Whoosh! Issue 29 - february 1999


IAXS project #272
By Virginia Carper
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
This edition copyright © 1999 held by WHOOSH
6712 words

Author's Note: I give special thanks to Nusi Dekker for her photos and nature commentaries of Greece.

Nature and Stories (01-17)
     Why Study The Natural World? (01-05)
     The Devil Is in the Details (06-08)
     Killer Bunnies and Flesh-Eating Crabs (09-12)
     Of Rats and Sharks (13-15)
     Mysterious Hedgehogs (16-17)
The Land and the Sea (18-26)
     The Geography of Greece (18-23)
     The Mediterranean Sea (24-26)
Flora of Ancient Greece (27-40)
     Trees (27-32)
     Flowers (33-40)
Arthropoda (Jointed Legged Animals) of Greece (41-45)
     Insects (41)
     Spiders (42-45)
The Bionomics of Ancient Greece (46-75)
     The Sea and Shore (46-54)
     Forests and Woodlands (55-64)
     Marshes, Streams, and Ponds (65-69)
     Brush and Scrublands (70-75)
Monsters, Cryptids, and Fossils (76-85)
     Monsters (76-78)
     Cryptids (79-82)
     Fossils (83-85)
Science And Myth
Addendum (86-92)
     Gods and Their Representative Flora and Fauna (86)
     Venery: Collective Nouns (87-92)
Resources (93-100)
     Books (93-97)
     Web Sites (98-100)
Notes (101-107)
Disclaimer (108)

Spider, Sand Spider!
The Natural World of Xena: Warrior Princess

Join the whole creation of animate things in a deep, heartfelt joy that you are alive, that you see the sun, that you are in this glorious earth which nature has made so beautiful, and which is yours to enjoy.
   -- Sir William Osler (1849-1919), Canadian-born British physician and educator.

Nature And Stories

Why Study the Natural World?

When Zeus wants a burger well done, he means it!

That's no campfire in the distance in TSUNAMI.

[01] Nature surrounds Xena and Gabrielle, and thereby governs their actions. In LOST MARINER (45/221), stormy seas wrecked the merchant ship on which they were traveling. In TSUNAMI (65/319), an erupting volcano caused the tidal wave that capsized the ship with Xena, Gabrielle, and Autolycus aboard.

[02] Nature provides a focus for the story. In GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204), fierce wolves chase Joxer, who is carrying the head of Orpheus, mortal enemy of the Bacchae. Later as Joxer slept, a wolf spider stalks him. According to Joxer, the wolves and the spider were Bacchae sent to kill him. In THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER... (56/310), Xena saves the day by flinging fish at the attacking army. She goes fishing again in FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318). When Xena finally catches the 'big one', she resolves an important issue in her relationship with her younger brother, Lyceus. One of the subplots of IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (73/404) focuses on Xena's head lice and Gabrielle's fungus infection [Note 01] .

[03] Nature sets a mood for the story. The snowy mountains, with their air of bleakness, mirrors Gabrielle's grief in DESTINY (36/212), and Xena's despair in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312). The sunny beaches reflect Xena's joy when she reunites with Gabrielle in TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (32/208), LOST MARINER (45/221), THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), and TSUNAMI (65/319). Although both parts of ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69,70/401,402) were set in Siberia, the mood of each dramatically differed. The overcast sky of Part I complemented the brooding Xena, while the bright sky of Part II reflected her joy.

[04] Nature anchors a story by giving it a sense of place. Xena's romance with Julius Caesar occurs aboard her ship. In DESTINY (36/212), Xena's small ship sailing in the vast sea gives a sense of immediacy to her infatuation, and subtly alludes to her zeal for total command. Small details can give depth to a story. For example, bottlenose dolphins follow Xena's ship, their sociability contrasting with Xena's aloneness.

[05] As Alti and the `old' Xena stroll through the woods, spirits of darkness lurk among the pines and larches (ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE [69,70/401,402]). In contrast, the wide vistas of the steppes offer safety to the young Amazons and Xena. Open skies and dark pines heighten Xena and Alti's conflict.

