The Oresteia ~ The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus

The Return of Orestes (1785)
Anton von Maron
source Wikimedia Commons

The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus
“Hermes, lord of the dead, who watch over the powers
of my fathers, be my saviour and stand by my claim.
Here is my own soil that I walk.  I have come home;
and by this mounded gravebank I invoke my sire
to hear, to listen …..”

Mercury (Hermes) (1636-38)
Peter Paul Rubens
source Wikimedia Commons

The play opens with Orestes standing at the tomb of Agamemnon, with a request to Hermes (or “Cthonic Hermes” who acts as a messenger between the Olympian gods and the Underworld) for favour and for the ear of his father, to bring his spirit back into play. Sadly, in the only surviving manuscript of The Libation Bearers brought to Florence in the 15th century, the opening speech is damaged and there are number of missing lines, the number of which can only be guessed (an estimate is 80 lines).  However, other lines survive in works of other authors:  the first five lines are written in Aristophanes’ play, The Frogs, and other lines can be found in the commentaries of other authors, however, it is expected that most of the explanatory prologue has been lost.

As Orestes lays a lock of his hair on the tomb to honour his dead father, a Chorus of women, dressed all in black, hurry towards the grave.  As they approach, Orestes and his companion, Pylades, hide themselves and he recognizes his sister, Electra, among the mourners.

The women are captive slaves who have been sent by Clytaemestra to pour libations (liquid offerings) on Agamemnon’s grave in response to a nightmare which has disturbed her sleep.  The dead king rages through the queen’s dreams and she will placate his spirit if she can, but the Chorus sings of the impossibility.  The crime committed far exceeds any reparation.

Lacrhrymae
Frederic Leighton
source Wikiart

Electra’s conflict is truly pitiable.  How can she complete the task in true principle?  Both her father’s body and memory have been disgraced, and furthermore the acts were perpetrated by her own mother.  How can she give her father prayers from his own murderer?  Should she simply pour the libations into the ground?  In a fascinating exchange, the Chorus acts as a teacher or mentor, instructing Electra in almost a Socratic way, encouraging her to pray for retribution and the return of Orestes.  First praying to Hermes, Electra’s prayer then moves to her father, asking for vengeance with a glimmer of hope that good will come out of it, almost like her father’s wish in Agamemnon.  Can good come out of evil?  We shall see …………..

Reaching the tomb, Electra is astonished to discover the lock of hair, then she finds footprints, and finally Orestes comes out of concealment. However, his presence is met with doubt by his sister, yet after convincing her of his identity, she gives him all her familial love.  After praying to Zeus, Orestes recounts the oracle at Delphi and his order of vengeance, however he admits that even if Apollo would not persuade him to revenge, his own personal desires would ensure the act, dismissing both Clytaemestra and Aegisthus as “women”.

As Orestes and Electra exchange prayers, mostly to their father, Orestes’ resolve becomes more driven by personal desire than duty.  He then learns of Clytaemestra’s dream; she birthed a snake that drew blood as it suckled, and Orestes claims the dream a portent of the coming murder of his mother.  With the chorus spurring them on to action, Orestes orders Electra to keep secret his arrival and to go inside, whereupon he leaves with Pylades to find Aegisthus and kill him.

Electra at the Tomb of Agamenon (1874)
William Blake Richmond
source Art Gallery of Ontario

As the chorus sings of parents who have murdered their children (such as Althaea & Meleager – see Metamorphoses Book VIII) and children who have killed their parents (such as Nisus and his daughter [Syclla] – see Metamorphoses Book VIII), Orestes arrives at the palace and announces to his mother the death of Orestes.  Not recognizing him, she laments the curse of the House but her regret appears mild, as the slave Cilissa later confirms when she notes there was a “smile inside her [Clytaemestra’s] eyes”.  Cilissa, guided by the Chorus, takes a message to Aegisthus that he needs not his bodyguard while meeting the stanger, allowing Orestes his moment of revenge.  As a servant careens through the door, calling a riddle about the living killing the dead, Clytaemestra arrives and with the courage of a man, calls for an ax. As the truth dawns, Clytaemestra’s words change to the feminine, recalling her care of her son as a child.  As Orestes’ resolve falters, Pylades reminds him of his duty and he finally enacts revenge for the death of his father, Agamemnon.  And in a gross re-enactment of the death of Agamemnon and Cassandra, Orestes is shown standing over the bodies of his mother and her lover, a further echo of the curse blanketing the house of Atreus.

Orestes Slaying Aegisthus & Clytemnestra (1654)
Bernardino Mei
source

Orestes’ speech after the murder begins with a justification of his action, but soon the audience sees his assurance begin to break down and his mental state becomes tenuous.  Though victorious, he feels the evil in his deed.  Since Apollo had counselled his actions, he will go to him as a suppliant to beg his advice:

“I would have you know, I see not how this thing will end.
I am a charioteer whose course is wrenched outside
the track, for I am beaten, my rebellious senses 
bolt with me headlong and the fear against my heart
is ready for the singing and dance of wrath.  But while
I hold some grip still on my wits ………
…. I go an outcast wanderer from this land, and leave
behind, in life, in death, the name of what I did.”

Though no one else can see them, Orestes can now see the “bloodhounds of his mother’s hate.” These Furies punish family member who have harmed family members, in particular, children who have abused parents.  Orestes rushes out in torment and the chorus laments, wondering what will happen to the family of Atreus.

Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1862)
William-Adolphe Bourguereau
source Wikiart

The plays of The Oresteia are astonishingly well-constructed.  All the questions of revenge and justice and murder and duty are woven with a skillful needle throughout the drama, weaving a tapestry that at times can be alternately poignant, terrifying, suspenseful or appalling.

Setting Electra, a princess of Argos, among captive slaves is very effective.  In effect, she is a slave as well, impotent in her ability to do anything about the situation. Essentially, by placing her among the women, they are made allies in their mental battle against her mother, Clytaemestra, and Aegisthus.

We’ve continued with the theme from Agamemnon of discordant responsibilities that bring conflicting thoughts and either paralyzed or inconsistent action.  Apollo has threatened Orestes with madness if he does not avenge his father, yet the Furies promise the same fate if he does.  His dilemma is identical to that of his father.  With blood justice comes the duty of killing but the process is always cyclical and the avenger often does not escape his own fate.  As to the limitations of this type of justice, Aeschylus makes them obvious.

De Offerstrijd Tussen Orestes en Pylades (1613)
Pieter Lastman
source Wikimedia Commons

I noticed either a “cataloguing” or a “sandwiching” of themes or issues within this play. Initially Aeschylus mentions “bright/half-dark/gloom” within three lines of the play; Electra says “… between my prayer for good and prayer for good I set this prayer for evil;” the Chorus asks for Justice (good), based on hatred in exchange for hatred, then invokes the spirit of Right (good); and throughout the play a connection is implied between the gods (heaven & Apollo), Orestes and Electra (their struggles on earth), and Hades & Agamemnon (Underworld or under earth).

