Whoosh! Issue 79 - July 2003

By Lee Reams
Content © 2003 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2003 held by Whoosh!
3357 words

Introduction (01-02)
What's in a Name? (03-07)
What's Hecuba to Her or She to Hecuba? (08-10)
Barding for Dinars (11-13)
Gabrielle, History and the Xenaverse (14-17)
Gabrielle's Final Deception (18-19)
Conclusion (20)



[01] Gabrielle, a woman of deception! "Surely not!" I can hear you exclaiming, or words to that effect, possibly the kind sometimes containing asterisks. Xena, of course, had more dark corners in her life than a labyrinth on a moonless night, but Gabrielle's life was an open scroll. Moreover, she radiated sweetness and innocence, just like the girl who was always behind the counter at the drugstore back in the days when you had to ask for condoms.

[02] Yes, the idea that there was anything deceptive about Gabrielle seems absurd, but you should remember that everything we know about Xena and Gabrielle ultimately came from Gabrielle herself. Besides, she was an Ancient Greek, and they were a very tricky bunch, as the Persians, the Romans, and everybody else outsmarted by a certain Warrior Princess could attest.

What's in a Name?

[03] One of the strangest aspects of Xena: Warrior Princess is the name of her sidekick and chronicler. How did an ancient Greek girl from Poteidaia end up with what looks like a modern French feminine version of a Hebrew name meaning "God's Messenger"? The cynical explanation, of course, is that someone connected with the show could not think of a suitable Greek name for Xena's friend and, liking the name Gabrielle, simply hung that appellation on her.

[04] The cynical explanation does not wash with the fact that most of the episodes of the show are based on the Xena Scrolls, ancient scrolls recounting the deeds of the Warrior Princess that were discovered in a tomb in Macedonia by Dr. Janice Covington in either 1940 or 1942, accounts differing. [Note 01] The scrolls in question, most scholars believed, were written by none other than Gabrielle, much in the same way as Dr. John H. Watson described the exploits of his friend Sherlock Holmes. There is a crucial difference between the two: Watson employed the first person throughout his narratives, but this was not the case with the author of the Xena Scrolls. Though the Xena Scrolls have never been published,[Note 02] we know enough about them to say with certainty that they were written in the third person. This was common practice in the Ancient World. Caesar in his Commentaries always refers to himself simply as "Caesar", while Thucydides also described his own (none-too-successful) military operations during the Peloponnesian War in the third person. In the bizarre story THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER, we learn that Xena's sidekick wrote about herself in the third person and used the name Gabrielle.

[05] Clearly, the origin of the name Gabrielle lies in the Xena Scrolls itself. The author of the Scrolls referred to herself by that name. But was it her real name? The name Gabrielle is certainly not of Greek origin, nor does it fit traditional Ancient Greek religious concepts. It does, however, have a grammatically correct Greek feminine ending and contains no sounds that were alien to Greek. Greeks, we should note, would have pronounced it with four, not three, syllables: "Gab-ree-el-lay". That would have sounded better to Greek ears than our pronunciation, especially since the Ancient Greeks apparently spoke with a semi-musical pitch. There is, however, certainly nothing wrong with our pronouncing the name with only three syllables, especially since none of us pronounce Xena's properly either. The Greek letter X was pronounced "ks", not "z." Yet even classical scholars pronounce it as "z", as in "Zenophon" for Xenophon. Similarly, Caesar's name was pronounced "Ky-sar", but not even the most pedantic dry-as-dust classical scholar says anything other than "See-sar".

[06] "Gabrielle", then, was most likely a pseudonym or a nickname, and some ancient writers did use pseudonyms or nicknames. Homer, or Homeros in Greek, meant "The Hostage". That hardly seems like a name that any parent or even a stepparent would have inflicted on some poor kid. [Note 03] It was obviously a pseudonym. Even Plato was actually a nickname meaning "The Broad-Shouldered One". His real name was Aristocles, but everyone simply called him "Plato".

[07] If "Gabrielle" were a nickname or a pseudonym, how did arise? The most likely answer is that Xena gave her the name. The episode THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES established that Xena had already enjoyed friendly relations with the Israelites long before she ever met Gabrielle. The name Gabriel may have had some happy association with Xena during those relations, so she bestowed it in a feminine form on her new traveling companion. Why? It may have been simply a dislike for whatever Gabrielle's real name was or, much more likely, an effort to protect Gabrielle's real identity from her (Xena's) many enemies.