The Devil is In the Details

[06] Flora and fauna can enhance a story. However, if any of these natural details are wrong, the story will suffer. If Xena catches rainbow trout or Gabrielle throws tomatoes at Julius Caesar, the story will be in jeopardy of being invalid, for tomatoes and trout are from North America. Likewise, a Nile crocodile menacing Gabrielle while she is bathing would distract from the story.

[07] Different animals evoke moods that enhance the story. Bison herds enkindle a romantic American Western past. Because an elephant symbolizes the Hindu God Ganesha, the Indian elephant evokes holiness. Meanwhile, wild elephants of Africa call forth feelings of freedom.

[08] If Xena and Gabrielle see elephants, they are either in South Asia or in Rome watching the elephant battles at the Colosseum. However, if they pass an American bison grazing on the Grecian lowlands, the incongruity of the bison would distract from the plot of the story.

Killer Bunnies and Flesh-eating Crabs

A scene from the unaired RenPic pilot 'The Little Bunny Who Neglected
His Dental Hygiene'

At least he didn't say 'I'm late!'.

[09] The 'sabertooth' bunny attack of IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (73/404) reminds one of President Jimmy Carter fending off the killer rabbit on his ill-fated boating trip. People laughed when he reported his epic battle. The idea is still ludicrous in a story about retrieving a lost horse and defending a town. How does adding a killer rabbit add to the plot? The sequence with Gabrielle and the rabbit overwhelmed the storytelling [Note 02] .

[10] A similar incident occurs in THE BLACK WOLF (11/111). Gabrielle throws tomatoes at the guards. Many viewers remember the tomatoes but may have forgotten her reasons for throwing them. What did throwing tomatoes add to the story that throwing eggs could not? The detail of the eggs would have blended into the story and little noted.

[11] A second problem is assuming the ignorance of the audience. In BLIND FAITH (42, 218), Xena needs Egyptian senna to cure her blindness. However, senna, usually drunk as a tea, cures constipation. What she needed was Egyptian henna.

[12] Shore crabs do nip people when poked and prodded. Some do shred their food before eating. The velvet swimming crab, which is the only ferocious tidal crab that could do serious harm, will only attack if its territory is invaded. But the viewers are required to believe that crabs `killed' Thelassa in LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75,407). Lobsters, which could possibly kill a person, live in deeper, colder waters.

Of Rats and Sharks

[13] LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75,407) relies on two common animal myths -- the scariness of sharks and the ferociousness of rats. The prison is on Shark Island, thereby making it difficult for anyone to escape. Images of great white sharks circling the island come to mind. Actually the shark responsible for most human deaths is the bull shark, which is not found in the Mediterranean Sea.

[14] Rats swarm around Xena, and climb on her hair. Terrified, she growls at them, and they scurry away. Like all rodents, rats must gnaw to keep their teeth from growing too long. The rats that plagued Xena are the more robust Norway rats which arrived in Europe in the 1700's.

[15] A better choice to menace Xena would have been the shrew. Ferocious and often hungry, a shrew is quick to attack other animals. One would not back off from a growling Xena, but would bite her on the nose.

Mysterious Hedgehogs

[16] A FAMILY AFFAIR [72,403] features Hope's child as a chupacabras, a cryptid of Latin America and Puerto Rico. The chupacabras (goatsucker in Spanish) is reported to have red eyes, gray skin, and spinal quills. However, the alien chupacabras has something in common with a more familiar animal of the European landscape -- the common hedgehog. The hedgehog is too prickly to hold because of thousands of stiff, sharp spines sticking out from its back.

[17] The chupacabras is a fitting choice for Hope's child. Hope, a progeny of an alien god (Dahak) and a human woman (Gabrielle), mated with the Greek god of war (Ares). The chupacabras emphasizes Hope's alien nature to Gabrielle as well as focuses on Hope's familiarities. Her child, the chupacabras, demonstrates the dual nature of Hope.

The Land And The Sea

The Geography of Greece

"The sea presses in upon the country with a thousand arms".
  --Strabo (63? B.C.E. - 24? C.E.), ancient Greek geographer

[18] Greece has a diverse topography - rugged mountains in the north, a fertile plain that runs into the central mountains, and dry southern plains. The mountains extend fingers into the sea, isolating the narrow valleys. A multitude of islands surround the ragged mainland.

