Whoosh! Issue 55 - April 2001


By Carlos Eduardo Rebello de Mendonça
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
9483 words


In loving memory of my father

The Romantic Hero, from Medieval Portugal to the Xenaverse (01-06)
Joxer's Ancestry as a Fictional Character (07-19)
Why Joxer Was Not Allowed to Develop (20-38)
Joxer's Death: Concluding Remarks (39-57)
Conclusion (58-59)

The Death Of The Lidador:
Joxer's Death And The Problem Of Self-Fulfillment

The Romantic Hero, From Medieval Portugal to the Xenaverse

"Pagens! que arreiem o meu ginete murzelo; e vós, dai-me o meu lorigão de malha de ferro e a minha boa toledana. Senhores cavaleiros, hoje contam-se noventa e cinco anos que recebi o batismo, oitenta que visto armas, setenta que sou cavaleiro, e quero celebrar tal dia fazendo uma entrada por terras da frontaria dos mouros."

[Pages! Harness my steed from Murcia; and thou, give me my mailcot and my good Toledan steelblade. Sirs, knights, today ninety-five years have passed since my christening, eighty since I first bore arms, seventy since I was knighted, and I want to celebrate such a day by making a raid across the border of the Moors.]

-- Alexandre Herculano, The Death of the Lidador[Note 01]

No, really!  That fish was THIS BIG!
Joxer and son reunite with Xena and Gabrielle in LIVIA.

"Yeah, yeah - see? So, uh--so, it's all settled. I'll--I'll go get my armor and, uh--delouse my sword and, uh--hey--you know--it'll be like old times again. Get the horses ready, in their saddles. Hey boy, don't forget my prunes, yeah!"
-- Joxer, deciding to join Xena and Gabrielle in their march on Rome to find Eve/Livia, in LIVIA (110/520), Act I, Sc. 4.

[1] In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Portuguese writer Herculano (1810-1877), after having spent his youth as a partisan of the liberals who had brought down Absolutism, began to fidget with the problem of the legitimacy of the new social order created by the demise of the feudal-absolutist Ancien Régime. Portugal, an impoverished and small Western European country, had just lost her important place in the mercantilist world order with the loss of Brazil during the 1820s, without, at the same time, converting its agrarian and backward home economy into a developed bourgeois one. The old aristocratic society and absolutism had exhausted themselves leaving in their wake nothing more than an impoverished peasantry and an incipient bourgeoisie of wine-merchants, financial dealers, speculators on public debt bonds, and all other kinds of compradores. Amid this dismal landscape, it was necessary to create new ideological foundations and new legends, instead of the old loyalties for the Throne, the reigning dynasty, and the Holy Mother Church. Therefore there was a need to look towards... the Middle Ages; or better, towards an idealized Middle Ages, a kind of Portuguese Xenaverse.

[2] Why? In the good ol' times of the Absolute Monarchy, the ruling ideology that supported the Throne was, above all, the very concrete fact of the immense mercantile wealth accumulated by Portugal through four centuries of colonial plunder, be it African slaves, Indian spices, Chinese silk, or Brazilian gold. But now that the absolute monarchy of the Most Faithful King, who was gorged with colonial riches, was no more, new foundations had to be raised for the new bourgeois society. Therefore the necessity to remember -- a remembrance aided by the reading, above all, of Sir Walter Scott's novels -- that, long before mercantile capitalism, an older and supposedly healthier Portugal had existed, a country of egalitarian peasant communes benevolently protected by paternal knights against foreign inroads.

[3] Perusing the old and half-forgotten chronicles, Herculano found an account against one Gonçalo Mendes da Maia, nicknamed Lidador ("warrior", "trooper", as in El Cid, el Campeador) who was aide to the King Afonso I, and who had supposedly died in 1170, at age 95, in a battle against the Moors. In all probability, the historical Maia was little more than a freebooter and robber knight. However, "when reality and legend fail to coincide, one prints the legend", especially when one is the legend's inventor[Note 02]. Therefore, around the old chronicles, Herculano spun a tale of Maia as a giant, even at his advanced age, dying a hero's death. In the text of the tale, Maia is made to fight a "Xenaesque" battle with 1-to-100 odds against an army of bloodthirsty Moors from Tangiers in the outskirts of the (then) Southern border outpost of Beja, and he dies a hero's death, after slaying the enemies' chief. The idea behind the telling was, naturally, that of spinning, around the old mediaeval legend, what Hegel called the "necessary anachronism":

"[T]he past portrayed [being] clearly recognized and experienced by contemporary writers as the *necessary prehistory* of the present..."
The skirmishes of the medieval warlords were taken as the necessary historical foundation of the Portuguese bourgeois nation-state. The death of the hero was, above all, the concrete foundation above which lay the subsequent structure of the immaterial national community[Note 03].

