They call the wind Borias


I've mentioned in the companion essay to this one, The Chobo Epiphany, that in the collaborative atmosphere of a television series, story elements can evolve without any one person able to track its complete genesis and development; as a result, when we try to reconstruct the process solely through interviews, we can possibly end up with an inaccurate impression of the show's creative process, and hence, the show's true character. Of course, we shouldn't just assume there's always some complicated process, just to satisfy any desire we have to read meaning into the details; but if the show's context indicates that a given element is significant, it bears further scrutiny.

Let's look at another example of what I've called "one-way collaboration," the process whereby ideas arise from other writers' contributions, but not everyone has an equal awareness of its significance. A particularly good example of this is Borias, the most important man in Xena's life: he's the man who "discovered her," as we learned in "The Debt, part I," her partner in war, and the father of her child, Solon. He was also a better man after he left her, as we learned in "Last of the Centaurs." No other man enjoys such an elevated position on "Xena, Warrior Princess." That's just what we'd expect from the man who was her consort. He's the only character, beside the two leads, who appeared in all three "movies" ("The Debt, I & II," "Adventures in the Sin Trade, I & II," and "A Friend in Need," I & II), which were co-written by Rob Tapert and RJ Stewart. RJ described Borias this way to the actor:

"In an interview in WHOOSH #33 (06/99), Marton Csokas stated that "R.J. Stewart wrote the script for my first appearance and that was to take place in Mongolia or thereabouts. I was trying to do a combination Russian/Chinese kind of accent which didn't quite work out. He was at a wardrobe fitting and mentioned that the character was based on Attila the Hun, and should be sort of Hungarian. Well, that's no problem for me, to do a Hungarian accent, but it turned out a little more generic than that. I liked the character."

This raises a couple of questions: first, if he's based on a Hun, where does the name come from? His name actually appeared before the character ever did, in the second season's premiere, "Orphan of War." We're not told very much about him, only that he was referred to as "the great Borias." We also hear Xena being told by the Centaurs that "the man who betrayed Xena, to become the greatest friend of the Centaurs, told us everything. He may have died at your command, but he will live forever in our legends." The Centaurs hold him in such high regard, that they will raise his son as their own, even though his mother was one of their great enemies. We hear Xena say of him: "Borias was a very wise man. He found his way a lot sooner than I did." Later, we'll learn that Borias had a past much like Xena's, but he learned to change his ways many years before she did. There's no mention of his background on the Central Asian steppes, or even from Hungary, north of Thrace. It's possible that backstory didn't exist yet, but we can assume that any character who could become the father of Xena's child must have a formidable background, and the writers would have reserved for him a history of famous, or infamous, deeds. We can also assume that her son would be a person of importance on this show. The writer of this episode, Steven Sears, has said as much when he mentioned the origin of Solon's name came from the famous lawgiver. He said: "I was hoping our creation would be considered THAT Solon, but it wasn't to be." As I describe in the main essay, "Free to be Euripides," some of the lawgiver's background was used for Callisto's story in season one, so clearly, Xena's child was not the creation of one person, but a group effort. Borias is mentioned in this same episode, however, when asked about the origin of his name, Sears has given several accounts. I'll list them below in what I believe to be chronological order, in response to questions asked him on separate occasions:

1) "Borias - Okay, this is going to be a toughie. For some reason I was trying to think of a deodorant with a MANLY name."

2) "Borias was because I was staring at a copy of the periodic table when trying to think up a name (don't ask me why, I read many strange things in my spare time)."

3) "Funny, the Borias mention made me snap my fingers. I remember it now because of a reference on a deoderant bottle, a chemical, and I was researching it because of a story about the chemical being hazardous. Funny. It's both and neither."

These three explanations appear to contradict each other, and they appear to contradict what I think is the logical source for Borias's name: Robert Graves' "The Greek Myths." In that book, which was required reading for the creative team of "Xena, Warrior Princess," there is a tale of the creation of the Universe in the very first paragraph. Let's quote the entire selection:

"In the beginning, Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things, rose naked from Chaos, but found nothing substantial for her feet to rest upon, and therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon its waves. She danced towards the south, and the wind set in motion behind her seemed something new and apart with which to begin a work of creation. Wheeling about, she caught hold of this north wind, rubbed it between her hands, and behold! the great serpent Ophion. Ophion, grown lustful, coiled about those divine limbs and was moved to couple with her. Now, the North Wind, who is also called Boreas, fertilizes; which is why mares often turn their hind-quarters to the wind and breed foals without aid of a stallion. So Eurynome was likewise got with child."

