As Atlantis moves into its second episode, the shape the series plans to take has become clear, and I’m not entirely sure that I like it. The first episode wore its Greek mythological pedigree rather heavily, but this episode could easily have swapped out the Greek elements for any other fantasy monsters without changing anything. Here such mythological figures as the Maenads, satyrs, and Medusa are little more than window-dressing, fulfilling functions I’ve seen done better on such bygone syndicated fantasies as Beast Master or Legend of the Seeker, neither of which exactly qualifies as the highest tier of television drama.
In Greek myth, Nysa was the mountain where Dionysus was raised by nymphs, not the location of the Maenads; however, placing Nysa in Atlantis isn’t much of a stretch. Being fictional, no one knew where the mountain might be, proposing locations including Arabia, Babylon, Cilicia, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Libya, Lydia, Macedonia, Naxos, Thessaly, Thrace, Syria, and more. What is perhaps most interesting to me is that M. L. West and André Hurst demonstrated that the section of the Homeric Hymn to Dionysus devoted to describing Nysa (now lost) was plagiarized word-for-word by the author of the Orphic Argonautica to describe the terrifying Island of Demeter, which we know because a papyrus fragment contains some of the Hymn’s lines that also repeat in the Orphic poem.
The big revelation in Atlantis, which was in the previews and the promotional spots, is that one of the women in the Maenad temples is a pre-snake Medusa. This is not so much a Greek myth as a Roman one, from Ovid, where the Gorgon—originally a hideous monster—instead became a ravishing beauty who was cursed with snake hair when Minerva catches her befouling her temple by having the temerity to let herself get raped by Neptune there (Metamorphoses 4.770f.). The ancients weren’t much on women’s rights:
Medusa once had charms; to gain her love
A rival crowd of envious lovers strove.
They, who have seen her, own, they ne'er did trace
More moving features in a sweeter face.
Yet above all, her length of hair, they own,
In golden ringlets wav'd, and graceful shone.
Her Neptune saw, and with such beauties fir'd,
Resolv'd to compass, what his soul desir'd.
In chaste Minerva's fane, he, lustful, stay'd,
And seiz'd, and rifled the young, blushing maid.
The bashful Goddess turn'd her eyes away,
Nor durst such bold impurity survey;
But on the ravish'd virgin vengeance takes,
Her shining hair is chang'd to hissing snakes.
These in her Aegis Pallas joys to bear,
The hissing snakes her foes more sure ensnare,
Than they did lovers once, when shining hair.
(trans. Garth, Dryden, et al.)
Nevertheless, the Oracle tells Jason in Atlantis that Medusa’s fate is sealed, and it seems that she is implying that they want to follow Ovid’s story. This continues the uneasy feeling I’ve had about this show’s view of women. All of the new female characters added for this episode are horrible: The Maenads are irrational, obsessive killers who commit violence by trickery, typically stabbing men in the back. The other women are largely passive damsels in distress whom Jason tells—and I am not making this up—to literally “get behind me” while he does the manly business of being a man. Even Medusa, who comes closest to having agency in trying to escape her cell, is the passive recipient of Jason’s heroism and condemned to her fate.
All of this is necessary, of course, so that Jason may proclaim himself the Chosen One and a hero, and so he may make eyes at Ariadne. The show was entertaining if not particularly deep, but it needs to develop more fully rounded female characters.
That brings me to my second topic for today. After last week’s Atlantis broadcast, I noticed an uptick in visits to the website for my upcoming book, Jason and the Argonauts: The Epic History of a Greek Myth. Wouldn’t you know it, but hundreds of viewers wanted to find out whether Jason actually killed the Minotaur and ended up on my page comparing Jason and Theseus. “Jason and Minotaur” was the top search term for visitors to my Argonauts website over the past week. Another major search term was “Jason and Ariadne,” again from the TV show’s substitution of Jason for Theseus. Queries for comparisons of Jason and Theseus took up three slots on top search terms list. Such is the power of television.
Similarly, I have some new search terms leading people to my JasonColavito.com main site. For Google’s pleasure, here are some of the hot new search terms, along with answers to those visitors’ search questions:
- “Is America Unearthed coming back?” Yes. In November.
- “Is America Unearthed having a season 2?” Yes. In November.
- “When is America Unearthed’s new season?” I think we get the point.
- “Who is Rough Hurech?” A fictional person invented by America Unearthed.
- “Was Bigfoot’s skeleton found?” No.
- “Were there giants in Minnesota?” No, they play at the Meadowlands.
- “Were there Norse giants in Minnesota?” Not before 1800.
- “Is America Unearthed fake?” No, just completely and totally wrong about everything.
- “Does Scott Wolter run a scam?” No. You really do get a book if you send him money.
- “Is Scott Wolter running a hoax?” No, he believes his false history really happened.
- “Is Scott Wolter faking his show?” Only as much as the Kardashians.
Months after the end of the show, this week 18 out of the top 25 search terms leading visitors to my site are still related to America Unearthed. Ancient Aliens only scored four, and the Cyclops got one all on his own. (The other two are for me.) As much as I appreciate apparently absorbing a good chunk of the traffic from web surfers looking for information on Scott Wolter and America Unearthed, Committee Films may want to think about beefing up the show’s own web presence.