There are a couple of issues in this play that readers might like to be aware of.  The scene where Clytaemestra is pleading with Orestes and bares her breast to him, is not in the original play, and merely an addition by some overexuberant revisionist fond of gratuitous additions.

I also noticed a few non-scholarly commentaries that mention that women in this play are portrayed as “weak” and their place in the home is disparaged and devalued.  In fact, in ancient Greece there were two important roles that both sexes fulfilled and, unlike modern times, there was no crossing over between the two.  The women’s role in the home was considered an important one and in court if there was evidence with regard to a home in a legal case, the woman’s evidence or opinion would be taken over a man’s.  Interesting, isn’t it?

The concluding third play of the triology is called The Eumenides.

Metamorphoses ~ Book XIII

Book XIII

Ajax and Achilles’ Armor / Ulysses and Achilles’ Armor / Ajax / The Fall of Troy / Polymestor and Polydorus / Polyxena / Polyxena & Hecuba / Hecuba, Polydorus, Polymestor / Aurora & Memnon / The Voyage of Aeneas / The Daughters of Anius / The Daughters of Orion / The Voyage of Aeneas / Galatea & Acis / Glaucus & Scylla

Ajax and Ulysses contend for the armour of the fallen hero, Achilles.  In spite of proclaiming himself a man of action and not one for florid speech, Ajax commences a rhetorical banquet, listing all his ancestors and spewing vitriol against Ulysses.  Ajax’s father is Telamon, who was friend to Hercules as he destroyed Troy’s walls, sailed in the ship with Jason and was born of Aecus.  In fact, he is a descendant of Jove, a honour he shares with Achilles, etc., etc.  Ulysses is nothing but a smooth talking, lily-livered, cowardly, sneaky, dishonest fraud.  Oh, and all his feats are minor.  In fact, he, Ajax, should be the winner of the armour because his own shield is so damaged with fighting, yet Ulysses’ shield is so little used.  He suggests that the armour be thrown among the Trojans and whoever reclaims it, be it him or Ulysses, will be the victor.

The Quarrel Between Ajax and Odysseus (1625-30)
Leonaert Bramer
[Public Domain] source

With his renowned eloquence and gracious speech, Ulysses counters the argument of Ajax, contending that lineage should not be the judge of greatness, but instead a man’s own deeds.  He disputes Ajax’s deprecation of his lineage, saying that he has an equal ancestry to him, and furthermore, none of his ancestors are criminals.  As for deeds, what has Ajax really done?  However, he, on the other hand, has worked wonders, such as finding Achilles for the War, and therefore, all Achilles’ feats are due to him.  He also brought about Agamemnon’s change of heart with regard to the sacrifice of his daughter, and he was responsible for asking for the return of Helen.  For nine years the Trojans stayed within their walls, so open war was impossible, but while Ajax did nothing, he was busy planning objectives.  It was he who turned the troops back to war after they were going to disperse prompted by Agamemnon’s dream.  His further rhetorical examples, reverse Ajax’s argument with stunning guile and perception.  The Greek chieftains are so moved by Ulysses’ reasoning that they award Achilles’ armour to him.

Thetis Bringing Armor to Achilles (1806)
Benjamin West
source Wikimedia Commons

This decision is too much for the undefeated hero’s pride and he encounters the first enemy that will be his destruction:  his own unmitigated anger.  Grabbing his blade, Ajax cries that he is the only one who can claim victory over himself, driving the shaft into his own chest.  As his blood seeps into the rich soil, up springs a purple flower, the same flower from Hyacinth’s wound, with the letters, “AI-AI”, echoing both of Ajax (often spelt Aias, therefore the “AI”) and the lament of Hyacinth. (See Book X)

Ulysses retrieves his arrows from Lemnos, the arrows Hercules gave to Philoctetes, and brought back they haunt the skies of Troy.  The fall of Troy was swift, and with Ilium ablaze, the Trojan women embrace their gods for the last time.  They kiss the soil as they are born away, captive, and Hecuba is found at the graves of her sons.  Ulysses carries her off, clutching ashes of Hector to her bosom.

Dead Hector (1892)
Briton Riviere
source Wikiart

In Thrace lies Polymestor‘s magnificent palace and there he is covertly keeping Polydorus, son of Priam.  But there was gold given in payment and when the fall of Troy begins, the king slits the throat of the boy and tosses him from a cliff into the sea, to hide the body.

Agamemnon’s fleet is moored along the Thracian coast when the ghost of Achilles bursts up, awesome and threatening, incensed that the Greeks would leave without honouring him.  He requests the daughter of Priam and Hecuba, Polyxena, as a sacrifice.  She dies with dignity, asking only that no rough hands touch her and that her body will be given to her suffering mother.  Every one weeps at her sacrifice.

The Sacrifice of Polyxena (1733-34)
Giovanni Battista Pittoni
source Getty Open Content

The Trojan women mourn.  Ulysses has won Hecuba but does not really want her, only accepting her because she gave birth to the great Hector.  Hecuba thought that after Achilles death he could threaten them no more, but he has proved her wrong.  Her speech is a dirge:

“…. I gave birth to a funeral offering
to our destroyer.  I must have a heart 
of iron if I still resist, still live.
What am I waiting for?  Endless old age —
what can it hold in store?  O cruel gods
why do you let me live — unless it be
that you have savd saved still other griefs for me? ….”

Priam should be glad he’s gone, unable to witness the atrocity.  She cannot even give her daughter a respectable burial; the only honour Polyxena receives is her mother’s tears on foreign soil.  At least, Polydorus, Hecuba’s son, is sheltered by the Thracian king.  This fact is her only consolation.

Hecuba and Polyxena (c. 1814)
Merry-Joseph Blondel
source Wikimedia Commons

Hecuba moves towards the shore but suddenly sees the corpse of her son, Polydorus. The Trojan women wail in lament but Hecuba is arrested in her grief, the tragedy almost too much to bear.  As she views his fate, anger inflames her, burning to revenge.  She meets with Polymestor and promises gold for her son which he agrees to give him. False, lying Polymestor!!  Hecuba grips him and calls her Trojan women, and as she does, she digs her nails into his eyeballs and plucks his flesh.  The Thracians attack the women with stones and lances, but Hecuba attempts to catch the stones, her voice transforming into barks and howls and even the gods admit that Hecuba did not deserve such sorrow.

Hecuba (c. 18th century)
Guiseppe Crespi
source Wikimedia Commons

Aurora did not lament the Trojans’ demise as expected because she was devastated by the death of her son Memnon at the hands of Achilles.  She pleads with Jove for a gift for the honour of her son and from his pyre, flames and ashes soar high then from it a bird ascends, then many.  After circling the pyre three times, they split into two flocks and begin to battle, falling into the ashes of Memnon as an offering.  They do this every time the sun rises but even to this day, Aurora mourns her son with her tears.