What's Hecuba To Her Or She To Hecuba? [Note 04]

[08] The idea that the Bard of Poteidaia artfully concealed her true identity gains further credence when one examines the names of her alleged parents, Herodotus and Hecuba. Others have commented that the names sound a bit too contrived, and so they do. There were two weird aspects to Gabrielle's career as a bard. First, she was a female in an otherwise male field. Second, unlike all other known bards, she declaimed in prose, not in poetry. Most Greek literature was poetry; even tragedies and comedies arose from lyric poetry. Greek prose writing was slow to emerge and was confined mostly to history and philosophy. The first major Greek prose writer was none other than Herodotus, "The Father of History". Just as many bards who specialized in epic poetry called themselves "the sons of Homer", so as a prose writer, and the author of a "history" of Xena, Gabrielle was a "daughter of Herodotus".

[09] As for Hecuba, the use of this name was admittedly puzzling at first, but an examination of her entry in the Oxford Classical Dictionary soon revealed that Gabrielle's mischievous sense of humor was at work. The Hecuba of legend was the wife of King Priam of Troy and one of her daughters was named Polyxena. Since Gabrielle's chief ambition, except during her peacenik fits, was first to match and then eventually to outdo Xena as a warrior, she hoped to become a Polyxena, that is to be worth "many Xenas". It is possible that Xena, who was not up on contemporary literature, as revealed during the episode FORGIVEN, knew nothing about Polyxena, so Gabrielle may actually have been making a private joke at Xena's expense by calling herself the daughter of Hecuba.

[10] Gabrielle undoubtedly changed the name of her sister as well, but what significance that "Lila" may have had remains unknown. What Gabrielle could not conceal, however, was the name of her hometown. There were two reasons for this. First, a Greek's ultimate loyalty always lay with his or her polis or city-state, whereas "Greek" was to the Greeks an ethnic term that only became important when dealing with non-Greeks. In other words, Greek was to the Greeks roughly what the term "European" is to a German or an Italian. Second, the fact that she was from Poteidaia probably became too well known for her to conceal. Xena and Gabrielle seem to have spent most of their time in northern Greece, a region that had no significantly powerful city-states, and hence just the area that would have been vulnerable to the predatory activities of the warlords that Xena and Gabrielle kept running across, especially in the early stories. Accordingly, the people in that area could probably identify Gabrielle's hometown by her accent and trying to hide her origins would have been pointless. Fortunately, Poteidaia was sufficiently large that no one could identify her family by what few real clues her stories yielded. Just to make identification more difficult, however, Gabrielle gave two different descriptions of herself. This explains why in the show she sometimes had reddish hair and green eyes and on other occasions much blonder hair and blue eyes.

Barding For Dinars

[11] We are never told how Xena and Gabrielle supported themselves. Granted, they collected most of their food through gathering, hunting and fishing, and usually slept out in the open or else in some stable or barn. But they still would have needed some money, especially for wine, a substance that no Ancient Greek would have long gone without, and in which Xena in particular frequently indulged while sitting somewhat morosely in some tavern while Gabrielle was out shopping and getting into trouble. Though they were never rich, they were never entirely bereft of dinars, except in A SOLSTICE TALE after Gabrielle bought Tobias. Further, we know that Xena was always declining payment for her services, sometimes turning down considerable sums.

[12] Gabrielle in this matter actually practiced deception by omission and hid the truth from her public to avoid embarrassing Xena. If Xena refused to accept payment for her good deeds, then what money they had could only have come from Gabrielle. The only legitimate way for Gabrielle to have made money was through public performances as a professional bard. She basically told her stories and passed the hat afterwards. This is why the exploits of Xena and the stories of Gabrielle became so well known in a society with no publishing industry and a low level of literacy. There was no disgrace in this. Ancient literature was meant to be read aloud to an audience. Herodotus, for example, clearly wrote his Histories for public performance, which explains the number and frequency of his entertaining stories, while Plato gave public lectures on science and philosophy in addition to public readings of his works. (At one such lecture, Plato defined a man as "a biped without feathers", whereupon Diogenes the Cynic supposedly waved a plucked chicken in his face, saying "Behold, a man, O Plato." [See what I mean about stories?])

