Sunday, 28 February 2016

Metamorphoses - Book VIII


Scylla, Nisus, Minos / Daedalus, the Minotaur, Theseus & Ariadne / Daedalus & Icarus / Daedalus & Perdix / The Calydonian Hunt / Althaea & Meleager / Theseus & Achelous The Echinades & Perimele / Baucis & Philemon / Erysichthon's Sin / Erysichthon & FamineErysichthon's DaughterAchelous

Minos & Scylla
17th century etching
source Wikimedia Commons
Minos, the son of Europa and king of Crete, besieges Alcathous and the coast of Megara, and its king, Nisus, amid his grey hairs, has a gleaming purple tuft which holds the security of his kingdom.  Now, his daughter, Scylla, climbs to the top of the tower of the king to watch the siege and falls madly in love with Minos.  She convinces herself that if she is taken hostage, the war will end. With such thoughts, she sneaks into her father's bedroom, tears off his tuft, and hurries out to find Minos.  King Minos, however is appalled at her present, and claiming her a disgrace, calls for her banishment.  Imposing just wars on the Megarians, Minos set sail for home, leaving lovelorn Scylla spewing poison and lamenting her fate.  Finally, she decided to follow Minos, diving into the waves and holding fast to his ship.  Yet, her father now is a tawny osprey, and he dives at her, dislodging her from the stern.  Scylla transforms into a bird, called the Ciris, meaning to cut, for she had shorn her father's tuft.

The Minotaur (1884)
George Frederick Watts
source Wikimedia Commons
Minos arrives home and sacrifices to Jove, but there is a shame lurking in Crete.  The adulterous liaison of Mino's mother and a bull, has produced an hideous offspring which must be concealed.  Minos gets the famed builder, Daedelus, to construct a labyrinth that is so intricate, the monster will never get out.  In this maze, the Minotaur is imprisoned, but Theseus kills it three years later, with the help of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, who gives him a thread to find his way out.  While Theseus took Ariadne with him, he left her on Naxos, but in her desolation and tears, Bacchus gave her a place in the constellations as the Northern Corona, her crown a diadem of stars.

Daedalus, weary of his sojourn in Crete, decides to escape, and "at once he starts to work on unknown arts to alter nature".  Constructing wings make of reeds, twine, feathers and wax, he cautions his son, Icarus, that he must follow him and not fly too high nor too low to avoid being wetted by the ocean or scorched by the sun.  At first, the boy flies right behind his father but then, delight and audacity come upon him and he soars up into the open sky.  The wax on the wings melt and he plunges to the sea and to his death.  Daedalus finally discovers his son's plight and builds a tomb for him on an island now called Icaria.

Lament for Icarus (1897)
Herbert James Draper
source Wikimedia Commons

As Daedalus builds the tomb, an irate partridge comes out of a muddy ditch to scold him.  This bird is Perdix, his nephew, who at twelve years old was trusted to his care and teaching.  But the boy proved too clever and bright, and in his envy of the child, Daedalus threw him from Minerva's sacred citadel, lying and saying that he'd fallen.  Minerva, however, scooped the child up in mid-air and transformed him into a partridge.  Now Daedalus, spent and ragged, arrives as a suppliant near Aetna (Sicily) where King Cocalus gives him refuge but wisely prepares his troops for an invasion by Minos.

The Calydonian Boar Hunt (1611-12)
Peter Paul Reubens
source Wikimedia Commons
Because of Theseus' bravery and success, Athens is relieved of paying tribute to Crete and all lands praise him and ask for his assistance in peril.  Oenus, king of Calydon requires his assistance when a massive boar is sent by the goddess Diana, who is incensed because all the gods had been given a gift of the harvest, yet her alter lay bare.  A legion of men gather, some of whom are familiar, including Achilles' father (Peleus), Jason, Telamon, and wise Nestor in his youth (from The Iliad), and the Calydonian hunt begins.  The men charge the boar who becomes enraged and nothing seems to be able to slow his frenzy. Finally, Atlanta, the only woman in the hunt, manages to draw blood, and Meleager praises her bravery.  The rest of the men, however, are angered at being bested by a woman, and rather forcefully, yet thoughtlessly, attempt to kill the animal.  Finally Meleager kills the massive beast, and all applaud him, but when he gives part of the his glory to Atlanta, dissent rumbles through the hunters.  His uncles emerge to reclaim his gift, angering Meleager who kills them both.

