Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tuesdays With Phineas Redux

Weapons of Xena and Gabrielle

The sais used by Gabrielle from series 5 onwards are, in fact, a defensive rather than an offensive weapon. The two curved hilts were primarily designed for catching the blades of opposing daggers or swords and thrusting aside or breaking them. The sai varied in design depending on its particular use. The long thin blade is actually a prong, usually blunt-ended. They can however, with enough force, be lethal. They are usually used, as with Gabrielle, in pairs. I think there is enough evidence to support the view that Gabrielle’s sais were sharp-edged and pointed, making them a rare form of dagger. In a late TV episode, series 5, ‘Seeds of Faith’ , Gabrielle is shown in a desert landscape throwing her sais first at a dead tree trunk, then at Ares. Here, plainly, the weapons are sharp-tipped like daggers. Again, as with Japanese katana, there is a detailed breakdown of the weapon's parts.


As with almost all weapons in the Middle & Far East there is a highly complex form of martial arts, known as silat, associated with the learning of the weapon. These dance-like movements and techniques would, in my opinion, fit in well with Gabrielle’s character.

Gabrielle never had much association with swords (ignoring the last two TV episodes). Her early and, it could be averred, major weapon was the wooden staff. This might be looked on as a piece of humorous fantasy by the producers, but has a solid base in historical fact. The quarterstaff was still a popular weapon in mediaeval times, being associated with the legend of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. The bo is also a staff weapon used in feudal Japan; so there is adequate historical precedent for Gabrielle’s use of a form of this weapon.



Xena’s sword is generally taken to be a form of the Roman gladius, though rather longer bladed. It could, however, be more realistically described as an actual Greek xiphos which with its leaf-pattern blade it seems to more closely resemble. I believe that apart from the last two episodes neither Xena nor Gabriele had any contact with the Japanese katana. However, as this weapon is so firmly associated with them via these episodes, it would be right to cover its details. The katana is a traditional Japanese sword, worn by the ‘samurai’ class of feudal Japan, so also known as a ‘samurai’ sword. It is famous for its highly tempered curving blade; it being primarily a slashing weapon rather than a thrusting or cutting weapon as were European swords.


Then comes the infamous chakram, with which Xena could literally perform miracles. A hollow circle of flat steel with a sharpened outer edge, it originates from India; the Chinese Wind & Fire wheels being hand-held melee weapons with sharp protruding blades, wielded in close combat. Although chakrams are highly aerodynamic they, unlike Xena’s weapon, do not operate like boomerangs. In flight they do not curve back to the thrower, especially not after having hit their target.

In early episodes Xena was seen to use a fire-blowing technique—whereby she would put some inflammable liquid in her mouth, hold a lighted torch in front of her face, and blow the liquid through the flames. Not an action to be re-created at home, kiddies! This, rather serendipitously, brings us on to the nearest equivalent of ancient times—Greek Fire. This was a naphtha/resinous liquid substance whose ingredients were such a closely guarded secret they are now lost; and have become the source of much speculation, as is the method of firing. It sounds, from the Wiki article, just like something Xena would have been well experienced in the use of.

So that brings us to the close of this short treatise on the weapons used by Xena and Gabrielle in their adventures. Oh, I forgot—frying-pans!

The use and practice of the frying-pan as a deadly weapon is first attested in the writings of some of the now lost Ancient Greek and Roman authorities.
Yes, this ordinary element of the modern kitchen was indeed known to the Ancient Greek and Roman matron (I think we can safely say that the pater familias of the house did not participate in its normal use!). At first used merely for its common or household purpose, enterprising members of the Greek Amazons soon found a much more formidable use for it. By the time of Hellenistic Greece it was a firm favourite in battles (usually accompanied, when thrown at an advancing enemy, by the chilling war-cry “Take that, you bas. . rd!”). However, with the invention of gunpowder, this magnificent weapon fell out of military use, reverting back to its nominal employment in the making of omelettes—such are the vagaries of history!

~Phineas Redux~

The Ring of Brodgar by Phineas Redux
This is an Uberfic set in Scapa Flow in 1943. Zena Mathews and Gabrielle Parker, are both pilots and members of SOE—Special Operations Executive. The two women explore a number of Neolithic sites on the Orkney mainland, and have a strange experience.

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