When I first heard about this project, I immediately thought that it was simultaneously one of the worst and best projects I’d ever heard of.
Let’s start with the negative: I’m not good with choice. I’ve been known to have difficulty even choosing an ice cream flavor, let alone one article out of the hundreds of thousands on Wikipedia. (Out of curiosity, I looked it up. As of December 9th 2018, there are about 5,765,464 English articles according to wikicount.net)
Now, onto the positive: I find Wikipedia fascinating. Information for the people, by the people, a modern day Library of Alexandria. My insomnia means that sometimes I just can’t sleep some nights, and more often than not on those nights I’ll cycle through article after article, following links from page to page long into the wee hours. To have the chance to contribute to Wiki articles sounded great to me. As a bonus, I got to do research, which I’ve always enjoyed.
Choosing a topic
As I’ve already mentioned, I’m bad with choice. I did decide early on that I wanted to focus on classical mythology, which has always been an interest of mine. How I was going to link that to Beauty and the Beast remained to be seen.
Going straight for Cupid and Psyche seemed too easy, and boring beside that. I wanted to look into things that we hadn’t dissected in class. As it turned out though, class discussion was exactly where my ideas sparked. One day in class, we were discussing deities, and I commented that Hermes was pretty much the god of miscellaneous, not expecting to have to explain any further.
See, a lot of the time I forget that there are things I know that are not common knowledge. Whether that makes me self-centered for not thinking of others or means I have low self-esteem because I think I couldn’t possibly know something more than everyone else is beside the point, but I’m a psychology major, analyzing is what I do. Anyway, as someone who’s always been drawn to the fantastical of every culture and had taken Latin since middle school, mythology was second nature to me. So I was surprised that not everyone knew about how much of a catchall Hermes was within the Greek pantheon. So I decided to look into his Wikipedia page, but I didn’t find much that I could contribute that would really relate to the class.
The other class topic that caught my attention was liminality. The not fluid, quite one-way or the other nature of doorways and crossroads and in between spaces has always been interesting to me. All my favorite stories as a kid were about people between worlds, jumping between two worlds and belonging to both, yet never really a part of either. To my delight, liminal spaces just kept appearing in each and every thing we read. So once again, I went to Wikipedia, finding my way to a page specially dedicated to liminal beings, which was shockingly underdeveloped. This was the perfect place to start.
The page on crossroads in mythology was perhaps a bit more of a stretch, but upon reading it and seeing no more mention of classical mythology than a brief mention of Mercury alongside Odin, I simply had to add a section for the Greeks. With my decision made, I got to work.
Sources and research
Of the initial sources I found, I did not end up using any directly. However, they were still useful. Without them, I never would have started looking into Hecate. After all, before starting I had no idea that she had a crossroads association. I had thought that my addition to the crossroads page would be entirely dedicated to Hermes. But as I found, he was wore attributed to travelers and traveling overall, while Hecate had monthly offerings made to her at crossroads every new moon.
While I found some information online though the library database, my greatest breakthrough came only after I made an appointment with a Librarian. He helped me find half a dozen possible sources, most notably the Oxford Classical Dictionary.
Do you know that feeling you get when you fall in love with a book? One that sparks something inside you, and you never want to put it down. Usually for me it’s a story, but every now and then one without narrative worms its way into my heart. A pictorial catalogue of rocks and minerals in third grade, an astrology guide in high school, and now this. A wondrous book with entries for practically any aspect of the ancient world I cared to look for.
As soon as I found that book, I was set. Not because it held all the answers I needed –Dr. Campbell was right about that one, there is no magic book for that– but because of what else it led me to find.
See, I had found a magic aisle. Straight through the Starbucks and two rows in from the windows were dozens of books on any mythology or symbology I could have wanted.
My research took twice as long as it probably should have, because I became lost in a wellspring of glorious, endless knowledge. I found a whole book classifying fairies, an index of Chinese mythology, and a whole set of pictorial classical reference books. I did the same thing I do on Wikipedia, flipping back and forth finding fascinating information, only about half of it actually relevant to what I was doing. I had a whole table to myself at the library, with stacks surrounding me and my computer as I read on and on.
Apart from my enjoyment, there was another unexpected benefit of my extraneous research. On the crossroads mythology page, there was a section related to burials. In my reading, I had discovered that Christians had once considered them almost as good as churchyards when it came to laying the dead to rest. Because it was so interesting, I added the information to the page.
Why I am proud of what I accomplished
Though it might be small against the information ocean of the world wide web, I like to think that maybe, someone reading this pages will see what I wrote and be interested enough to look into the material further. Any opportunity for someone to be drawn into the wonderful contradictory cacophony of Greek and Roman mythology is never something wasted.