Althaea, Meleager's mother, is in the process of giving gifts to the gods for his victory, when she sees the bodies of her brothers being borne into the city. Agonized over their deaths, she recalls a prophecy where the Fates assigned the same life to a log as to Meleager.  His mother had secreted the log away, but with this murder she resurrects it.  Her agony as to whether or not to burn it is riveting:

" ......Within Althaea, mother wars with sister;
those two names tear apart her single heart.
First she grows pale with fear of what she plans,
a crime so foul; but then her seething wrath
inflames her eyes with its own color, red.
Now she appears to be most menacing ---
a horrid thing ---- and now you'd swear that she
was merciful.  When savage frenzy dries
her tears again.  Althaea cries.  She's like
a ship that, driven by the wind and by
a current running counter, is the prey
of both and --- in uncertainty --- obeys
two forces ......"

After a Gollum-like conversation with herself, finally she calls on the Furies to witness her deed, hurling the log into the fire.  As the log burns, so does Meleager until he is only ash.  His sisters are distraught, his father is agonized, his mother commits suicide and Diana is content.  She turns his sisters into guinea hens.

Theseus, sailing away from Calydon and the carnage, is warned by the river-god Achelous, to take refuge in his house.  Heavy rains have swelled the Achelous river and he is in danger if he attempts to cross.  Aegus' son accepts the hospitality and he is given a feast.  

Theseus asks Achelous about an island that he sees far off and the river god informs him that it is not one, but five islands.  They used to be five Naiads, but when they sacrificed ten bulls for a festival dance and forgot to invite Achelous, he swelled with rage, sweeping the nymphs away and tearing away a piece of land to form five parts, now called the Echinades.  There is yet another island, Perimele, named for his love, who he, by force, took her virginity.  Her father threw her from a cliff into the sea, however Achelous bore her up, calling on Neptune, who changed her into an island.

Mercury & Jupiter in the House of Philemon & Baucis (c. 17th century)
Jacob an Oost
source Wikimedia Commons
Pirithous, the son of Ixion, scoffed at the river god's tale, feeling that the gods were given too much power, but Lelex countermands his profession with a story to tell.  In the Phrygian hills, there once was a devolted old couple named Baucis and Philemon.  One day, the gods Jupiter and Mercury came seeking shelter in the guise of men.  The poor doddering couple gave them lodging and the best of the food they had to offer.  When they saw that their wine bowl was magically being replenished they were frightened that their food was not good enough and went to kill their only goose who guarded their land.  But the poor goose gave them a chase and they gave up exhausted, when finally the gods revealed themselves.  They took the couple on a long walk and when they looked back, their house was turned into a temple.  When asked for their desire, they asked to become priests of the temple and die together when their time came.  All came to fruition, but as their lives faded, one was transformed into an oak tree and the other, a linden.

Theseus is quite stirred by these tales and wishes to hear another.  Achelous tells of the transformations of Proteus, then relates a story of Erysichthon, who scorned the gods, chopping down a sacred grove of Ceres, including a sacred oak, causing the tree to bleed as the nymph inside is killed.  She utters a prophesy of punishment for Erysichthon's sin, but still Erysichthon is heedless.

In punish for Erysichthon's heartless deed, Ceres sends her nymph to Famine (as she cannot go herself for their purposes are opposed), and Famine pays the sinner a visit, breathing on him until he dreams of gnawing, burning hunger, but he can only eat air.  

Erysichthon Sells His Daughter (1650-60)
Jan Havicksz Steen
source Wikimedia Commons
Erysichthon's hunger becomes so unbearable that he sells his daughter, but she escapes her master by changing herself into the shape of a man.  When father sees daughter again, he sells her to master after master, all of whom she eludes by changing form.  Finally, the ravenousness of Erysichthon causes him to eat all he has and, in desperation, he "began to rend his flesh, to bite his limbs, to feed on his own body."

Achelous wonders why he tells of the metamorphoses of others when he, too, has undergone many changes.  In fact, he removes his head-wreath showing not two, but one horn upon his head.  Then he groans.


King Nisus  ❥  osprey
Scylla  ❥  bird
Ariadne  ❥  Northern Corona constellation
Perdix  ❥  partridge
Meleager's sisters  ❥  guinea hen
Five Naiads  ❥  the Echinades islands
Perimele  ❥  island
Baucis & Philemon  ❥  oak and linden trees
Proteus  ❥  boar, serpent, bull, stone, plant, stream, fire
Erysichthon's daughter  ❥  man, mare, bird, deer, etc.
Achelous  ❥  river, snake, bull

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

"It is difficult to make a dull garden, but old Mr. Wither had succeeded."