Aurora (1614)
Guido Reni
source Wikiart

Even though Troy was destroyed, part of it survived in the figure of Aeneas, hence the voyage of Aeneas begins.  Fleeing his city with his old father, Anchises, his son, Ascanius, and sacred images, he sails first to Thrace, then to Delos.  The kind, Anius, welcomes Aeneas, and it was here that the two tree-trunks opened and Latona gave birth to her twins.  (See Book VI)

Aeneas and his Father Fleeing Troy (c. 1635)
Simon Vouet
source Wikimedia Commons

Aeneas asks if he saw a son and four daughters of Anius when he last visited his city and Anius tells a tale of woe.  His son, Andros, is king of an island that bears his name, but Bacchus gave to his daughters the power to turn anything they touched into wheat, wine, or oil.  Realizing their value, Agamemnon dragged off the girls, to use them to feed the Grecian fleet.  Two daughters escaped to Euboea, and two to Andros, but their brother, fearing war, relinquished them to their fate.  About to be chained, the two girls lifted their arms in plea to Bacchus and were turned into snow-white doves.

At daybreak, the Trojans visit the oracle which tells them to seek out their “ancient mother” — their land of origin.  Anius sees them off with gifts, and an engraved cup he brings tells its own story.  The seven gated city of Thebes was in a disasterous state with fires and pyres and wailing women, bare trees, stony fields and a mighty funeral pyre where Orion’s daughters sacrificed themselves to save the people from the plague.  Out of their virgin ashes rose the Coroni, two youths, the final scene on the cup to commemorate their origin —- their mothers.  The Trojans give fine gifts in return.

The voyage of Aeneas begins.  Seeking the land of Crete, where their ancestor, Teucer came from, an early king of Troy, upon landing they find the land too harsh and sail for Italy.  Sailing on and on, they reach Sicily and land on the sands of Messina.

The Wanderings of Aeneas
source Googlemap

In the straits of Messina, Scylla is watching the east and Charybdis never sleeps in the west.  The latter preys on ships by sucking them into her depths but Scylla’s waist is populated by snapping dogs.  She once was a young girl but disdained her suitors and when the sea nymph, Galatea, heard Scylla’s tale, she related her own story of her interactions with the Cyclops.  She loved Acis, son of a woodland Faun, but Polyphemus the Cyclops wished to possess her, although she hated him with a passion. He composed odes to her beauty, then disparaged her, spewing barely cloaked threats. With a menacing tirade directed towards Acis, he discovered the lovers. Pursuing Acis, he hurled a massive rock and even though it only grazed Acis, its size pressed him into the ground.  But then the rock split and from it came a green reed, then a river rushing and from the waters sprung a river-god …. Acis.  (I hope this is a different Galatea than Pygmalion’s Galatea in Book X)

Galatea (1896)
Gustave Moreau
source Wikiart

Scylla continued on, stopping to rest in a pool to refresh herself.  Glaucus, its inhabitant, desired the girl and pursued her though she fled.  Reaching a mountain peak that rose from the sea, she turned to see that he was part man and part fish, not sure whether to marvel or be terrified.  He was a god as important as Triton or Proteus, but  he used to be a man who worked always near the sea.  One day as he saw fish leave his net and walk back into the sea, he suspected the grass they had laid upon to be the source of their powers.  Chewing it, he felt himself metamorphosing, a desire welling up within him for the ocean.  He would have said more but Scylla had fled and he set out for the isle of Circe.  (See also Scylla in Book VIII)

Glaucus and Scylla (1580-82)
Bartholomäus Spranger
source Wikimedia Commons

With the sparring between Ajax and Ulysses, we seem to get more questions than answers.  The reader, as well as the chieftains, are trying to discover who has the most kleos (glory) to be worthy of the armour of Achilles.  Instead, we get two sides of action —- the physical (Ajax) and the mental (Ulysses), and which one is most important?  An answer doesn’t seem to be possible, and in the end, it is Ulysses’ smooth tongue and not kleos that secures the prize.

Ovid does not seem to care for Thracians.  Not much good seems to come from them or be said about them.

Metamorphoses
Ajax’s blood  ❥  purple flower
Hecuba’s speech  ❥  barks/howls
Memnon  ❥  birds {Memnonides}
Daughter’s of Anius’ touch  ❥  wheat, wine, oil
Anius’ daughters  ❥  snow-white doves
Orion’s daughters’ ashes  ❥  Coroni
Acis  ❥  river-god
Glaucus’ lower body  ❥  fish

Amoretti LXVIII ~ Most Glorious Lord of Life by Edmund Spenser

Amoretti LXVIII: Most Glorious Lord of Life
Edmund Spenser (1552–1599)
Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day,
Didst make thy triumph over death and sin:
And having harrow’d hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we for whom thou diddest die,
Being with thy dear blood clean wash’d from sin,
May live for ever in felicity.
And that thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love thee for the same again:
And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
With love may one another entertain.
So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.


Jesus and Mary Magdalene (c. 1534)
Antonio da Corregio
source Wikimedia Commons
The Three Marys at the Tomb of Christ (c.1603)
Adam Elsheimer
source Wikimedia Commons

** paintings above are The Resurrection of Christ (1565) by Tintoretto & Resurrection of Christ (1875) by Carl Bloch, both on Wikiart.  I had so much trouble with this post —- Blogger deleting whole posts, etc. that I’m terrified to touch anything else!  Happy Easter everyone!

Thanks to Amanda, here’s the poem in song!


Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.”

While Northanger Abbey was the first novel written by Jane Austen and sold to a publisher by her brother, Henry, in fact it was repurchased by the author and not published until six months after her death in December 1817.  Austen’s parody of 17th century Gothic novels is told with a good-natured humour, but a valuable lesson lies beneath the surface of its narrative.

Catherine Morland, the daughter of a vicar, is given the chance to travel to Bath with a respectable family called the Thorpes.  Isabella Thorpe is her particular friend and the two absorb the delights of the town with an eager anticipation.  Yet Catherine’s sheltered upbringing has perhaps made her more artless than your average girl of her age, and her innocent and credulous nature allows for a manipulation of her desires by those with more experience in the arts of enterprise and self-interest.  Her steady diet of Gothic novels, combined with her somewhat protected existence, contribute to her highly erroneous perceptions of the motivations and behaviour of others.  When an answer does not immediately present itself, she speeds off in wild internal ramblings of imagination, that rarely represent reality.  Likewise, when she is faced with obvious circumstances, she fails to perceive them.  Her lack of discernment with regard to John Thorpe’s infatuation of her remains puzzling until her understanding is brought into context.  What experience does this young sheltered girl have to bring her presence of mind and an ability to discern attitudes outside of her usual element of a protected existence and romantic Gothic narratives?  With her uncritical naiveté and wild flights of fancy, initially one wonders if Catherine will be able to navigate through the pitfalls of her own mistaken perceptions to arrive at an outcome that will benefit her innocent, and yet misguided, nature.

source

In many ways, Northanger Abbey is a comedy, as Austen treats her character with a gentle type of humour. Catherine, while having admirable qualities, is living a delusion, cultivated by her reading material, yet her mistakes are of innocent intent due to ignorance rather than willful human folly. Her awakening, while somewhat arduous, is brief, and she soon demonstrates her innate ability to put into action the values instilled by her family and, with the guidance of the young gentleman clergyman, Henry Tilney, both her instincts and maturity grow, while her wildly unrestrained imagination is harnessed, and diminished into a sensible and mature culmination of happiness and contentment.  

