The Luddites

A friend called me a Luddite the other day after a fit of yelling about computers.. (I am actually good with computers. But after my laptop crashed in June, I still haven’t gotten my finances straightened out. According to Quicken, I am $14,000 in the hole. Hence my rant about computers in general and online banking in particular.) But I digress.

The name-calling prompted me to research the Luddites. Yes, it was a real group – of weavers and other textile workers in the early nineteenth century. New weaving and spinning machines were coming into the factories.The owners said that the machines were more efficient – they probably were – and would make cloth cheaper – and they did. (The word ‘shoddy’ came into being shortly thereafter. Coincidence? I doubt it.)  The weavers were not opposed to the new machinery; that was not the issue. The problem was greed.

Weavers spent seven years in an apprenticeship before they could set up shop. Now they feared that the time and effort put into this craft was wasted. They had reason to worry. As the factory owners fired the men, they hired women and children, who they paid much less, to work instead.This was the beginning of six year olds working 14 hour days in a factory.

So the men protested. They blackened their faces and broke into the factories to destroy the new and expensive machinery. They purported to follow a fictional character called Ned Ludd(a stocking weaver) or another fictional personage King Ludd. Thus the name.

The British Government sided with the factory owners and made breaking machinery a capital crime. Soldiers were sent to quell the protests. A large number of men (both members of the protests and not) were swept up and accused of being Luddites. Those that were found guilty were either executed or transported. That ended the protests very quickly.

The situation was slightly different in the United States. The first textile factory came into  being in Massachusetts in 1814. Lowell, who had seen the textile machines in Great Britain, wanted to do the same in the U.S. (The city of Lowell is named for him.) He built his first factories beginning in 1816. But the  United States had a smaller population and there was not a large number of unemployed men so there was not the same labor pool. To solve the problem Lowell hired young women, who became known as mill girls, between the ages of 15 and 35. He of course paid them less than men. (To his credit, he chose not to employ children.) The mill girls were housed in company owned boarding houses, were strictly chaperoned and offered other ‘improving’ activities so the jobs had decent working conditions. This changed as the century wore on. The mill girls unionized, went out on strike a few times, and finally joined forces with another union.

Since my character,  Will Rees, is a weaver he is going to be affected by the increasing industrialization. In fact, will lose his profession in less than twenty years. He will be in his middle fifties by then, however, a fairly advanced age for the time, so he will have missed this huge change by only a few years.

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Bouchercon and More

I haven’t blogged for awhile. Quite awhile. We moved and moving absorbs all of your energy, psychic as well as physical. Now we are unpacking which is almost as bad.

The week, yes, one week after moving, we left for Bouchercon in Florida. This was another wonderful conference. St. Pete’s was actually cooler than New York! And a wonderful breeze off the water kept the air pleasant. The Vinoy hotel was magnificent. I love this chandelier in the Grand Ballroom. It was huge. It looks like glass snakes, doesn’t it?

chandelier

I attended several great panels. And, of course, I sat on a panel of my own. Jonathan Putnam (Lincoln and Speedwell mysteries) Christopher Huang ( a new author who writes about the 1920’s) Laura Anderson ( who writes about the Tudor Period). The panel was moderated by James Ziskin who writes the Elly Stone mysteries.

panel

I also had the opportunity to talk to several authors I admire besides those on my panel. I greatly enjoyed meeting R. J. Koreto who writes the Alice Roosevelt and Lady Frances Folks mysteries set in Edwardian times.

As usual, I came away with a long list of authors that I now have to read!

 

The Shaker Murders

After the events in A Devil’s Cold Dish, Rees and family return to the Shaker community of Zion seeking refuge. But Rees barely arrives when the body of a murdered Shaker Brother is found in the washtub. More murders quickly follow. Surely the Murderer cannot be a Shaker!

I am happy to announce this sixth Will Rees mystery will be published by Severn House, coming out in the United States next spring (2019.) I just finished the edits on the ms and sent it off. The seventh book, working title Simply Dead, will be published the following spring (2020).

I am hard at work on the eighth.