Stella Gibbons writes rather odd books.  Cold Comfort Farm, her best known and highly acclaimed novel, follows an orphaned, pert young woman to a mucky, rural farm and observes while she neatens and tidies all the morose, lurking, and deranged occupants into their proper places, finding love in the process.  Gibbons has a knack for depicting rather unusual and sometimes bizarre characters, and this flair for the unique has continued in her writing of Nightingale Wood. The introduction to the story labels it as a "fairy tale" and it is, although not along the usual lines one would expect from such a tale.  Gibbons' evil creatures often have angelic faces, and her happily-ever-afters can leave the reader uncertain of reality.  In playing with her characters, Gibbons appears to play with society and even the reader himself.  Her writing is not easily defined.

When Viola Wither finds herself a widow, parentless and very nearly destitute, she must accept the hospitality of her in-laws for her subsistence.  However, the Wither household is a quirky one, yet Viola, with her quiet and rather doe-eyed vacuity, manages to navigate the excessive expectations of her father-in-law, the ineffectualness of her mother-in-law and her two sisters-in-law, one who is a rather mannish, outdoorsy, opinionated woman, and the other a dull, thin, conventional woman with strangled hopes from an overbearing father.  Yet, in spite of the tedious country life she is forced to accept and Viola's credulous and nascent view of the world, she somehow manages to find her Prince Charming in this unlikely place.
"It has been hinted that her nature was affectionate; now that it had received encouragement there was no holding it; she was in love, so much in love that she did not realize that it was Wednesday morning and the letter had not come; and that the man she was in love with was the legendary Victor Spring.  Victor had now become Him.  He was less of a real person than ever.  She never once thought about his character or his income or his mother.  She was drunk.  She wandered about like a dazzled moth, smiling dreamily, and running downstairs when the postman came, crying:  'Anything for me?'"

Right away, we notice that Gibbons fairy-tale has some rough edges, that will never be filed smooth.  It is romance, but romance with an uncomfortable twist.  While Viola's Prince Charming is not only handsome, debonair and rich, he's also engaged to be married.  And although he is physically attracted to Viola, he doesn't even seem to remember her name.  His reaction to Viola after the ball is not one of an idealized lover:

"He was most strongly attracted to her, but not romantically.  The intentions of the Prince towards Cinderella were, in short, not honourable: and as we have seen, he thought it the prudent thing not to see her.

Sleeping Beauty
source Wikimedia Commons

However, this story is not only about Viola, and the Withers.  We have a number of other unconventional characters who populate the pages of this unique novel:  Hetty, Victor's cousin who loves books and her family not so much; Saxon, the young, handsome chauffeur whose family has come down in the world, as he tries to manage his rather slovenly, yet sexually indiscriminate mother; the loud and dirty woodland Hermit who takes great delight in terrorizing the gentry with his insightful, yet indelicate observations; and many, many more colourful personalities.  It's a kaleidescope of the English country life of the 1930s, but while the surface is nice and tidy, underneath there are swirling passions, undisclosed sentiment, and hidden resentment.

Certainly the novel has a fairy tale flavour to it, sprinkled with hyperbole, but Gibbons ensures that she imbues it with a healthy dose of realism.  In a lovely fantasy-style, Gibbons bestows on each character their heart's desire, yet the outcome of their desires are firmly entrenched in the reality of the 1930s, and their desires can perhaps turn out not to be as desirable as first expected.  On one hand, Gibbons shows incredible insight by investigating human desires, and then showing us how capricious the hand of fate can be, and how indiscriminate human nature can be, yet sometimes she doesn't seem to like her characters, almost manipulating and abusing them in a way that makes you wary of liking them, even if you wish to.  Reality descends on the characters, but often they seem to reject it, living inside a mental shell of their own making.  It's sort of an odd experience.  I feel that I've witnessed an explosion of Dodie Smith meets Virginia Woolf and I'm not sure if I like it.

