Our good friend Andrea is BACK, this time to lead us through a history of cross-dressing in mythology and folklore. We tackle stories from ancient Greece, Norse mythology, Chinese poetry, and beyond! We also chat about disaster bis, make too many puns and portmanteaus, and debate how best to cut a bagel. And remember: Never Sleep.
Julia’s recommendation this week is The Cryptonaturalist.
Andrea Lam is a writer and actor. Follow her on Twitter @AndreaNLam!
-The dark fantasy TV show Siren returns on Thursday, January 24th at 8 p.m. on Freeform! Be sure to watch!
- Skillshare is an online learning community where you can learn—and teach—just about anything. Visit skillshare.com/spirits2 to get two months of Skillshare Premium for free! This week Amanda recommends “Flex Your Creativity with Drawing & Doodles”.
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Amanda: Welcome to Spirits Podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.
Julia: I'm Julia.
Amanda: And this is episode 113: Mythological Cross-Dressing with Andrea Lam, returning guest.
Julia: It's so nice to have Andrea back.
Amanda: Yeah. This is super fun. I feel like it really builds on our first episode with her, Genderfuck the Gods, and it is great. I had so much fun recording this. I cannot wait for you to hear it.
Julia: Yeah, this is an absolute blast of an episode, and we touch up on a bunch of topics that I think people are gonna be really excited about.
Amanda: And some of those folks who recently supported us on Patreon are lucky enough to have their shout-out in this dope episode. Alicia, Shelby, Erin, Callahan, Andrea, Victoria, Dylan, Katie, Thalia, and Kaley. Welcome!
Julia: Yeah, welcome! Thank you for coming. This is gonna be a lot of fun. There's a lot of you, and we're excited for you to be here. We're also excited to welcome back our supporting producer level patrons Phillip, Julie, Eeyore, Kathy, Vinnie, Danika, Marissa, Sammy, Josie, Amara, Neil, Jessica, Phil Fresh and Deborah.
Amanda: And our legend level patrons, all of whom can pull off whatever style of clothing they choose, regardless of gender. It's a social construct. Jordan, Jess, Sarah, Zoe, Sandra, Audra, Mercedes, Jack Marie and Leanne.
Julia: We love you all. Y'all look great in that outfit.
Amanda: Oh, and Julia, tell us about the cocktail we drank for this episode, which was suggested by Andrea.
Julia: Yeah. The drink that we had is called the Marlene Dietrich. It was actually suggested by Andrea. Marlene Dietrich is an early movie star who traditionally had a very masculine wardrobe.
Amanda: Yeah. It was awesome. She looks great in a tuxedo. Man, you should google those images.
Julia: I wish I looked that good in a tuxedo.
Amanda: Me too. Jules, do you have a recommendation for us this week?
Julia: I do. I'm gonna recommend another audio drama, because you know that's my jam.
Julia: I'm gonna recommend The CryptoNaturalist.
Amanda: Very up our alley.
Julia: It is very up our alley. It is a podcast about a man who tells us about different interesting cryptozoology specimens and whatnot. It is very well-written. It is very prose-inspired. They do basically a poetry corner every time. I may or may not have guested on an episode.
Julia: Other guests include Justin McElroy and Adal Rifai, who was on one of our guest episodes as well.
Amanda: That sounds awesome. I will always listen to a pod that you're on, girl.
Julia: Aw, thank you.
Amanda: We are so looking forward to PodCon this coming weekend. If you are going to be there, or if you live in Seattle, remember to go to multitude.productions/live to get the lowdown on where we're going to be, and how to get tickets to our upcoming shows in Portland in February. But while you're there, I definitely encourage everybody to sign up for the Multitude newsletter. That is where you will get the first announcement of any additional live shows, any new merch, any exciting crossovers, and interviews and guest appearances we make on other pods. It is your home for all things Multitude. That's multitude.productions.
Julia: Amanda does an amazing job curating that newsletter. It is a delight to see it in my inbox every once in a while.
Amanda: Thanks. It's also very purple.
Julia: It is super purple. I love it.
Amanda: So without further ado, enjoy episode 113: Mythological Cross-Dressing with Andrea Lam. We're so happy to have Andrea Lam back with us after a rollicking success with our Genderfuck the Gods episode. Maybe the best title of any episode so far.
Julia: Pretty damn good.
Amanda: It's very good.
Andrea: Thank you very much.
Amanda: Today we're going to be covering something related but different, cross-dressing in mythology.
Andrea: Yeah. Again, another of my favorite subjects. There are a lot. A surprising amount of stories of men dressing up as women, and women dressing up as men. Not quite drag as we know it now, but costuming. This is generally something that's separate from sexual orientation or identity, as we will see.
Amanda: Yeah, so you can be straight, you can be cis and cross-dress, put on drag, present yourself differently for a time, for a purpose. I'm just thinking now of all the trickster gods, and the Shakespeare cross-dressing, and things like that, or you can be gay and do those things. There's all kinds of combinations possible, but this is, I think, a very cool subset of ... Or not subset, but roundup throughout mythology that I'm excited to learn more about.
Andrea: Right. Yeah, and it's very much along the lines of gender being performative. Today, gender is very performative in mythology.
Amanda: Hell yeah.
Andrea: We'll start with an episode from the youth of Achilles. The ancient Greek hero, who I'm sure most of you are already familiar with.
Julia: I'm already excited because I know what story you're gonna tell.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Andrea: But just in case you're not, Achilles is perhaps best known for his major part in the Trojan War. Achilles is a demigod, the son of the sea nymph Thetis. When Achilles was young, Thetis heard a prophecy saying that Achilles would die in the war on Troy. Thetis did a lot of things to try and prevent this. This is how we get Achilles' heel.
Amanda: Right. He was dipped in something, if I remember.
Andrea: That's one of the variations, is that Thetis took Achilles, baby Achilles, tiny, baby, wriggly Achilles, took him by his heel and dipped him into the water of I believe Styx in the underworld.
Amanda: For immortality, or some such.
Andrea: As a goddess she could do this, but unfortunately he wasn't entirely immortal because of how she held him by the heel.
Julia: Yep. Submerge. You gotta submerge the baby. Leave it there for a second, then pick it back up.
Andrea: Just put him in a colander and dip the whole thing in.
Julia: There we go. See, that would've made more sense.
Andrea: Shake, then you're ready to go.
Amanda: Just agitate the colander briefly.
Andrea: I'm sorry. Now I'm thinking of a baby Achilles in a giant salad spinner.
Julia: Me too.
Andrea: Because, as a demigod, he could handle it.
Julia: I also had that image.
Amanda: There you go. I was thinking of him as just a head of lettuce.
Andrea: I mean Brad Pitt in that terrible Troy film was little better than a head of lettuce, honestly.
Amanda: We'll come back to that.
Julia: Shots fired. Straight to the heel.
Andrea: Anyway, that's Achilles' very quick backstory. The Greek war on Troy is about to begin, and the Greeks are mustering their forces. Achilles, at this time, has been secreted away in Thessaly under the care of the centaur Chiron, as distinct from Charon, who is the Greek ferryman to the land of the dead. So-
Amanda: Oh, yeah. Two coins. There and back. That's all I remember about that.
Andrea: Achilles has been under the tutelage of Chiron, away from the war. Thetis goes to fetch him to hide him away, to make sure that her dear baby boy won't be killed in battle.
Julia: Thetis, the ultimate helicopter mom.
Andrea: Basically, yeah.
Amanda: Yeah, checks out.
Andrea: Thetis retrieves Achilles and puts him on a ship. When he's asleep she takes a little bit of a detour from Thessaly, and goes to the island of Skyros where King Lycomedes holds court. Mind you, he ... Achilles is asleep during this time, and when he wakes up he's on a whole new island. He's on Skyros. What the fuck, mom?
Amanda: You said we were going to Disney, and then for burgers.
Andrea: Thetis has come up with a plan. She tells Achilles. Poor Achilles probably still has sleep in his eyes. Probably hungover as well. They had a bit of a party the night they left Thessaly.
Amanda: That's a good way to make sure that your son sleeps through the journey that you are unwillingly gonna take him on.
Julia: Just get him super hungover. Yeah.
Andrea: I mean the Greeks, there's a theme, unfortunately. Bad things happen when you fall asleep. Don't do it.
Amanda: It sounds very sustainable. Never sleep. Always watch. Mad-Eye Moody had it right.
Andrea: Achilles wakes up in Skyros, and Thetis tells him her magnificent plan, which is she wants Achilles to disguise himself as a girl, as a young woman, and hide among the daughters of King Lycomedes' court. That way the Greeks will never find him, and he will stay alive and safe forever. Achilles is not super happy with this plan, mostly because he probably has a raging headache from all that wine, and initially refuses. Really digs his heels in. Kind of a bad son, also understandable, but also his mother's trying to save his life, honestly.
Julia: I do have to appreciate your, "Dig his heels in."
Amanda: Oh, no.
Andrea: Serious business here, lads.
Julia: For sure.
Amanda: But yeah, no, I see it. She's trying to do what's best, and he is saying, "Hey, if I'm gonna hang out with a bunch of ladies it's not gonna be dressed as a lady."
