Episode The Queen of Sheba – Michael Wood begins his quest with an exotic and mysterious woman of power: the Queen of Sheba. Immortalized in the Hebrew Bible, the Muslim Koran and in many Christian traditions, the tale of the Queen’s journey to Jerusalem to meet (and sleep with) King Solomon has been told and retold for nearly 3,000 years. Wood’s journey starts on Easter night in Jerusalem and takes him round the Red Sea to Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and the lost world of Axum, the little-known first civilization of Black Africa. In the Yemen, he explores the stunning monuments of Marib, the earliest civilization of Arabia. But Wood is also looking for a living story, and on the journey he discovers the legend of the Queen of Sheba alive in Arabia and Ethiopia, where she is still viewed as the mother of the nation, whose son brought the mythical Lost Ark of the Covenant back to Axum, where it still resides today! “Hollywood made Sheba the lover of Solomon and they made her white,” says Wood. “In Africa she’s black, and a woman of power. In Arabia she’s half woman, half demon. But the tale of her transformations, from exotic and mysterious alien to eternal female, from fantasy mother and lover, to cloven footed demon, is a parable of so many women of power throughout history!”
Episode The Search for Shangri-La – Wood’s search for Shangri-La takes him on a thrilling trek through India, Nepal and Tibet. The tale of the magical hidden valley of Shangri-La was popularized in the 1930s by James Hilton in his novel, Lost Horizon. But, the story of a lost kingdom behind the Himalayas free from war and suffering is descended from a much older Indian myth. When Europeans first caught wind of the tale back in the 16th Century, they set about trying to discover it. To find the truth behind the legend, Michael follows their track on foot through the Maoist controlled lands of Western Nepal and then on into Tibet. On the way he visits Mount Kailash, the sacred center of the world for all Hindus and Buddhists. Eventually, after hundreds of miles on dirt roads, he reaches the fantastic ruins of the lost city of Tsaparang, which he suggests is the real inspiration behind the myth. “One of the oldest myths of humanity, the paradise myth continues to haunt us today, especially in our time of rapid globalization,” Wood concludes. “Whether such a paradise actually existed or not, it represents one of our most basic human desires.”
Episode Arthur the Once and Future King – In this episode of the series, Wood explores the greatest British myth: the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Traveling round the Celtic world from Cornwall to Wales, Brittany, Ireland and Scotland, Wood uncovers the extraordinary story of how a shadowy Welsh freedom fighter, a Dark Age Che Guevara, became a medieval superman, and finally the model of a Christian hero. On the way we discover the real stories behind the Round Table, Excalibur, and the Holy Grail itself, the unattainable, mystical cup of Christ which has inspired poets novelists and film makers from the Middle Ages right down to Indiana Jones, Monty Python and The Da Vinci Code. Finally, in an intriguing piece of historical detective work Michael offers us a tantalizing glimpse of a historical Arthur, but in the unlikeliest of places.
Episode Jason and the Golden Fleece – The tale of Jason, the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece is one of the oldest stories in all of Greek myth. In this episode, Michael Wood traces the route of Jason and his famous boat, the Argo, along its route from Greece to Turkey and Georgia. The story of Jason can be traced back to the town of Volos in modern day Greece. The probable site of ancient Iolkos, it was here that King Pelias feared Jason a contender to this throne and so sent him on an impossible mission to finish him off. The mission was to travel to the far away kingdom of Colchis, in the Black Sea, to retrieve the magical Golden Fleece that had been taken there. But Jason proved courageous and strong and set out on an epic route. Wood similarly travels by boat from Greek island to Greek island, stopping off to explore the history behind certain nodes in the story. From Greece, he journeys on to Turkey and struggles up the massive currents of Istanbul’s River Bosphorous. Once out into Turkish countryside, Wood discovers whole communities of Pontic Greek, still living and speaking Greek in modern day Turkey. Are they the hangover from hordes of ancient Greeks pushing east and exploring the Black Sea? Is the whole Jason myth an explanation of that exploration? In Georgia, Wood travels to Vani, an archaeological dig that has revealed an Iron Age kingdom rich in gold. Finally in the remote north west region called Svaneti, Wood finds the true source of the myth. Here tribesmen have for centuries panned for gold in the river using sheep’s fleece.