think we're in poteidaia anymore.

Gabby is about to say 'J'accuse!' in A DAY IN THE LIFE.

[21] Yet over the course of three seasons, Gabrielle's status as bard has not increased, but been diminished. First season episodes such as SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), THE RECKONING (06/106), DREAMWORKER (03/103), THE TITANS (07/107) and IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (24/124), showcased Gabrielle's talents and defined her unique contribution to this warrior/bard team. Whether weaving tales to save Xena from a stoning, defending her friend in court, talking her way through a series of Morphean trials or eloquently recounting a myth to a war-weary Thessalian general, we were witnessing the birth of a new kind of mythical hero, that of the intellectual woman.

[22] That image has been severely undermined in the second and third seasons, wherein we have seen too few images of Gabrielle as bard, and those have been the source for ridicule in comedy episodes, e.g., Xena using her companion's scrolls for toilet tissue [A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)] or the portrayal of Gabrielle as an inept bard [THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER... (56/310)]. In the latter episode we are presented with a type of classic deus ex machina torn from the scrolls of Euripides: the god or goddess, or in this case, Xena, who appears and intervenes at the conclusion and clears up all the loose ends.

[23] Unfortunately, by the downplaying of Gabrielle's skills in XWP, we are missing out on a truly ground-breaking idea that had rarely been broached on television except in the futuristic world of science fiction: that it is not only physical courage that changes the world, but courage of spirit and mind. In many ways, the mental gymnastics of Gabrielle are just as astounding as Xena's gravity-defying leaps, and in the context of traditional mythology, the image of woman as intellectual hero is just as novel as that of the woman warrior, if not more so. It is indeed a story worth telling.


Note 01:
The goddess Inanna was recognized in Sumerian mythology as the Queen of Heaven, while her sister goddess and enemy, Ereshkigal, governed "the land of no return," or the netherworld. Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, wrote:
Inanna and Ereshkigal, the two sisters, light and dark respectively, together represent, according to the antique manner of symbolization, the one goddess in two aspects; and their confrontation [Inanna's descent to the netherworld] epitomizes the whole sense of the difficult road of trials.
The myth of Inanna and Ereshkigal is fascinating, but unfortunately one cannot do it justice in a footnote. However, the myth and its symbolism is discussed in detail in Mr. Campbell's book and on various mythology sites on the internet.
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Note 02:
The city-state of Poteidaia, strategically located on an isthmus in Chalcidice, played a key role in the Peloponnesian War. When this former ally of Athens revolted and sought help from Corinth, itself an ally of Sparta, the Athenians responded by blockading Poteidaia. Corinth then threatened to withdraw from the Peloponnesian League and join the Athenian alliance if the Spartans delayed in backing them in their dispute with the Athenians over Poteidaia. In this way, the actions of lesser powers such as Corinth nudged the two great powers, Athens and Sparta, over the brink to war in 431 B.C.E. The citizens of the besieged Poteidaia suffered incredible hardships thanks to the Athenians, and there were rumors that the starving Poteidaians had even resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. Needless to say, this makes Gabrielle's passion for things Athenian somewhat curious.
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Note 03:
The Ionic dialect of Athenian Greece may not have been that spoken by Gabrielle. Since Poteidaia was an ally of Corinth rather than Athens, she might well have spoken the Doric dialect (as hinted at in THE TITANS [07/107]), or -- depending upon the fluctuating borders of that area in ancient times -- Macedonian, a language of Indo-European origins. The Doric dialect referred to in THE TITANS was one spoken by the inhabitants of Laconia in historical times. The Greeks believed the ancestors of the Spartans to be the Dorians, who presumably had invaded the Peloponnese from central Greece around 950 B.C.E. But no archeological evidence has been found to support this claim, so the earliest origins of the Dorians remains obscure.

Fluency in the various Greek dialects would have been necessary for any successful bard. The language of Greek literature had very specific, proper forms which were strictly adhered to: epic was written in hexameter, which is associated with the aristocratic; choral poetry retained Doric coloring and stylization. Iambic is the verse of the people and dialogue is written in Iambic, both for comedy and tragedy. Hence it is no surprise that Gabrielle would display a familiarity with literary rhythms which might confound anyone not versed in the rules of Greek literature.
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Note 04:
The Greeks abandoned children they could not or would not raise, and girls were abandoned much more often than boys. "Exposure" differed from infanticide because the expectation was that someone else would find the child and bring it up, though usually as a slave. The Greek poet, Posidippus, illustrated the typical misogyny of the time by saying, "A son, one always raises even if one is poor; a daughter, one exposes, even if one is rich". Abandonment of infants, and especially female children, was a common practice in Europe well into the Middle Ages, and "exposure" or infanticide of girls continues throughout some cultures even today in startling numbers some estimate to be in the hundreds of thousands per year.
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Note 05:
In The Republic, Plato described his vision of a just society, one which had its own proper hierarchy presented as three classes of people who were distinguished by their ability to grasp the truth of "Forms" which were, theoretically, virtues as absolutes which could be apprehended only by thought and existed independently of human existence. Among these separate realities were Goodness, Justice, Beauty and Equality.

