Saturday, February 8, 2014


Atalanta is my favorite mythological character, and I was always disappointed that there were so few stories about her, as opposed to the zillions of stories we have about, say, Hercules or Jason or Achilles or Odysseus.

Here is what I had known about her: when she was born, her father left her out in the woods to die. A bear finds her, and raises her as one of her own cubs. Atalanta grows to womanhood in the wilderness, and becomes a great hunter. She comes out of the woods at some point, to mix with other humans, and goes on adventures with the other heroes of her time --- she joins in the hunt for the Calydonian boar, which she is the first to wound, and she sails with Jason on the Argo, to help him find the Golden Fleece.

Men keep wanting to marry her, but she is a devotee of Artemis and sworn to chastity. (Or, alternately, she just isn't interested in married life.) So she issues a challenge to her prospective suitors: they must be able to win a footrace against her to marry her, and must stake their lives on the outcome of the contest. Win the race, and win her hand; or lose the race, and lose your life. This probably helped thin the herd of contestants somewhat!

One guy (who is called Hippomenes in the version of the story I know, but apparently he is sometimes called Melanion) planned ahead, and asked Aphrodite to help him win the race. She gave him three golden apples, and told him that Atalanta will be unable to resist them (either because they're magic or because ladies just can't resist the shiny), so if he throws them, she'll have to veer off course and stop to pick them up. These detours would give him time to overcome her lead, and even get ahead of her.

He does win the race, and he does get to marry Atalanta. But he forgets to thank Aphrodite for her help by making a burnt offering to her before the wedding, so she turns him and Atalanta both into lions. (Or, alternately, she makes them so consumed with lust that they consummate their marriage vows right there in Zeus's temple, which makes Zeus angry and then he turns them into lions.)*

It annoys me that the story about her that I know in the most detail isn't really about her --- it's about Hippomenes/Melanion, and his efforts to Get the Girl. Even apart from their main stories, we have all kinds of other stories of Hercules, Theseus and Jason wandering around performing random acts of heroism; why do we have so few about Atalanta? Such a badass character must surely have slain her share of brigands and marauding beasts, and the woman was raised from infancy by bears. Why aren't there any stories about her life in the forest, with the bears? (Also, who taught her to hunt like a human? Bears don't shoot arrows or throw spears, yet Atalanta is able to do both with great skill. Was there a kindly centaur who taught her in the warrior's arts, like Chiron taught Achilles?)

Because of this lingering disappointment with the meager trove of Atalanta-stories, I was elated to find this old Journal of Sport History article on "The Atalanta Legend in Art and Literature" (PDF). I was even more overjoyed to see it list a couple of incidents in Atalanta's mythic biography that I hadn't ever seen before: apparently she also wrestled against Peleus, the father of Achilles, who once beat a goddess at wrestling (that goddess being Thetis, Achilles's mother, the sea-goddess), and she was also once ambushed by two centaurs, whom she very quickly overpowered and killed.

(The article also explains who taught her to use weapons --- I guess some hunters found her while she was living in the woods, and took her in with them, and taught her to be a hunter, too.)

Going back to her contest with Peleus, here's a bit of trivia I thought was awesome:
That wrestling skills were possessed by Atalanta is obvious from the various artistic representations depicting the contest. Indeed [E. Norman**] Gardiner [in his 1910 book Greek Athletic Sports and Festivals] claimed that perhaps "the best illustration of a neck-hold occurred on a black-figured amphora in Munich, representing the wrestling match between Peleus and Atalanta."  For the match, Atalanta wore a tight fitting wrestling cap and short trunks, or shorts, while Peleus was naked as was the custom for male athletes in antiquity. There are several artistic representations of this match and the various scenes all show Peleus's hands in the same position, both on Atalanta's left arm. Atalanta, however, is shown in different positions, which varied from no hold at all, to her right arm over Peleus's shoulder, to her right hand seizing him by the back of the neck. 
Here are some pictures of those various depictions:
This might be the thing mentioned in the quoted bit? I don't know an amphora from a hole in the ground, but she's definitely got him in a neck-hold there!

Here's another one --- looks like this one's supposed to be the start of the match, from the way they're standing together in the middle of all those people.
Anyway, I just thought it was incredibly awesome that, not only is there another story I hadn't heard before about Atalanta being badass, but that a vase painting of that story should be singled out as possibly the best depiction of a certain wrestling technique in ancient Greek art!

