Quick Notes: A Rude Aphrodite, Polytheism in A Song of Ice and Fire, and Black Heimdall

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 21, 2011 — 66 Comments

Just a few quick news notes for on this Thursday.

Aphrodite’s Middle Finger: Der Spiegel reports that nine employees of the German magazine Focus are being ordered to appear in an Athens court for “accusations of defamation, libel and the denigration of Greek national symbols.” Six Greek citizens are bringing the complaint, partially for the article, which discusses tax fraud and failed construction projects, and partially for the satirical cover image.

“The Focus cover featured a photograph of the famously armless statue Venus de Milo, which depicts the Greek goddess Aphrodite, that had been doctored so that the deity was showing her middle finger to the viewer. The story, titled “Swindlers in the Euro Family,” included a detailed description of what the authors claimed was “2000 years of decline” in Greece, including reports of tax fraud and failed construction projects. The six Greeks who are now suing the journalists maintain that the article included false claims and was also insulting to the Greek people.”

If I didn’t know better, you’d think the charge would be blasphemy and not “denigration of Greek national symbols.” Is having Aphrodite flip the bird denigrating? I would like to think the goddess has a sense of humor about the whole thing. Magazine founder Helmut Markwort says he has a clean conscience, and does not believe he’ll see any jail time for the article or cover photo. Denigrating or not, I’m sure that any number of satirical web images and icons based off this photo are currently being made. So long as electricity and the Internet persevere Aphrodite will be flipping someone the bird, somewhere.

The Gods of Westeros: With Game of Thrones now a successful HBO series (already renewed for a second season after just one episode has aired), and the next volume of A Song of Ice and Fire due out this Summer, Tor.com looks at the religions and gods of this fantasy setting.

“The gods of the children of the forest, the nameless deities of stone and earth and tree, the old gods seem like a sort of animistic religion. The greenseers of the children, shamans of a kind, were said to be able to talk with all beasts and birds, and to see through the eyes of their carved weirwoods. When the First Men arrived, they first warred with the children, and cut down the weirwoods where they found them. In time, though, they made peace with them and adopted their old gods. The North is the only real stronghold for the old gods, however; south of the Neck, the Blackwoods are the only known noble house to still follow them.

There are no priests, no holy texts, no songs of worship, and practically no rites that go with the worship of the old gods. It’s a folk-religion, passed from generation to generation. The closest thing to a ritual we’ve seen is prayer before the heart tree in a godswood, holy groves contained within castles throughout the Seven Kingdoms, and often the only places where living weirwoods still remain until one goes north of the Wall. It’s said that the sigh of the wind and the rustle of leaves are the old gods speaking back to worshippers.”

It should be interesting to see how much emphasis and detail the cable series puts into the polytheistic religious tapestry weaved by author George R. R. Martin. Sadly, I don’t have HBO, so it may be awhile before I get to see for myself.

Once More About Race in Thor: Salon.com looks at the small movement to boycott “Thor” (opening May 6th) for casting a black man (British actor Idris Elba) as the god Heimdall. While some are sympathetic to those who are upset at this “racebending”, like African-American fantasy author Charles Saunders, Bob Calhoun at Salon notes that there’s actually a long history in cinema of including black characters in Viking movies and that the comic-book version of Thor was crafted by a New York Jew.

“Marvel Comics artist Jack Kirby along with writer Stan Lee first put Thor into a comic book in 1962, and had him doing things that were decidedly inauthentic. During Thor’s early four-color adventures, he fought the Stone Men of Saturn, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde, and even the Greek gods. Four years later, Kirby integrated Marvel’s characters with the creation of the Black Panther, the first black superhero. “There were plenty of white superheroes, so I thought there should be a black hero too,” Kirby told me unpretentiously during one of the times I was fortunate enough to speak with him. After Kirby jumped to DC Comics in the early 1970s, he created that company’s first black superhero as well in the debut issue of “The Forever People” (1971). Ironically, that character’s name was Vykin the Black.”

Which goes to the point I’ve been making about this controversy over and over again.  That this not an adaptation of the Norse Eddas, or even really based on Norse mythology, but an adaptation of a comic book that used Norse gods as a starting point and went completely wild from there. Alien technology, extra-dimensional beings, a horse-faced alien Thor, frog Thor, and the current Marvel company-wide crossover where we learn that Odin hid the existence of a “god of fear” called “the serpent”. Now, you may still want to be offended, or be critical, but that feeling has to be grounded in the literature that the story is based on to make sense.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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