While this book doesn’t necessarily showcase Austen’s usual brilliance, it is solidly developed and an engaging story until the last chapter. Then the book falls all to pieces. Somehow Eleanor Tilney, Henry’s sister, makes a brilliant match with a character, “a man of fortune,” who has never been mentioned by anyone, including the bride herself, until four paragraphs from the end of the novel; the General (Henry’s father), who has been somewhat gruff and stringent, yet ofttimes displaying a pleasant character, turns into a mercenary, blustering, (and may I add, foolish) tyrant; and Catherine and Henry’s success in love looks in jeopardy.  Yet all is tied up in a sentence or two, and the reader is left feeling like they just hit a brick wall.  It’s not Austen at her finest, yet the book is a charming experiment and an example of Austen at the origin of her art.

Ruin of Kenilworth Castle – a gothic-type building
source Wikipedia

Northanger Abbey has the unique distinction for being known as the novel that alludes to a number of Gothic suspense novels.  If you are a Gothic connoisseur, here is the list for your enjoyment:

  • The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
  • Clermont by Regina Maria Roche
  • Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons
  • Mysterious Warnings by Eliza Parsons
  • Necromancer of the Black Forest by Ludwig Flammenberg
  • Midnight Bell by Francis Latham
  • Orphan of the Rhine by Eleanor Sleath
  • Horrid Mysteries by Carl Gross (translated by Peter Will)
  • The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis

The Morning of Life by Victor Hugo

My ninth choice for my Deal Me In Challenge comes from “diamonds,” my poetry section.  I have completely avoided my short story section so far, not out of design, but out of fate.  I just haven’t chosen a club yet.  In any case, for this choice we move to France and the poetry of Victor Hugo.

Le Voile du Matin
by Victor Hugo
Le voile du matin sur les monts se déploie.
Vois, un rayon naissant blanchit la vieille tour ;
Et déjàdans les cieux s’unit avec amour,
Ainsi que la gloire àla joie,
Le premier chant des bois aux premiers feux du jour.
Oui, souris à l’éclat dont le ciel se décore ! –
Tu verras, si demain le cercueil me dévore,
Un soleil aussi beau luire à ton désespoir,
Et les mêmes oiseaux chanter la même aurore,
Sur mon tombeau muet et noir !
Mais dans l’autre horizon l’âme alors est ravie.
L’avenir sans fin s’ouvre à l’être illimité.
Au matin de l’éternité
On se réveille de la vie,
Comme d’une nuit sombre ou d’un rêve agité.
Skylark
source Wikipedia
The Morning Of Life (an ode)
by Victor Hugo
The mist of the morning is torn by the peaks,
Old towers gleam white in the ray,
And already the glory so joyously seeks
The lark that’s saluting the day.
Then smile away, man, at the heavens so fair,
Though, were you swept hence in the night,
From your dark, lonely tomb the owlets would stare
At the sun rising newly as bright.
But out of earth’s trammels your soul would have flown
Where glitters Eternity’s stream,
And you shall have waked ‘midst pure glories unknown,
As sunshine disperses a dream.

This is a beautiful poem, but this was the only English translation that I was able to find, and the poem really suffers in the translation.  From the French (keeping in mind, my French is adequate, but I’m certainly not fluent),  the reader is assailed wtih images of newness and light and birth and song, but there is also a reference to an old tower.  Yet in the second stanza the poet mentions that though he may be found in a coffin (I suspect that he is the “old tower” from the first stanza), the sun will continue to shine and that same bird will sing on his tomb.  And should the reader be saddened by his death?  The third stanza indicates not, as the poet will have an endless horizon as he awakens in the light of eternity.  The first life now appears as a dark night or restless dream in comparison to this new everlasting life.

Ai-ya!  I was able to pull very little of that explanation from the English translation.  The French says “mon tombeau” (my tomb), not your tomb, and with the English second person pronouns in the third stanza, it is very confusing as to who is speaking.  Anyone with more adequate French skills than I have, is welcome to comment.

For those of you who didn’t know that Hugo was also a recreational artist, producing more than 4000 drawings, I’ll leave you with one of them:

The Wave of My Destiny (1857)
Victor Hugo
source Wikiart

Deal Me In Challenge #9

Metamorphoses ~ Book XII

Book XII

Iphegenia / Rumor / Achilles & Cycnus / Caenis/Caenus / Lapiths & Centaurs / Cyllarus / Caenus / Hercules & Periclymenus / The Death of Achilles

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (1770)
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
source Wikimedia Commons
While Priam doesn’t realize that his son has been changed to a bird, and mourns his death with Hector, Paris is missing from the funeral rites, as he has gone to Greece, stolen a wife and returned with a war behind him.  But the Greeks chasing Paris, become bound by storms at Aulis, so they kindle fires for Jove in hopes of smooth sailing.  However, a blue-green serpent climbs a sycamore tree, seizing eight fledglings and their mother, and swallowing them in his greedy jaws.  Calchus, the augur, son of Thestor, claims it is a sign that the Greeks will be victorious but only after a long war.  Nereus’ rage though is unrelenting and Calchus claims Diana is aggrieved that Agamemnon slew her sacred stag.  He requires payment in virgin’s blood, and so Agamemnon’s daughter, Iphigenia is sacrificed.  The girl does not die, however, as Diana covers the altar with a dark cloud, exchanging Iphigenia for a hind.  Her wrath appeased, the thousand ships are able to sail for Phrygian shores (Troy).  (For a somewhat different story of Iphigenia’s sacrifice, see Agamemnon).
Where the earth, heavens and sea meet, Rumorlives high upon a peak in a palace with no doors, and everything that is spoken in the wide world is taken in ….  Credulity, Error, Joy, Consternations, Fears, Seditions and unknown whispers.  Rumor knows all.  This is why, as the Greeks reach the shores of Troy, the Trojans are not unaware of their coming.  Under Hector’s deadly spear, Protestilaus is the first to lose his life.  The Danaans pay in death, but the Trojans lose men too and each learn the prowess of the other.
source
Achilles races in his chariot, searching for Cycnusor for Hector. He finds the former and attempts to kill him but Cycnus is the son of Neptune and no weapon can pierce his skin.  Spear after spear glances off him and Achilles is enraged, eventually questioning his own might. Leaping from his chariot, he attempts to stab him without success, finally grabbing Cycnus and choking him until the hero dies.  Or so he thinks, for as he tries to strip his armour, he finds no body.  Neptune has already changed his son into a swan.  This seems a perpetual feat, as Cycnus has already been changed into a swan under different circumstances in Book II and is mentioned again in Book VII.
Achilles is so wonderful that everyone can only speak of courage and bravery around him.  His victory over Cycnus is astonishing, although Nestor relates of another warrior whose body could not be touched by weapons.  His name was Caenus although he was born as a woman.  Shocked, the Greeks beg for the rest of the tale and we hear how Caenis was born fair and famous for her beauty.  Raped by Neptune, he promises to give her what she desires, and vowing never to suffer such outrage again, she wishes to become a man.  She transforms into Caenus, and no weaponry could ever kill her.
Battle Between Lapiths & Centaurs (1735-40)
Francesco Solimena
source Wikiart 
In Thessaly, Pirithous, king of Lapith and son of Ixion, is to be wed to Hippodame (who was supposed to be wed to Pelops in the backstory to Agamemnon, but perhaps this is a different Hippodame) and Caenus attends.   At the feast, the centaurs (bred by Ixion and “Cloud” — it’s a horrendous story if you want to look it up) go mad on lust and wine.  Eurytus snatches the bride, and his brothers begin to snatch women without qualm.  Brave Theseus stands to oppose their evil intentions, throwing a vat into the face of Eurytus, upon which the centaur gushes blood and brains and vomits wine, falling dead to the floor.  War ensues with a descriptive tapestry reminiscent of The Iliad.  Some of the centaurs flee (including Nessus, who met Hercules’ bow in Book IX), yet the war continues with even more elaborate description.
Flawlessly handsome, with a black coat yet a white tail and legs, the centaur, Cyllarus, is loved by a woman, Hylonome. However, he is unable to escape his fate and when a spear pierces his body, his wife runs to him, holding him, and then throwing herself on the spear so they die together.