Having written over 20 novels, Gibbons was rather annoyed that none of her other works received the attention of Cold Comfort Farm, yet perhaps the criticism is somewhat deserved.  While I enjoyed this book, I felt that it was difficult to really get to know any of the characters.  Perhaps this mental barricade was due to the radical treatment that Gibbons gives her characters, pressing the loud pedal at one time, and the soft at another.  Just when you think you have a character sketched, they behave in a way completely unexpected and you have to start all over again with a likeness.  The characters themselves struggle not only within the definitions Gibbons imposes on them, but societal definitions and self-definition, so the read becomes somewhat unsettling.  A fairy tale, yes, but a splintered fairy tale, where actuality rears its ugly face and blows away the clouds of expectations.

Prince Charming (1948)
Rene Magritte
source Wikiart

Monday, 22 February 2016

Out Of Your Car, Off Your Horse by Wendell Berry

This "essay" is set up in point-form with the sub-title, Twenty-seven Propositions About Global Thinking and the Sustainability of Cities.  It's going to be difficult to review, not only because of the structure, but also because Berry is such an original thinker and has so much of value to say.  It is almost a shame to leave anything out.

  1.  Global thinking is not possible; those who claim to be global thinkers have
       done so in a manner too simplistic and oppressive to merit the word
       "thinker".  Global thinkers are dangerous (national ones too) and he gives
       the example of his state of Kentucky being used as a garbage dump.
       Apparently it's okay with everyone except those who live in the state.

  2.  Global thinking is only based on statistics and can only do something if it is willing to
       be destructive on a large scale, however, conversely, one is able to make a positive
       impact locally.  Global thinking takes you so far from your neighbourhood, soon you
       are unable to recognize it.  Instead, get out of your spaceship, car, or horse and
       walk on the solid earth to discover its wonder.

   3.  If we really thought locally, we would make better choices and those choices would
        make a positive impact globally.

  4.  By making the local community independent, self-sufficient and capable, and do it
       with creativity, mercy and endurance, we ensure the community is seen in "proper
       relation" to the rest of the world, instead of employing "presumptuous abstractions
       of 'global thought'".

  5.  We must ensure that we don't demand too much of the globe, and therefore help
       destroy it, and to accomplish this desire, we must live at home as independently
       and self-sufficiently as we are able.  The earth's limitations should be constantly
       kept in mind.

  6.  A sustainable city can only exist if the city and countryside are in balance.

  7.  Our current cities are "out of balance", living off the "principal" of ecology without
       adding to it, and their faulty assumptions will lead to their downfall.

  8.  Industrial machinery has contributed to the destruction of this balance, by providing
       cheap production and transportation.

  9.  Since the Civil War, and more since WWII, the fossil-fuel industries regulate the
       patterns of productivity.

10.  Fossil fuel sources are rural and historically have been produced at the expense of
       the community and local ecosystems, because care of these does not profit the
       producer.  "It assigns no value to local life, natural or human."

11.  When industrial principles are applied to field and forest, both die.

12.  Industrial principles forced onto the countryside make people dependent and the
       corporations powerful.  A small number of people own land, and the workers are
       hostages of their employers.

13.  Our leaders, most of whom have wealth, do not understand how to make
       community function well because they must be ready at any time for power and
       wealth to destroy community.

14.  Ecological sense is in conflict with economic entities because it requires reduction
       or replacement of those entities.  Only the work and will of the people can further
       this "sense".

15.  Because now all institutions have adopted industrial methods of organizational
       patterns and quantitative measures, both sides of the ecological debate are
       alarmingly abstract.

16.  The abstraction is what's wrong.  The evil of either capitalist or communist industrial
       economy is its inability to distinguish one place or person or creature from another.

17.  The abstractions of sustainability can destroy the world, the same as the
       abstractions of industrial economy.  Even those who want to save the plant can ruin
       it by abstractions and central organization because they cannot know the local
       nature or community.

18.  You must make ecological good sense locally.  You can't act locally and think

19.  No one can make ecological good sense for the planet; everyone can make
       ecological good sense locally, if the scale, knowledge, tools and skills are right.

20.  "The right scale in work gives power to affection".  When when one works beyond a
       love for a place, destruction results, and an adequate local culture is needed for
       balance.  (I didn't quite understand this point.  Sorry, Wendell!)

21.  How do we make a local culture that will preserve our community?  We need a
       knowledge that comes from or with affection, but is unavailable to the unaffectionate
       or to anyone simply as "information".

