Chapter 2Mature

"Post-humanism," The professor announced tantalisingly with a well-spoken upper-English accent "is a ground-breaking hypothesis of comparative mythology, which aims to explain similarities between disparate, apparently unrelated mythologies and folklore, towards what I argue is a now-forgotten phenomena. This phenomena, which is alluded to by innumerable folklores and countless cultures, is what I call post-humanism."

An audience member's dry cough echoed through the lecture room as the professor gave a brief pause. Satisfied his opening statement had been heeded satisfactorily, he continued with the opening of his talk by proceeding to withdraw a small tablet from his breast pocket. Turning on a slideshow with his gadget, the wirelessly-networked projector conjured a screen of blue light across the wall behind him.

"But first, some background. In 1949, comparative mythologist and religionist Joseph Campbell published The Hero with a Thousand Faces." With a few taps on Lambton's wafer-thin device, he summoned a cover image of the book in question, displaying it behind him at a size that dwarfed a garage door. A collage of faces - which together formed another face that was large enough to swallow the professor - was sandwiched between the author's name at the top and the book title below.

"In this book," he gestured to the up-sized cover design "he describes what he calls The hero's journey - a story or legend about a heroic character who goes through a grand transformation."  After adjusting his bookish glasses, Lambton commanded forth the next image of his slideshow: a flowchart, which depicted a stick figure's transition between three main stages of a quest: Departure, Initiation and Return.

David noticed the videographer nestled in the left edge of the front row was carefully taking in both the projections and professor. Aparangi University, like any educational institution worth its salt, recorded video casts of their lectures in case their students needed to go back and watch part of the lecture again, or just wanted to revise what had been covered. However, it had become rather common for students who were hungover from partying the previous night to skip attending a lecture in person, and instead just watch the video cast later at their own leisure.

"Through this journey, the hero embarks on an epic adventure, meets trials and tribulations, and overcomes their challenges to achieve a grand vision, to gain miraculous abilities or acquire esteemed wisdom. Also known as the Monomyth, this narrative describes an overwhelming number of myths and legends originating in completely unrelated cultures and across vast spaces of time and geography. This mythological template is especially prominent amongst spiritual figures, and is applicable to both ancient mythologies such as Osiris and Prometheus as well as modern-day religious figures including Buddha, Moses and Jesus."

As Lambton dismissed the diagram, reducing the projection to an off-black glow, it became obvious to David and the others in the audience why a Reconcilist had defaced Lambton's posters: the group clearly didn't like their contemporary religious figures being compared to those of ancient myths, even if Lambton was only reiterating what another had stated many years earlier.

"But that is an issue for another day. Here, I wish to ask how and why do such myths, from such diverse cultures, geographies and eras, fall into the vein of the monomyth again and again? Some have suggested the theory is too broad, or that this way of viewing mythologies biases the viewer towards a too-inclusive model. My work has led me to take a view similar to that of classical Greek mythographer Euhemerus..."

Without missing a beat, the worldly Englishman filled the now-empty projection with the image of a ponderous marble statue. The ancient Greek immaculately portrayed in carved white stone wore both a flowing toga and an expression of deep contemplation, holding his left hand to his jaw while resting that elbow in his right hand.

"Euhemerus interpreted that mythology and religion frequently builds on historical events and persons, embellishing them with profundities over time and thus creating compelling folklores. Likewise, I propose that cultures with monomyths all experienced similar phenomena, which in turn drove them to create such similar narratives, and to similarly elevate these narratives to the highest level of authority: the spiritual or transcendent."

Several students in front of David blatantly flicked off messages to their respective contacts. Their cutting-edge tablets, notebooks and cyPhones seamlessly linked with Aparangi University's wireless network, along with next-gen cellular providers and global networking satellites, all apparently for the sake of distracting their owners. David returned his unremarkable brown eyes to the professor.

"The theory of post-humanism evolved as a number of remarkable archaeological finds were recently documented." Lambton's voice remained steady throughout his lecturing, offering a stability to his statements and anchoring his ideas to a solid foundation of presentation. He was obviously experienced in his craft of constructing vistas of thoughts. "Here are a number of these discoveries, which have led to my theory..."

Another tap on the shimmering tablet of the balding academic summoned a photo onto the wall to serve as a backdrop to his speech. "Here we see a depiction of the myth of Icarus: the great inventor Daedalus fashions two sets of wings out of feathers and wax - one for himself and another for his son, Icarus. In spite of warnings from his father not to fly too close to the sun or sea, Icarus is overcome by his new-found ability to fly and he soars too close to the sun. The wax wings melt and Icarus plummets into the sea to his doom."

Professor Lambton tsked and shook his head at the tale in lament over the mythological loss. "A warning against over-ambition, indeed, but surely only a tall tale to illustrate a point? This view has recently been undermined by the discovery of the following in the Icarian Sea, near Ikaria island in Greece..."