Lapiths and the Centaurs
Jacob Jordaens
source Wikiart
Nestor continues with his stories, telling of how Phaeocomes threw a log which smashed the skull of Tectaphos, the son of Olenus, his brain matter oozing from his eyes, ears and nostrils. Nestor struck him down, along with other centaurs, his strength in those days equal to Hector’s.  Caenus was killing centaurs as well, and the rest of the bipeds were in a frenzy of irritation because none of their weapons were able to pierce his skin.  Finally, Monycus came up with a plan: if they weren’t able to skewer him, they would smother him.  The centaurs ripped trees from the ground, piling them onto Caenus until he was buried.  A golden-winged bird escaped from the rubble; some say it was Caenus but others claimed that he was pushed right down to the Underworld.

As Nestor’s tale ends, Tlepolemus is disturbed that no mention of his father Hercules’ feats were acknowledged.  Nestor reveals his hatred for the hero, as Hercules was responsible for razing Pylos, Nestor’s homeland, without provocation.  Hercules killed all eleven of his brothers, including his brother, Periclymenus, who was able to change shape, yet as an eagle, Hercules shot him with an arrow.  Yet in spite of his rage against Hercules, Nestor gracefully says that he hold no enmity towards Tlepolemus.

Neptune, still in grief over Cycnus, detests Achilles with a raging passion. He enlists Apollo to covertly bring about the death of Achilles.  Apollo enters the Trojan battle and, as Paris shoots an arrow, the god guides it towards Achilles, felling the hero.  The death is a shameful one, as Achilles is killed by a coward and a debaucher of women.  At his funeral, Achilles’ physical ashes barely fill a small urn, yet his reknown is as large as the whole world.  Ajax the greater and Ulysses prepare to contend over the hero’s armour. 

The Death of Achilles (1630-32)
Peter Paul Rubens
source Wikimedia Commons


Ovid continues to astonish with his vivid description and puzzle with choice of stories and pacing.  The Trojan War itself is nearly skipped through, as we go from an event at the beginning of it, to an event at the end.  Instead of the battles of Troy, the warriors themselves appear more important.  

There is also the parallel theme of the ignorance of fathers: Priam does not realize that his son was changed into a bird, and neither does Agamemnon know that Iphigenia was saved by Minerva.  

Nestor’s treatment of Hercules is very startling.  Fame and glory (kleos) for a Greek warrior is their ultimate purpose in life.  By not mentioning the feats of Hercules against the centaurs, Nestor is suppressing Hercules fame and glory.

“The vengeance that I seek for my dear brothers stops at this:  my speech, in telling of the Lapiths’ victory omitted the great deeds of Hercules….”

Nestor is effectively erasing Hercules, as Hercules obliterated Nestor’s cherished homeland.

And as much as I’m enjoying Ovid’s poetry and stories, he can’t hold a candle to Homer.  Ovid’s poetry can have some beautiful passages but often the underlying tone seems more ghastly and outrageous, whereas Homer’s tone sounds more majestic, with a resonating grandeur.  But, of course, I’m reading poetry in translation, which is always problematic when making judgements.  However, I think the Greeks, at least, would agree with me. 🙂

Metamorphoses
Snake  ❥  stone
Cycnus  ❥  swan
Caenis/woman  ❥  Caenus/man
Caenus  ❥  golden-winged bird
Periclymenus  ❥  many shapes  ❥ eagle

The World of Tomorrow by E.B. White

 

the world of tomorrow

I seem to be getting mostly essays lately for my Deal Me In Challenge.  This week, I read The World of Tomorrow by E.B. White, the famed author of Charlotte’s Web.  White wrote this essay about the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, where visions of the future abounded and a bright tomorrow was laid before eager and credulous eyes.

“The eyes of the fair are on the future —- not in the sense of peering toward the unknown nor attempting to foretell the events of tomorrow and the shape of things to come, but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow; a view of the forces and ideas that prevail as well as the machines.

To the visitors the Fair will say, ‘Here are the materials, ideas and forces at work in our world.  These are the tools with which the forces of the World of Tomorrow must be made.  They are all interesting and much effort has been expended to lay them before you in an interesting way.  Familiarity with today is the best preparation for the future.”
( ~ official New York World’s Fair pamphlet)

 

british pavillion
British Pavilion
source Wikipedia

Someone is obviously trying to sell something grand, and it was enlightening to read about White’s experience at the Fair.  Right from the start, we sense a disconnect between the two, as he personifies the event.  His first sentences read:  “I wasn’t really prepared for the World’s Fair last week, and it certainly wasn’t prepared for me. Between the two of us there was considerable of a mixup.”  White informs the reader that upon his visit, he had a cold and that “when you can’t breath through your nose, Tomorrow seems strangely like the day before yesterday.”  He then gives a catalogue of the exhibitors with strangely impersonal names such as Kix, Astring-O-Sol, Textene, Alka-Seltzer and the Fidelity National Bank. White’s impressions do not inspire awe or a trust in Tomorrow.