When I have a finalized cover, I will post it.

Princess Helen

My knowledge of Helen is taken from popular culture: movies, myths and the like. I began to realize that I actually knew very little of the story. I picked up a biography by Bettany Hughes called: Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore.

Very interesting.

One of the things that has always puzzled me is the description of the God Apollo – the sun God. He has blond hair. Why?  This is Greece after all.  Helen is always described as blond. And Menelaus is described as having red hair.

Like all of the countries in Europe, Greece has seen regular influxes of new people. In the Neolithic and Paleolithic such movements populated islands like Crete. But once a area is populated a wave of new people is viewed as an invasion.

The Mycenaeans were one such group. Described by archeologists as an Indo-Duropean culture, they swept onto the Greece mainland and then to Crete. By around 1500 B.C. the pottery and architecture on Crete, although heavily influenced by the Minoans, was now Mycenaean. And they were a warrior patriarchal culture.

But I digress.

These Mycenaeans apparently carried genes for both blond and red hair.

Helen is also described as fair and white-skinned.  Pale skin certainly goes with blond hair, that is true, but I think the association with fair skin and beauty has a much longer history. Both Egyptian and Cretan art color males as reddish-brown. The women, even the bull-leapers wearing loincloths like their male teammates, are white. White lead for the skin has been found in tombs. (So white lead to whiten the skin has a long history – take that Queen Elizabeth I.) Some of the frescos and cult figures show women with that unnaturally white skin. Red circles are painted on their cheeks and chin and the scarlet suns are surrounded by dots.  The research I have done suggests these decorations had some religious meaning but I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

Anyway,  Paintings of Helen right through the Middle Ages portray her with an almost corpse like pallor.  Why is that considered beautiful?  Because she clearly did not toil in the fields?

The other cosmetic used throughout the Mediterranean is kohl. We are familiar with the frescos that show both men and women with the heavy black lines around their eyes. The use of kohl actually had a practical purpose: it protected the eyelids from sunburn and acted as an insect repellent. A recipe for kohl includes charred almond shells, soot, and frankincense. It must have been incredibly sticky. However, it was probably necessary.

In the well-known bust of Nefertiti, one eye is blind. Is the statue damaged? Or is this an accurate representation of Nefertiti? Caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, trachoma is easily spread through direct personal contact, shared towels and cloths, and flies that have come in contact with the eyes or nose of an infected person. If left untreated, repeated trachoma infections can cause severe scarring of the inside of the eyelid and can cause the eyelashes to scratch the cornea (trichiasis). In addition to causing pain, trichiasis permanently damages the cornea and can lead to irreversible blindness.

One other note. Writings from that time, including Homer’s Iliad, describe Helen as ‘shimmering’ and ‘glittering’. Besides the jewelry she wore, Helen would have been dressed in the finest of clothing. According to Hughes, the linen clothing of that time would gave been brushed with olive oil which leaves a shiny residue. So she actually would have glittered. Who knew?

 

Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy should really be called Helen of Sparta since she was born in Sparta and was a Spartan princess. She was also a Mycenaen – part of the culture that swept into Bronze Age Crete. This period is probably fifty years after the period I am writing about but I did research into it anyway. We know a bit more about the Spartans and they were supposed to have been influenced by the Minoan civilization.

With that said, most of the Mediterranean cultures were influenced by this great civilization – maybe not in accordance with the wishes of the leaders since laws were passed forbidding perfume, cosmetics and jewelry. However, girls were also educated at state expense and encouraged to be physically active. They also married later than many of their peers in other countries so maternal and infant mortality was less. They were also the scandal of Classical Greece since the women had so much more freedom than the poor wives in Athens. Although named for a Goddess, Athena, the women were kept closeted in their homes weaving with no company but slaves and other women. Even in Sparta, though, patriarchy ruled and the women had much less influence than those in Crete.

But I digress.