Andrea: Right. But the thing that changes Achilles' mind is when he attends a festival at Lycomedes' court, in which Lycomedes' multiple beautiful daughters perform a dance in honor, I believe, of Pallas Athena. During the festivities, he spies Deidamia, Lycomedes' most beautiful daughter, of course. It's always the most beautiful.
Andrea: He decides, "I like that one," and so he says, "Yes, okay. Dress me up as a woman. Put me among the women," so he can hang out with Deidamia.
Julia: Achilles, disaster bi.
Andrea: Kind of, yeah.
Andrea: This is a really strong recurring theme.
Amanda: Yeah. Clothes a little disheveled, heel hanging out. Makes sense to me.
Andrea: Thetis dresses Achilles up as a young woman, and this is not described in detail in the myth. By the way, the most complete version of this story we have from someone who is actually a Roman poet, Statius, not ... This episode does not occur in The Iliad or The Odyssey. This is something that has existed in nebulous form, and is a very popular story, but the most extant, the most solid text we have was written afterwards. The poem is actually incomplete. It's called The Achilleid, and is meant to be the story of Achilles' life from start to finish.
Amanda: Incomplete fragmented poem, disaster bi. It's absolutely right. Absolutely.
Julia: She's killing it.
Andrea: Achilles sees Deidamia. Falls in ... Well, we'll say lust, and agrees to Thetis' magnificent plan. She dresses up Achilles as a woman, and apparently teaches him how to behave as a woman. Again, this is nebulous, but we can imagine from context, and from what we know of other cross-dressing stories in mythology, a lot of it is just gendered behavior.
Julia: Yeah, like gesture, posture, stuff like that.
Andrea: Exactly. Voice, things like that, and what you're allowed to be interested in, and what you're not allowed to be.
Julia: Which becomes important later.
Amanda: Goddammit. When there's two of you ganging up on me it's like aw, I wanna know the story.
Andrea: So once Thetis does this, she brings Achilles, again, dressed as a woman, to Lycomedes' court and introduces him as her daughter. Lycomedes agrees to take Achilles under his protection, and he is boarded up. He is sent to live with the women as a woman.
Andrea: The Greeks are mustering their troops, their sailors, and the soldiers, the forces, at Aulis. But everyone looks around and notices that Achilles is not here. Where is Achilles? We thought he was in Thessaly with that centaur guy, but apparently not. Where is he? The Greeks round up the seer Calchas. Calchas has a vision. Snitches get stitches. Come on, Calchas.
Amanda: Come on.
Julia: Come on.
Andrea: Calchas has a vision, and everyone finds out that oh, wait, Achilles is on Skyros in a dress. The heroes Odysseus, we know Odysseus, and Diomedes traveled to Skyros to find him. Meanwhile, meanwhile, son of meanwhile, Deidamia has figured out that Achilles is Achilles, and not just a pretty lady, and keeps his secret. Decides to help him-
Amanda: Plot twist.
Andrea: Yes. Maintain this secret identity. Unfortunately, Achilles does not return the favor, necessarily. Deidamia has done him a solid, right?
Andrea: Achilles proceeds to rape Deidamia in a sacred wood.
Andrea: Okay, rape really bad. Sacred wood, also bad.
Julia: Yeah. Double bad in this situation, particularly bad.
Amanda: Bad to do, but a bad place to do it also.
Andrea: Right. This is where I would love to read some sort of transformative retelling of this story from maybe Deidamia's perspective, because from Statius we have the fact that after Achilles rapes her, she forgives him and continues to keep his secret.
Julia: Oh, boy.
Andrea: Becomes pregnant by him, and bears his son.
Julia: Actually, Madeline Miller does a really interesting perspective of this in The Song of Achilles, and I would highly recommend everyone check it out because it-
Andrea: Yes, definitely.
Julia: ... includes this story for sure. It's a really interesting thing where he marries her and stuff like that's. It's not a rape, as far as I remember from the story. It's a little bit better. Madeline Miller's very good at that kind of thing, so I would recommend everyone check it out.
Amanda: A story as old as that with so many retellings, and such a place in popular imagination, I totally see how there can be substantial differences that just-
Andrea: Oh, of course. Yeah.
Amanda: ... arise over time.
Julia: For sure.
Andrea: At this point, Odysseus and Diomedes have landed in Skyros, and are welcomed by Lycomedes to his court. Odysseus and Diomedes have brought gifts for Lycomedes' beautiful daughters. Call everyone into the court, lay out the gifts on silks.
Julia: Come check out what we got.
Andrea: Oh, yes. Yeah. Beautiful clothes, jewels, musical instruments as well, and in a corner, a set of weaponry, a shield and a helmet.
Amanda: I was gonna ask if they brought Achilles a knife, and they did.
Julia: They did.
Julia: Here's a shitty knife for you, Achilles. Have at it.
Amanda: Listen, in my household growing up, someone always got a weapon for Christmas. It was always very exciting.
Julia: That's so on-brand for your family.
Amanda: I know. After a couple of years, it was like it became a thing where who was gonna get the weapon this year. Yeah, my favorite one was my brother Connor got a shillelagh.
Julia: That's hot.
Amanda: A traditional Irish club and walking stick. It's beautiful.
Andrea: Okay, that sounds amazing, because when I went to university I had to buy myself the official Noble Collection letter opener replica of Glamdring, Gandalf's sword.
Andrea: That is the only so-called weapon that I have, and your version, your family version of that sounds amazing.
Julia: I don't know. They both sound pretty dope.
Amanda: Axes, mallets, leather-
Andrea: I want a shillelagh.
Amanda: Yeah. Shillelaghs are a strong choice, in the best way. They're great.
Andrea: So Odysseus and Diomedes set up this beautiful offering, which is actually a trap. The women and Achilles file in. All the women are naturally drawn to the beautiful dresses, and the jewels, and the musical instruments, and probably just plucking out Wonderwall maybe in the corner or something like that, or the ancient Greek equivalent.
Julia: I'm pretty sure the ancient Greek equivalent is Wonderwall.
Andrea: Achilles, he remembers his lessons, his woman lessons from Thetis, but Achilles being Achilles is drawn to the shield, to the helmet, and to the weapons. He is the only one who does so. Seeing this, clever Odysseus pulls out a war horn, or a trumpet, or something from behind his back, essentially, and he blows on it. Achilles grabs the sword and jumps up ready for battle.
Amanda: Oh, no.
Andrea: Gotcha, Achilles.
Andrea: That's you.
Amanda: I wanna make fun of how this is very gender essentialist, but it's a pretty good plan. It's a pretty good plan.
Julia: Yeah. It's not bad.
Andrea: It's pretty good.
Julia: It's very on-brand for Odysseus.
Amanda: I know. You gave me a queer performance poetry anthology. I'm just gonna run to it.
Andrea: The thing is, about this, this is one of my favorite images from Greek myth, is Odysseus forcing Achilles to reveal himself. This is, and has been, a very popular subject in not just Greek art, but especially in Renaissance art as well. It's popped up throughout the centuries because it's such powerful visual.
Amanda: Yeah, it's so vivid. There's so much going on. There's lots of people. There's luxury goods. I can see why, particularly for fine art, it would be a really good subject.
Andrea: Yeah. But going back to that terrible Troy film, the 2004 one with Brad Pitt as Achilles-
Julia: Hit me up with that Brad Pitt shade.
Andrea: ... the makers of that film were cowards.
Julia: They should've put him in a dress.
Andrea: They had a chance to put Brad Pitt in a dress. They didn't. They chickened out. They put him in this blue not really chiton, because all the costumes were whatever.
Andrea: Yeah. They put him in this blue thing with, I think, the equivalent of a puka shell necklace. They made him look like a surfer.
Amanda: Oh, no.
Julia: Oh my god.
Andrea: Yeah. Nah.
Julia: Come on.
Amanda: You could've doubled your box office returns by giving us Brad Pitt in really convincing drag.
Julia: We could've had it. We could've had it all, rolling in the deep.
Amanda: You had my heart inside of your hands, and you played it.
Andrea: Rolling in the Aegean doesn't really scan.
Amanda: It doesn't quite work.
Andrea: In the version that we have from Statius, again, this later Roman poet, once Achilles reveals himself to Odysseus, to Diomedes, to Lycomedes and everyone, Lycomedes legitimates their relationship. Achilles knocked up his daughter in secret, behind his back. They had a son. Okay. Deidamia stays on Skyros and pines for Achilles while Achilles sails off to war and death, right?
Julia: Oh, Achilles.
Andrea: Okay. There's a few other versions. These are the ones that I like much better, in which Deidamia also dresses up, but she takes her turn. Deidamia dresses up as a man herself-
Andrea: ... and sails with the men to Troy.
Amanda: Fuck yeah.
Andrea: I like that version a lot better.
Julia: So much better.
Andrea: Unfortunately, she probably also dies, but still, she is a lot more active in that version. You get that great reverse visual.
Julia: Yep. For sure.
Amanda: That's a really nice-
Andrea: That's one of my favorite stories-
Julia: It's a good one.
