Friday, 30 April 2010

Xena Warrior Princess: Cradle of Hope

Whew, I've posted a lot this month! There are a few reasons for it. I've been trying out different posting patterns to see what works - not anything I'd stick to rigidly, but a vague plan. This month, I was playing with posting Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, but I think that's going to be a bit too much in the end, partly because every now and again, something interesting - Doctor Who, at the moment - comes on on Saturday and I want to blog it while it's fresh. So next month I think I'll try posting Tuesdays, Thursdays and other days when something interesting comes up - we'll see how it goes. This month has also been my first full month of unemployment. I've got loads of non-paid work I need to be getting on with and a massive pile of job applications to do, but not so many tight deadlines, hence the increased blogging. Finally, I am horribly superstitious and don't like having 13 posts in a month! Crazy, isn't it?! I think in future I should stick to my more usual 9-12. I have got a bit of paid work now, so I won't have so much time anyway.

In this episode, Xena and Gabrielle rescue Pandora’s granddaughter, also Pandora, from an angry mob while simultaneously rescuing a baby who, it is prophesied, will one day be a king. Unfortunately they end up being attacked on all side with only a few hours left to save the word from losing Hope forever (or not, as it turns out).

This is also the episode that features Xena posing as a veiled dancer, looking like a harem girl, which may be more memorable to some. The bit where they start throwing a baby around like a football, might, on the other hand, be the most memorable bit.

There are more dreams at the beginning of this episode, and a female soothsayer who seems to be mixing up half a dozen methods of divination at once – prayer to a god (Zeus), stones, dreams and some kind of vision (stones really could not give that much information). She prophesies that an infant orphan will one day rule instead of the king and the child is put in a Moses basket (very appropriate) and sent down river, only to be discovered by Xena and Gabrielle.

The idea of the prophecy that a baby will rule, followed by an attempt to kill or capture the baby, is very Classical, and Near Eastern, and Biblical. There are lots of stories of that nature, the most historical ones being those connected with the Persian monarchy that appear in Herodotus (Astyages dreamed that his infant grandson Cyrus would overthrow him and tried to have him killed, but as usual the general who was supposed to kill the child didn't want to, in this case because it meant killing a royal. Cyrus eventually overthrew Astyages). Gregor proves to be wiser than any of them by simply adopting the child as his heir, thus saving the kid the bother of usurping him at a later date.

The version of the Pandora story used here features a wooden box, rather than a jar, and includes the detail that Hope was trapped inside the box. However, here, the fact that Hope was trapped apparently means that we all still have hope, as opposed to all other desires, which are fleeting, rather than that everything is hopeless. My copy of Hesiod, in which this detail first appears, has an explanatory note saying that Hope remaining in the jar means men still have Hope, and Hesiod is just being inconsistent in his symbolic use of the jar, which would fit the interpretation here (though I have to confess, the tone of Works and Days being what it is, I wouldn't be surprised if Hesiod had had the more negative interpretation in mind). I have to admit as well that I was rather relieved when the box turned out to be empty. I know the whole point of Xena is to dramatise mythological stories, but this particular story really works better on a metaphorical level than a literal one.

Unfortunately, presumably in order to fill time, the episode gets more and more ridiculous as time goes one, with some bizarre and inexplicable use of slow motion (the director must have been getting bored) and Xena and Gabrielle literally throwing a baby around as if they were Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth.

Jareth, in the middle of throwing the baby around.

One final, random observation – the currency is apparently dinars. Interesting choice. I would have expected drachmas, sestercii or denarii, but I guess dinars is as good as anything else!


  1. I think there are at least some interpretations where it is "false hope" or "vain hope" left in the jar. That might be Orphic, but I'm not sure.

    I guess dinars, since they are more familiar to people thanks to various Sinbad and Arabian Nights movies. Drachmas would have been most appropriate (although IIRC that was the official currency of Greece at the time, so maybe to avoid confusion?). At least dinars are etymologically related to denarii.

  2. I was thrown a bit when I saw that photo from Labyrinth and hadn't gotten round to reading that part in the text! :p

    I have vague recollections of Xena in veils... With Legend of the Seeker being cancelled I might have to dig this series up from somewhere and re-watch (or complete the little I've seen) for my weekly Fantasy dose! ;o)

  3. Yeah, I'm not sure if I can get a full post out of Labyrinth (will have to re-watch and see - 'well, it's got a labyrinth in it' just doesn't seem like quite enough!) so I figured I'd chuck in a picture here!

  4. Xena + David Bowie in tights, as the Goblin King. That just made my day, thanks :)

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