Monday, 20 August 2012

Xena Warrior Princess: A Fistful of Dinars

Xena and Gabrielle go on a treasure-hunt, accompanied by an unpleasant bleach-haired assassin and Xena's possibly untrustworthy ex-husband. This episode is a crazy mish-mash of things (even more than usual) - a Western title, a pirate-story-like treasure hunt, complete with maps and clues, and names taken from the Iliad (to which the story bears no resemblance whatsoever).

Our heroes are searching for the lost treasure of the Sumerians. In real life, the Sumerians were inhabitants of Mesopotamia whose civilization, one of the earliest Western/Near Eastern historical civilizations, flourished in the third millennium BC. The idea of some pseudo-Greeks in the Greek Mythical Period searching for an ancient and lost Sumerian treasure actually kind of works. Well, right up to the point Thersites claims to be Sumerian anyway.

Thersites is the name of a character in the Iliad. His character here is mostly quite different, though he shares the quality of being unpleasant and disliked by our heroes. In the Iliad, Thersites is ugly, rude, hunch-backed and club-footed (showing that prejudice against disability is as old as Western literature. One has to wonder why he's in the army in the first place). He is terribly rude to Agamemnon, and Odysseus gives him a literal beat down. Many scholars think this is an example of snobbery in favour of the aristocracy and against the common soldiers, the latter represented by Thersites.

Anyway, his character here isn't especially good-looking, though he's not that ugly - he mostly just has rather dodgy taste, including bleached-blond hair (just where did he get bleach-blond hair dye in pseudo-ancient Greece anyway?). He's also an assassin, which I suspect Homer would think was even worse than being a common soldier, so that sort of fits in a weird way, as long as you ignore the Sumerian thing. The actor does a fairly good job of chewing the scenery in a suitably entertaining fashion so he makes for quite a fun villain.

For Reasons of Plot, the lost treasure of the Sumerians happens to include a Titan Key, which gets you into a cave with some ambrosia in it (or you just take the back door, as long as you can walk quietly). If you eat ambrosia, the food of the gods, apparently you become a god, so Xena and Gabrielle join the treasure hunt with Thersites and Petracles (some kind of corruption of Patroclus, another character from the Iliad? Not that they have anything in common, but still). Why have the gods left some random ambrosia lying around? Who knows. Possibly Xena explained it briefly, but I missed it. In ancient mythology, ambrosia was connected with corpse preservation and healing powers, and possibly occasionally immortality, but it wouldn't actually make you a god with the power to cure world hunger, as Gabrielle would like to do, or to bring plagues down upon the Earth, as Thersites plans.

The treasure hunt motif, aside from producing a nice Indiana Jones-vibe and inspiring the composer to write some fun music, also requires our heroes to solve mysterious riddle-style clues. The clues and solution offered only work in English. I realise I shouldn't let this bug me - everyone on this show speaks English, and it takes place in Fantasyland anyway, not ancient Greece. Any show that has the Trojan War and Julius Caesar occupying the same time frame is not one that should be scrutinized for historical accuracy. But somehow, the fact that a riddle is solved in a way specific to the English language ('teacher's student' = 'pupil', as in of an eye) in a world where theoretically everyone should be speaking Ancient Greek, bothers me. I can't help it. I'm a natural nit-picker.

Overall this episode was fairly forgettable, aside from a rather nice depiction of the Temple of Demeter only slightly spoiled by the cast's odd pronunciation of 'Demeter.' There were some serious lapses of logic in a couple of places. It's a bit of a mystery why the priest of Demeter let two people very obviously concealing weapons into his temple. And at the end, as Petracles lies dying and Xena and Gabrielle cry Woe, why didn't they feed him some of the ambrosia that's sitting right there? Gods are immortal, so one swallow of ambrosia ought to save him, and they have plenty of time as he slowly croaks. Perhaps even after he's given his life trying to save Gabrielle, Xena still doesn't trust him enough to let him become a god.

Quotes

Petracles: A warrior is going to be a lot more useful on this quest than a murderer.
Thersites: I'm an assassin, OK? An assassin!
Xena: You mean there's a difference?
Thersites: Yes. Assassination is for pay. Murder is for... kicks.

Priest (to Gabrielle and Thersites): Your doom is assured!
(Xena and Petracles beat up his friends)
Priest: However, I could be mistaken.

Disclaimer: No Ambrosia was Spilled or Spoiled or in any way harmed during the production of this motion picture. (Thanks to the indefinite shelf life of marshmallows.)

All Xena reviews

4 comments:

  1. And of course dinar is from the Roman coin denarius.

    I was wondering about the etymology of pupil. Apparently it comes from pupilla, originally in the sense of a girl child or doll and wound up in the eye as a reference to the reflection of oneself that can be seen there. It only came to refer to students in the 16th century. But apparently ancient Greek used a similar turn of phrase and used kore to mean both a doll and the reflection in the eye. So they could almost get away with it.

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  2. I wonder how they presented and solved that clue in translated versions of this... In Spanish it kind of works... in French also.

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  3. Good point - there must be some non-Indo-European languages is just doesn't work in. I guess they just have to change the clue to anything that'll lead them, eventually, to a right eye

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  4. Maybe our Sid Vicious assassin perfected the formula a millenia and a few centuries early for the platinum blond look, and just forgot to tell anyone.

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