We can recognize some of the image of this Goddess in Xena: she rises naked from the waters in "Altared States," followed quickly by lots of whirling about as she attacks thugs with fish. The creation of the serpent can be seen in season four's "Between the Lines," when she rolls up a cloth and wields it as a weapon. And of course, the memorable scene that opens the fourth season, when Xena herself is mounted like a horse by Borias, who has impregnated her not long before.

Borias and Xena

Here, in the very beginning of "The Greek Myths," a major source of the show's ideas, we see an association of Borias with horses. Looking ahead in chapter 48, note e of "The Greek Myths," we find more:

"Once, disguising himself as a dark-maned stallion, he covered twelve of the three thousand mares belonging to Erichthonius, son of Dardanus, which used to graze in the water-meadows besides the river Scamander. Twelve fillies were born from this union; they could race over ripe ears of standing corn without bending them, or over the crests of waves."

This Boreas is the North Wind to the Greeks: his origin is in Thrace, and when he abducts the daughter of Erechtheus, king of Athens, he takes her to the Cicones, a tribe of Thrace that was also home to Orpheus. Since Xena is modeled in part on Orpheus, and "Black Orpheus" is one of the main cinematic sources of inspiration for the show, these overlapping stories would've caught the eye of some of the writers. We're also told this daughter was participating in the Thesmophorae, the Women's Festival of Athens, carrying a basket. In "Free to be Euripides," I establish that Aristophanes' comedy, "The Thesmophoriazusae," was the basis for "Kindred Spirits," where a character resembling Borias ("The Scythian") is to be found among the Amazon-like rituals; this further solidifies the case that Boreas the North Wind is the original inspiration for Borias, lover of Xena, father of Solon, who was adopted by the Centaurs.

And yet, when asked where the name came from, Sears says something that seems to contradict that. That means this whole theory is wrong, and we should chalk it up to a feverish imagination, right? I would do that, if it weren't for one thing: the three explanations Sears gives just don't make any sense, either alone or in combination. They don't connect in any way with the character being named. That raises an important question: how did these explanations help the writer tell his story? How did they make the character's name "feel right? to him, as he would put it? In The Chobo Epiphany, I give the example of how "Chobo" was a name Sears coined in response to seeing a churro. Though I don't think that fully accounts for everything, it at least makes sense: one name sounds like another, and the stick shape of the churro looks like a weapon. We also saw how Sears created Ephiny's name, by listing attributes and deciding to derive it from "epiphany," which she plays a part in on the episode; that's an example of a name with internal significance. Sometimes, he'll "xenatize" a name, such as when he named "Mavican" after a Mavica camera he happened to glance at while he was writing: Mavican has a sinister sound to us, which fits the character, and we can speculate as to why it does, but the sound is the important thing (in the English language, the "mav" sound connotes a powerful female opponent, which comes from Irish myth--not all of us know that, but it doesn't matter; it's part of our language). In the case of Solon, his name is taken directly from a historical figure. When looking at names that Rob Tapert and RJ Stewart came up with, they seem to use them to signify important themes by using them as a pattern for their own reference: for example, they signal the presence of the "Black Orpheus" motif by using a variation on Serafina ("Sera," "Sara," "Sarah," "Serena," "Seraphin"). They don't have to keep reusing that name, but it appears to act as an organizing element. So what category does Borias fall into?

I believe that Sears' explanations, along with evidence from other episodes, indicate that Borias was arrived at through a combination of wordplay, "xenatizing," and the thematic signaling that Tapert used. In other words, I believe that his name was the result of a collaboration--perhaps a one-way collaboration, even, in an episode that already seems to have a collaboration in Solon's name. To understand how this worked, let's look at the three explanations again:

1) "Borias - Okay, this is going to be a toughie. For some reason I was trying to think of a deodorant with a MANLY name."

2) "Borias was because I was staring at a copy of the periodic table when trying to think up a name (don't ask me why, I read many strange things in my spare time)."

3) "Funny, the Borias mention made me snap my fingers. I remember it now because of a reference on a deoderant bottle, a chemical, and I was researching it because of a story about the chemical being hazardous. Funny. It's both and neither."

