IAXS Project #053
By Bret Rudnick (brudnick@cfa.harvard.edu)
Copyright © 1997 held by author
2957 words


Maybe it is that special way she holds her poles

[01] Okay, I admit it. Sometimes I overanalyse. This particular article is no exception. However, every now and again, I get a little thought train going in my head that puts me in one of those "Robby the Robot" short-circuit meltdowns and I keep bouncing back and forth between two particular possibilities. In this case, my dilemma is: "Is she or isn't she? "

[02] Xena, a demigod, I mean.

[03] Part of this--all right, all of it--is pure self-indulgence. I'll be the first to admit that it is easy to interpret events according to one's own thoughts, writings, and philosophies. Much of this article simply reflects events as I think they should be or, more properly, might be. So let me freely and fully say right here and now this is only my point of view, speculation, and supposition. Each of us, in our own viewing and appreciation of the show, have our own interpretation of the "Xenaverse". Perhaps one day these questions will be expressly answered in the show. Frankly, I hope they are not.

Part One: Questionable parentage.



[04] We know quite a lot about Xena's mother, Cyrene. She has appeared in a few episodes, and Xena's history and relationship with her mother is well established. When we first see Xena's mother in SINS OF THE PAST (#01), she and Xena had not parted on the best of terms. Cyrene keeps an inn, does not allow weapons in it, and does not take any guff from anyone, Xena included. Over time the relationship has softened a bit. Xena and her mother seem to have reconciled their differences.


Atreus, Xena's dad?

[05] We know substantially little about Xena's father. We see him in one episode, TIES THAT BIND (#20), or, rather, what purported to be him, only to discover that it was really Ares in disguise. Xena herself only had the vaguest of memories of her father, due to the fact that he left when she was very little. In TIES THAT BIND she only recalled him singing to her, and did not have a clear mental image of him from her infancy and childhood.

[06] Yes, I know XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is not terribly faithful to Greek mythology. For example, the "traditional" story of the origin of the centaurs, rather than the explanation we got in ORPHAN OF WAR (#25), is a tale of seduction and deception, and would make the steamiest episode of MELROSE PLACE look like a Sunday walk in the park. However, we do know that both in mythology and in the Xenaverse as we see it, the gods do tend to muck about in the lives of people. In fact, if the gods do have some sort of prime directive, it must be along the lines of "Thou *shalt* interfere in the lives of mortals when the muse strikes, to guide them, (ab)use them, or be amused by them." Lord Melchett in the BLACK ADDER series had a more colourful way of saying it: "As private parts to the gods are we -- they play with us for their amusement."


Xena meets Ares face to face for the first time in THE RECKONING

[07] Ares has taken quite an interest in Xena. We see him more often than any other god in the Xenaverse. Hades is a close second, and what with appearances, crossovers, and ambrosia thus far in the second season, it is getting difficult to tell which god is which without a programme. Does Xena hold Ares' interest because of her warrior qualities alone? In holding to some perceived "code of honour" among the gods, was his presentation of himself as Xena's father more than just a disguise? Was it more than mere symbolism?

[08] Incestuous relationships are not an unfamiliar concept in the ancient world, either in myth or in actual fact. Some Greek gods engaged in the practise. Egyptian mythology and history is rife with examples of fathers marrying daughters, sisters marrying brothers. Isis and Osiris were brother and sister, for example. There are early biblical references to such events. Even the mythology of far-away ancient Japan (to take the example of Izanagi and Izanami and their offspring) has as "first tier" gods and goddesses beings who are in fact brother and sister, or father and daughter, marrying to produce offspring.

[09] This train of thought leads to the next segue:

Part Two: The prevalence of Xena lookalikes.

... ...

Diana and Meg. Or is it Meg and Diana? Or is it... never mind.

[10] Yes, opportunity for farce and display of acting skills notwithstanding, for purposes of this exercise, suppose there is something to the fact that three women--and who can say how many others--look exactly alike in the Xenaverse. It didn't really click when we met Diana in WARRIOR...PRINCESS (#15). But Meg, Diana, and Xena? Hmmmmm. Suppose they had the same father who was a god in disguise, rather than another obvious choice, King Lias. Suppose further that, in the Xenaverse, the children of a god and a mortal human always resemble each other, regardless of the genetic contribution of each mortal parent, thus endowing the children with a godlike "field identification tag" of sorts. This would be a way such demigods could be recognised. "Oh, that's Xena/Meg/Diana. All of (insert name of god here)'s half mortal children look like that."

[11] A tenuous explanation, but one that could work. Hey, it's a fantasy, right? >From this point, there is no smooth segue to the next topic:

Part Three: Defiance of the laws of physics.


But wait until you see how well she does the long jump!