[19] The climate of Greece is Mediterranean Subtropical. Summers in the lowland plains are hot and dry, with clear and cloudless skies. The rains come in the wintertime. In contrast, summers in the mountains are rainy and cool, and the winters are snowy and cold.

[20] Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) takes place in Pre-Mycenaean Greece. The ecology of that Greece is different from that of modern Greece. Before humans clear-cut the hillsides for wood, the mountains were heavily forested. Lions and pigmy elephants roamed the wet plains until people hunted them to extinction. The city of Troy was inundated with streams until the Trojans built canals to control floods and to supply drinking water.

[21] Is modern New Zealand, where XWP is filmed, similar to ancient Greece? Like Greece, New Zealand is mountainous, with numerous rivers, plains, and active volcanoes. The climate is generally mild with some seasonal differences.

[22] One major difference is the ecology. New Zealand has temperate rainforests whereas Greece has only dry scrublands. New Zealand, which receives much rain, has forests of woodland evergreens. Greece, which rarely receives rain, has fewer trees and more shrubs.

[23] Another major difference is volcanoes. New Zealand volcanoes have the heavy, continuous lava flows that are frequently depicted in XWP. Erupting Greek volcanoes spew out sulfur and other gases. In TSUNAMI (65/319), the gases would have killed everyone aboard before the tidal wave capsized the ship.

The Mediterranean Sea

"A lake when the gods are kind, and an ocean when they are spiteful."
   -- Ancient Greek adage.

[24] Running from Tunisia to Sicily, the highest sea ridge in the Mediterranean divides the sea into two halves - the Eastern and Western Basins. The deepest trench of the Mediterranean Sea lies near southwestern Greece. Tarses of Cyros probably hid the statue of Pax in this particular sea trench [VANISHING ACT (66/320)].

[25] Pinched off at the Straits of Gibraltar, the Mediterranean has tides less than three feet, and sea currents that run counter-clockwise. Charybdis, the whirlpool featured in LOST MARINER (45/221), is believed to be the Strait of Messina. Twenty miles (32 km) long and five miles wide (8 km), the strait lies between Italy and Sicily.

[26] Three small tectonic plates converge in the Grecian islands. The Ionian plate, southeast of Greece, is subducting under the Aegean plate, which includes all of Greece. Meanwhile, the Aegean plate is grinding by the Turkish plate in the west. The activity of these plates causes earthquakes and volcanoes in the Grecian area. In TSUNAMI (65/319), an erupting volcano starts earthquakes deep in the earth, which then created the tidal wave [Note 03] .

Flora Of Ancient Greece


"The only conclusion I have ever reached is that I love all trees, but I am love with pines".
  --Aldo Leopold (1886-1948), botanist, naturalist, and ecologist.

Rob thinks I'm out shopping

Xena and Gabby catch more than fish in THE PRICE.

[27] In THE PRICE (44/220), Gabrielle relates her ideas on evolution to Xena while they fish. She tells a skeptical Xena that humankind came from fish that walked out of the water and breathed the air. Suddenly their fishing line goes taut, and a dying man lunges out of the river. Frightened, Xena and Gabrielle flee. With a feeling of menace, the sunless forest closes in on Xena and Gabrielle who are furiously paddling down the river.

Trees which they could encounter:

[28] Laurel: Used as an astringent, bay laurel grows in thickets and rocky places. According to Greek myth, Apollo, the god of music, relentlessly pursued Daphne, a daughter of the river god, Penus, through the woods. In desperation, Daphne called upon her father, who then changed her into a laurel tree. In his grief, Apollo made the laurel his sacred tree.

[29] Myrtle: The tree of the goddess of love, the myrtle has dark green leaves, white flowers, and purple-black berries. To honor Aphrodite, a bride would bedeck her bridal bed with myrtle leaves.

[30] Oak: The King of the gods, Zeus reveals his will by the rustling of leaves on oak trees. Native Grecian varieties of the oak include the Algerian oak, with its short rounded leaves and dark hairy acorns, and the Turkish oak, with its long rounded leaves and long slender acorns. The holly oak of the scrublands has black rough bark and holly-like leaves.