“It is all rather serious-minded, this World of Tomorrow, and extremely impersonal.  A ride on the Futurama of General Motors induces approximately the same emotional response as a trip through the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  The countryside unfolds before you in $5-million micro-lovliness, conceived in motion and executed by Norman Bel Geddes. The voice is a voice of utmost respect, of complete religious faith in the eternal benefaction of faster travel ……..  When night fall in the General Motors exhibit and you lean back in the cushioned chair (yourself in motion and the world so still) and hear (from the depths of the chair) the soft electric assurance of a better life — the life which rests on wheels alone — there is a strong, sweet poison which infects the blood.  I didn’t want to wake up.  I liked 1960 in purple light, going a hundred miles an hour around impossible turns ever onward toward the certified cities of the flawless future.  It wasn’t till I passed an apple orchard and saw the trees, each blooming under its own canopy of glass, that I perceived that even the General Motors dream as dreams so often do, left some questions unanswered about the future.  The apple tree of Tomorrow, abloom under its inviolate hood, makes you stop and wonder.  How will the little boy climb it?  Where will the bird build its nest?”

White makes a few other observations which are very powerful statements:

“In Tomorrow, people and objects are not lit from above but from below”

 

“Rugs do not slip in Tomorrow, and the bassinets of newborn infants are wired against kidnappers.  There is no talking back in Tomorrow.  You are expected to take it or leave it alone.” 

 

“In Tomorrow, most sounds are not the sounds themselves but a memory of sounds, or an electrification.”

At the end of the essay, instead of remembering the Fair itself, White’s recollections are quite different:  the trees at night, eerie shadows, fountains in the light, a girl, remembered not just as passing impressions, but in generous detail.  The last line of the essay stabs home his point:

“Here was the Fair, all fairs, in pantomime; and here the strange mixed dream that made the Fair: the heroic man, bloodless and perfect and enormous, created in his own image, and in his hand (rubber, aspetic) the literal desire, the warm and living breast.”

After my first read of this essay, I was left completely unmoved.  I had no interest in the 1939 World’s Fair, and White’s ramblings about his cold, standing in line, etc. which I found annoyingly pointless.  It was only when I read the essay for a second time, that his consummate skill as a writer drummed me over the head.  Though not stating his views outright, with each sentence White was building his case, having the reader experience the loss of humanness and empathy that the rapid rise of technology was moving towards.  When one places the value of machines and progress above the people they are supposed to be serving, you lose the human qualities of life and the simplicity, the wonder and human connection in life that make it so fulfilling.

Perhaps it’s telling that White moved from New York to Maine that very year.

Deal Me In Challenge #8

 

deal me in challenge
deal me in challenge

The Faerie Queene in Poetry Month ~ Two Events!

As you’re probably aware from both my On Reading the Faerie Queene and Spenser’s Images of Life posts, I’m gearing up to read The Faerie Queene in late April.  But instead of sliding quietly into the read-along, I thought it might be nice to give it an official announcement!

O at Behold the Stars was the instigator of this event and Jean, Cirtnecce, RuthConsoled Reader and I quickly followed her lead.  We will be attempting to stick to this schedule:

April 25 – May 1st ~  Book I
May 2 – May 8th ~  Book II
May 9 – May 15th ~  Book III
May 16 – May 22nd ~  Book IV
May 23 – May 29th ~  Book V
May 30 – June 5th ~  Book VI
June 6 – June 12th ~  Mutability

Thanks to O for the prod, and to Jean’s husband for creating a rather awesome button! Anyone else who would like to join us is very welcome!  Reading this tome among friends will make it much less intimidating!

And, coincidentally corresponding with the above read, in April Hamlette from The Edge of the Precipice is going to be hosting a Poetry Month Celebration in honour of National Poetry Month.

We’ll be starting The Faerie Queene read-along near the end of the month, but I hope to be able to read a few more poems, at least one per week, for this event.  It’s a good chance to focus on that category for my Deal Me In Challenge.

So if either of these events interest you, I hope you’ll join us for a very busy April, and ring in the spring with poetry!

The Oresteia ~ Agamemnon by Aeschylus

The Sacrifice of Ipheginia by Agamemnon (1671)  Jan Steen
The Sacrifice of Ipheginia by Agamemnon (1671)
Jan Steen
source

 

Agamemnon by Aeschylus
 
“Dear gods, set me free from all the pain,
the long watch I keep, one whole year awake …
propped on my arms, crouched on the roofs of Atreus like a dog.”

Agamemnon is the first of a trilogy of plays called The Oresteia, the next two plays being The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides, all performed in 458 B.C., only two years before the death of Aeschylus.  This surviving unified trilogy allows the reader to experience the development of these three-part stories and to observe the common strands of informatiion and enlightenment winding throughout.  Each play would have built support and framework for the others.  However, even though we have all three plays of this trilogy, the satyr play Proteus is lost, as it would have been a type of comic epilogue to finish the Oresteia.

There are two background stories important to the understanding of this play, the first being the history of the Trojan War, and the second the history of the House of Atreaus, Agamemnon’s family background.

The “fuse” of the war with Troy was the kidnapping of Helen, the wife of Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus, by Paris, prince of Troy.  To get fair winds to sail for Troy, Agamemnon was forced to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphegenia.  The war was fought for ten long years, and at the end, because of outrages committed against the gods, many of the heroes took years to find their way home (Odysseus’ journey in The Odyssey is the story of one of these heroes).

The curse of the House of Atreus, adds another element to the play, going back to the family’s founder, Tantalus.  Offending the gods, either by attempting to deceive them into eating the flesh of his son, Pelops, or by endeavouring to plunder nectar and ambrosia from the gods, Tantalus was punished in the Underworld by being eternally inflicted with a raging hunger and thirst.  Pelops was resurrected by the gods, but eventually incurred a curse by killing his desired bride’s father and fleeing with the girl, Hippodamia.  An attempted rape of the girl by Myrtilus ensued, and when Pelops threw him from a cliff, he cursed Pelops.  The hereditary nature of the curse resulted in the killing of children by their parents and vice versa, a destroying of the whole family from within.

fleet of greek galleys
Fleet of Greek Galleys reconstruction
The Perseus Project
source Wikimedia Commons

The play begins with a Watchman who is surveying from the roof of Agamemnon’s palace, lamenting the years of watching and waiting for a very important signal, a signal that would indicate the completion of the war with Troy.  The very first lines themselves are a signal, setting a sombre, ominous tone to the scene:

θεοὺς μὲν αἰτῶ τῶνδ᾽ ἀπαλλαγὴν πόνων …. ”  (“I ask the gods for respite from these toils …..”)

The beacon is seen and the Watchman rejoices for the return of his king, but the mood does not lighten as the Chorus enters and begins its parados (the chorus’ entrance song).

The Chorus consists of elderly men who were too old ten years ago to make war on Troy, but now impart perhaps the most critical information in the play in their back-story:

  • that Zeus was requiring Agamemnon, the eldest member of his family, to act in avenging the insult to his household by Paris, by making war on Troy
  • Agamemnon was required by an offended Artemis to kill his daughter, Iphigenia, to get fair winds to sale for Troy.

