Write Michigan Short Story Contest — Part 1 of ?
It would probably be best to look back at previous winners of the contest to inform my decision about what to write, but I’m not going to do that. Today I’m going to pick out my subject, just based on what seems like it will be interesting to explore.
Last month I wrote about the myth of the great idea and came up with a few interesting ideas. Let’s take a quick look at those and see if one will work for a story that can only be up to 3,000 words long.
A dragon tamer in Ancient Greece, museum thief that gets the powers of Achilles, genetically mutated humans that have to drink human blood to survive, recovering lost hopes and dreams by journeying to the River Styx in the Underworld, a tree that must be fed blood, the death, or attempted death, of the 1.75 billion most aggressive males on the planet, forming diamonds from the blood of Leprechauns, a pureblood Renassaince craze, feral kids, cults, Mithras, the baptism of Hannibal in blood, and an alternating colliding narrative.
Those are all interesting ideas. I think that most of them would probably all for more than 3,000 words to be properly developed, although I could probably take a piece of any of them. The two that jump out at me are the myth of Mithras and the baptism of Hannibal. I could really focus in on just the baptism with Hannibal. With Mithras I could choose just one of the potential stories. A little context is needed for both of these. Let’s start with Mithras.
Mithra was originally an angel in the Zoroastrian religion. Some Romans adapted some of the tales into their own Mysteries, and it became popular in the Roman military. All of the writings about Mithraism have been destroyed, maybe a couple dozen half sentences exist. At one time there were entire histories, but they are lost to history. It’s interesting in that it was so popular, and now we know almost nothing. We know of 420 worship centers in Ancient Rome, and I’m sure we won’t ever find them all. From what I’ve read it sounds like it had some elements of monotheism, and was a direct competitor to Christianity, some scholars posit that the birthday of Mithras was celebrated on December 25th. The levels, rituals, and secrecy sound a lot like Freemasonry. The Christians eventually converted or killed everyone involved, and destroyed a lot of the temples, and burned all of the books, of course. This leaves a known unknown. Many things in history are lost and we don’t even know they have been lost, or we know about them and we know quite a lot, but there are certain things that it seems like we should know a lot about and almost nothing has survived. We do have statues though. The Christians did not destroy all of the carvings, thank Mithras. The stone reliefs depict specific scenes from the mythology. There are four that I could turn into a short story.
The most famous scene is of Mithra killing a bull. Mithra apparently catches, rides, and subdues the bull. He carries it to a cave, and kills it. That’s why the worship centers for Mithraism were in cave like structures. Another scene is of Mithra eating with Sol Invictus, the Roman sun god. They eat on the bull’s hide. Mithra is usually depicted as being born from a rock. There is also a man with a lion head and snakes wrapped around him. The theories on that one vary. Each of these could be turned into an interesting little story, or many.
Hannibal is quite a bit different in that he is a real historical person that we know quite a lot about. He is famous as the general of Carthage that fought Rome in Italy for many years. He is still studied for his military strategies, even though the Roman general Scipio Africanus eventually did defeat him. Few people know that Hannibal had a long and storied career even after that defeat. Much like Mithras, an entire series of novels could be written about him, but that’s not what I’m doing here. I’m also not making a historical textbook. True history is also rare, the people that are writing history are writing it for a reason. At times that is because they want to know and want to record truths, often it is not. More important than that, the people that promote certain histories do it for a reason, and that reason is usually in conflict with truth. Lastly, people believe certain perspectives on history because of specific reasons, and those are biased against the truth. Also, even if you work to ascertain what may be a more objective view of history, this less well known perspective is usually worth less than you would think because it is either illegal to know and say, or at least politically incorrect. Anyway, I’m not worried about writing history.
The stories of Hannibal as a young boy being sworn to destroy Rome have passed into legend, and I believe will slowly become myth. It would be interesting to help usher it into mythology. Here is some of the background from Wikipedia.
According to Polybius, Hannibal much later said that when he came upon his father and begged to go with him, Hamilcar agreed and demanded that he swear that as long as he lived he would never be a friend of Rome. There is even an account of him at a very young age (9 years old) begging his father to take him to an overseas war. In the story, Hannibal’s father took him up and brought him to a sacrificial chamber. Hamilcar held Hannibal over the fire roaring in the chamber and made him swear that he would never be a friend of Rome. Other sources report that Hannibal told his father, “I swear so soon as age will permit…I will use fire and steel to arrest the destiny of Rome.” According to the tradition, Hannibal’s oath took place in the town of Peñíscola, today part of the Valencian Community, Spain.
The fire story may be interesting, although I read a more interesting story a number of years ago, although I can’t remember where. The initiation rite involved Hannibal being baptized in the name of the patron god of Carthage, Ba’al, in a pool filled with the blood of children. Hannibal’s name comes from that god, Hanniba’al, or the grace of Ba’al. Ba’al has its own very interesting history that is fertile soil for storytelling, but I am sticking with Hanniba’al here.
I am going to let my mind ruminate over these ideas for the night and see what comes of it. There are eight days left to complete the story. Whether I go with Hanniba’al or with Mithra, I think it will be an interesting story.
You are welcome to join me in my writing explorations at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com