Andrea: ... to come out of the Trojan War, and Greek mythology more broadly. There's a historical episode, actually, which is basically grounded in cross-dressing as well. It occurs around 510 BCE in the land of Argos. It concerns the poet, the great female poet Telesilla, who we know because through the fragments that we still have of her poetry, scholars were able to learn a lot of basically unique ancient Greek words. I believe they're called hapax legomana.
Andrea: That we only have through Telesilla's poetry.
Julia: That's cool as hell.
Amanda: That's wild, yeah.
Andrea: I believe she is one of the, I think, seven, eight or nine, some magical number, of canonical female ancient Greek poets.
Julia: That's cool.
Andrea: Telesilla, already great. Her legend becomes even greater, because according to Pausanias, in 510 BCE Cleomenes of Sparta has laid siege to Argos, and has slain basically all of the Argive men, the soldier of age on the battlefield, and has begun his march on the city. Telesilla gathers up all of the elderly and sick men who weren't able to go off to battle, and gathers up all the women. She stations all the old and sickly men around the walls of the city, and puts all of the women in armor, and gives them weapons, and stations them prominently on the walls of the city overlooking the plain. So when Cleomenes arrives and looks up, and sees oh God, we did not expect this, he decides to cut his losses and flees.
Julia: Our listeners cannot see it, but I am fist-pumping real hard right now.
Amanda: I love that idea.
Andrea: There was instituted, essentially, a festival in celebration of Telesilla, of this great feat, strategic feat of hers, called the Hybristica, which is partially celebrated by men dressing as women and women dressing as men.
Amanda: It's awesome.
Julia: I want to go to there.
Amanda: Oh, I know.
Julia: To do the thing.
Amanda: I love it so much. I love the use of theatrics and showmanship for interesting strategic purposes. And also the idea that you thought we were useless, and you're protecting us by leaving us at home? Sorry, suckers, we are going to weaponize ourselves in the way that we can.
Andrea: Yeah. It's not just Spartan women who have fighting spirit.
Amanda: And from a poet too. That's awesome.
Andrea: And so we'll move on to the return of Thor and Loki.
Amanda: Oh, man.
Julia: Back at it.
Amanda: Thought we were done.
Julia: My boys. They back at it.
Amanda: We're not done. They're never-ending.
Andrea: Yeah, speaking of disaster bis, it's the return of Loki.
Amanda: My favorite.
Julia: The return of the original disaster bi.
Amanda: I love him.
Andrea: So in our Genderfuck the Gods episode, I told the story of Loki transforming himself into a mare and giving birth to an eight-legged horse.
Julia: Yep, that happened.
Amanda: You did. It happened, and you told us about it.
Andrea: Yes, because Loki gives bad advice, and he is canonically, in the Eddas, known as the one who gives bad advice.
Julia: It's so good. Every time I think about that I'm like, "That's such a sick burn."
Amanda: I know.
Julia: Such a sick burn on Loki.
Amanda: I know. Not even that he doesn't try, but that he tries and fails.
Andrea: We know that story from The Prose Edda. In The Poetic Edda, and that story begins ... Perhaps my favorite poem in The Poetic Edda is called the Thrymskvitha, which is named after the giant, Thrym. The story begins with Thor just waking up one morning, probably hungover. This is a theme.
Andrea: Thor wakes up one morning to find that, Mjolnir, his great and mighty hammer, has been stolen in the night when he was sleeping.
Andrea: Thor and Loki want to find out what the hell is going on.
Andrea: Hell, so to speak. Thor and Loki go to the goddess Freya, long-suffering Freya, and ask her to loan him ... To loan them her magical feather cloak so they can fly across the realms and find Mjolnir. Freya says, "Yeah, okay."
Julia: Just leave Freya alone. Let her take a nap.
Amanda: Freya just needs to hang out with a glass of wine.
Andrea: Yeah, all right. I'll do you this favor. Okay. It's not like you're asking for my hand in marriage to some other guy again.
Julia: Oh, thank God, for once. For once that story doesn't start with that.
Andrea: It doesn't start with that.
Julia: Oh, boy.
Amanda: Oh, no.
Andrea: Poor Freya. Loki puts on Freya's magical feather cloak, and flies across the realms, and arrives in-
Julia: Carrying Thor. He's under his armpits.
Andrea: No, actually that I think happens later.
Julia: Okay, good.
Andrea: This time Loki goes alone in his feather cloak, which I'm sure Tom Hiddleston would rock.
Julia: I know.
Amanda: Man, would he.
Julia: Give Tom Hiddleston a cloak. A feather cloak.
Amanda: Give him a feather cloak. Give him a disaster bi rainbow feather cloak.
Andrea: Amazing. So he puts on the cloak and flies to Jotunheim, the realm of the giants. That's where he finds the titular giant Thrym. He asks ... Well, Thrym asks, "What the hell are you doing here?"
Julia: Good question.
Andrea: Loki says, "We're trying to find this hammer."
Andrea: "Have you seen it?" Thrym says, "I stole the hammer. I did the thing."
Amanda: Whoa, plot twist.
Julia: I've seen it because I have it. It's right here.
Julia: I saw it last night when I stole it.
Andrea: Yeah, Thor was just ... He was just knocked out sleeping. Came into your realm, stole the hammer, won't give it back.
Amanda: Again, the lesson, never sleep.
Julia: That is becoming a theme.
Andrea: Thrym refuses to return the hammer until he is given Freya's hand in marriage.
Julia: Oh goddammit, leave Freya alone.
Andrea: Leave Freya alone.
Amanda: This is like the anti-dowry.
Amanda: Instead of being given stuff when you agree to marry a person, you steal it in order to coerce them to marry you.
Julia: Leave Freya alone 2018.
Amanda: Hand raise emoji. Couldn't agree more.
Andrea: Loki flies back to Asgard, joins up with Thor, and they go and plead their case to Freya. Will you marry this guy so Thor can get his hammer back?
Amanda: I'm sorry. Let's revisit the premise.
Andrea: Freya, bless her, goes into a rage so mighty that the hall shakes, and says, "Fuck no."
Julia: Good for you.
Andrea: "No, I am not going to marry this random giant because you had a huge hangover and couldn't keep hold of your hammer."
Julia: That sounds amazing.
Amanda: I thought you were going to say she just acquiesces, and I was gonna be like, "Fair enough." She seems so put upon that I wouldn't blame her for just being defeated, but this is a much more badass outcome.
Andrea: Yeah. It's one of my favorite lines in the poem is that her rage is so great that she shakes the hall.
Amanda: I love it.
Julia: I love her so much.
Andrea: Plan A didn't work because Freya is her own goddess, and so the gods all meet and discuss, because Thor needs his hammer back in defense of Asgard so the giants don't get in. Gods don't really know what to do. Luckily, Loki is not the one who comes up with a plan this time. It's actually a decent plan, and that's because Heimdall figured it out.
Julia: That's usually how it rolls.
Andrea: Yep. Heimdall, the smart one. But the thing is, the plan is let's put Thor in a frock. Let's tart Thor up as Freya, send him to Thrym, and figure it out from there.
Julia: Just rouge his cheeks a little bit and he'll be fine.
Amanda: Yeah. I really wanna zoom in on the go from their part, though. What and when exactly is this going to be revealed?
Julia: We'll see what happens. It'll probably be fine.
Andrea: One of the really fun things about working with these ancient texts is that it's a lot of plot and not so much character, so you have to imagine everyone's reactions to basically everything, like let's put Thor in a frock. There's a longer, rather beautiful passage about all the things that they will put on Thor to make him look like Freya.
Andrea: Jewelry, and gowns, and all that sort of thing. It's rather lovely. Unfortunately, Thor refuses.
Julia: Come on, Thor.
Andrea: He specifically refuses because there's a line, it's the Andy Orchard translation. Thor says, "The gods will call me a cock-craver," and that's why he doesn't want to put on a frock.
Amanda: Oh, Thor.
Julia: You know what, Thor?
Amanda: Oh, Thor.
Julia: Chris Hemsworth would be down for this.
Amanda: I'm just gonna say he would look great. Great thighs. Come on.
Andrea: Yeah. Edda Thor is kind of a dick. I much prefer the Chris Hemsworth version.
Julia: The puppy dog one.
Julia: I gotcha.
Amanda: Good dude.
Julia: So good, and so pure.
Amanda: Man, masculinity's so fragile in ancient texts.
Andrea: Still is, unfortunately.
Julia: Marvel Thor does not care. Marvel Thor wanted to be a Valkyrie.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: Just saying.
Andrea: Yes, amazing.
Amanda: Enjoys braiding his hair. Yeah. Enjoys dressing up.
Julia: Oh, so good. So much product in that hair. It's so beautiful.
Andrea: Thor refuses in a very dickish manner, and Loki tells him to put and shut up because we're gonna do this thing.
Julia: Damn right.
Andrea: We're gonna get your damn hammer back so the walls don't fall to the giants. So Thor dresses up as Freya, and Loki dresses up as Freya's handmaiden.
Julia: There we go.
Andrea: Because Thor cannot be trusted to make this work on his own.
Amanda: Correct. Freya's like I'll go.
Julia: No, Loki. Loki will go.