Agamemon is put in an unbearable position.  He is protector of his household, therefore to kill his daughter goes against his moral obligation.  On the other hand, if he dismisses Artemis’ command, he would be disobeying Zeus which would denote a refusal to fulfill his familial accountability to his brother, an offence against his very being.  He is caught in an inescapable situation. Fate is suffocating him and no matter what his choice, there will be appalling consequences.  His words are seeped in agony:

“My fate is angry if I disobey these,
but angry if I slaughter
this child, the beauty of my house,
with maiden blood shed staining
these father’s hands beside the altar.
What of these things goes now without disaster?
How shall I fail my ships
and lose my faith of battle?
For them to urge such sacrifice of innocent blood
angrily, for their wrath is great —- it is right.  May all be well yet.”

Once Agamemnon makes the decision to sacrifice his beloved daughter, his whole character alters.  In spite of her heart-rending pleas, the men who have known her since she was a child, lift her upon the altar.  Although the audience witnesses the poignancy of the preparation of her sacrifice, we are left to imagine her terrible fate.

Le Sacrifice d'Iphigenie Bertholet Flemalle
Le Sacrifice d’Iphigenie
Bertholet Flemalle
source Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife and the leader of Argos during his absence, has entered during the Chorus’ story, and she announces the fall of Troy, which news the Chorus is hesitant to believe, implying that the populous of Argos is discontent after these long years of war.  A Herald arrives confirming the victory of the Greeks, and proclaiming the return of their king, Agamemnon.  His wife professes overwhelming joy at his homecoming, and in an ironic twist, the Herald is impressed with the truth and majesty of her words.

Clytemnestra John Collier
Clytemnestra (1882)
John Collier
source Wikiart

Agamemnon arrives in regal impressiveness, riding in a chariot with Cassandra, the prophetess and princess of Troy by his side, his winnings from the spoils of the war. Clytemnestra greets him with overblown and excessive oratory, spreading purple carpets for him to walk on.  The king denounces such delicate pomp, yet walks on them anyway, unwittingly proclaiming a rather chilly illustration of his own character and a whisper of his fate:

“Discordant is the murmur at such treading down
of lovely things; while God’s most lordly gift to man
is decency of mind.  Call that man only blest
who has in sweet tranquillity brought his life to close.
If I could only act as such, my hope is good.”

Again, Agamemnon has idealistic wishes for a good outcome to his struggles, yet he almost seems to realize that it is a futile hope.  The trampling and “crushing” of the purple carpets symbolize his trampling and crushing of all that is delicate and beautiful: Iphigenia, Troy and soon, Cassandra.

cassandra evelyn de morgan
Cassandra (1897)
Evelyn de Morgan
source Wikimedia Commons

Clytemnestra attempts to invite Cassandra inside, but she silently resists until Clytemnestra gives up and enters herself, leaving Cassandra alone with the Chorus. Finally, the girl speaks, but the words flowing from her lips are laments and apocalyptic premonitions.  She relates her own story, and also begins to offer vague prophecies of calamity and death, revealing the cause of the melancholy and impeding doom which blankets the city in spite of the return of its king.  She claims to foresee her death and Agamemnon’s at the hands of a woman, however, the chorus, bewildered and startled by her claims, refuses to believe her.  Her last words are pregnant with eerie foreshadowing:

“….. That room within reeks with blood like a slaughterhouse …”

Resigned to her fate, she enters the house.

Clytemnestra Guerin
Clytemnestra (1817)
Pierre-Narcisse Guerin
source Wikiart

Suddenly Agamemnon cries out:  “Ah, I am struck a deadly blow and deep with!”  At this point, the Chorus fragments, undecided and perplexed as to what they should do. When the doors of the palace open, Clytemnestra is standing over the prone and bloody bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra, bringing the Chorus’ horror to its peak, as Clytemnestra describes the murder of her husband claiming Agamemnon’s evil deed to his daughter as her right.  The Chorus, while still bewildered, finally agrees that judgement between them is unclear and revisits the cause of the war with Troy: the repercussions from Helen’s perfidy still resound.

Aegisthus (Clytemnestra’s lover) enters the scene, exchanging insults with the Chorus, but Clytemnestra attempts to calm his ire, claiming that the curse has been cancelled by her act of retribution. She and Aegisthus will be able to reign in peace and benevolence. The altercation does not diminish as the play ends.

The next play in the trilogy is The Libations Bearers, and we get a hint of one of its characters in this play, when Clytemnestra mentions that she has sent their son, Orestes, away to safety when there were rumours of unrest in Argos.  In the second play, Orestes returns.

the funeral procession of agamemnon
The Funeral Procession of Agamemnon (1787)
Louis Jean Desprez
source Wikimedia Commons

Greek scholars bring out a number if interesting points in this first play that would not be apparent to a modern audience.  The Greek spectators would have been expecting Cassandra to remain silent and have Clytemnestra draw her out, a common strategy in Greek theatre.  The fact that Cassandra actually speaks would have astounded onlookers, therefore making her speeches and presence much more powerful.

They also highlight the masculinity of Clytemnestra, noting the Greek words she uses to describe herself as being very masculine references to a Greek audience.  The fact that she is placed in the doorway of the house (“oikos” – a woman’s domain) as the murderess, would have been appalling to the viewers.  While near the end of the play, she attempts to reclaim her sex as woman, the male images of power, vengeance, murder and ruthlessness still remain.

Hubris in Greek does not simply mean pride but instead indicates wanton violence motivated by pride.  Both Agamemnon and Clytemnestra suffer this poisonous quality.

My personal observations ….?   I’m continually impressed by the lack of reliance on plot by the Greeks as they, in fact, often give “spoilers” throughout the whole play or poem. The plot is only the packaging; the real story is born of the intrigues, the capriciousness of the gods, internal struggle, personal sacrifice and vengeance.  How the plot unfolds is secondary to performance, an intense and acute penetration into the soul of man.

Translated by H.W. Symth (Loeb Classical Library), edited by David Greene and Richard Lattimore

The Second Play in The Oresteia: The Libation Bearers

The Third Play in The Oresteia:  The Eumenides

 

Behold the Stars – Agamemnon Review

 

ancient greek reading challenge

Metamorphoses ~ Book XI

Book XI

Orpheus / The Bacchantes / Midas / Troy / Peleus & Thetis / Ceyx / Daedalion The Wolf / Ceyx & Alcyone / Aesacus

Orpheus charms the beasts and trees with his songs, and even the stones pause to listen.  But the Thracian women, the Bacchantes, are enraged, accusing Orpheus of scorning them.  They hurl staffs and rocks at him, intent on murder but when a stone is flung,

“….it cleaved the air, it yielded to the spell
of his enchanting voice and lyre: it fell
at Orpheus’ feet as if compelled to seek 
forgiveness for its mad audacity …… “
Circling him, the women attack, and all of their weapons would have been tamed by his sweet music, if their “shrieks and caterwauls” had not drowned it out, and they murder and dismember him.  Mournful sounds fill the air as his body is carried by the Hebrus river to the coast.  There, a snake attempts to attack the head, but before it can, Phoebus turns it into stone.  As the Shade of Orpheus descends to the Underworld, he meets Eurydice.  Side by side, they walk and they can now gaze at each other without fear.