[4] In an earlier tale by Herculano, The Coupole, the fifteenth century architect and veteran of the wars of Portugal against Castille Afonso Domingues receives from King John the 1st the task of building a convent to commemorate a Portuguese victory. However, the architect, already old and blind, is sacked from the job for sustaining the possibility of building a wide coupole without the aid of supporting columns. After having his place taken, unsuccessfully, by an Irish architect, he makes a case before the king that such a "stone book" of the Portuguese nationality could not be built by an alien and is reinstated. After the coupole is finished, he fasts for three entire days below the coupole and dies of starvation, after proving himself correct.

[5] The hero, as it is, becomes the common soldier, and not the king, in a typical solution for a Romantic historical novel, or in this case, a novella). For, as Lukács wrote:

"The interaction between 'above' and 'below' the sum of which constitutes the totality of popular life, is thus manifested in the fact that, while on the whole the tendencies from 'above' receive a more distinct and generalized expression, we find the true heroism with which the historical antagonisms are fought out, with few exceptions, 'below'"[Note 04].

[6] Which leads us towards another tale and another age, the tale being the Xena: Warrior Princess episode EVE (111/521), with its telling of Joxer's heroic, but nonetheless unnecessary and useless, death at the hands of Xena's parthenogenic daughter, Livia.

Joxer's Ancestry as a Fictional Character

Demonstrating some more WWF moves for a Season Six episode
One big happy family?

[7] In an entirely unrealistic fiction like Xena: Warrior Princess, all characters are fictional types, in the sense that they are made to reemploy patterns of behavior handed down from other fictions throughout literary history. In this sense, Xena and her companion Gabrielle are very old, as they repeat a pattern of heroic friendship between the hero proper and his/her junior partner. They are as old as the Homeric poems. The aide is the hero's helper and at the same time, his or her "alter ego": one who, by loving the hero's heroic virtues, reproduces out of personal attachment, a socially valued complex of virtues for the sake of future generations.

[8] Nevertheless, there is something relatively recent in the relationship of our twosome, something not older than two hundred years: the romantic attachment between Xena and Gabrielle. Not only because it involves deeply felt personal attachment -- something that existed already between Achilles and Patroklos, however institutionalized the relationship between warrior and ephebe was in Ancient Greece -- but because it involves, in a truly romantic fashion, a difference of status between the two.

[9] We have already seen that Romanticism, developing in the early nineteenth century at the eve of French Revolution and its Napoleonic aftermath, was the true child of the Revolution, in that it took the painting of everyday life of the common people as something given, as a token of the common and inalienable equality between all men, if not of all human beings. However, whereas pre-Revolutionary Enlightenment literature had seen fit to portray everyday life and the mores of the common people in order to extol human Reason, pure and simple, as against frozen dogmas offered by Throne and Church, the Romantic writers had to face the dire truth that the demise of the Nobility and Clergy and the setting-up of a bourgeois society based on the equality of all men before the law, had only given new poignancy to problems hitherto unforeseen, namely the issues related to general economic inequality: class struggle in its most naked form. Therefore, in portraying everyday life and common people, the Romantics could no longer accept the gross inequalities they saw before their eyes as a given. They had to propose, some way, a new cement of society.

[10] This literary reaction against the inequalities of European bourgeois society took the form, above all, of the emergence of a new historical literature that took as its starting stone the idealized portraying of the Middle Ages, as opposed to the crass materialism of the "industrial system" and William Blake's "satanic mills". It was a society where, whatever inequalities there were, there remained a common bond of shared fate between the paternal manorial nobility and the peasantry below. In Karl Marx's words:

"It became the vocation of the aristocracies of France and England to write pamphlets against modern bourgeois society... [But] a serious political contest was altogether out of the question. A literary battle alone remained possible... The aristocracy took their revenge by writing lampoons on their new master, and whispering in his ears sinister prophecies of coming catastrophes"[Note 05].

[11] In this sense, Xena and Gabrielle are entirely children of the Romantic movement. In a fictional sense, Xena's earliest ancestors are Ivanhoe and Rob Roy. Xena is the female robber knight who has decided to mend her ways by tying herself to the fate of the common people she has decided to help and protect. The token figure of this common people, essentially, is Gabrielle, the peasant girl saved by Xena from enslavement (by the way, enslavement was one of the first grand ways of capital accumulation in the early Modern Age) to become her companion and helper. As other Marxist authors have remarked, the whole idea behind the mass culture adventure fiction scheme of hero and sidekick is entirely romantic. It proposes itself as a means to overcome open class warfare by means of launching a bridge between those from "above" and from "below"[Note 06]. In the words of a parodist:

I'm the very model of a heroine barbarian
Through Herculean efforts, I've become humanitarian.
I ride through the hinterland -- at least that's what they call it in
Those sissy towns like Athens (I, myself, an Amphipolitan).
I travel with a poet who is perky and parthenian
And writes her hexameters in Linear Mycenean...[Note 07]

[12] Not surprisingly, said scheme was resurrected in the twentieth century by means of the American comic strip, at the time of the New Deal. In this sense, Xena is no different from Superman, Mandrake the Magician, Batman, The Phantom, and other heroes, which also have chosen to pick their sidekicks amid the young, the orphaned, the excluded, and the alien. The difference lies in the fact that Xena, differently from all other mass culture heroes, has not only one sidekick but two: Gabrielle and Joxer.