Andrea: Yeah. Loki also is up in ... Also, gets himself up in a dress.
Julia: He's like, "I'm cool with this. Let's go."
Andrea: Again, we should see this in the Marvel cinematic universe, because I am quite sure that both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston have been in a dress before, and would be willing to do this.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: I want them to do the get help from Thor: Ragnarok, but this.
Amanda: Yeah. Yeah, and fandom would fucking love it.
Andrea: They could do it for charity. They could just film a short for charity.
Julia: Yeah. They did that one short where it was like, "Where's Thor in this Avengers movie or whatever?"
Andrea: Oh, right. Yeah. In Australia, with his flatmate, Darryl.
Julia: He's just hanging out.
Andrea: Thor and Loki in dresses. They go back to Jotunheim and meet up with Thrym, who doesn't suspect anything. Celebrates by throwing a wedding feast for his wedding to Thor/Freya, Thoreya
Amanda: At least they got a feast out of it.
Andrea: Thoreya. So yeah, a wedding feast. At the wedding feast Thor, again, in a dress, made up, whatever, imagine-
Julia: Rosy cheeks.
Andrea: Yeah, just let your imagination run wild. Thor proceeds to basically eat most of the feast. In the text he eats a whole ox, eight salmon, all of the delicacies available, which basically means he stuffs his face with sweets. He washes that down with three entire barrels of mead.
Amanda: I imagine the wedding guests just looking at each other like well, we can't really call out the bride.
Andrea: She is-
Julia: That's gonna be me at my wedding.
Andrea: She is a goddess, so she's got appetites, but also-
Amanda: Yeah, true.
Andrea: ... this does seem a little bit unusual.
Julia: A little excessive, but we're not gonna judge.
Andrea: Thrym makes an ... Noise, essentially, and Loki reassures him that Thor/Freya, Thorya, had not eaten or drunk for the previous eight days and nights because he was so excited to come to Jotunheim to marry Thrym.
Amanda: Yeah, because when I'm excited I don't eat or drink ever.
Julia: I get that people-
Andrea: And then binge on an ox, and a lot of salmon and mead.
Julia: Freyor?. That's also a good one.
Julia: Sorry. I'm really into this.
Amanda: I like Freyor. It's a good portmanteau.
Andrea: So next, Thrym sneaks a peek under Freyor's veil.
Amanda: Okay, I thought you were gonna say dress. That's better. Veil. Okay.
Julia: There's a veil, at least.
Andrea: Yeah. Sneaks a peek under his veil, and sees his glaring eyes and goes, "Oh my god," essentially.
Julia: I made a mistake.
Amanda: Wait, so was he eating under the veil? Was there a tent, like a car wash of food?
Andrea: Amazing. Oh, god.
Julia: You see an entire salmon go under the veil and disappear.
Amanda: The ox just slowly disappearing.
Andrea: Really, I want to charity short of this. I mean you can even-
Andrea: You can reuse a ren fair set with the turkey legs and the whatever.
Amanda: We know that Hemsworth loves to eat.
Julia: Also, listen. We got friends at Marvel. We could do this.
Amanda: It wouldn't translate as well to audio.
Julia: That's true.
Andrea: Yeah, the Foley would be a production.
Julia: A piece of good Foley.
Amanda: Unpleasant at best.
Andrea: So Thrym peeks under Thorya's veil, freaks out a little bit because oh God, red, and glaring and very angry at me. Loki reassures the giant that no, it's just because Thor had not slept for the previous eight days and nights because, again, so excited to go to Jotunheim to marry this strange giant.
Julia: Hey, again, don't sleep. Not sleeping solves all of our problems.
Amanda: Yeah. Say what you will about Loki, he knows how to sell a lie.
Amanda: I appreciate that.
Andrea: He's not good at planning, but he can figure it out on his feet.
Amanda: Disaster bi.
Andrea: So in the middle of all of this, Thrym's sister, also a giant, comes up and just asks for a bridal gift of, I believe, rings for arms and fingers as a marker of this new sisterhood of Freya marrying into the family.
Julia: Oh, boy.
Andrea: Finally, Thrym brings the hammer, brings Mjolnir to Thorya. Freyor. I love it. Brings Mjolnir to him, and lays it in his lap, creasing, obviously, this ... The fabric of this beautiful gown that he is wearing. That's it. That's all she wrote. Thor rips himself out of the dress, grabs up the hammer, and proceeds to fuck up all the giants.
Amanda: Oh, boy.
Andrea: He fucks up Thrym first, obviously, for the indignity of putting him through all of this, even though it was Thor's fault in the first place.
Andrea: Unfortunately, the Edda makes specific mention of Thor then fucking up Thrym's sister for daring to ask for a gift to mark this new sisterly relationship.
Amanda: Oh, boo.
Andrea: Because Thor's a dick, and then he fucks up all the other giants, but specifically the sister. That's personal. That's unwarranted.
Julia: Loki's just chilling, watching all of this.
Andrea: Yeah, basically.
Julia: Fucking Loki.
Amanda: Oh, Loki. I do really enjoy the construction, though, of what big eyes you have, what big teeth you have.
Amanda: I like that a lot.
Andrea: Yeah, that's the story of Thor and Loki in dresses. I really would love to see a 21st century adaptation of this, completely modernized.
Amanda: Let Chris Hemsworth eat an ox.
Julia: While we pitch that to Marvel, man, I think I need a refill.
Amanda: Oh, man, so much talk of feasting. I wanna go find some mead of my own.
Julia: Amanda, I know how much you like sexy, sexy, half-animal, half-human hybrids.
Amanda: That's a stretch. Why do you ask?
Julia: There is a new TV series on Freeform called Siren.
Amanda: Oh. I mean sirens are hot, man.
Julia: Sirens are hot.
Amanda: I do admit to that.
Julia: It is about a powerful and alluring mermaid, Ryn, who mysteriously comes to shore in a small town called Bristol Cove, but she is no little mermaid. This is no Disney movie, Amanda. The first episode she straight up throws a man through a windshield to defend herself.
Amanda: That sounds very Wynonna Earp of her.
Julia: I know. I'm into it. Now in this upcoming season more mermaids have arrived, so even hotter mermaids. Is it for refuge or revenge? What are they looking for? I personally can't wait for the show's return on Freeform because it is unpredictable, it is action-packed, and if you haven't seen it on TV before you're going to want to check it out. It is a unique approach to the mermaid myth, and you know we love mermaids. We did a whole episode on mermaids. You know we love them. Siren returns on Thursday, January 24th at 8:00 PM on Freeform. Don't miss it.
Amanda: Yeah. You can get the Freeform app on Roku. You can stream it online. Check it out. I am going to be tuning into the second series because sexy mermaids sounds like a really good night.
Julia: Everyone loves a sexy fish.
Amanda: Well, Julia, speaking of sexy fish-
Amanda: This is actually a true segue. We are also sponsored this week by Skillshare, where you can learn truly anything, including this week I took a course called Flex Your Creativity with Drawing and Doodles. I did not know about the sexy fish when I took this course, but I wish I did. Maybe I'll use my newfound skills to do some doodling. It was never a hobby that I had, like a thing that I did in class when taking notes or anything, but I have been trying to exercise my creativity in new ways this year, because I do creative stuff for my job, but I also wanna make sure that I am doing some creative stuff that's just for fun.
Never having been into drawing, I thought why not give it a shot? This course is awesome. It really made me feel less self-conscious about drawing something good, and more drawing for imagination. You can check Flex Your Creativity with Drawing and Doodles on Skillshare, which is an online learning community for creators. They have over 25,000 classes on things that will fuel your curiosity, your creativity, and your career. Go to skillshare.com/spirits2. This is a new URL, people. Skillshare.com/spirits2. New URL for a new year. That will get you two months of Skillshare premium for free.
Julia: Yeah. You don't have to pay that 99 cents anymore. Now you're getting it for free.
Amanda: That's skillshare.com/spirits2 for a free two month trial of their premium membership.
Julia: It is great.
Amanda: Whether you are drawing sexy fish or learning about SEO and marketing for your day job, Skillshare has something for you.
Julia: Mobile photography for when you're taking pictures of what you think is a mermaid outside.
Amanda: Totally. You gotta make sure you get that framing right when you take photos of your cryptids.
Julia: Heck yeah. No more blurry photos of cryptids. Take a Skillshare class.
Amanda: No more. Not on our watch. Not on Skillshare's watch. Wow, this ad break really has been a heck of a refill.
Julia: Let's get back to it.
Amanda: All right. Let's go.
Andrea: So yeah, I would love to see a 21st century completely modern adaptation of the Thrymskvitha, specifically with the Marvel cinematic universe cast in place. Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Tom Hiddleston as Loki. We'll have to find some person to do Freya. Actual Freya, not Thorya or Freyor.
Julia: I liked Eva Longoria.
Andrea: Yeah, mostly because I just want Eva Longoria, or some amazing actress, to scream the hall down.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: Gina Rodriguez.
Amanda: Gina Rodriguez. I don't know. I feel like she's too pretty to suffer. I don't want to put her through that in her role.
Julia: Okay, that's fair.
Amanda: But she's badass and wonderful.
