Words & Stuff

x: Alalaes Ululient

(15 June 1997)

About two months ago, my email yielded up the best Gilbert & Sullivan filk/parody I've ever encountered. Fortunately, one doesn't need to know much about the television series Xena: Warrior Princess to appreciate the dazzling wordplay and wit here; like all the best modern productions of Gilbert & Sullivan, this piece contains extensive footnotes explaining the more obscure bits. (I've reformatted the piece for Web publication.)

Heroine Barbarian

by Kevin Wald

reprinted with permission

[We join our operetta already in progress. The infamous Pirates of Pergamum have just seized a bevy of beautiful Mytilenean maidens, and are attempting to carry them off for matrimonial purposes. Gabrielle intervenes, with a recitative (well, it's better than a pan flute solo):]

Gabrielle:
Hold, scoundrels! Ere ye practice acts of villainy
Upon the peaceful and agrarian,
Just bear in mind, these maidens of My-TIL-ene[1]
Are guarded by a buff barbarian!

Pirates:
We'd better all rethink our cunning plan;
They're guarded by a buff barbarian.

Maidens:
Yes, yes, she is a buff barbarian.

[Xena leaps in from the wings, with a tremendous war cry, does a mid-air somersault, and lands on her feet on the Pirate King's chest.]

Xena:
Yes, yes, I am a buff barbarian!
[The orchestra starts up.]

I am the very model of a heroine barbarian;
Through Herculean efforts, I've become humanitarian.
I ride throughout the hinterland -- at least that's what they call it in
Those sissy towns like Athens (I, myself, am Amphipolitan).
I travel with a poet who is perky and parthenian[2]
And scribbles her hexameters in Linear Mycenian[3]
(And many have attempted, by a host of methods mystical,
To tell if our relationship's sororal or sapphistical).

Chorus:
To tell if their relationship's sororal or sapphistical!
To tell if their relationship's sororal or sapphistical!
To tell if their relationship's sororal or sapphisti-phistical!

Xena:
My armory is brazen, but my weapons are ironical;
My sword is rather phallic, but my chakram's rather yonical[4]
(To find out what that means, you'll have to study Indo-Aryan[5]).
I am the very model of a heroine barbarian!

Chorus:
To find out what that means, we'll have to study Indo-Aryan --
She is the very model of a heroine barbarian!

Xena:
I wake up every morning, ere the dawn is rhododactylous[6]
(Who needs to wait for daylight? I just work by sensus tactilis[7].)
And ride into the sunrise to protect some local villagers
From mythologic monsters or from all-too-human pillagers.
I hurtle towards each villain with a recklessness ebullient
And cow him with my swordwork and my alalaes ululient[8];
He's frightened for his head, because he knows I'm gonna whack it -- he's
Aware that his opponent is the Basileia Makhetes!

[The music crashes to a halt, as the Chorus stares at Xena in utter confusion. She sighs.]
It's Greek. It means "Warrior Princess"!
[Light dawns on the Chorus, and the music resumes.]
Sheesh . . .

Chorus:
He knows that his opponent is the Basileia Makhetes!
He knows that his opponent is the Basileia Makhetes!
He knows that his opponent is the Basileia Makhe-makhetes,

Xena:
Because I've got my armor, which is really rather silly, on
(It's cut so low I feel like I'm the topless tow'rs of Ilion,
And isn't any use against attackers sagittarian[9]).
I am the very model of a heroine barbarian!

Chorus:
It isn't any use against attackers sagittarian --
She is the very model of a heroine barbarian!

Xena:
In short, when I can tell you how I break the laws of gravity,
And why my togs expose my intermammary concavity,
And why my comrade changed her dress from one that fit more comfily
To one that shows her omphalos[10] (as cute as that of Omphale[11]),
And why the tale of Spartacus appears in Homer's versicon[12],
[She holds up a tomato:]
And where we found examples of the genus Lycopersicon[13],
And why this Grecian scenery looks more like the Antipodes,
You'll say I'm twice the heroine of any in Euripides!

Chorus:
We'll say she's twice the heroine of any in Euripides!
We'll say she's twice the heroine of any in Euripides!
We'll say she's twice the heroine of any in Euripi-ripides!

Xena:
But though the kinked chronology, confusing and chimerical
(It's often unhistorical, but rarely unhysterical),
Would give a massive heart attack to any antiquarian,
I am the very model of a heroine barbarian!

Chorus:
'Twould give a massive heart attack to any antiquarian --
She is the very model of a heroine barbarian!

[As the orchestra plays the final chords, a wild Xenaesque melee ensues, and the curtain has to be brought down.]


Notes

  1. Actually, "Mytilene" would properly be accented on the third syllable; Gabrielle always did have trouble with rhymes. (Mytilene, incidentally, is a city on the isle of Lesbos -- the hometown of the poet Sappho, as a matter of fact. It is not clear what, if anything, Gilbert is trying to imply here.)
  2. parthenian: virginal.
  3. Linear Mycenian: Mycenian is the ancient dialect of Greek which was written in Linear B (a form of Greek writing that predates the adoption of the alphabet). The implication is that Gabrielle does her writing in Linear B; if Xena takes place around the time of the Trojan war, this is chronologically reasonable.
  4. yonical: "Yonic" is the female counterpart to "phallic."
  5. Indo-Aryan: The language group consisting of Sanskrit and its close relatives. Both "chakram" and "yonic" are of Sanskrit derivation.
  6. rhododactylous: rosy-fingered. (Homer makes frequent reference to rhododaktulos eos -- "rosy-fingered dawn.")
  7. sensus tactilis: Latin for "the sense of touch."
  8. "Alalaes" are war-cries (the Greeks spelled a Xena-like war cry as alala or alale) and "ululient" is a coined term, apparently meaning "characterized by ululation."
  9. sagittarian: archer-like.
  10. omphalos: belly-button.
  11. Omphale: Legendary queen of Lydia. From context, we must assume that she had a cute belly-button; however, no known classical source seems to address this vital issue.
  12. versicon: a coined term, apparently meaning "collection of verse."
  13. Lycopersicon: the biological genus to which tomatoes are assigned. (The tomato is a New World plant, and was entirely unknown in the Old World in pre-Columbian times. Thus, having tomatoes in a Xenaish context is an even greater anachronism than having Homer tell the tale of Spartacus.)

Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>