[12] I am a physicist by trade (with a lot of experience in classical mechanics), and a practitioner of martial arts, so take it from me--in a world without unseen wires/harnesses, trick photography, and special camera effects, many of the physical stunts we see the characters perform are simply not possible for mere mortals. This is *not* to take anything away from the training the actors have had and the superb jobs done by various stunt people. My point is simply that the fact that Xena seems to defy gravity much more often and to a greater degree than most other mortals in the Xenaverse and this further supports the theory that Xena may have divine origins. The gods themselves can come and go as they will and do things beyond the pale of any mere mortal's abilities. Surely a demigod would have some of those powers to a lesser extent. Xena's possible status as demigod could explain the origin of her special abilities. Those flips, spirals, jumps, and other moves Xena makes when beating up the bad guys are very entertaining, but, let's face it, physically impossible. This is not a criticism. Disbelief is seriously suspended when I watch the show, and I appreciate it on many levels, camp included. But couldn't Xena's physical prowess and superhuman powers also be seen as evidence of her demigod status? "Ah," I hear some say, "But others in the show can do those tricks too. Are you saying Callisto, for instance, is also semi-divine?"

[13] Well, why not? If the everyday world in which people live in the Xenaverse can also be thought of as a chessboard for the gods, then the gods will use whatever material is at hand to attempt to gain whatever advantage or goal they seek. They do not have to go around siring boatloads of demigods (although that is an option) but they might impart power to mortals from time to time, as we saw done with Joxer in FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS #40). Wasn't that what many people often prayed for in the ancient world--some sort of divine intervention? King Midas was given a golden touch, he wasn't born with it and he didn't keep it.


Gabrielle version 2.0

[14] Furthermore, even though Gabrielle has undergone quite a metamorphosis during her time on the show (from tagalong wannabe to Amazon Queen), she does not exhibit any of these fantastic qualities at all. No flips. No impossible somersaults. But she acquits herself well with what she does have--a staff, an attitude, and a lot of practise.

[15] In a world where existence itself can be tenuous, any normal human who stands out in some way can be a candidate for divine attention. They might be tempted, rewarded, or punished. But in the Xenaverse, the gods seem to depend on people every bit as much as the people depend on the gods. If you are in the right place at the right time, who can say what might befall you?

[16] To continue the topic of defiance of physics, there's the matter of that chakram. So far, from what we've seen, only Xena and, to a lesser extent, Callisto, know how to handle the chakram properly (look what happened when Diana gave it a go). Others have thrown it, but not with Xena's accuracy or skill. It can act as a razor-sharp blade or a blunt club at a whim, but it also has boomerang qualities and is able to make complex "bank shots" for Xena seemingly at will.


The chakram in all its glory

[17] We don't know where or how she acquired the chakram. We do not know much of anything about this weapon except that she is the only one who uses it (apart from Callisto, who also knew how to make it work). Other warlords have recognised the chakram and have used the proper terminology to describe it, but we have not yet seen any of them using it in their arsenals. Perhaps the chakram is "just" magical. Or perhaps it too is of divine origin or wielded by a divine hand. In Greek mythology, the gods often had special weapons (some of them specifically named, like Aegis, Zeus's shield) that functioned properly only for their owner's divine hand. But the chakram originated on the Indian subcontinent, and I could find no reference to it in Greek mythology or history at all (look for an in-depth article in next month's WHOOSH! about the history and mythology of the "real-life" chakram).

Part Four: Odds and Ends.

[18] A couple of other items regarding this topic stand out to me.


Ares' first bout with mortality

[19] Ares made an interesting remark in TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (#32). When he lost his godhood and was trying to get it back, he was temporarily mortal and at the mercy of the world much like every normal human being. Yet in his discussions with Xena about candidates for his replacement as God of War, he remarked, "I was born a god" and made several comments about how he alone was suited to it.

[20] But suppose that even though Ares may have been "born a god," he was not instantly aware of his godly status? Suppose that, as part of his "training" for godhood, Ares went through a period of "lessons" similar to what Xena is going through now? Perhaps this was what he was alluding to when he expressed concern about any mortal off the street gaining instant possession of his powers. Perhaps in order to effectively be a god, one must be suitably trained and indoctrinated to wield such power safely.

[21] Maybe Xena is going through such a "training period" right now.


Losing one's godhood sucks. Getting it back is way better.

[22] Remember, Ares did not regain his godhood until he regained possession of his sword. I conclude from this that in the case of Ares, it was an object rather than physiology or ambrosia, that conferred godhood upon him (we have also seen mortals become gods by consuming ambrosia, although to what effect and staying power when compared with the original gods and goddesses is a matter for reasonable debate and perhaps for future episodes to demonstrate). Xena also has a special object -- her chakram. Perhaps she too is being guided and trained for something special, either as a "check" on Ares put there by one or more of the other gods, or perhaps as a potential replacement for Ares, or maybe even as a challenge altogether by the gods of a completely different mythology.