Julia: I just can imagine all the people trying to propose to her, so that's where my head's at.
Amanda: Or other half of my favorite almost power couple on Brooklyn 99, Stephanie Beatriz. She'd be great.
Julia: Oh, yeah she would. The amount of anger that I just pictured in my head there was so very good.
Amanda: Yeah, I know. Can throw a knife. Can eat a feast.
Andrea: Most of all, for this speculative modern adaptation of the Thrymskvitha, I need Idris Elba to reprise his role as Heimdall.
Julia: Yes, yes, yes.
Andrea: Mostly because I love the idea of Idris Elba, king of hackney, coming up with this brilliant idea to put Chris Hemsworth in a dress.
Julia: Just pointing at Chris Hemsworth like, "You, dress, now."
Julia: Long veil.
Andrea: Basically like a stag do, essentially. Just shove him in a dress, put some makeup on, slap a wig on there and send him across the border into Jotunheim.
Julia: Original Thor doesn't even need a wig.
Amanda: That's true.
Julia: It's only after Ragnarok does he need the wig.
Amanda: This is true.
Andrea: And so we come to, I feel for me personally, the canonical story of cross-dressing in mythology and folklore, which is the story of Hua Mulan.
Andrea: My favorite.
Andrea: Not a princess, but my favorite Disney princess.
Julia: Yes, agreed.
Andrea: Next to Shuri.
Julia: Hard agree.
Amanda: Listen, if she's not a princess I don't wanna be one. She is the defining member of that category.
Julia: For sure.
Amanda: Also, completely my gay awakening as a child.
Amanda: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I was like, "Oh, pretty lady. Oh, better as a man. Oh, also cool lady. Yes, excellent."
Julia: You're not wrong there.
Amanda: The answer is just yes.
Andrea: I feel like that's probably the reverse of how Li Shang from the Disney film came to realize that he was bi too.
Julia: 100% true.
Andrea: I'm so sad that Li Shang won't be in the Disney live action adaptation.
Julia: That is the most upsetting thing to me in the world. You have no idea. I just wanted a hot version of BD Wong. Not that BD Wong is not attractive, but I just wanted that so bad.
Andrea: But then again, the Disney live action version is changing and adding a lot. I mean every version of the Mulan story changes and adds a lot because, as we'll find out, the original text, there's not a lot to it, actually.
Andrea: Mulan's significance, I think, really demands an episode dedicated to her alone. But very briefly, for the purposes of this roundup, the Ballad of Mulan originally appeared in the sixth century. Unfortunately, we don't actually have that text. We know it existed then, but the earliest actual text that we have appeared in an anthology from around the 11th or 12th centuries, which was explicitly sourced to that sixth century original, which is how we know it existed.
Andrea: The thing is, basically everyone knows the Disney version at the very least. The original Ballad of Mulan is a very short poem. It's only 31 couplets.
Andrea: 62 very short lines.
Julia: We could read it in 10 minutes.
Andrea: Essentially, yeah. So many folktales and legends and things, at least the poetic versions, are mostly just a plot outline with not a lot of space given to dialogue, characterization, anything like that, which is why it's so important to track subsequent evolutions, adaptations and things like that, which all respond to the culture of their time.
Julia: Right. I think that's the best kind of stories too, are the ones that are so simple that you can build off of them.
Julia: As long as the building blocks are there, the inspiration that it causes, and the versions, and the AUs and all of that are just the best kind of storytelling. That's what folklore is all about, honestly.
Amanda: Yeah. It lets you enrich the character with your own mind, and relate to them, and make assumptions that relate the most to you, which makes it feel so personal.
Julia: Yeah, for sure.
Amanda: Was that original short poem probably performed orally?
Andrea: I'm not quite sure, actually. But the next time the story of Mulan appears in Chinese literature is during the ... Well, the next significant time it appears is during the Ming dynasty.
Julia: I will pause for one second to say China has more of an established tradition of written text than most cultures that we talk about on the show, so it might've started out oral, but it definitely was written down early on and that tradition continued for sure.
Andrea: So during the Ming dynasty Xu Wei wrote a play about Mulan, and that one of the texts that we get a lot more added on characterization, and plot details and things like that, which when you start with just 62 short lines, you have to go up and out from there.
Julia: You can bulk it up.
Andrea: Yeah. After that, in the Qing dynasty, Chu Renhuo wrote the story of Mulan, expanded it dramatically in his historical novel, The Sui Tang Romance, which I have not personally read in full. But honestly it's not my favorite, mostly because even though there's a really cool detail of that version of Mulan meeting a fellow woman warrior, and then they have this epic friendship or maybe gal pal thing. We don't really know. We can believe.
Julia: They're just really close pals. Just so good.
Andrea: I want to believe. So even though she has this really interesting relationship with another woman warrior, she comes to a bad end, a sad and tragic end in the novel, which every adaptation responds to its own historical context, and its culture, the needs of its culture. But the nice thing is that we can pick and choose at this late point in history.
Amanda: Yeah, and decide for ourselves which ones are true for us, and which ones are the ones that we retell and remember.
Andrea: So going back, though, to the very short original poem, the Ballad of Mulan. Mulan is Mulan's ... The equivalent of her given name, her first name. In Chinese, the surname comes first. We know her as Hua Mulan, because I believe that's the surname that Xu Wei gave her in his play during the Ming dynasty. Mulan has been given different surnames depending on the text, and depending on the era. Also, the story has been set during different eras, depending on the political historical needs of whatever era is telling the story.
Julia: Folklore is very-
Julia: And also very political at times, especially that kind of stuff where it's so part of the country zeitgeist.
Andrea: So Hua caught on, partially because it rhymes poetically. Hua means flower, and in the Disney film her name is given as Fa Mulan. Fa is the Cantonese version of the Mandarin Hua.
Julia: Oh, interesting.
Julia: I didn't know that. That's really cool.
Andrea: Mulan I believe means magnolia flower. So flower, specific flower.
Julia: Flower, magnolia flower.
Amanda: It makes way more sense to start with the surname and go to the first name.
Julia: Because it immediately establishes what family you are, and then who you are as an individual, which especially in-
Andrea: Which makes sense.
Julia: Culturally, that makes a lot more sense than what we do.
Andrea: Again, in this very short 62 line poem, it's just a sketch, really. It's the bare bones version of what we know in every other, more detailed adaptation. It begins with the order given for conscription of one man from every family to join the army and fight China's enemies. Mulan looks at her family, sees that her father is very elderly and should not fight, and that her little brother is very little and also should not fight, and Mulan ... This is something that I really like about the original poem, is that apparently Mulan has already been trained in multiple disciplines of fighting like martial arts-
Amanda: Oh, wow.
Julia: Hell yeah.
Andrea: ... and swordplay, and archery and a few other things. She's already well-prepared, so she basically puts on a suit of men's armor and goes to war.
Julia: So we miss out on the best song of the Mulan Disney movie, which is Be a Man, which is a great, great song.
Andrea: It is. It really is.
Amanda: My head just fast-forwarded through the whole training and also cross-dressing montage, because that's epic.
Andrea: Skipping forward even further, after 12 years of war-
Amanda: Oh, geez.
Andrea: 62 lines, man. Very short lines.
Amanda: I'm sorry, did you sneeze? No, I said 12 years later.
Andrea: After 12 years of war, the army, Mulan included, returns, and the soldiers are rewarded. Mulan still in soldier's outfit, still dressed as and being perceived as a man. She refuses all honorifics, all material and political honors that they want to give her for the army's success. She only asks for just one fast horse to return home as quickly as possible, because she misses her family.
Andrea: This is a story grounded on filial piety.
Amanda: Right, and if her dad was elderly to begin with, of course she wants to get home right away.
Andrea: Yes, definitely. She goes home on a fast horse, and returns to life dressed as a woman. At this point, she meets up with her old army friends again. Again, dressed as a woman. They go, "What?" They have a moment, a double take, right?
Andrea: Big old double take. Then a really nice thing is that they just accept it.
Julia: They're like, "That's pretty cool."
Andrea: It's a friend.
Amanda: It's still a person I spent-
Andrea: You did that thing.
Amanda: ... 12 years fighting with.
Andrea: Exactly, yeah. They still had that camaraderie.
Julia: That's adorable.
Andrea: There are many, many adaptations of this story, not just the play from the Ming dynasty and the historical novel from the Qing dynasty. But loads and loads of film and television adaptations, mostly in Chinese, but as we know Disney brought it over. Oh God, growing up that was my favorite Disney film, for obvious reasons.
Julia: That was so good.
Andrea: Seeking representation in these products put out by enormous corporate empires, I think we can broadly say that representation is good, but also it feels ... It sometimes can feel a little weird to want or to need "acknowledgement" from these corporate juggernauts.
Amanda: Right. Why should their opinion, or their gaze matter to me?
Amanda: But it still does.
Andrea: But at the same time, Mulan is amazing. The Disney Mulan is amazing.
Julia: It's a good movie.
Amanda: And there's scope too, not just for people who feel really seen, but by everybody else, who can have a Chinese woman dressed as a man as their cultural touchstone or hero.