22.  What is the economic result of a local affection?  We may never know as love can
       be enigmatic and unfathomable, and the answer would never satisfy a corporate

23.  The steps to saving the planet are small steps, which are humbling and rewarding.
       Its jobs and successes will be many but rarely noticed, nor will they make anyone
       wealthy or eminent.

24.  Many people are motivated by fame instead of greed, but this sort of attitude will
       never truly be a benefit to the planet.

25.  Good workers are persons willing to enter the daunting and humbling local
       presence of a problem and tackle it one life at a time.

26.  Some cities will never be sustainable because they don't have countryside
       surrounding them or near them.  For example, New York or Phoenix will never be

27.  To make a city sustainable, start small by increasing local food brought in by
       farmers, then as the demand for local food grows, farming could become more
       diverse, the farms smaller yet more complex in structure and production, and also
       provide more jobs.  As the intimacy of city and countryside grow, their thought
      would become more unified towards sustainability.

Lately, I've been reading Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent, and I was surprised to see Berry's words in this essay echoed back in a Christian context.

"In this respect, Christian love is sometimes the opposite of 'social activism' with which one so often identifies Christianity today.  To a 'social activist' the object of love is not 'person' but man, an abstract unit of a not less abstract 'humanity.'  But for Christianity, man is 'loveable' because he is person.  There person is reduced to man; here man is seen only as person. The 'social activist' has no interest for the personal, and easily sacrifices it to the 'common interest.'  Christianity may seem to be, and in some ways is, rather sceptical about that abstract 'humanity,' but it commits a mortal sin against itself each time it gives up its concern and love for the person. Social activism is always 'futuristic' in its approach; it always acts in the name of justice, order, happiness to come, to be achieved.  Christianity cares little about that problematic future but puts the whole emphasis on the now --- the only decisive time for love.  The two attitudes are not mutually exclusive, but they must not be confused.  Christians, to be sure, have responsibilities toward 'this world' and they must fulfil them.  This is the area of 'social activism' which belongs entirely to 'this world.'  Christian love, however, aims beyond 'this world.' ...... "

I hope that I've done Berry's words justice with my review.  I've tried to keep his ideas and words as close to his own as possible for clarity.  It's a great essay and I encourage you to read it.  Once again, with his clear insight, Berry brings to light many problems with the structure of our world today and the callous, ineptness of those in power to even attempt to set it right.  However, his words to bring hope.  When we think 'big' often the problems seem too overwhelming to solve, but when we think small, or locally, everyone has a purpose and change is possible, one life at a time.

All images from Wikipedia or Wikimedia Commons

Deal Me In Challenge #7 

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Metamorphoses Book VII

Book VII

Medea and Jason / Medea and Aeson / Medea and Pelias / The Flight of Medea / Theseus and Aegus / Minos / Cephalus / The Plague / The Myrmidons / Cephalus, Procris & Aurora

Jason and Medea (1907)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart
The twin sons of Boreas assist King Phineus, who aids them in their journey to Colchis, where Jason meets with King Aeëtes to claim the Golden Fleece. The king agrees to relinquish his prize upon Jason completing three horrendous tasks. Yet Medea, daughter of the king, has fallen madly in love with Jason.  In spite of Jason's foreign origin and the loyalty she owes to her father, she agrees to help Jason succeed in his trials in exchange for his promise of marriage.  First, he tames the dangerous bulls with herbs of Hecate given to him by Medea, yoking them to plow a field that has never before been plowed.  As he drops snake's teeth into the ground from a bronze helmet, each takes the shape of an armoured warrior who attacks Jason.  But the young man hurls a stone into their ranks and they turn on each other, perishing in a civil war.  In his last test, Jason puts to sleep a dragon with juices from a hypnagogic herb, gains the Fleece and sails home with his new wife.

Medea Rejuvenating Aeson (1760)
Corrado Giaquinto
source Wikimedia Commons
Upon his arrival home, Jason learns that his old father, Aeson, is ailing and pleads with his wife to take years from his life and add them to his father's.  Instead, Medea promises to lengthen Aeson's life. Nine days and nights she searches through the land in a chariot pulled by dragons, discovers magic herbs and returns.  Purifying Aeson with fire, water and sulphur, she brews the herbs with plants, stones, ocean sands, filthy screech-owl wings, the guts of a werewolf, the liver of an old stag, the skin of Libyan snakes and the head and beak of a crow. Cutting the old man's throat, there she pours her potion and he is renewed to youth.