[31] Strawberry Tree: An evergreen shrub, the Greek strawberry tree prefers rocky slopes and lime soils. Noted for its beautiful peeling bark, this tree bears small red berries and creamy white flowers. The fruit of the strawberry tree ripens in a year.

[32] Other Trees Of Note: To be safe from lightning, Greeks planted beach trees around their houses. To keep the bed bugs away, they stuffed the leaves into their mattresses. A shade tree, the elm provided bark for a burn ointment. For kidney problems, the ancient Greeks used the fruits and flowers of the hawthorn.


"Flowers are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul."
  --Luther Burbank (1849-1926), American horticulturist and pioneer plant breeder.

[33] In BLIND FAITH (42/218), the oil of poison sumac blinds Xena; however, Egyptian senna restores her eyesight. A Persian shoots Gabrielle with an arrow dipped in poison in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313). Later, Xena kills another Persian for the antidote. Gabrielle desperately seeks a cure for her fungus infection [IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (74/404)].

Flowers which they could encounter:

[34] Anemones: Named for the Greek wind god, Anemos, the anemone heralded spring. These purple-bluebell flowers were used to cure gout, leprosy, and colds.

[35] Bee Orchid: The Mediterranean is host to a very specialized group of orchids. These orchids resemble female insects (i.e. wasps, bees, flies) to attract the male which tries to mate with the flower. Getting that flower's pollen on its head, the male insect unwittingly spreads the pollen to another flower.

[36] Betony: One Greek legend relates how Chiron the Centaur discovered betony, the magical herb. Since the Greeks believed that this herb cured all ills, they sowed betony around their houses. Wild betony is found in the hilly regions of the eastern Mediterranean.

[37] Iris: The Greeks regarded the iris to be the sacred plant of the goddess of the rainbow. Wild iris grows in the eastern Mediterranean. For coughs, cold, and stomach upsets, the Greeks drank the root with honey, vinegar, and wine.

[38] Yarrow: The Greek Hero, Achilles treated battlefield wounds with yarrow. The juice was for healing sores and rashes. Taken internally, yarrow was to combat fever and respiratory infections.

[39] Other Plants Of Note: A hair dye, Egyptian henna is also used in plasters to cure skin diseases such as acne, boils, and fungal infections. Unfortunately for Gabrielle, Egyptian henna was not available. However, she could have used common mugwort as a cure. Mugwort was the popular choice of Roman centurions on long marches.

[40] For sprains and bruises, the Greeks used the juice from the foxglove. For the disorders of the heart - physical and emotional, Greek doctors treated their patients with lemon balm. Garlands of roses were worn to cure headaches.

Arthropoda (Jointed Legged Animals) of Greece

The Music of the Night: insects have been familiar to every generation of men since the earliest humans; it has come down like a Greek Chorus chanting around the actors through the course of human history.
  --Edwin Way Teale (1899--), photographer and naturalist.


[41] While paying for their lodging, Xena and Gabrielle never noticed that their dinars had ants on them. The ancient Greeks embossed insects on their coins: beetles, bees, scorpions, butterflies, cicadas, ants, grasshoppers, and preying mantises. The stag beetle on coins represented Zeus. The honeybee, the sacred symbol of Artemis, was on coins minted in Ephesus, the center of worship for the goddess of the hunt. Grasshoppers refer to Hercules freeing Mt. Oeta of locusts. Two insects important to the ecosystem of Greece were also featured: the dung beetle and the swallowtail butterfly.


You might say the extra ingredient in Xena's soup is 'spidah'

Xena rescues Joxer from the scary spider in GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN.

[42] Xena stabs the ground next to Joxer, shouting, "Spider. SAND SPIDER!" Joxer starts awake when he sees a large hairy spider crawling towards him. This spider is actually a wolf spider. [GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204)]

Spiders which they could encounter:

[43] Wolf Spider: With its eight eyes, this spider spies a far off victim, and slowly creeps toward it. Then in a burst of speed, the wolf spider leaps on its prey, and pierces the victim with its fangs. However, if the prey is inert, such as a sleeping Joxer, the wolf spider simply ignores it.