A gesture upon the softly glowing screen of his high-tech device brought forward the next slide. "The remnants of a partial human skeleton found on the seafloor. After they were recovered, they were dated back to between the fifth and fourth century BCE. Take note of the fractures. These injuries are consistent with a fall into water at considerable force - at or near terminal velocity in fact." Passing his tablet to his left hand, he adjusted his thick black-rimmed glasses with his right. "It would suggest a fall into the sea, from greater heights than would be available from an Ikaria Island cliff. Certainly a mystery, but perhaps some clues are hidden in the myth?"

A moment to ponder was provided before Lambton carried on. He swiped the smashed skeleton off his touchscreen, likewise removing it from the projection behind him. In its place he called forth a painting of a woman transforming into a tree, while a love-struck man runs to her. The beautiful woman turns away from the dashing young man's advance, spurning his unrequited advance with her metamorphosis.

"Apollo and Daphne. A legend of the god Apollo's one-sided love, which drives the nymph here to take the form of a tree in order to avoid his pursuit. The notion of a being sprouting branches and growing leaves must seem bizzare, but the following may give the idea some credit - a skeleton from what is now Italy..."

"We see what appears to be an horrific injury to the forearm, with the radius bone skewered in numerous locations by now-fossilized wood. Closer inspection reveals something startling..." A flicking motion applied to the touchscreen of his gadget zoomed the image onto the bone in question, fading into a MRI, revealing the internal structures in exquisite detail. "The plant has taken root in the bone's marrow, while the living bone has healed itself around the punctures. Remarkably, the fracturing of the bone was in an outward direction from the marrow. Somehow, a plant grew out of a bone in this person's arm."

The professor took a stride across the polished wooden floor towards the audience. "A display of parasitic biology, perhaps? Fungi, bacteria and other organisms are indeed known to take hold inside other lifeforms. This, however, seems to be symbiotic. There is no evidence that the human biology made any attempt at fighting or expelling the plant matter, which leads us to assume the human in question had a unique biology that allowed this relationship to flourish. We can only speculate on the evolutionary benefits this could bring, but we could assume it provided some advantage."

A murmur spread through the audience as the cynics among them found themselves suddenly intrigued. How the hell could that happen? David pondered, stroking the stubble on his chin. He looked between the projected images and the peculiar professor with interest, awaiting the continuation of the presentation.

A confident nod from the professor indicated he had found the intended response to his slide-show. "Finally, we have a tale close to home for this particular University: one of many legends of the demi-god Maui." His next image continued the trend of mythical characters, depicting the legendary maori figure who was credited with numerous incredible feats. An intricate carving that embodied maori art, the slightly abstract artwork showed the infamous culture hero standing proud atop the façade of a marae meeting house.

"I probably don't need to tell this audience of the numerous accomplishments attributed to Maui - everything from capturing and slowing the sun to fishing up your North Island. But of particular interest is his theft of fire from the fire goddess Mahuika. One myth tells of Maui, after finding fire has been lost to the world, seeking to find Mahuika in order to learn the secret to obtaining fire. He visits her, and, discovering the link between fingers and flames, tricks the fire goddess into giving him her fingernails one by one. He escapes, bringing the key to starting a fire with him."

"The theft of fire is a myth found throughout the world in numerous cultures, from ancient Greek to Polynesian to Jewish to Native American, but it is especially profound in the case of the local Ngati Matariki tribe." He stumbled on the unfamiliar syllables of Te Reo, but this wasn't a contest of pronunciation. "An archaeological dig at the site of a former Maori village of this tribe yeilded the following ornament..." A tap and swipe on the screen swapped the carved likeness of Maui for a pounamu ornament.

"Green nephrite jade - greenstone. This specimen is a large spiral ornament on a cuboid base." A Koru to those familiar with Maori art, the spiralling symbol is based on an unfurling silver fern frond. Symbolising new life, growth, strength and peace, it is an icon of Maori and Neo Zealand culture and art.

"The most intriguing thing about this specimen is the joint to the base..." Another flicking motion applied another zoom to this latest slide, revealing something that would indeed interest the audience. "The joint is welded. The Ngati Matariki Maori had no method to create the 900-plus degrees centigrade required to melt jade, nor did they have the tools or technology to apply such temperatures in a controlled manner. How this, and other welded tools and ornaments were crafted is a mystery that has baffled anthropologists."

Jacob leaned forward towards the audience, as though he were about to let them in on a secret. "But perhaps there is a clue hidden in the tale of Maui? Could the myth be hinting at an unlikely explanation for these unexplained artifacts?"

Standing upright again, the professor tapped his tablet once more. The title of his magnum opus theorem danced across the projection behind him, announcing "Post-humanism" in 700-point Helvetica. "Post-humanism is the theory that convergent myths and archaeological evidence point towards an ability for the right people, with the right  genetics and epigenetics, and exposed to the right environmental pressures, to develop abilities that are far beyond what humans are capable of. These post-humans form the base of a considerable proportion of mythologies and religions, leading us to deify those among our past who have exhibited such legendary traits."

Having won the attention of the auditorium with his bold claims, Lambton stepped forwards to shorten the gap between him and his audience. "Our gods and devils, prophets and messiahs, Our angels and demons... Are superheroes"

The End

0 comments about this story Feed