Pretending that she has quarrelled with her husband, Medea arrives as a suppliant at the palace of Pelias, the old man weighed down with age. Hearing of Medea's success with Aeson, the daughters of Pelias beg her to perform her magic on their father.  Medea mixes a concoction, using herbs that have no power, and convinces the daughters to slit their father's throat, yet while each want to be pious, none can bear the sight of their deed, and they cut blindly into the old man.  Sitting up, he accuses them of murder, but Medea cuts short his accusations, throwing his flesh into the boiling vat.

The Murder of Pelias by his Daughters (1878)
George Moreau de Tours
source Wikimedia Commons

Escaping, the horrible witch flies across the lands in her dragon-pulled chariot, and we hear of many transformations.  The flight of Medea takes her to Corinth where she kills Jason's new wife by burning her with poison, sets fire to his halls, kills her own children and just in time escapes Jason's vengeance. As Medea takes refuge in Athens, King Aegus, not only shelters the witch, but also marries her.


Theseus, the son of Aegus, arrives in Athens, and Medea attempts to poison him but, at the last moment, Aegus dashes the cup from his hands.  Medea escapes and the people praise Theseus.

Intent on waging war with Athens for the killing of his son, King Minos sets out to gather allies by force or promise.  With a number of states on his side, Minos speaks with King Aeacus of Oenopia, or Aegina, and his sons Telamon, Peleus and Phocus, but his grandson Aesopus regrets they cannot join him, as they have a treaty with Athens.  Minos utters dire threats for their decision.

Cephalus arrives to enlist the aid of the Aeginians in their battle against Minos, stating that he is a threat to all Greece.  Cephalus is pleased at their loyalty, but notes that there are many missing faces from his last visit to Aegina.

The Plague (1898)
Arnold Böcklin
source Wikiart
Aeacus relates of a plague sent by a raging Juno, that fell upon their fair island.  It affected man and beast alike, causing an horrendous thirst so intense that people died in pools and rotted there.  The king attempted to make a sacrifice of a bull, but the animal dropped dead where it stood, and everywhere people were dehumanized in their suffering.

In his despair, Aeacus called out to Jove, who heard his plea.  In a dream, Aeacus saw an oak tree sway, dropping ants to the ground that began to take human shape. When he awoke, Telamon summoned him to a rank of humans whom Aeacus recognized, the Myrmidons, giving them that name because of their origin [ myrmex = ant ].  They are patient and zealous in their work, fine replacements for the plague-ridden island. But now all men gather to wait and marshal their troops.

Cephalus & Procris (1580)
Paolo Veronese
source Wikiart
As Cephalus and Phocus sit together, Phocus admires the lance of Cephalus, who bursts into tears at his words.  He tells that the shaft destroyed his precious wife and begins to elaborate with a story.  His wife, Procris, the sister of Orithyia (see the last story in Book VI) was gracious and beautiful, and Cephalus treasured her love.  But two months after their marriage the goddess, Aurora, kidnaped him, and Cephalus, repelling her advances, angered the goddess who allowed him to leave, but promised revenge.  On his way home, a distrust of his wife's fidelity came upon him and he arrived in disguise, attempting to seduce her with favours.  Day after day, she resisted until he offered her untold wealth, gifts and pressed her until she was ready to acquiesce, whereupon he revealed himself and berated her.  Abused and aggrieved, Procris left to roam the mountains and pursued the pursuits of Diana, yet Cephalus begged her to return, which she did, bringing him a lance and a hound.  All division seemed mended, but Cephalus innocently wandered around calling for his beloved "aura", meaning the wind which he wished to cool him, but his mutterings were taken to Procris who believed that he was being unfaithful.  She covertly followed him, but when Cephalus heard a rustling in the bushes, he believed it to be a predator, and let fly the lance, which pierced the breast of Procris. When he realized his perfidy, he attempted to save his wife, who begged him not to marry "Aura".  When he explained her mistake, she appeared to die in peace.

❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈

Ovid's pacing in these stories is often wonky.  We have Medea getting Jason to promise marriage and running off with him, and then, whamo!, he's married to someone else and she's seeking sanctuary (or for someone else's life to ruin, we're not sure), burning halls, killing children, etc.  There is no transition ..... nothing.  I'm assuming it's because the people of Ovid's time would have been familiar with the stories and could mentally fill in the gaps themselves, but when you're a modern reader it can often leave you confused and searching frantically for information.  It's a little bit jarring too, but I'm now accustomed to not being surprised at anything from Ovid.