Nymphs finding the head of Orpheus (1900)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart
Bacchus intends to punish the criminals for their profane act, and the Bacchantes find themselves bound to the ground.  Roots spread from their feet, bark begins to cover their bodies, as they are transformed into oak trees.
König Midas (1670)
Andrea Vaccaro
source Wikimedia Commons
Bacchus leaves Thrace for his Lydian land and own vineyards in Tmolus.  His satyrs and bacchantes crowd around him, but Silenus (his tutor) is missing, yet he finds him with King Midas who has him in his care.  Bacchus rewards Midas with one wish, and the king requests that everything he touches will turn to gold.  Delighted, Midas begins to touch everything, but soon realizes the curse of his request, repents, and Bacchus instructs him to go to a river near Sardis to wash his sin away.  Midas complies and even today, as Ovid tells us, the Pactolus’ shores can be streaked with gold.  Midas, however, now hates riches and roams the hillside, but his wits were never clever and he continue to seek stupid things which will bring harm.  While watching a musical contest between Pan and Phoebus, upon Tmolus judging Phoebus Apollo the winner, Midas disagrees and for his ill-judgement, Phoebus turns Midas’ ears into those of an ass.  He wraps those ears to his head with a purple turban and when his slave discovers his secret, the slave whispers it into a hole in the ground.  But when the reeds there grow tall, they whisper the secret to the winds, betraying the servant.
Apollo departs for Troy where Laomedon had accepted the offered of Phoebus and Neptune to build the walls of Troy for payment in gold and then reneged on his debt. The sea god caused a flood to bury the fields of Troy.  In payment, they demanded the daughter of the king, Hesione, who was chained to a reef for the prey of monsters, but Hercules saved her.  For his payment, he was promised horses, but again Troy was faithless and Hercules razed its walls.
Apollo and Poseidon Punishing Troy (c. 1590)
Paolo Fiammingo
source Wikimedia Commons
Hercules gives Hesione to Telamon as a royal bride but he is busy fighting with his brother, Peleus.  Peleus is famous for his goddess wife, and we learn of his “courtship”. Zeus had an ardent desire fot Thetis, the goddess of the waves,” but it was prophesied by Proteus that her son would be greater than his father, so Zeus blessed his grandson, Peleus, to pursue her.  Peleus attempted to rape her in her grotto but Thetis transformed into a bird, a tree and then a spotted tigress, so Peleus wisely abandoned his plans.   He prayed to the gods for success and was counselled by Proteus, who rose from the sea, to tie her up, which he did and made her pregnant with Achilles.
The Feast of Peleus (1872-81)
Edward Burne-Jones
source Wikimedia Commons
Peleus accidentally kills his half-brother, Phocus, and for this treachery he is exiled to the land of Trachin, recounting a lie as to his crime.  Ceyx, the king of Trachin, welcomes him, then weeps, whereupon Peleus and his men ask the cause of his sadness.

Ceyx tells of his brother, Daedalion, who had a lovely fourteen-year-old daughter, Chione.  She was raped by both Phoebus and Mercury, bearing twin sons but one from each god: Autolycus, “a connoisseur of wiles and guiles”, and Phillamon, Apollo’s son, “famed for lyre and song.”  Chione, because of this glory bestowed on her, now considered herself surpassing Diana’s beauty, and, for her insult, she was killed by an arrow of the goddess.  At her funeral (burning), Daedalion overcome with grief, ran senselessly around, finally leaping from Parnassus’ peak, where Apollo changed him into a hawk, and “aggrieved, he makes all others mourn.”

As Ceyx relates this story, Peleus’ Phocian cowherd rushes in to announce that a wolf is ravaging the herds of oxen and terrifying the people.  Peleus silently believes this event to be his penance for his crime.  As they prepare to leave to deal with the wolf, Alcyone, the wife of Ceyx, begs him not to go, foreseeing his death.  Thetis intervenes to pardon Peleus and helps him, changing the wolf into a marble statue.  But the fates cause Peleus to travel to the land of Magnesia and King Acastus, where he is cleansed of his guilt.

Meanwhile Ceyx is still puzzled by his brother’s fate and these strange happenings, so he decides to consult an oracle on the isle of Clarus.  Alcyone begs him not to go, but, while trying to calm her fears, he departs and his boat encounters a momentous storm. Before he drowns, he prays that his body will return to his wife for burial, and she finally spots it floating in the water, confirmation of her husband’s death that she had received in a dream conducted by Morpheus.  As she tries to reach the body, she is changed into a bird (a kingfisher), and when she tries to cover her husband with her wings, he too changes:

“…… Their love remained; they shared one fate.
Once wed, they still were wed: they kept their bond.
They mate; they rear their young; when winter comes,
for seven peaceful days Alcyone — 
upon a cliff that overlooks the sea —
broods on her nest.  The surge is quiet then,
for Aeolus won’t let his winds run free;
he keeps them under guard, so that the sea
maintain the peace his fledgling grandsons need.”

Halcyone seeking her husband Ceyx (1914)
Herbert James Draper
source Wikimedia Commons

An old man, as he watches the pair of birds, is reminded of another bird, a swift merganser.  The bird is of the line of Ilus and Assaracus, then Ganymede, then Laomedeon, and finally Priam, who was the last king of Troy.  Aesacus, half-brother of Hector (son of Priam) pursued the nymph, Hesperie, who was bitten by a serpent as she fled.  Distraught, Aesacus offered his life for hers.  As he leapt into the sea, Thetis pitied him and clothed him in feathers, but Aesacus so diligently sought death, he continually attempts to plunge in the sea, only to rise again.  He is the diving bird, the merganser.

source

❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀  ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ 

In this book, I noticed varying motifs on music, sound and hearing.  Orpheus communicates by music, yet is drowned out by the Bacchantes’ shrieks; Apollo and Pan have a musical contest; Mt Tmolus must brush away the forest to hear; Midas for hearing ‘incorrectly’ has his ears changed to those of an ass; Proteus’ words are stopped/finished as he sinks into the sea; on Ceyx’s ship, the captain’s voice in drowned out by the “blustering winds”; Ceyx’s words are impeded by the waves; and the Cimmerian cave is a place of complete silence yet for the Lethe.

While the stories often seem random, we can experience a non-linear telling of some of the history of Troy and its heroes.  The scattering make up a puzzle, if we can only pick up the pieces and fit them into the whole.

Metamorphoses

Snake  ❥  stone
Thracian women  ❥  oak trees
Midas’ touch  ❥  gold
Midas’ ears  ❥  ears of an ass
Thetis  ❥  bird/tree/spotted tigress
Thetis  ❥  various shapes  ❥ Thetis
Daedalion  ❥  hawk
Wolf  ❥  marble statue
Ceyx & Alcyone  ❥  birds (kingfishers)
Aesacus  ❥  merganser (“diving bird”)