Andrea: And also in the Disney film, Mulan's mother looks uncomfortably close to how my mother looks, which was always stressful, honestly. Amazing to see my family's features in this major film, but also a little weird.
Amanda: Too close to home.
Julia: You know what strikes me? That's the next Broadway Disney movie that I wanna see. I wanna see a live action Mulan. That would be amazing. Think of how good that would be.
Amanda: You got your I want song. You got your makeover song. You got your training montage. You got the plot arc that is war. You got the coming home, your little reprisal is built in.
Julia: Yeah. Fuck Frozen, this is what I want now.
Amanda: Love. I know.
Julia: I'll keep Aladdin. Aladdin's good. The Lion King, also good. Give me Mulan.
Andrea: So yeah, loads and loads of adaptations at fairly regular intervals. This is a massively popular story in China going back to the Disney film, it embellishes a lot. It invents a whole hell of a lot.
Andrea: I mean I love Li Shang, but Li Shang is not there.
Andrea: Maybe he is in the massive ellipsis of the 12 years of war.
Amanda: Fair enough.
Julia: There was this one hot guy in the 12 years of war. We'll skip ahead. It's fine. BD Wong wasn't actually there.
Amanda: He had very broad shoulders. Don't worry about it.
Andrea: Yeah. There's no romance in the original story. It's all about the filial piety.
Amanda: Yeah, exactly. Not the point.
Julia: Yeah. I was gonna say, which might make it better, but also I do like a little bit, just a little bit, of romance every once in a while.
Andrea: Mostly because of Li Shang, disaster bi. That's him.
Julia: Yeah. So good. Such a mess. Trying to be a leader. Just so bad at it.
Andrea: But there's one particular thing about the Disney adaptation that I really appreciated is during that massive palace siege moment at the climax of the film, which again, just a lot of invented stuff. Really fun, but also where did that come from? We don't know. There's a bit in which Mulan's former rivals within the army, the three dudes-
Julia: Which are Harvey Fierstein and two other people that I don't remember.
Andrea: Who were the only three who tried to convince Li Shang not to leave Mulan behind when she was revealed. Again, in the poem never revealed as a woman. She-
Julia: Not until later.
Andrea: Yes, exactly.
Julia: It was on her own terms.
Andrea: It was her choice to do it.
Julia: That's really good.
Amanda: It's amazing to me, that the point is yes, you can sacrifice for your family, do something really daring, come back, and also keep the gains that you made for yourself. That, to me, is really cool. It's not a choice. It's you can improve yourself and your reputation, and better your life by bettering your family's life.
Andrea: There's that moment in the battle for the palace where these three guys who have become her friends over the course of the film, they just ... They show up. They round the corner. They round the corner of a pillar. A pillar is round.
Julia: I get you. I know what you meant.
Andrea: They turn up in support.
Amanda: They round the round corner.
Julia: They round the round.
Amanda: I like it.
Andrea: They show up to join Mulan in recovering the emperor, and they show up cross-dressed. They show up in Chinese opera drag, which I thought was a really nice nod to the tradition of drag in the history of Chinese opera, which is not necessarily something that you would know. It's mostly framed as a gag, a friendly gag, but it's oh look at these butch men in dresses, and sloppy makeup and whatever. I felt it was a really nice nod to this cultural tradition that exists parallel to the story of Mulan, and other major cultural touchstones.
Julia: Hell yeah.
Andrea: We've jumped around a little bit. We've gone from Greece to Scandinavia to China. We're going to jump once more to Italy, moving forward in time a little bit to tell the story of Fantaghiro persona bella, or Fantaghiro the Beautiful. Some of you, I think all of you, would call yourselves mythology and folklore nerds, but one of the formative texts for me in terms of folklore and mythology growing up was this massive brick of a book called, in English translation it was called, Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino. By Italo Calvino, in the Italian it's Fiabe Italiane. It's a massive tome. I believe 200 collected folktales from all the regions of Italy. Calvino did not transcribe these directly from the source. He admits in the book and in his notes that these are collected from folklorists, and he notes variations, and he notes regional differences and things like that, which is pretty great.
Amanda: Yeah, right.
Andrea: But Fantaghiro is, I believe, tale 69. Nice.
Julia: Thank you for that.
Amanda: You know your audience of this show. I appreciate that.
Andrea: Tale 69 in the collection. It begins as most stories begin, I think, with a king and his three daughters.
Amanda: There it is.
Julia: Checks out.
Amanda: There it is, baby.
Julia: Let's do it up.
Andrea: This king has three daughters. The eldest is Carolina. The middle is Assuntina, and Fantaghiro is the youngest and the most beautiful.
Julia: Of course.
Andrea: The king has three-
Amanda: Poor oldest daughter. I bet she's like, "I fucking suffered for this."
Julia: That's always the case, where it's the like the oldest daughter has to get married first. The youngest one can't get married first, but even though she's the prettiest. It's always dumb. I hate it.
Amanda: I know.
Julia: It's my least favorite fairytale folklore thing.
Amanda: Lear would've been spared so much suffering.
Julia: Oh, so much.
Andrea: Yeah, so the king has three daughters. He also has three thrones. This is an unusual little detail.
Amanda: That's weird.
Julia: Different days of the week for his different styles of pants. What are we talking about here?
Andrea: The king has three thrones. One throne is painted sky blue for when his mood is high and bright.
Julia: Oh, buddy. Come on.
Amanda: Oh, good. I like this a lot, though. What if I walked into work one day, and I was dressed in dark, dark gray and black, and it was like yes, don't talk to Amanda today? What if I came in sky blue like hi, let's chat? I wanna talk about your mom, and I wanna talk about your ideas. That would be great, genuinely. I would like it.
Julia: You can do that. No one is stopping you.
Amanda: Yeah, I know, but then I have to explain it to everybody.
Julia: All right.
Andrea: The second throne is painted black for death, because that's normal.
Julia: Does that happen enough that you need to use that throne a lot? Because I would be concerned as you as a ruler, if that's the case.
Amanda: When you have to build infrastructure around how often death comes up in your court you may wanna look at your life and your choices, and just reassess.
Julia: Not great.
Andrea: But perhaps worst of all, if we can say if there's something worse than death, is the third throne, painted red for war.
Amanda: Oh, there it is.
Julia: It comes with the territory. Then you're just swapping between the chairs.
Andrea: Yeah. It feels like musical chairs, right?
Amanda: I know. I felt like you were really-
Julia: You look at that blue one and you're like, "Oh, man, I wish, but nope. Gotta do either black or red today."
Andrea: So one morning the three sister, Carolina, Assuntina, and Fantaghiro come to the throne room to greet their father, and find that oh goodness, he's sitting on the red throne. He's sitting on the throne of war. They ask him, "What's going on? What's happening?"
Julia: Hey Dad, what up?
Amanda: What's up, Dad? I see that you're not in the blue chair.
Andrea: Please explain.
Julia: Would you like to go sit in the blue chair instead?
Amanda: Oh, no.
Andrea: Maybe a good idea. Yeah. Have you had your cappuccino yet today? Maybe you want the blue chair instead. The king tells his daughters he is sitting on the throne of war because the neighboring kingdom has declared war on their kingdom.
Andrea: He doesn't have, but needs, a general to go out and fight.
Julia: One of the daughters. One of the daughters.
Andrea: Exactly, yeah.
Andrea: So Carolina, the eldest daughter, volunteers first. The king says, "Okay, I guess, but you're going to have to take the squire Tonino with you, and Tonino is going to make sure that you behave like a man, and don't drop your disguise just in case you get killed. We don't want that."
Andrea: "We're gonna have Tonino basically narc on you if you slip up."
Amanda: Gender police TMTM.
Julia: I am the grimace emoji right now.
Amanda: Yeah. Gender police TMTM.
Andrea: Basically, yeah. Carolina dresses as a man, mounts her horse, takes Tonino with her, and they get part of the way to the neighboring kingdom. But they come across a cane field, and Carolina looks at the cane field, and understandably says, "Actually, I could use those canes to make distaffs for spinning. That would be really productive, and practical and useful." Tonino says-
Amanda: You slipped up.
Julia: Gender police.
Amanda: Yep. Oh, no.
Andrea: Nope, men don't spin. That's a woman's thing. Tonino brings Carolina back. Next Assuntina, the middle sister, steps up. Same warnings. Tonino's gonna narc on you if you decide-
Julia: Gender police is coming with you again.
Andrea: They pass the cane field. Assuntina says nothing. Later on they pass a vineyard, and Assuntina sees a pile of vine stakes, and again ... Honestly, she's being very practical, like her older sister. She says, "Hey, I could use all those vine stakes to make spindles. The kingdom needs cloth. The people need clothes."
Julia: See I would've been like, "I can make so much wine."
Amanda: I know, but they're making actual concrete contributions to their nation in a time of need.
Julia: I know. This is like the-
Amanda: Sorry, gender police.
Julia: This is like the letters between John Adams and Abigail Adams in 1776 where he's like, "You need to make saltpeter." She's like, "I just want needles, dude. I wanna sew uniforms for our fucking people, and you're trying to make me do fucking science and shit to make saltpeter. What the fuck, dude? Also, come home. Come the fuck home. No one needs you there. Thomas Jefferson wrote the whole thing himself." Anyway, Abigail Adams gets a rough ... The short end of the stick.