Cephalus & Aurora (1627-30)
Nicholas Poussin
source Wikipedia


Winged-dragons  ❥  younger
Old Aeson  ❥  Young Aeson
Old ram  ❥  lamb
Cycnus  ❥  swan
Hyrie  ❥  lake
Combe  ❥  bird
King & Queen of Calaurea  ❥  birds
Cephisus' grandson  ❥  sea-calf
Son of Eumelus  ❥  bird
Rain with mushrooms  ❥  mortal bodies
Phene, old Periphas & Polypemon's daughter  ❥  birds
Sciron's bones  ❥  Scironian rocks
Ants  ❥  Myrmidons (men)

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Lysistrata by Aristophanes

"The War shall be women's business ......."

Staged during the Peloponnesian War and a mere two years after the disastrous defeat of Athens during the Sicilian Expedition, Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata ( Λυσιστραταη), meaning "disbander of the army", as a protest against the waste of both resources and lives caused by the acts of war.

The play begins in the year 411 B.C., the twentieth year of the Peloponnesian War between the city states of Athens and Sparta, and the women of the participating factions are becoming disaffected by the incessant fighting.  Lysistrata, a woman of Athens, gathers neighbouring women from the areas of Sparta, Bœotia, Corinth, Peloponnese, etc. in protest of this gratuitous war.

As the women assemble, they choose the two most effective means of protest imaginable.  First, they vow to withhold sexual favours from their husbands as long as they continue to fight, and, showing dynamic, yet persuasive initiative, they take possession of the Athenian treasury located at the Acropolis, thereby terminating the flow of money and support to the embattled troops.

Priestess of Bacchus (1884)
John Collier
source Wikimedia Commons
A chorus of old men arrive with the intent to force the women into submission but a chorus of old women repel them, and the reward for the men's efforts is a good dousing with water.  A magistrate then censures the women for their unwomanly actions, however he takes time to question Lysistrata on her intentions.  Her response is a fascinating discourse on the strategy of women in the system of war.  Men, through their bumbling and entanglements, have made the war women's business.  Not only is the war a wasteful loss of life, it is interfering with their social structure.  Athens should be organized as a woman spinning her yarn:  when the yarn is tangled it is untangled and now, Lysistrata demands, let this war be untangled by embassies.  Normally, the women would be pleased to remain at home with their work, but when the very fabric of their lives is unravelling and their existence threatened, action is imperative!

The magistrate is unmoved by her argument, Lysistrata returns to the Acropolis, and the old men and women continue their argument, until Lysistrata hears that there are already stirrings of dissent among her comrades, the women ready to disband because of the burden of a sexless existence.  Their leader argues them into submission, when Cinesias, a warrior, appears with his son, desperate for his wife, Myrrhine.  Myrrhine teases and taunts her poor husband with the promise of an encounter, then locks herself in the Acropolis with the other women.

A herald from Sparta arrives with an obvious "burden" under his cloak, announcing that he is seeking peace talks, and the exasperated magistrate agrees.  The Old Men make overtures to the Old Women, and the two choruses unite as one.  The Spartan and Athenian delegates call for Lysistrata, believing that she is the only one who can bring peace; she scolds them for their behaviour, appearing to put an emphasis on the Greek states fighting each other when the threat from Barbarians looms so greatly.  Finally, amid some squabbling, they agree to peace terms, and balance, both natural and societal, is brought to Greece once more amid much singing and dancing.

Bacchantes (1785)
Francesco Bartolozzi
source Wikimedia Commons

With Aristophanes' characterization of Lysistrata and the mutiny and his emphasis on the war, the political posturing, the money wasted and the lives lost, rather than showing an empowered woman, he was attempting to show that the egregious irresponsibility of the behaviour of the men in charge was so ineffectual, that even a group of ungovernable women could be more successful in handling the problem.  However, in spite of the other women's rather tenuous commitment to the cause, Aristophanes does show Lysistrata as a strong, decisive personality, immediately effecting peace and co-operation among the females of her fellow sister-states, organizing an orderly, yet believable, insurrection.  The women felt that they had as much invested in the war as the men, considering that they had been supplying the men for the war through giving birth to them and raising them to be warriors.  However, in the 21st year of the war, and the city devoid of most of the men of marriageable age, it is obvious that there is a serious inbalance not only in the natural order, but also in the social structures of Greek society.  While Aristophanes is perhaps not directly suggesting a remedy, he is certainly providing a compelling motivation to spur the leaders to action.