It's possible all three explanations are accurate and fit together somehow, or maybe they represent a progressive focusing of the memory until he finally arrived at the only correct one. Who knows? Let's take them in the order they were given, to see what we can deduce. In the first, the key words are "manly" and "deodorant." This could indicate that there was some kind of "xenatizing" of a nearby item, sort of like with his Sony Mavica. Perhaps a bar of Irish Spring deoderant soap? When Steve was a teenager, in the 1970s, television was flooded with Irish Spring commercials featuring an Irish man touting the soap's deodorizing virtues, with an Irish lass looking on. When it came time for the slogan, he'd announce "Manly, yes..." and the lass would interject "...but I like it, too!" In the sixties and seventies, feminism was on the rise and asserting itself in pop culture, and by the time of this commercial, it took on a playful tone in ads, a harmless social defiance for television unlikely to bother those whose feathers were ruffled by more challenging rhetoric from revolutionary feminists like Gloria Steinem. TV ads have a long half-life in the mind--they're designed that way--so when it came time to think in terms of women taking their place defiantly in a man's world, men who grew up during those times might conjure up all the ways that conflict expressed itself. Steve would be the right age for someone who would've experienced the feminism of that era primarily through television rather than the workplace (though by the time of "Xena," television was his workplace). Perhaps his comment on manly deodorant is a relic from that time?

Maybe, but this explanation doesn't clear up anything for me. It could've been an early part of his brainstorming process though, and might point us in the right direction, so let's keep at it. Maybe there's a clue in the second explanation? He refers to the periodic table, so now we have an actual source we can consult. What element most resembles Borias? Consulting the periodic table of the chemical elements, as it's known, we find the Boron group, also known as the Earth Metals group, named after Boron, which is listed first because it has the lowest atomic number. Boron is used in fertilizer, and we consume it daily since it occurs naturally in our food sources. It's used medicinally, most commonly in eye drops. It's also a poison when used in insecticides. This dual-use nature of the element seems to link it to explanation number three. Oh's also used in detergents, in the form of Borax. So there's our everyday object! Borax appears in brand names like 20 Mule Team Borax, which was a popular product for over a century. I'm not sure Steve would have that in his home nowadays, given all the modern varieties of detergents that are more widely available, but he would've seen it often growing up, and it would've stuck in his imagination as a product of Death Valley.

But why would such an old-fashioned product have occurred to him? I'm guessing there was another product nearby that helped suggest it: Ajax cleanser, whose slogan is "Stronger than dirt!" which was a reference to the Greek myth of Ajax (check out the classic Ajax commercials of the Baby Boomer years at YouTube and you'll see that female empowerment was also a big theme, echoing the Irish Spring ads--the cleanser made a housewife as strong as a white knight!). Ajax was a warrior in "The Illiad," and the second-strongest man in all of Greek mythology, with Achilles being the first. Interestingly, given their importance, neither man appears on "Xena," though Achilles is mentioned. This seems odd, because we know that the writers read Graves' "The Greek Myths," and were told by Rob Tapert to assemble a list of ideas as a discussion resource for story sessions. Is there any doubt that each writer had their own version of a romance involving Xena? And wouldn't Xena's lover have been a man of stature, formidable enough to hold his own with her? And--most importantly--wouldn't such a man have a target on his back, like those guest lovers on any show in which the star is expected to remain unattached? Going strictly by the myths, the best candidate for that role is Ajax. There is a moment in "Xena" which suggests the influence of Ajax's story: he had thrust his sword in the ground to mark his burial place, and Ares does the same when he marks the "burial" place of Xena in season five's "Looking Death in the Eye." In the myths, Ajax buried the sword upright, to fall upon it, and Xena's burial is only a staged death, since she's being frozen, not killed). In the myths, Ajax had defended Achilles' corpse, and was to be rewarded his coveted arms after the burial, but wily Odysseus beat him to it, through rumors that were spread in the camp about Ajax having the easy job of carrying Achilles' corpse when Odysseus did all the hard work. This betrayal of a war veteran and denial of his benefits would become Ajax's story on "Hercules," in season four's "War Wounds." I'll get to that episode in a minute.

Borias and Xena

As I mentioned earlier, when "Orphan of War" was being discussed, it was unlikely that the man who fathered Xena's child was going to be someone insignificant; the potential for his reappearing on the show in flashbacks was great, and in fact, the first extensive flashback was probably already on the drawing board while "Orphan of War" was being discussed: "Destiny," which aired later that season. In fact, given the difference between Xena's evil background and her present, it's only natural that her past would be dramatized on the show, so they would be giving thought to those stories (as they would anyway, when crafting the lead character's backstory). Who would be the father of Xena's child is a subject that evolved over some time, I'd imagine, but when "Orphan of War" had to be written, a name was needed just to start thinking about the first draft. We've seen (in the Chobo essay) how placeholder names were used while writing a story (such as "chobo sticks" for the actual martial arts sticks Steve was trying to remember), so I'm guessing "Orphan of War" originally had just such a placeholder name. I speculate that the name was Ajax. Maybe that was Steve's own choice, or maybe that name came up as Rob Tapert was writing beats down on the story room's chalk board; either way, I don't think Steve would've stayed with it if he had a choice, because he seems to steer clear of directly borrowing from the myths if he can. He prefers to "xenatize" outside sources or draw the names from the character's internal logic. That's probably because he wants the name's power to come from the story, not vice versa (unlike Rob or RJ, who seem to want to draw upon the power of their sources because their work is in part a reaction to, and a commentary on, those sources).