[13] While the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle points to the literature of the origins of our own bourgeois society, Joxer points to something much older. Gabrielle is, above all, the Romantic hero who, coming from "below", is raised by the circumstances of her everyday, ordinary reality up to a higher level of heroism and self-denial. At the same time, with her softer behavior, she helps the classical hero, Xena, to raise herself from her heroic harshness to a more human and down-to-earth behavior. The early contrast with the ascetic, manly, and more-than-human figure of Xena's and the folky, girlish manners of her companion -- the "spunky chatterbox with a thirst for adventure and a flair for getting in trouble"[Note 08] -- is a basic Romantic situation through and through. It tells about the necessary association between the "higher" and the "lower" for the build-up of a newer society of (formally) equal individuals that was one of the main tenets of Romanticism. Gabrielle is the upstart, the parvenu, in the sense that she is the common individual who does not want to stay in the background anymore and is intent on making history by and for herself.

[14] Therefore, the interplay of the two main characters in an apparently historical mish-mash offers a depiction of a historical and concrete situation, as Xena and, above all, Gabrielle, become the icon-figures of a very real American middle-class feminist agenda for the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. That is why, contrary the earlier female heroes of Romantic fiction -- who performed heroic deeds only to return to their everyday reality, like Sir Walter Scott's Jeanie Deans (in The Heart of Midlothian) or Goethe's Dorothea (in Wilhelm Meister)[Note 09] -- Gabrielle, especially after her fiancé Perdicas was removed from the story in a decisive break with received fictional patterns, remains with Xena to the end. She has entered history in order not to be denied the spotlights.

[15] Contrariwise, Joxer is a more archaic character, as concerns his literary ancestry. Actually, except for Ares and the other Olympian gods, Joxer is the Xenaverse's character with the oldest literary pedigree. Joxer comes straight from Ancient literature, namely, Hellenistic and Roman theater of the third and second centuries BCE. He is the stock-type of the miles gloriosus, the braggart soldier who makes a living of boasting about his imaginary deeds.

[16] It must be taken note that Hellenistic and Roman society -- the Ancient society as it was reshaped by Alexander's conquests, the struggles between his successors, and the spreading of Roman overlordship over the Mediterranean world -- was not the democratic society of Classical Athens, where every free man had a say about the city's political affairs. It was a very rigid and aristocratic society, where political power was concentrated in the hands of the King and his counselors, or in the hands of a closed group of well to do. Therefore, it was near impossible for the very political Athenian comedy, as written by an Aristophanes, to survive in such a stifling political milieu.

[17] What developed was the comedy of manners introduced, above all, by the Athenian comediographer Menander, later imitated by his Latin disciples, Plautus and Terentius, which exposed, above all, stylized everyday life situations for the enjoyment of the powerful ones. In such a comedy, the stock-characters from "below" are always presented as irrecoverably (or better naturally) base, vulgar, and ridiculous. They are portrayed in order to supply a kind of litmus-paper milieu where the educated man could contrast himself to these base creatures. These base types cannot be raised to a higher level, as they are where they truly belong, and cannot be taken as upstarts, arrivistes, or parvenus. They are not merely just arrived late comers, they never even began to make a start of their own.

Reaction upon seeing Season Five
Joxer is overcome upon seeing his friends dead on crosses in FALLEN ANGEL.

[18] As so many Xena critics have already remarked, there is a problem about Joxer in that, although the character has been allowed, every now and then, to show flashes of intelligence, wit, and sensitivity -- above all when having to deal with his unrequited love for Gabrielle -- he has never been allowed to "develop" consistently a more accomplished, less base, and childish personality. Though Gabrielle was allowed to become so indistinguishable from Xena as to be drained of all dramatic interest (and that was the main reason of Gabrielle turning into "decorative wallpaper" during the 5th Season), Joxer, Xena's deputy sidekick, remained to the very end the miles gloriosus. No one, except for his son Virgil, shed a tear for him at his death, including Xena. Frankly, I find it remarkably consistent that Gabrielle, as the good upstart she is, feels herself deeply repelled by those who "didn't even begin to make a start". Therefore her indifference at Joxer's death, reacting with a curt, "He is at peace" to Eve's repentant remark about him demonstrates this. But then what we have here is an entirely original fictional development, which in my opinion is one of the main reasons why Xena: Warrior Princess, sometime during its 3rd season, crossed the boundary from run-of-the-mill mass fiction into great literature: the contrast between Joxer's loserness and moral purity, as contrasted with Gabrielle's success and moral ambiguity.

[19] Joxer remains, forever, the man of the lower register, or, as the Romans would have it, the sermo vulgaris[Note 10]. Just note that, in the quote that opens this article, even when he is making the heroic gesture of turning away from his private concerns to help Xena and Gabrielle in an adventure which could be easily foreseen as leading to his certain death, he is not even allowed to state his decision in anything resembling dignified language. Why?

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