[13] The tension between Xena being the dominant partner of the pair and Gabrielle being the sole breadwinner explains the Warrior Princess's sometimes incongruous attitude toward her companion. Xena was very much like a husband whose wife is the family's sole means of support. That situation often leads to the husband resorting to belittlement, condescension, and abuse. Xena had a strong tendency to discourage Gabrielle from developing her combat skills and to downplay those skills when she did acquire them. Xena was decidedly bossy and often patronizing. She was also not above inflicting mild physical abuse such as pulling on Gabrielle's hair or even her ear, to say nothing of the infamous Gabdrag in THE BITTER SUITE," which was anything but mild. Xena revealed her ambivalent attitude toward Gabrielle in THE FURIES when she snapped, "Gabrielle couldn't save a cat in a sack without me. She's a useless little pissant, really." True, Xena was bonkers and ranting when she said that, and she may have been trying to deceive Ares by agreeing with the latter's own assessment of Gabrielle, but the statement sounded too sincere not to have been the eruption of unconscious resentment against Gabrielle. Gabrielle's knowledge that part of Xena resented and belittled her was a factor, one suspects, in both her marriage to Perdicus and her attraction to Najara, the "new and improved Xena".

Gabrielle, History, and the Xenaverse

[14] Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Gabrielle's magnum opus, the Xena Scrolls, is the truly mixed up view of history they present. We are asked to believe that Xena and Gabrielle met Helen of Troy, Ulysses, Saul and David, the Persian invaders of Greece, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Caligula, Beowulf, and Genghis Khan within in a period of about 31 years, 25 of which our two heroines literally spent on ice. This is not merely turning "myth into history and history into myth", as Janice Covington proclaimed, it is taking a weapon of mass destruction to history and then turning the evil Xena's army on what is left.

[15] This apparent fracturing of history was NOT another of Gabrielle's deceptions, however. Unless one accepts the cynical view that all the episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess are based on modern forgeries, then the only logical explanation is that the events described in the Xena Scrolls unfolded in a parallel universe, as many Xena fans suspect. This should not surprise us. After all, Xena and Gabrielle ran into such beings as real Greek gods, giants, Cyclopes, and monsters, all of which are mythical in our universe. (Let us pause here while everyone says "Duh!") Further, none of the Greek temples they encounter looks anything like the Parthenon or indeed any Greek temple ever depicted in a coffee-table book. Nor did the men of Ancient Greece ever wear trousers. Pants to them were the mark of barbarians such as Scythians and Celts. In the civilized world, real men wore dresses, just as in Egypt real men wore eye shadow.

[16] What seems to have happened in the Xenaverse is that history became accelerated by the standards of our own universe. In particular, Rome seems to have arisen in the Xenaverse many centuries earlier than it did in our universe, so that Julius Caesar began his political and military career at about the same time as the outbreak of the Trojan War, about 11 centuries too early for Caesar in our universe. The Persian Empire seems to have arisen in the Xenaverse about six centuries too early by our standards. It may have been that Troy had somehow helped to keep the Persians out of the Greek World, so that the destruction of that city permitted the Persians to expand into western Asia Minor, thus putting them into a position from which they could invade Greece. Thanks to Xena, of course, that invasion, after a Persian victory at Marathon, turned into a total defeat. This same acceleration of history also seems to have affected the Norse, so that the Viking age began about eight centuries earlier in the Xenaverse; the Mongols were also affected, so that Genghis Khan menaced Chin at least twelve centuries before he did in our universe.

[17] The only problem with this theory is the issue of how the Xena Scrolls, written in the Xenaverse, wound up in our universe for Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas to discover. Fortunately, the answer is not hard to find. The Macedonian tomb those two intrepid women excavated was actually the bridge between the two universes. That is why that Xena was able to trap Ares in the tomb in the first place and also why it was so important that he not escape from the tomb, he would have escaped into our universe.