Now, I wouldn't be surprised if Ajax was originally Rob's suggestion, because he's said in the past that Xena was chosen as a name in part because it had that eye-catching "X" in it. So does Ajax, and it's also just as short and catchy as Xena's. Like two peas in a pod! Maybe a little too much alike, though, and given that "Xena" and "Hercules" were shows that happily recycled ideas in many different ways, there would be no need to actually keep Ajax as a name in "Orphan of War." As long as it provided a model for Xena's lover, and got the creative juices flowing, its work was done. In this case, Ajax's story is reflected in the story of Xena and Borias, since, as we'll see, the wandering of Many-Skilled-Odysseus was also a model for Xena, and his betrayal of Ajax during a time of war would be mirrored by Xena's betrayal of Borias.

With all this in mind, let's try to recreate how Borias's name came to be. At one of the story sessions, with ideas flying fast and furious, Rob talks about Xena's background, and "The Greek Myths," and how Xena is like a figure rising out of the murky, chaotic waters of myth. Any consort of hers would be like that first page of "The Greek Myths," Boreas the fertilizing wind who takes the form of a snake; he may or may not bring up the centaur connection, since that's already part of the show's mythos at this point. Suggestions are made about the name of Xena's lover, and somebody, probably several, say "How about Ajax? When are we gonna use him?" "Maybe, whatever," Rob might say. Steve is assigned the story, and plugs the name Ajax into the first draft with the intention of replacing it as soon as he can with something that "feels right." While working on the more important character aspects of the script, he might see a bottle of Ajax cleaner, or a commercial for it during the day, along with numerous deodorant commercials, and decide to check out its ingredients. This eventually leads to the periodic tables, with its powerful elements that help and hurt mankind. Checking "The Greek Myths" once more, he sees the following sentence in chapter 165, which is one of the first sentences in the chapter: "Some say that Agamemnon, from a dislike of the whole House of Aeacus, rejected Ajax's pretensions and divided the arms between Menelaus and Odysseus, whose goodwill he valued far more highly." Ajax came from the House of Aeacus (pronounced "eye-yak-us"). The "J" was pronounced like an "I" or "Y," so this could've prompted some wordplay: Ajax= "eye-axe." Like Ajax floor wax? How about that periodic element, Boron? Could that be "xenatized" to produce a new name? Let's see: Bor-Ajax, Borjax, Borax (no, that's too obvious). How about Borajax, pronounced like "bore-eye-axe?" Sounds close, especially since Xena's consort was Boreas ("bore-hay-us"). Let's get rid of the "X:" "Bore-eye-us." Borias! Whatever, back to the script!

That's a very complicated scenario, and I can imagine much simpler, more direct ways they could've come up with Borias, but this one fits all the known facts (assuming these facts are being remembered accurately, which is a big assumption, given that Steve himself took several tries to recall it; even then, he doesn't seem to remember how it connected to the name). Years later, when asked about it, he recalls only flashes of the process, which might not have been nearly as significant to him as the hard work of writing the story would've been. Since the story of Xena giving up her child was the element that was closest to his heart, and was already on his mind before the episode came up, those details are remembered, the others aren't. Ask Rob Tapert how the name came about, and he wouldn't have had access to Steve's process, so he probably wouldn't know exactly.

Or maybe he did: looking through both "Xena" and "Hercules," we can find evidence of the wordplay I describe. I mentioned "War Wounds:" in that episode, Ajax's right hand man is Boraxis, who looks very much like the northern barbarian that Xena's lover would be.