The highest class within Plato's just society, therefore, was comprised of the rulers, or "guardians", who would be educated in mathematics, astronomy, and metaphysics. Plato believed women as well as men would qualify to be guardians because they possessed the same virtues and abilities as men, except for a disparity in physical strength. The inclusion of women in the ruling class of Plato's utopian vision was quite a shocking notion at that time, especially for a society which excluded women from participating in all but household concerns.
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Note 06:
There were, in fact, many ancient cultures in which women fought alongside male warriors. There is new archaeological evidence that Amazonian societies existed on the steppes of western Asia, and women warriors were also known among some peoples on the African continent. The Celtic women warriors of ancient times were fearsome. The following excerpts are from The Highlander: The Magazine For Scottish Americans:

Pictish women were not alone at the forefront of the fight. When Pratagastus, king of the Iceni, died in the first century AD, he left half his property to his two daughters and the rest to Rome. At this time Rome controlled southern Britain, including the territory of the Iceni. Not satisfied with half, the Romans grabbed the lot, had the two daughters raped, and Boadicea, their mother, whipped.

Perhaps women in Rome would have submitted to this, but Boadicea did not. Instead, she mounted her war chariot and led both the Iceni and the nearby Trinovantes against the iron legions.

Dio Cassius described the Celtic queen: "She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees; she wore a great twisted golden necklace, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch. Now she grasped a long spear, to strike fear into all who watched her...

This was the most serious revolt in Britain and caused the Romans a great deal of trouble before it was subdued. However, Boadicea was not the only Celtic woman to shock the Romans. Speaking of the continental Gauls, a Roman said: "A whole band of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Gaul if he called his wife to his assistance, who is usually very strong, and with blue eyes; especially when, swelling her neck, gnashing her teeth and brandishing her sallow arms of enormous size, she begins to strike blows mingled with kicks"...

When not fighting or urging their men to fight, Celtic women could also train warriors. Of the female teachers, Scathach and Aife are perhaps the best remembered, for they trained the legendary Cu Chullainn. Chullainn was the superman of his day, an unbeatable warrior who destroyed anything and everybody in his path.
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Note 07:
Quoted from John Sharkey, Celtic Mysteries: The Ancient Religion. 2nd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.
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Malcolm Archibald, "Women in Celtic Scotland", The Highlander: Magazine Of Scottish Heritage, March/April 1996, Vol. 34, No. 2.

Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. 2nd ed. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press 1968.

Paul Dickson, "Historic Amphipolis and Potidaea", Whoosh!, March 1998, Issue 18.

Michael Grant, The Classical Greeks. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989.

Moses Hadas, A History Of Greek Literature. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1950.

Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way. 3rd ed., Vol. 2, The Roman Way. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986.

Thomas R. Martin, Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric To Hellenistic Times. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996.

John Sharkey, Celtic Mysteries: The Ancient Religion. 2nd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.


Kate Maynard Kate Maynard
Aliases: Perfessor Puppet, the Handpuppet, that sock-of-a-Gabfan, The Perf, the *hatless* one, Jeezil Pete, Sr. et al.

*Several* decades ago, a mouthy puppet was unceremoniously dropped into the laps of a Mr.& Mrs. Maynard, a very deserving man and woman type couple who live somewhere in Ohio. We cannot tell you precisely where in Ohio this place might be, because it is so often referred to as the middle of nowhere.

Mr. & Mrs. Maynard raised their puppet to be a good citizen, which of course meant that as soon as she was old enough, she hopped a train to art school where she aspired to become a thorn in the side of society. But after eight years of these shenanigans, the puppet became bored and decided to do something totally different. So this time she hopped in her pickup truck and drove to Virginny and became a machinist in the shipyards. It sure was different. She did that for ten years, and came away secure in the knowledge that she will never, ever take a vacation on a cruise ship.

Now she lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with: Carmen, a writer and stereotypical intellectual-type; two Scotties, Annie and Fergus; a collie- mutt named Bonnie; and a very prickly cat named K'Ehleyr. The puppet does what she d*mn well pleases these days, including freelance art thingies and writing thingies, like covering the local loonies for small-town newspapers.

That's about all anyone needs to know. Oh, and you can always find me hangin' out on the MacGab mailing list.

Favorite episode: THE GREATER GOOD (21/121); THE QUEST; DREAMWORKER (03/103). No, Steven Sears did not pay me to write this, although a gratuity *is* customary.
Favorite line: Callisto: "Same old torture, every day, every day." INTIMATE STRANGER (31/207)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)(not a pun)
Least favorite episode: WARRIOR...PRIESTESS...TRAMP (30/206), or any episode featuring Joxer and/or Meg, the Tagamet twins.

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