*It is entirely possible that the first possible outcome I listed, with Aphrodite herself vengefully turning them into lions, is a bowdlerization of the ending I put in parentheses, where she makes them horny while they're on some other god's sacred ground, and then that god turns them into lions. I did first encounter this story as a child, in children's books.

**E. Norman! What an E. Normous opportunity for a pun!

Friday, February 7, 2014

On Long-Term Unemployment: Some Disjointed Thoughts

(A very rough draft of this post is on my Tumblr. I have decided I really like "tag rambling" as a form of writing!)

One of Mike the Mad Biologist's link-farm posts led me to this affecting post on The Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog, by one Kathleen Geier*:
Finally, on a personal note, I will, at long last, out myself here: I am one of those long-term unemployed you keep hearing about, and [sociologist Ofer] Sharone's research rings painfully true to my own experience. I've attended sessions at one of those self-help centers for unemployed workers of the type Sharone refers to. Those sessions helped me in important ways -- the videotaped mock interview, with feedback, was especially useful. But the philosophy there was that finding a job is largely under your control, and that did tend to exacerbate my already robust penchant for self-blame. It also left me with a gnawing sense of perpetual guilt that I'm never doing enough in my job search.

"I'm not spending enough time on my job search" is one category of unemployment self-blame. The other kind comes when you land an interview, but not the job. There have been times I've raked myself over the coals: why did I never think to learn skill X that they are looking for? Or, God, I really blew that question! Why oh why didn't I do more practice interviews?

I've interviewed for some great jobs, and I've made it to the final stage several times. A few weeks ago, for my dream job, I was one of the final two people considered -- but then of course, they decided to go with the other person.  
I always hear, "We really liked you!" "We were so impressed!" But someone else always turns out to be a "better fit". Always! It's beyond frustrating. That's why Sharone's findings about the emphasis on "the chemistry game" in the U.S. job market hit home for me. "Someone else was a better fit" -- story of my life.
The research she's referring to is in the book Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences, by MIT professor and sociologist Ofer Sharone. (Here is MIT's press release about the book).

Anyway, the objective elements of Kathleen Geier's experience --- long term unemployment, getting interviews but not jobs, someone else always being a "better fit" even though the interviewer/HR person gushes about your qualifications --- are very similar to mine, but I don't have the self-blaming response that she says she has, and that this Ofer Sharone guy says characterizes long-term-unemployed Americans in general.

I guess I think of interviews in a much more fatalistic way than she does. I see them less as a challenge for me to overcome than a way for them, the prospective employers, to look at me in person. If they like what they see, I get the job; if they don't, I don't.

Not sure if this is a healthier way to look at it or not --- yeah, I don't beat myself up over "failing" an interview, because I don't think passing or failing one is up to me, but at the same time I feel hugely disempowered in every aspect of the job search. 

Obsessive self-loathing and total apathy are both aspects of depression, you know?

And, of course, my being autistic informs my ideas about why I might be rejected. For her, it sounds like she tends to blame herself for rejection because she thinks she said something wrong, or underprepared for the interview, and that if she had said a different thing or done more prep work she would have gotten the job.

It's not that simple for me, because I know there are an endless array of reasons a non-autistic person might be put off by me, an autistic person. I know that they see a whole bunch of things in my body language, and hear things in my tone of voice, that I don't know are there** and can't consciously control or correct for.

I guess an analogy might be, you're applying for work in a very New Age sort of environment, where the hiring manager says she can read auras***, and that in lieu of a conventional interview she would just evaluate you on the basis of your aura. You sit in front of her for a VERY awkward five minutes or so while she closes her eyes, goes hmm and ahhh and oh! and oh dear and you have no idea what she's reacting to, and then she opens her eyes, shakes your hand, tells you she'll get back to you with her decision, and then leaves. And you are left completely mystified as to what just happened or what she thought of you.

You would probably not think there was much you could have done to change the outcome of that interview if you failed to get the job, correct?

Well, they're all pretty much like that for me.

*I'm assuming no relation to the notorious Mark and David Geier!

**A less charitable way of putting this is that they project qualities onto me from their imaginations. And they have such active ones!

***Assume for the purpose of this analogy that you cannot perceive your own aura because auras don't exist.