All the buzz about the weekend premiere of Urban and the Shed Crew got me thinking…we all know how dicey that can get!
Seriously though…After reading Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew last year, I’m anxious to see how Richard Armitage will inhabit Chop (aka Bernard Hare) in his role as reluctant foster father to a crew of gritty kids from the back alleys and streets of Leeds. How do I connect the 1990’s underbelly of Leeds to the classical tradition you ask? Not so hard really.
Classical mythology is full of stories of young heroes who are in need of a role model – usually because their biological father (who is often a deity) is nowhere in the picture. Some of them step forward and provide stability and training to the young heroes. Others, like Chop, have less than stellar resumes to recommend them to the position of foster father, but they all make a memorable impression on their young charges.
In the super foster father camp we might start with Faustulus…the historian Livy describes him as:
“Faustulus regii pecoris magister, Romuli et Remi servator et educator,”
Faustulus, the herder of the royal sheep, savior and fosterer of Romulus and Remus
After they had been cast into the river by their grandfather, these twin sons of the god Mars found their way to shore and were suckling at the teats of an unusually maternal she-wolf when Faustulus happened upon the scene. He took the babies home and he, along with his wife raised them to adulthood….allowing them to fulfill their ultimate destiny – which included the foundation of Rome.
Amphitryon, here, in a fresco from Herculaneum, looking on thoughtfully as his charge wrangles some snakes, was another diligent foster father. He dutifully kept Herakles, born of his wife Alcmene and her night with an imposter (Zeus had posed as Amphitryon to seduce Alcmene, impregnating her in the process…) mostly out of the clutches of his wicked step mother Hera. He also repeatedly interceded to try and keep the volatile Herakles on the trail to immortality.
Chiron attempted the same for the young hero Achilles…
Apparently Achilles’ mother, the Nereid (sea nymph daughter of Nereus) didn’t think her mortal husband Peleus was up to the task, so she enlisted the help of the centaur Chiron for the fostering of her own young hero. Chiron, himself fostered by Apollo, trained Achilles in the arty arts, as well as the art of war.
Even some Greek gods had to be fostered out. After his mother Semele was burned up by the glory that was Zeus, the infant Dionysus was delivered over to the satyr Silenos for fostering.
Despite his tendency to get drunk and wander off, Silenos was a devoted and lifelong companion to the god of wine and revelry.
A few of the Greek heroes weren’t even afforded the kind of benign negligence of a foster like Silenos. Perseus had to deal with much worse than that…
Like Romulus and Remus, Perseus was one of those ill-fated royal sons…you know, one who was never supposed to be born because he was prophesied to overthrow the current king? The gods never pay attention to the royal attempts to avoid these prophecies when they stand in the way of a good seduction. In this case, King Acrisius had locked up his daughter Danae to prevent her from conceiving his usurper… #fail. Zeus found a way in via a shower of gold (do NOT go there!) and Danae conceived Perseus. Plan B for Acrisius was to lock Danae and baby into a giant trunk and dump them into the sea. #epicfail. Instead of sinking, the trunk landed in the lands of King Polydectes who allowed Danae and her baby safe harbor….although not without strings attached.
Evidently, Polydectes developed a thing for Danae (honestly, beauty was not really to be desired in Classical Myth was it?!) and once Perseus was old enough, the king found a task to keep him busy while he sought to make progress in his pursuit of Perseus’ mother. Said task? Just a little errand…pick up some wine, and while you’re out, go grab me the head of Medusa. Polydectes clearly thought he’d gotten rid of Perseus for good, but little did he know that the kid would have divine assistance in accomplishing his task…revenge, revenge, revenge.
Chop shares another similarity with the classical EDUCATORES…turn out.
CASES IN POINT:
Achilles – fostered admirably by the “most noble of centaurs” – Almost derailed the whole Greek army in the Trojan War due to his MASSIVE ego.
Herakles – lovingly raised by a magnanimous Amphitryon – Killed his wife and children (and almost killed Amphitryon) in a fit of madness inspired by Hera
Romulus – saved and fostered carefully by Faustulus – Killed his brother Remus in an argument over whose wall was bigger…*cough*
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, no matter how good your intentions are, there is only so much you can do with independent minds.
Welcome to parenting Chop!
Take heart – at least nobody turned anybody to stone on your watch!