The Warrior Professor's Mini Lectures


The Tao Te Ching in "The Debt II"

After watching the second installment of "The Debt" and consulting my translation of the Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell, one passage in particular caught my attention: 


If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are. 
The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.

As a student of many schools of philosophy, "The Debt" intrigued me. The writers have posited Lao Ma as the wife of the philosopher archivist Lao Tzu who may have been a contemporary of Confucius (551-479 BC). The Lao Tzu of the Xenaverse was the ruler of one of the many petty kingdoms of China in the period. Xena's display in the throne room, clearly a manipulation of the force known as "chi," incorporated moves from the physical discipline Tai Chi Chuan. 

In my opinion, the passage cited from the Tao Te Ching strikes at the heart of Lao Ma's message to Xena and the elements of the lead character's personal journeys we see played out in this segment. I do not believe Xena did kill Min Ting. In effect, using the hairpin earlier portrayed by Lao Ma as a potential weapon, she lobotomized him or returned him to the state of childlike innocence he supposedly possessed before the events played out in the flashbacks. Otherwise, Xena would have had no reason to be speaking to a corpse or to have cautiously retrieved Lao Ma's manuscript. 

For bards interested in investigating the Tao Te Ching, I recommend the translation by Stephen Mitchell and published by Harper Perennial in 1988. ISBN 0-06-091608-7. 

Elements of The Hero's Quest in X:WP

I have no way of knowing to what extent the writers of the show are familiar with the classical hero's quest as it is played out in all the world's mythologies or whether they are responding to a knowlege of that quest that is inherent to humankind. I do believe, however, that our society is crying out for an accessible retelling of the quest. Myth is meant to impart understanding of life's situations in a form easily brought to mind and readily identifiable at the level of the heart. Both X:WP and Hercules are accomplishing this in a way I have not seen since the Star Wars triology appeared.

In the classical mythological sense, Xena is the hero answering a call to a quest, in this case, redemption. But the hero must always have a guide or a voice. If you are familiar with the Tarot deck, which is one of the oldest depictions of the hero's quest, you will know that the first card of the major arcana is The Fool. This figure is usually portrayeded as a young man so intent on his journey that his eyes are cast upward and he does not realize he is about to walk over a cliff. At the bottom of the card, we see a small dog grabbing the cuff of his pants and pulling him back from sure disaster. The dog is meant to signify a presence both whimsical and wise -- Gabrielle!

Guides can be a conscious or an unwitting influence on the hero. The hero is the character who has received a call. In fact, one of the initial stages of any hero's quest is the refusal of the call. My favorite example of this is the scene from Jaws when Roy Schieder sees the shark for the fist time as he's throwing fish innards off the back of the boat. His comment? "We need a bigger boat." If that's not a refusal of a call, I don't know what is. We are to presume that what the Fates have always had in mind for Xena is that "her strength will change the world," therefore, her years of darkness represent her refusal of the call, her abuse of the gifts she has been given. Even when Gabrielle does something headstrong (like taking water to the wounded members of the Horde) she's guiding Xena.

The element of bonding between hero and guide is part of the compelling relationship. Those two figures, at least mythologically, make up the divergent sides that when united are a complete being. We all crave that experience of soul mate because it makes our own quest a less lonely and daunting journey. And all real heroes are flawed. Their flaws are necessary for both their heroism and their humanity.

An Excellent Example of a Classical Image Used to Make a Contemporary Point

Robert Fulghum included this poem by the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy in Words I Wish I Wrote with the following footnote: "Ithaca was the home of Odysseus, whose journey is described in Homer's Odyssey. Cavafy's poem is one of the great comments on the value of the going versus the getting there, the journey of living versus the ultimate destination, death." The use of classical imagery and the journey motif so impressed me, I wanted to share it with you all.


When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge,
Do not fear the Lestrygonians
and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians,
the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them within you soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.

Then pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many,
that you will enter ports seen for the first time
with such pleasure, with such joy!
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony,
and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds,
visit hosts of Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for long years;
and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,
rich with all that you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have taken the road.
But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.
With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,
you must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

C.P. Cavafy


Fan Fiction
Return to the Fan Fiction archive