And, of course, Lysistrata cannot be mentioned without reference to its lewd content.  Well, perhaps I can gloss over it, not from a wish to, simply because I hardly noticed it.  Rather than pleading a certain disingenuousness, I blame my Dove Thrift Edition translation.  It claims an anonymous translator from 1912, and he must have sanitized his translation.  There are certainly references to "swellings of the groin" and "concupiscence" and "ardent longings", but I didn't notice a rudeness to any of the dialogue.  So I'm really not sure how much I missed or didn't miss.

Gone, But Not Forgotten (1873)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

Lysistrata is considered "Old Comedy" which generally adhered to the following structure:

Prologos:  a prologue that begins the play with a dialogue based on the focus or theme
Parados:  a song sung by the chorus when it enters, or the moment when it enters
Episode:  a scene in which the dialogue involves one or two characters and the chorus
Agon:  a debate between characters
Parabasis:  an ode in which the chorus addresses the audience to express its opinion on the theme or topic, which could include views on politics, social trends, etc.
Stasimon:  a scene or scenes in which the chorus sings a song uninterrupted by dialogue and usually when other characters aren’t present
Exodos:  the exit scene, or final part of the play. 

Yet while Lysistrata definitely fits into the Old Comedy form, Aristophanes deviates from the structure by employing a double chorus; departs from the conventional parabasis, and has an unusual structure for the agon, in that Lysistrata takes over the full debate herself to express her views, yet there are smaller agons within the double chorus.

All in all, Aristophanes has presented a well-balanced play where the comedy lightens the mood, but does not detract from the seriousness of prolonged war and all its wastes.  I liked this play much more than I expected to which seems to be a common theme when reading Greek literature.  I encourage all of you who haven't read a Greek play, to read one.  You just might be surprised!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

A Man's A Man For A' That by Robert Burns

A Man’s a Man For A’ That
By Robert Burns

Is there, for honest poverty,
         That hings his head, an' a' that?
The coward slave, we pass him by,
         We dare be poor for a' that!
                For a' that, an' a' that,
                        Our toils obscure, an' a' that;
                The rank is but the guinea's stamp;
                        The man's the gowd for a' that,

What tho' on hamely fare we dine,
         Wear hoddin-gray, an' a' that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
         A man's a man for a' that.
                For a' that, an' a' that,
                        Their tinsel show an' a' that;
                The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
                        Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord
         Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
         He's but a coof for a' that:
                For a' that, an' a' that,
                        His riband, star, an' a' that,
                The man o' independent mind,
                        He looks and laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
         A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's aboon his might,
         Guid faith he mauna fa' that!
                For a' that, an' a' that,
                        Their dignities, an' a' that,
                The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
                        Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
         As come it will for a' that,
That sense and worth, o'er a' the earth,
         May bear the gree, an' a' that.
                For a' that, an' a' that,
                        It's coming yet, for a' that,
                That man to man, the warld o'er,
                         Shall brothers be for a' that.

The more I read of Robert Burns, the more I like his poetry. There must be something about my Scottish heritage that feels an affinity with it.  In any case, in spite of its popularity, this was my first introduction to A Man's A Man For A' That, and I wasn't disappointed.  

Burns challenges the popular premise that a man's worth lies in his birth or employment or station, instead emphasizing that the measure of a man lies in his character.  From the beginning of the poem, the poor man is first presented in a lowly, yet honest manner, but as the poem progresses, Burns gradually elevates him until he has pride of worth and is looking down on the respected gentleman.  In fact, Burns actually inverts the class structure and hierarchies of rank, calling the poor honest man a "king", and the rich "fools" and "knaves". The qualities of honesty and unrewarded toils of the poor man make him inherently a man of greater character and therefore, worth, compared to the entitlements and indiscretions of the gentry.  Burns egalitarian principles shine through with his claim, "that man to man, the warld o'er, / Shall brithers be for a' that" echoing his radical politics and his sympathy for the French Revolution that was still in progress during the time of his song's publication in the Glasgow Magazine in 1795.   In fact, Burns must have been wary as to how this song would be perceived by his detractors, as he originally chose not to have his name attached to it.  

Here's a wonderful reading by David Rintoul (of Doctor Finlay fame) of A Man's A Man For A' That:

Deal Me In Challenge #6