Gabrielle's Final Deception

[18] Most Xena fans, being an unusually intelligent and perceptive lot, have condemned the ending of A FRIEND IN NEED and have struggled to find some glimmer of sense behind what on the face of it seems utterly senseless and contradictory. Not to belabor the point even more, the fact that Xena wound up in heaven at the beginning of Season Five says that she had been forgiven for all past misdeeds, including that unfortunate fire in Japan. The best theory proposed so far is that ending the series in that way was intended to keep it out of the evil clutches of a nefarious modern-day warlord whose name rhymes with Harry Killer. That may be, but there is a huge contradiction between a FRIEND IN NEED and THE XENA SCROLLS. If the tomb in Macedonia had Xena's spirit in it, it must have been Xena's tomb. The fact that the Xena Scrolls were placed in the tomb is an additional indication, and suggests that it was also the tomb of Gabrielle. Further, if Xena imprisoned Ares in the tomb, as we know she did, then she either survived the events in Japan or made yet another resurrection.

[19] There is, however, a third possibility, one I suspect that many fans would like, the climax of A FRIEND IN NEED was a hoax, with Gabrielle being the hoaxer. Xena, realizing that Ares was too dangerous to be at large but also knowing that one could not love without hate,[Note 05] decided to fake her own death in order to lay a trap for the god of war. The "grieving" Gabrielle constructed a magnificent tomb for Xena and may have even tricked Ares into helping her come up with the necessary funds. When the tomb was finished and Ares was inspecting it, Xena suddenly appeared and sprang the trap, imprisoning the god of war in what he thought was the burial chamber. Many years later, Xena and Gabrielle were eventually interred in the real burial chamber. The spirit of Gabrielle did not appear in THE XENA SCROLLS because she was too incensed over Janice Covington's denigrating remarks about her to reveal herself, one suspects. What Xena and Gabrielle did after trapping Ares is anybody's guess, but they may eventually have retired from the hero business and, as many people apparently hoped, settled down to operate an inn together, presumably with Xena also serving as the bouncer in its associated tavern.


[20] The idea that we know Xena's beloved sidekick only by a pseudonym is likely to be upsetting to many fans, but there is actually no reason for distress. If anything, it only adds to her mystique. Everyone knows that Mark Twain was a pseudonym, after all, and that knowledge certainly has not diminished his stature. Further, a lot more people have heard of George Sand than her alter ego Madame Dudevant. As for her other deceptions discussed here, being Gabrielle, they were all done in a good cause.


Note 01:
It must have been in 1940. In 1942, all of the Balkans would have been under Axis occupation, and Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas would have been enemy aliens, to say nothing of the pseudo-Free French officer. This date ambiguity results from the episode THE XENA SCROLLS using both dates. As explained in the Whoosh! Xena FAQ,

Although the final script describes the setting as 'Macedonia: 1940', the opening title for the first showing reads 'Macedonia: 1942'. Why the discrepancy? According to Steve Sears, the earlier date is correct. Editors, wishing the events to take place during a later point in World War II, changed the date. At the urging of the writers, the date was changed back to '1940' in subsequent broadcasts.

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Note 02:
Small fragments of the Xena Scrolls are translated in the Dispatches from the Xena Restoration Society.
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Note 03:
This is not what is depicted in ATHENS CITY ACADEMY OF PERFORMING BARDS, of course, but that episode was an obvious modern forgery. Gabrielle certainly did not write on her scroll, "Insert clip from Spartacus here."
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Note 04:
See Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, Scene II, Line 555.
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Note 05:
As revealed in the episode YOU ARE THERE. Though this was another modern forgery, it was almost certainly based on real events in the Xenaverse revealed by Gabrielle.
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Lee Reams, "A Price Second To None". Whoosh #64 (January 2002)
Lee Reams, "A (Semi-) Defense Of Ulysses". Whoosh #68 (May 2002)


the author Lee Reams
Born on an Army base in Washington State, I have spent most of my life in California. I hold a Ph.D. in Ancient History from the University of Southern California and have taught that subject and other history courses at various universities in California, Utah and Wisconsin. I have also published scholarly articles on ancient history, specifically the Late Roman Republic. I currently have a book on the Hurrians and Hittites under consideration for publication by a major university press in England.

Favorite episode: THE PRICE
Favorite line: Xena: "Do? We're GONNA KILL THEM ALL!" THE PRICE; Meg to Gabrielle: "You kinda look like her, but Gabrielle wasn't so butch". LIVIA
First episode seen: DEVI
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS



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