I think everyone knows the basic story:  that Helen was the most beautiful woman of her age. She was married to Menelaus, brother to Agamemnon. She was either abducted or chose to run away with Paris. (It doesn’t much matter if she was innocent. For most of the intervening centuries she has been considered a harlot.)They fled to Troy and a great war was fought that lasted more than ten years.  The war is the basis of the Iliad. As everyone knows, Troy was considered a myth until Schliemann excavated it.

Here’s what I did not know about Helen.

Another familiar myth is Leda and the Swan. Zeus takes the form of a swan to rape Leda. The child created by this union was Helen. Her beauty was frequently ascribed to her divine paternity. Because Zeus took the form of a swan, Helen was born from an egg. I am not kidding. Besides the painting that shows her rising from an egg, an artifact reputed to be a piece of the eggshell was a sacred object.

Since everybody in these stories are related, Helen’s half-brothers were the twins Castor and Pollux and her half-sister was Clytemnestra, wife to Agamemnon.

 

the Minotaur

I’m sure most of us know something about Theseus and the Minotaur. Here’s the backstory. The Greeks revered Zeus. Poseidon wanted to be honored too so he sent a white bull to Minos, the King of Crete. Minos’s wife Parsiphae fell in love with the bull. She tasked Daedalus (yes, the inventor with the wax wings whose son was Icarus) to build a special wooden box in the shape of a cow. Once inside the box, she had intercourse with the bull. Nine months later she bore a half-man, half-bull. The Minotaur.

The myth reeks of patriarchy and a desire to, in modern parlance, throw shade on Cretan beliefs.

First, in Crete Zeus was not the primary God. He was an upstart, more akin to a harvest God, who died and was reborn.

We also don’t know if Crete had a King. Certainly it was a goddess centered, matrilineal culture. Many archeologists have assumed Crete had kings, but for decades these archeologists were men. Men, moreover, who lived with a strongly patriarchal structure. It is possible the Priestess’s consort acted as a wanax, or governor. Kingships came with the Mycenaeans.

Third several ancient cultures revered the bull or, in Indo-Europe the horse. One of the rites was mock intercourse with this symbol of fertility by the Queen/Priestess. This act was supposed to guarantee good crops, lots of livestock and of course healthy children for the coming year.

But what about the Minotaur?

Well, many many ancient and not so ancient cultures employ masks in religious rites. Animals are a frequently the subject.  Is it so far a stretch to believe that the Minotaur is a masked man involved in a religious rite?

Besides painting Theseus as a hero (which I dispute but more about that later), this myth spins Crete as decadent and deserving of conquest. By the Myceneans, naturally.

Bull-leaping and the Theseus myth

Bull leaping is probably one of the most well-known -if not the most well-known – image of the Minoan civilization. Most people believe the account written in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. It is important to remember the Greeks (the Mycenae and forward) borrowed a lot from other cultures. The civilization on Crete was very important. With that said, the Minoan civilization was Goddess centered while the Mycenae were patriarchal and that made a huge difference in how the invaders viewed the rites and rituals they saw.

In the Theseus myth, Minos exacts a tribute from Athens of 7 young men and 7 maidens to face the bull and perform bull-leaping. Minos’s daughter Ariadne falls in love with Theseus and gives him a ball of string to find his way through the labyrinth under the city and kill the Minotaur, (The creation of this beast is another story). Theseus does so, thereby freeing himself and the other tributes from Crete. He takes Ariadne with him but abandons her on another island. Great guy.

While tributes may have been pressed into service as bull-leapers, the bull-leaping was an integral part of the religious ceremonies. The bull was a sacred animal and the Cretan youth performed. Secondly, there are no labyrinths underneath Knossos and it is thought the pattern of building residences – all interlinked and connection rooms, gave rise to the myth of a labyrinth.

And although labyrinth now means maze, the labys (the root of the word) was the iconic Cretan double axe. It had nothing to do with mazes.

Lastly, there is a lot of speculation about Minos. Was he a king? Perhaps after the Mycenae arrived, a kingship was established. Was he a consort of the High Priestess who, it is now thought, was the earthly representative of the Goddess. The Priestess chose a – or many – consorts. There is now some thought that he or other men served as a wanax and kept the wheels of the government running.