Andrea: Oh, yeah, definitely.
Amanda: Her and Freya would be BFFs.
Julia: Yeah, they would, and Hera.
Andrea: But I do feel it's interesting that I mean throughout these stories of cross-dressing, certainly in the story of Achilles on Skyros, Achilles gives away his gender, his sex, by picking up the wrong or the right object.
Julia: So silly.
Andrea: It's a way to essentialize gender in a thing, a literal thing external to you, with all these cultural signifiers attached. Anyway-
Amanda: Right, or to imply that you can try to behave as you will, but like a compass pulled toward north, there's something inbuilt that will betray you, which is fucked up, but also shows us that gender is a construct, and it's a series of learned behaviors.
Andrea: Oh, definitely.
Julia: Such a construct.
Amanda: I don't know.
Andrea: I want to read what Judith Butler would've thought of this, but also I mean bless Judith Butler but I always found her unreadable. I basically had to have my professor translate and give a press before I understood it all.
Andrea: Important, but also really jargon-y.
Amanda: Yeah. That's, I think, one example where popular culture and discourse has done a pretty good reading of what it needs to be. You have a pretty good understanding of Judith Butler if you know what her name is. You don't have to dig into the source text.
Julia: Yep. That helps.
Andrea: So anyway, Tonino narcs on Assuntina, brings her back to court.
Julia: Fucking narc.
Andrea: It's all up to Fantaghiro, the youngest sister.
Julia: Come on, youngest daughter.
Andrea: She mounts up on the horse dressed in armor.
Julia: She probably looks like Zendaya at the-
Andrea: Oh, yeah.
Amanda: Oh, at the Met Gala.
Julia: Oh my god, I love it so much. Oh, the Met Gala. Sorry, I have a lot of opinions about that, and mostly that I wanna wear that dress to my wedding.
Andrea: Oh, definitely. Yeah.
Julia: Oh, man.
Andrea: So Fantaghiro, Tonino at her side, passes the cane field. Doesn't say anything. Passes the vineyard. Doesn't say anything. Then so they cross the border successfully into the neighboring kingdom.
Amanda: Past those-
Andrea: Weird tests.
Amanda: ... hard challenges for women about practicality.
Andrea: So once they've arrived in the neighboring kingdom, Fantaghiro in disguise asks for an audience with the neighboring, the enemy kingdom. When the king sees her, he thinks okay, but also is she a lady?
Julia: Not where my head would go, but all right. Fair enough, dude.
Andrea: So the king, the enemy king, goes to his mother and asks, "I think dude looks like a lady, so how can I make sure?"
Julia: Dude looks like a lady. That's a song, sorry.
Andrea: I know, but I don't think we've got licensing rights.
Julia: It was less than 10 seconds. It's good.
Andrea: Fair use.
Julia: That's not real. Okay, we're fine. It's all good.
Andrea: The enemy king's mother decides to put Fantaghiro to a series of tests. The first test will remind us of the test that Odysseus put to Achilles, actually, the first test-
Julia: But the opposite.
Andrea: Yes. The enemy king brings Fantaghiro to his armory, and leads her through, and watches how she interacts with everything on the shelves and walls. All of the weapons and shields and things.
Amanda: It's like an early childhood psychology test where you put a toddler in front of objects, and you have to see how they interact with the world because they can't talk to you.
Julia: You want truck or Barbie doll? It doesn't matter what the child wants.
Amanda: There's only two choices. Only one of them is right. Oh, no.
Julia: Gender's so dumb. So binary. I hate it. Anyway.
Andrea: So Fantaghiro walks through the armory and displays her skills, essentially. She shows that she knows how to handle a sword, daggers. She knows how to carry a shield. She knows how to-
Julia: A spear here.
Andrea: ... knock a bow.
Amanda: It's almost like expertise isn't gendered.
Andrea: She's passed the test. The king still thinks maybe a lady, and so goes back to his mum. His mother tells him-
Julia: I feel like this is a him problem, where-
Amanda: Yeah, I know.
Julia: ... he's like, "I find this man very attractive. She must be a lady." I'm sorry that your masculinity is so fragile.
Amanda: Yeah. Let's step back four steps and start questioning these frameworks.
Andrea: Yeah. Maybe this enemy king is also a disaster bi. I don't know.
Julia: Just come on, dude.
Amanda: I know.
Julia: Starting a war, attracted to possibly a man, we don't know. I'm just judging all of the men in this.
Julia: I'm sorry.
Andrea: They deserve it. They really deserve it. So the enemy king's mother puts Fantaghiro to a second test, which is she has him lead her through a garden, and so-
Julia: If she smells a flower, she must be a lady.
Andrea: A specific flower, though.
Julia: Oh, no.
Andrea: The thing is, if Fantaghiro plucks a rose or a violet and pins it to her bosom, that means she is a woman.
Julia: As opposed to what other ... What's the masculine flower in this situation? I need to know.
Andrea: A jasmine.
Julia: But they smell so nice.
Andrea: They do. They're my favorite.
Julia: I know. They're so good.
Amanda: We all know that good smells are gay.
Julia: Come on.
Andrea: Specifically, Fantaghiro passes the test by plucking a jasmine flower and putting it behind her ear.
Julia: I would do the same thing.
Amanda: Maybe it's a chivalry situation.
Julia: I don't fucking know.
Amanda: Courting rule? I don't know.
Julia: It's dumb.
Andrea: Anyway, passes the test. The king is still not satisfied. Get over your sexual confusion and just embrace it.
Julia: Deal with it, man.
Amanda: She too cute.
Andrea: Goes back to his mum again. Third test is the test of-
Julia: This is also the most Italian story ever. Dude's like, "Mom, I don't know what to do." "Honey, take her through a garden and see what she does." Fuck.
Andrea: Yeah, literally. In the Calvino story, the king goes to his mother crying, "Mama, mama. Help me."
Amanda: Oh, no.
Julia: This is the most Italian man thing ever. Fuck. I have a lot of feelings about this right now.
Andrea: The third test is the test of the bread, and so-
Amanda: Can she make it? Can she eat it? How does she do it?
Julia: How does she eat I think is how does she break the bread? That's what I'm guessing.
Andrea: Yes. How does she cut the bread?
Andrea: So if she holds the bread against her chest and cuts it, that means she's a lady.
Amanda: Sounds very dangerous, but okay.
Andrea: Yeah, right, because tits.
Andrea: Generally speaking.
Andrea: Yeah. No.
Julia: Are they ripping it apart or cutting it with a knife?
Andrea: Specifically cutting.
Amanda: What's the masculine way?
Julia: Who would do that? Okay, sorry I'm just really confused about these tests.
Andrea: We don't know what this enemy neighboring kingdom's situation is.
Julia: It's fucking weird.
Andrea: They've got weird etiquette. I don't know. The whole flower thing. Fantaghiro passes the test by holding the loaf of bread in front of her and cutting it in the air. I mean the chest thing makes sense because you want to have some kind of resistance.
Andrea: But you just freehand-
Julia: Is my bosom a plate? What's happening here?
Andrea: I don't know. I mean-
Amanda: It is you try hard enough, Julia.
Julia: I know.
Amanda: It is if you imagine.
Julia: I don't have plate-like bosoms, so I can't really comprehend that, but I understand that some people do. That's on them.
Andrea: I mean you just hop a corset over top of it, and then you've got a good keeping surface.
Amanda: That's true.
Julia: Corsets make everything like it's just like a plate, which I could use my boobs-
Amanda: I have a shelf now.
Andrea: I feel like you don't get even slices if you cut in the air. You're just hacking.
Amanda: There's too much here. There's too much. We have to let it go.
Julia: I'm just thinking about cutting a bagel in the air.
Amanda: Yeah. No.
Julia: I guess makes sense.
Amanda: In the air?
Julia: I mean that's what I'd do instead of up against my breast.
Andrea: Yeah, but also I'd be worried about-
Amanda: I'd use, I don't know, a cutting board.
Andrea: ... once I'm done cutting the thing, just accidentally-
Andrea: ... stabbing myself or someone else.
Julia: You're like, "Well, I'm dead now."
Amanda: Or the half of the bread that you aren't holding falls.
Andrea: Yeah, because you only have two hands.
Julia: Yeah, that's true.
Andrea: I don't know.
Julia: I don't fucking know.
Amanda: Unless your mom is there holding it.
Julia: This is a terrible test. Fuck the mom that came up with this.
Amanda: But anyway, she passed.
Julia: She did. She passed.
Andrea: She did, yeah. She cut the bread away from her.
Andrea: So the enemy king goes back to his mum for the fourth time and says, "I really think she's a lady, and I still have some trouble with this idea."
Julia: I'm having some troubling dreams, and I'm not sure what to do.
Amanda: Oh, no.
Andrea: So the mother says, "You know what? I figured it out. This is what's going to solve it for good." The mother tells the king to invite Fantaghiro, this mysterious stranger, to go swimming with him.
Julia: Again, that will fucking solve it.
Amanda: You could've started there, my dude.