[23] We saw in XENA SCROLLS (#34) that Ares had been held prisoner for centuries, kept in check by the tool of another god (the Eye of Hephaestus) and the spirit of someone who is likely more than a mere mortal (Xena). If Xena were being groomed to replace Ares, there's nothing to say she couldn't assume his name and perhaps even his form if it came to that (famous Japanese kabuki theatre cast members all have the same names as the original group formed hundreds of years ago, new members assuming the names and roles of the ones they replace, and in kabuki, women's roles are portrayed by men). Or it might be that the gods of the neighboring subcontinent (the chakram was the weapon of Vishnu) are looking to expand their turf.

[24] There is another miscellaneous item that gets my attention. We see it every week during the show's opening theme: that bit where Poseidon rises out of the sea while Xena is standing on the cliff. Yes, I know all the stories about how that bit was only done as footage for the opening. And yet...one would think that a confrontation with Poseidon would be a song worth singing about, and this has never been dealt with even in passing so far in the series. Xena looks awfully comfortable in the water, as seen in ALTARED STATES (#19). I wonder...

[25] XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS does have some interesting connexions with "real" mythology. Specifically, there are some compelling parallels between Xena and Athena. I don't believe Xena actually *is* Athena because we have seen the personification of the goddess Athena on that "other" show, HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS. Thus far, when we've had Hercules and Xena crossovers, characters have more or less made sense and kept consistent. Athena on HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS was *not* Xena. Also, if TPTB (The Powers That Be) who created the show are faithful to even the most basic precepts of Greek mythology (and yes, I know, often they are not) Athena had no mother. According to Pindar, she sprang from Zeus' head as a result of Hephaestus splitting Zeus' skull with an axe. Xena was a little girl, had a childhood, grew up in her village recognised and loved by her people, etc. No Athenic aspirations involved. Athena was additionally regarded as a virgin goddess, beyond violation, and produced no offspring. With respect, Xena is not a virgin, and she has had at least one child.

[26] Yet Athena was at first regarded as a goddess of war in pre-Mycenaean culture and, perhaps, originally some other local goddess before being absorbed into the Greek mythos. But she was much more than a goddess of war. She was an urban goddess (as opposed to Artemis who was a goddess of the wilderness) and Athena was also a patroness of spinning, weaving, and other handicrafts. Sound familiar? She had "many skills." She ultimately came to symbolise wisdom and righteousness over bloodlust, yet was still a goddess of war, strong and powerful. Again, sound familiar? Athena and Ares were rivals. Athena ultimately triumphed over him. Xena triumphed over Ares (twice) in XENA SCROLLS.

[27] There is also an interesting connexion with Athena and another familiar god. One of the pediments of the Parthenon at Athens depicted Athena's struggle with Poseidon for sovereignty of the city. Sound familiar? There's that bit we see at the beginning of every show with Xena and Poseidon, and hence the Poseidon tangent.

[28] So while I don't believe Xena is in fact intended to be Athena, there are some interesting tie-ins and cross- references.

Part Five: Summing Up

[29] Finally, a word to those who would say, "But I like Xena better than Hercules because we already know Hercules is a demigod and it's not really a challenge for Xena if she is one too." Well, of course I can see that point of view. But frankly, I think there may be as much or more interesting food for thought if Xena is revealed to be more than just a "mere" mortal.

[30] After all, we have Gabrielle as faithful companion, bard, and chronicler. She is a "normal" person who rises up to do extraordinary things. She has a good heart and a sharp mind, and is very capable in her tasks and duties in life. But there are very marked differences between what happens to Gabrielle, and what happens to Xena, even though the two now travel together and have done so for awhile.

[31] Consider the possibilities, ramifications, and options of a character who is "selected" to fulfill a certain role, unbeknownst to him/her personally. Suppose that, although she is unaware of it, Xena is being "groomed" for a divine purpose. All of the things she is being put through, all the encounters that she has, all the terrible things from her past, could all add up to one big, horrific "lesson." In fact, Xena may be only one candidate of many for the job. Perhaps there are others out there--like Callisto, for example--who were selected to try, but failed to meet the test or who are still in the running. Would Xena be happy about being used in such a way? I think not. But then again, wouldn't she rather that divinity befall someone worthy of the job rather than someone who was a hopeless git? Maybe this is a choice she will be able to make in future. Maybe this is a choice she will *have* to make in future.

[32] Maybe, in the end, there can be only one. Oops, sorry, that's a different show.

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