Celebrate this World Book Night with an extract from my humorous (hopefully) history book ‘Escapades in Bizarrchaeology’.
It’s available in paperback and ebook from amazon.co.uk RIGHT NOW.
Yes, that’s RIGHT NOW.
Ever since Heracles first adorned his head with the mane of the Nemean Lion and realised that he looked both stylish, sophisticated and manly, everyone has wanted to be a Hero. In the modern day that love for the (Super)Hero has gone worldwide, with every other film released based on a comic hero who originated in glorious technicolour on the printed page. Yet the links between Super Hero and Mythical Hero are clear. Despite the intervening two thousand-ish years there recently isn’t that much difference between them.
Iron Man is a hero because he has loads and loads of money and technology to have the best weapons and armour, yet his main weakness is his pride and arrogance in his own abilities and intelligence. Agamemnon was considered a hero of the Trojan war because he had loads and loads of money and technology to ensure that he had the best weapons and armour for his army, yet his weakness and undoing was his hubris (I initially thought hubris was some kind of pate but it’s actually excessive pride)… and the fact that he killed his own daughter to get wind (not gaseous wind, that would be weird, wind to blow his ships to Troy).
Superman is unstoppable apart from his one weakness that EVERYONE knows about, an extreme allergy to Kryptonite. Archilles was unstoppable apart from his one weakness that EVERYONE knew about, his Archilles’ heel (seriously? If you don’t want everyone to know about the one weak point upon your body you should call it something else. Like Geoff’s heel (or Terry’s heel, he’s already got an orange, why not a heel too?), don’t use your own name, that’s just asking to be shot by an arrow).
Spiderman is a hero because he has magical Spider juice in his veins. Heracles was a hero because he had magical Zeus juice in his veins (that sounded weirder that I was expecting).
So, there are a plethora (I love my dictionary) of links between heroes of the modern world and the Ancient world. This means that we could have a hero of the ancient world being heroic in the modern world. Why not? All they need is the right guidance, a series of top tips to ensure that they know how to Hero with the best and the rest of them..
Who would be their teacher? Max Virtus of course. I have the agoge for training, I have the top tips, all I need is the student… and that could be you dear reader! So grab your Xiphos and get ready, as I transform you into a Mythical Hero.
Don’t learn how to Sword Fight
Despite the entertainment industry’s best attempts to convince me, the most effective way to defeat your opponent in a duel to the death is NOT by ensuring you always hit your swords together. The actual intention is to miss the opponent’s sword entirely and hit their body. Therefore as a mythical hero you should cut the following supposedly heroic moves from your repertoire.
No Spinning. The Star Wars prequels may well have taught a legion of would be Jedi Knights that the best way to do battle is by furiously twisting like an alcoholic with a bottle of wine and a blunt corkscrew, but repeatedly exposing your back to your opponent and losing sight of what they’re doing is not the best idea for a Mythical Hero to stay alive.
Why are you rolling around on the floor? Stop it. That includes backward rolls. It looks cool in film but that’s because they have plenty of attempts to get it right. Chances are that if you try that in a real sword fight that you’ll only impale yourself on your own blade or accidentally slice open a major artery. Either way this will result in awkward embarrassment and premature death.
That’s the equivalent of a spin whilst rolling and is frowned upon in the Sword Fighting community.
Swinging on Ropes
Despite the temptation, avoid swinging on a conveniently positioned rope in a sword fight (this includes chandeliers) it’s rather tricky holding on to your sword whilst doing so and unlike most actors you don’t have a wire work team to keep you suspended in mid air. Also, don’t do a pirate and hold your sword in your teeth, that results in sliced lips and a permanent smile.
Were you not listening before? Stop hitting your opponnent’s sword.
That was all pretty negative, if a Mythical Hero can’t do any of that stuff in a sword fight, what can they do? Well, they should take a leaf from a Greek Hoplite’s book and simply use the jab.
That’s all you need to sword fight like a Mythical Hero. The Jab. Simply extend your sword arm at rapid pace and embed it in your enemy’s flesh before they do the same to you. Your Xiphos sword is short (eighteen inches give or take) but it is ideally suited to be positioned behind your shield to be poked out from around the side to surprise your foe. Bring the pointy bit of the blade flashing out over the top, left, right, or bottom of the shield, keep your enemy guessing at to where your next attack is coming from. Incidentally that’s why you don’t need to parry, you have a nice round Hoplon Shield to hide behind (made of hefty wood with a bronze coating, the Hoplon or Aspis is going to keep your delicate and frail human body protected by covering up your shoulder all the way down to your thigh) you can even use the handle positioned at the rim to ram the shield into an unsuspecting warrior.
Your shield also proves handy at slamming down on an enemy’s toes. Regardless of how much armour resides on your opponent’s body their feet fingers will still be poking out of their sandals. What better way to greet them by slamming your shield down upon them? Sure to open up the defences of even the most sturdy of opponents.
In conclusion, to swordfight like a hero just practise the jab, each and every day and victory will be yours.
Have a Dark Origin story
Any superhero worth their salt has an origin forged in despair and suffering. Batman’s parents were murdered in front of him, Superman’s entire home planet was destroyed and Spiderman couldn’t save his Uncle’s life. To be a mythical hero though you have to go eighteen steps further. Your origin story has to be DARK (underlined, bold and in capitals to suggest how dark that origin story is).
Let’s look at the Hero of all Heroes; Heracles (or Hercules if you’re Roman). Disney teach children that Heracles had to prove himself worthy to live on Mount Olympus with his father, Zeus, by completing 12 labours, that’s because the real reason was not family friendly.
Heracles killed his entire family. The 12 labours (originally 10 but that pesky King Eurystheus kept changing the rules) were an opportunity for Heracles to seek redemption. It’s the equivalent of Bruce Wayne being the one who shot his parents rather than a faceless gangster.
All superheroes have their own fighting style, something distinctive that let’s the unfortunate villain know who’s pummelling him, just from the angle of the punch against his face. But all fighting styles pale against Pankration. And that is the fighting style you’re going to need to learn if you’re going to be a mythical hero. It was either Thesesus or Heracles who developed Pankration and the fact that it allows you to defeat Minotaurs, Nemean Lions and Cerberus means it is highly effective. It works so well by pretty much throwing everything at your enemy, even the kitchen sink (especially the kitchen sink, those taps can sting).
Virtually anything goes with Pankration, there’s only three things you can’t do. Bite your enemy, pluck out their eyeballs or damage their genitals. Other than that feel free to strangle, punch, kick and throw to your heart’s content.
That’s more than enough to get any would be modern mythical heroes started. With a combination of a dark and disturbing backstory, sword skills and fighting ability you should be well on your way to defeating heinous and fiendish monsters before ultimately dying in a tragic way (usually dying alone. Take Bellerophon. He was a hero who had defeated the chimera. He had a flying horse, he was the king and was happily married with four children. Yet he managed to mess that all up by trying to visit Zeus, who sent a gadfy to attack him, resulting in Bellerophon crashing to the ground and ending up crippled and alone for offending the gods).