[44] True Tarantula: A relative of the wolf spider, true tarantulas have a poisonous bite, but are not dangerous. Shy and retiring, the true tarantula prefers to live in its earthen burrow. To capture prey, this spider leaps from behind the trap door of its burrow.

[45] Jumping Spider: People find these small spiders, with their large front eyes in the center of their faces, endearing. Because these spiders hunt by leaping, they are named `jumping spiders'. Gabrielle could persuade this fearless spider to jump on to her outstretched finger, where the spider will eye her with interest.

The Bionomics Of Ancient Greece

The Sea and Shore

I think you're supposed to shell them before you eat them, Gabrielle

Clams make interesting sounds when thrown.

[46] Many of Xena's and Gabrielle's adventures happen at sea or at the beach. While walking on the beach, Gabrielle falls into a wagon rut in HERE SHE COMES...MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211). When Xena spies pirates attacking Ulysses, she charges down the beach to save him [ULYSSES (43/219)].

What they could encounter at the beach:

[47] Mollusks: Julius Caesar's purple robes [WHEN IN ROME... (62/316)] were dyed with the juice from a sea snail - the purple dye murex. Xena could, in a pinch, impale her enemies with an European tusk shell (pointed like an elephant's tusk), or cut them with a giant razor clam shell (sharp as a man's razor). Gabrielle would delight in the ox-heart clam, shaped like a heart with a ram's horns on top. At sea, while leaning over the gunwales, Gabrielle may spy a Mediterranean squid, with over two hundred light organs on its body, shining in the dark.

[48] Sand Fleas: These tiny shrimp-like creatures can jump as high as a person's knee. When large masses of seaweed wash up on the shore, sand fleas will appear. In all likelihood, Cecrops had a few hop on him as he laid on the beach. [LOST MARINER (45/221)]

[49] Fish: Xena would meet her match in the common sturgeon of the northern Mediterranean or the angler (the ugliest fish in the sea) of the coastal waters. A poetic soul, Gabrielle would wax eloquent over the brilliant blue damselfish. While at sea, Xena and Gabrielle would be on the watch for barracudas. Perhaps on their voyages, they saw pilot fish following their boat. (Sacred to the Greeks, pilot fish guide lost ships to port.)

[50] Sharks: The Mediterranean Sea is home to about fifty shark species. Sharks such as the huge basking shark are not considered dangerous. However, three pelagic (open ocean) sharks do pose a threat -- the great white, mako, and the blue. These species rarely occur near shorelines, although the blue shark will swim near is lands adjacent to deep water.

[51] Mammals: In DESTINY (36/212), a pod of friendly bottlenose dolphins follows Xena's pirate ship. Unless Xena and Gabrielle sail to the Atlantic Ocean, they will not sight many whales. Sometimes a small pilot or killer whale will swim through the Straits of Gibraltar into the western Mediterranean. If Xena and Gabrielle sail by any of the rocky islands of Greece, they will see a monk seal sunning itself.

[52] Birds Of Prey: The largest of the Atlantic shearwaters, Cory's shearwater breeds only on islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Eleonora's falcon nests in the inaccessible coastal cliffs on the rocky Greek islands. With a dashing, elegant flight, the Eleonora's falcon searches for small birds.

[53] Herring Gulls: Identified by its yellow bill, the herring gull is the largest gull of the Atlantic region. (The Mediterranean subspecies has a black head and yellow legs.) Abundant along the coasts, herring gulls are partial to harbors and rubbish dumps. These gulls break mollusks open by dropping them on hard surfaces. While wearing his warrior garb, Joxer should run quickly when he notices a flock of sea gulls heading towards him.

[54] Other Plants And Animals: The warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea are home to the red seaweed. In shallow and muddy areas of the sea, the sharp-edged blades of the sea grass wave in underwater meadows. Meanwhile, Hermann's tortoise, which resembles a North American box turtle, plods among the sand dunes of the seashore. While strolling on the beach, Joxer should avoid falling on a smack of Mediterranean sea wasps, jellyfish with poisonous stings.

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