Julia: Should've started with the nakedness, God.
Amanda: Bro to bro. Let's go to a naked swimming hole.
Andrea: Because we're living in an age of gender binary, and gender essentialism with the blah blah blah-
Amanda: Right. Biology equals gender all the time.
Julia: I'm shocked at how angry this story makes me.
Amanda: Oh, no, Julia.
Andrea: It ends really well, I promise.
Julia: All right, good.
Andrea: So the king invites Fantaghiro to go swimming, and of course she'll have to disrobe, and if she refuses to disrobe then he knows she's finally a lady. Yeah, I know.
Amanda: And therefore, his attraction is completely-
Andrea: Julia's face is so skeptical.
Amanda: ... unproblematic.
Andrea: I'm with you. I'm with you there.
Julia: All right. Whatever, dude.
Andrea: So Fantaghiro, she gets it. She knows why she's been asked to go just go jump in a pond or whatever, all friendly-like with this guy she basically just met.
Amanda: We're totally friends.
Julia: Also, is trying-
Amanda: Just two dudes.
Julia: ... to wage war on her country. Sure, let's go for a swim, dude.
Amanda: There's a lot to unpack here.
Andrea: Just two dudes being bros in a pond.
Amanda: Naked. Why not?
Julia: Yeah, just like friends do.
Andrea: This is where Tonino, the squire, the snitch, the narc, redeems himself.
Julia: You better.
Andrea: Which is nice in a way, even though I would totally support Carolina and Assuntina beating him out once he comes back to the kingdom, but still.
Julia: That's fine. One right does not make up for the wrongs.
Andrea: Fantaghiro writes a letter. She forges a letter, and seals it with the royal seal of her own home kingdom. Gives it-
Amanda: I'm glad that crimes are also on her list of skills.
Julia: Be gay, do crimes.
Andrea: Be queer, do crimes.
Julia: There we go. Catchphrase.
Andrea: She has marked up this letter, ostensibly from her father's court, and gives it to Tonino. Fantaghiro and the enemy king are ... They're going down to the pond, about to disrobe, jump in, get really friendly. Then Tonino comes bursting into the clearing. "Fantaghiro, Fantaghiro," or whatever her false name is at the time, and gives her this letter. Obviously, it's got the royal seal. Something's going on back home. She breaks it open, reads it aloud, and tells the enemy king that her father is very ill.
Julia: Oh, no.
Andrea: She needs to go home immediately. Sorry, I can't swim with you, but he's dying and he's my dad, so things are more important.
Amanda: That's an excuse.
Julia: I have to go.
Andrea: Yeah. She basically leaves him in the pond going, "What the fuck?"
Julia: Let's talk about how this is almost directly from Disney's Mulan too.
Andrea: A little bit, yeah.
Amanda: Yeah, a bit.
Julia: There's a lot of crossover here.
Amanda: A bit.
Andrea: Fantaghiro, before she leaves the enemy kingdom, like Odysseus and the cyclops, she can't resist but reveal herself when she's safe. She writes a note saying, "Haha." Well, essentially, haha, I was a lady all along. I fooled you.
Julia: Haha, suck it.
Andrea: She goes home with Tonino, with everything.
Andrea: The enemy king finds this note, says, "I knew it. Also, I'm in love with her."
Andrea: Him, her, him, her, her, okay. We'll go.
Julia: Whatever, it's fine.
Andrea: Packs his bags and goes to his enemy kingdom, our original kingdom.
Andrea: Fantaghiro's kingdom, and says, "So I'm in love with your general, who is a lady, and I want to marry her and make peace between our kingdoms."
Amanda: All right. Well, that's-
Julia: That's very Italian.
Amanda: That's a strategy. Yeah.
Julia: It's very Italian.
Andrea: Technically that's a happy ending.
Julia: Yeah, as long as she was also in love with him later and was like, "Yeah, I'll marry him. It's fine. It's cool."
Amanda: I mean there are worse political marriages.
Andrea: Yeah, so that's the story of Fantaghiro.
Amanda: I dig it.
Julia: That's pretty fucking good.
Amanda: I dig it.
Andrea: Funnily enough, during the 1990s there was a five film series, I believe these aired on television in Italian, television film series very loosely based on this story. Fantaghiro or La Grotta della Rosa d'Oro, The Cavern of the Golden Rose.
Andrea: I have only seen very badly dubbed and subtitled clips on YouTube.
Andrea: I would love to try and find a good copy.
Julia: I'm gonna try to find a good one.
Andrea: They made these films during the big 1990s high fantasy boom in films. It's that similar aesthetic to things like Legend, and Willow, and Ladyhawke and stuff like that.
Andrea: What I've seen dubbed in Czech or whatever has been pretty fun.
Julia: Sounds good.
Amanda: Some sexually charged swimming scenes. I love it. I love it.
Andrea: I mean I don't know. It may not be in there-
Andrea: ... but only the first film is based on the broad plot structure of the folktale.
Amanda: Oh, boy. That's a lot of room-
Andrea: The other four films-
Amanda: ... for things to go very many ways.
Julia: Horribly wrong.
Andrea: Yeah. The other four films in the series just go every which way. There are witches and dragons and all kinds of creatures and whatnot. Why not?
Amanda: Why not?
Andrea: Again, that is a story that exists in various adaptations in popular culture.
Julia: Hell yeah.
Andrea: Not as universal as Mulan is in China, but still culturally significant in that it has a cheesy, five film television series adaptation.
Julia: That's all you can ask for.
Amanda: Also, good for the king for being ... The original king, the dad king, for being like, "Hey, these are the kids I have. I need a general. Girls, you've been trained in all things you have to do. Go forth."
Andrea: Essentially, yeah. There are a lot stories across cultures that follow this broad strokes of there's some kind of martial need, there's a war on, essentially. Achilles certainly is the reverse example of this. There are a lot more examples, I feel, of women having to dress up as men to go to war, instead of a man dressing up as a woman to avoid war, which is pretty unusual as these things go. Specifically related to Fantaghiro, there's a French variant called ... Forgive me francophones, called Belle-Belle ou Le Chevalier Fortuné by Madame d'Aulnoy.
Andrea: A very well-known literary folklorist who actually gave the name fairytale, conte de fées, to the genre.
Andrea: Madame d'Aulnoy.
Amanda: Thank you, madame.
Andrea: The story of Belle Belle is a little more Twelfth Night-esque. There's a subplot of the foreign queen also falling in love with Belle Belle in disguise.
Julia: I'm here for it.
Andrea: It's a little bit Violet, Viola and Cesario and Olivia and all of that. There's a Russian variation called Vasilisa the Priest's Daughter, which is in a collection by the folklorist Aleksandr Afanasyev. Other Italian versions include Straparola's Costanza/Costanzo, and Basile's The Three Crowns.
Julia: I love it.
Amanda: I love it so much.
Julia: I love all these stories.
Amanda: It's a story worth repeating. This is awesome, and much better than King Lear. Hot take.
Julia: Hot take.
Andrea: Women cross-dressing as men is a really nice subgenre of women kicking ass, literally or metaphorically, and succeeding, which I mean there's so many stories of women with tragic ends. It's nice to have this thread across countries and cultures in which they succeed.
Julia: Yeah. Most of the stories-
Andrea: Disguised as men, but also it's still pretty great.
Julia: Yeah. Most of the stories, super positive endings.
Amanda: Yeah, and it's an opportunity and a way to transgress social boundaries that are bullshit, and a way to be like, "Hey, isn't it weird that you have to go through these strange hoops to occupy space in a military campaign, or in a court, diplomatic relations, or to make friends with men?" I think it's very cool. I imagine it as if I were living in these cultures contemporaneously, it would've been my favorite stories of all time. I wanna dress up as these characters.
Julia: Hell yeah.
Amanda: It's really just a very cool sense of transgression and freedom.
Andrea: We do have actual historical echoes of this, not just Telesilla in Argos, but there are a lot of women who dressed as men during the American Civil War. We don't know if these particular women were trans who actually identified as men, but they still did this thing, and they largely succeeded.
Amanda: Yeah. There's a great episode of the podcast Sawbones about medical history, about Dr James Barry, who was either ... Again, we're not sure. Either the first trans man, or the first woman living, presenting as a man in order to be able to get access to medical training. But he graduated medical school, and served a role in the British army, and traveled all around, and met Florence Nightingale and dressed her down for not wearing enough sun protection. Just an incredible person.
Julia: Yeah. I will link to that episode because it's a really good episode.
Amanda: This is just the best part of history, and the best part of culture and of storytelling. Thank you so much, Andrea, for being these stories to us.
Andrea: Of course. It was entirely my pleasure.
Julia: Do you want to link to your stuff again?
Andrea: I am a book publicist, a writer, and an actor-in-training. You can find me on Twitter at Andrea, A-N-D-R-E-A, N as in Nicole, my middle name, Lam, L-A-M. There mostly I'm just a massive nerd about mythology, and folklore and history.
Amanda: AKA, a great follow.
Julia: Why wouldn't you follow?
Amanda: Thank you so much. Remember, listeners-
Julia: Stay creepy.
Amanda: ... stay cool.