War Wounds
Ajax, left, with Nebule; Boraxis, right, with King Iphicles (Kevin Smith) as his captive

This episode aired in the fourth season, after Borias himself had already appeared on "The Debt I & II," and it's possible the discussion of those episodes recalled memories of "Orphan of War." In the third season of "Hercules," the episode "Long Live the King" has a similar character as Boraxis, a right-hand man to the villain, named Boron--the periodical table makes its appearance only ten episodes later, just before the airing of "Destiny"! Long before that, though, we have "Promises," a second season episode of "Hercules." It aired several episodes before "Callisto," and we'll recall that Callisto's story included elements of the lawgiver Solon's story; since his name showed up in "Orphan of War," it's reasonable to assume that "Promises" was also on Rob Tapert's mind as well, at that time. In "Promises," we have a similar kind of war story: the Ajax figure here is Tarlus, played by Martin Csokas, who would be cast as Borias the following season. Tarlus is a warrior on the run, who promised to keep a secret about an apparent betrayal on the battlefield he fled long ago. Tarlus has a secret relationship with his enemy, King Beraeus, who also carries a shameful secret from that day: the king's name sounds virtually the same as Borias when pronounced, and his royal insignia is the serpent, recalling the opening paragraph of "The Greek Myths." The king pursues Tarlus because of that shameful secret, and when he realizes his daughter is in love with Tarlus, that only fuels his rage. The king reminds us a bit of King Iphicles in "War Wounds:" they both share an influence from King Penthius in Euripides' "The Bacchae," which I discuss at greater length in "Free to be Euripides."

When we look at all these episodes in retrospect, a pattern emerges: Ajax is used to tell the story of the betrayed veteran. The different aspects of his role are examined under many different names. The story of "Promises" is retold in season six of "Xena," in "Last of the Centaurs," when King Belach, Borias's betrayed son, pursues the refugee who loves his daughter. The animalistc Primords, ferocious-looking but good-hearted, that appear on "Promises" as the objects of the king's rage, become the title characters of "Last of the Centaurs." The arms of Achilles denied to Ajax becomes Borias's medallion that he gives to his son, who in turn, gives to his. The promise, long denied, is kept.

Of course, this raises the question of Belach's name: that's a little easier to figure out. Shortly before "Last of the Centaurs," we saw Prince Morloch hunting down Xena--this is another homage to King Penthius, who hunted the worshippers of Dionysus in "The Bacchae." Both names may have several sources, but one common one would be Moloch, the demon who, legends say, demanded child sacrifice. In "Paradise Lost," by John Milton, he appears early on, arguing the case for war against Heaven: he's described as "besmeared with blood of human sacrifice, and parents' tears." He was also known as Belial, and that demon gives a speech right after Moloch in "Paradise Lost." The combination of these names gives us the name of Borias's son, who nearly exterminated the Centaurs, sparing them when his daughter's tears taught him compassion.

Last of the Centaurs

When "Orphan of War" was being discussed, along with the subject of Xena's lover, the performance of Marton Csokas would've been on Rob Tapert's mind, and this would have helped make the case of exploring Xena's past on future episodes. This would also have conjured up many other associations, many of which would help tie both shows together thematically. As I mentioned in "Free to be Euripides.", the series premiere of "Xena, Warrior Princess" opens with an homage to the ancient Romanian ballad, the Mioritza, when she buries her arms. The poem is about a shepherd who's told by his sheep (momentarily blessed with the power of speech) that he'll be murdered that night on the road. In the face of this unalterable fate, the shepherd tells the sheep how he'd like to be remembered to his mother. I'll repeat it briefly here, taken from Mircea Eliade's book, "Zalmoxis, the Hidden God:"

"Tell them that in good truth I married a peerless queen, the bride of the world; that at my wedding a shooting star fell; that the sun and the moon held the crown for me; that the great mountains were my priests, the beeches my witnesses, all to the singing of a thousand birds, and the stars my torches!"

It's a ballad popular at weddings, and the language of that poem played a role later on in the remarriage of Hercules on "When a Man Loves a Woman," in season three (around the time "Destiny" was being worked on). There's an earlier reference to the Mioritza on "Hercules," though, on "Promises." Tarlus presents his lover with his mother's veil, one of the few items he's kept with him on the run. The Primords are loyal to him like the sheep, and protect him fiercely, but lack the power of speech when interrogated by King Beraeus. There's even a false shepherd, looking very out of place, who misdirects Hercules. When the truth about Tarlus's and Beraeus's past finally come to light, the promise is fulfilled, and their private battle is over. The episode ends, just as "Last of the Centaurs" does, on a note of happy reunion, and a story comes full circle. It's a wedding of the king's daughter to the outcast veteran Tarlus, now welcomed home in celebration. It's presided over by a priest with the royal snake symbol (echoes of Boreas the North Wind?), and we can almost hear the words of the Mioritza in our minds as we watch this final scene of a new promise made:


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