Friday, 10 August 2012

A greek mythological feast

I've been slowly working my way through Robert Graves' Greek Myths. I've always loved Ancient Greece, especially the wealth of myths of heros and of gods, of creatures and of origins. But it was this book below that was my Pandora's box, though what was released was not all the world's evils - far from it.

Out jumped this fantastic world full of even more fantastic stories that has captivated me ever since. I read it in year 5 right after we did Ancient Egypt, and completely and utterly fell in love with all things Greek, and ancient. Odysseus became my 10 year old self's crush, even though this book made him out to be more like that equally as cunning and canny Bart Simpson rather than a true Greek Hero of Homer's vein. That was to come. (Pun completely intentional btw!)

In the interim came:

- Disney's Hercules. Just gonna put it out there - best Disney film. Who put glad in gladiator?

- I had this free Disney's Hercules computer game I guess from a cereal box, and messed about on that for years. I remember being chased by Titans on a volcano, and playing draughts with Hades' face on the pieces. High quality shit right there.

- Troy. Had the biggest crush on Orlando Bloom, though he was a horrific Paris and couldn't act to save his life. And HI BRAD.

Ancient Greece was a big love of the Romantic poets, so I was surrounded doing A-level English lit by poems and poems about all the myths I had grown to love. I'm not sure whether I came to love the Romantics because they wrote about Ancient Greece or the fact that the Romantics wrote about it made me love the myths even more... or whether all these loves of mine collided and hence exploded into some fanatic sized obsession that seems to just keep growing. Because add into the mix my love of pre-raphaelite art and we have some serious Big Bang expanding universe thing going on here. But first here's some links to some poems I absolutely adore. Click on them and read them, you won't be disappointed.

This is Ulysses by Tennysson. It is set when Ulysses (or Odysseus) is an old man, as he reflects on his life. From when I first met Odysseus as a little boy in Tony Robinson's book, to these last days of his life as seen by Tennyson, this poem, I think, captures wholeheartedly that infectious and vibrant spark Odysseus has always had, as he is saying even if time and fate have weakened me, my mind and my 'heroic heart' will never tire and never yield. I love you Odysseus! I want to be like you!

This poem is also by Tennyson and is called Tithonus. Tithonus was granted immortality so he could be with his lover Eos, goddess of the dawn, yet he was not granted immortal youth so he endlessly ages. In the poem he watches Eos as she rises and sets everyday, un-aging and forever beautiful, whilst he withers and crumbles - a 'grey shadow' of a man. My heart aches in sympathy - it's so so sad yet so so beautiful. "Why should a man desire in any way to vary from the kindly race of man?" I read this, and I realise: not me.

Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn raises questions on immortality, mortality, art - quite similar to Yeats' poem in this blog post. I love the moment about the two lovers on the urn about to kiss but never able to - 'winning near the goal' - but they shouldn't be sad because 'forever wilt thou love and she be fair!'. As my english teacher said, they never have to experience 'all the annoying parts about dating and kissing and sex, like getting all sweaty'. It was a very cringe moment.

Finally, another one by Tennyson. Yeah, he was a bit obsessed, but damn good at it all so much forgiven! This is called The Lotos-Eaters, as is about when Odysseus and his men stopped at an island inhabited by 'lotus eaters'. The lotus fruit the men are fed is a bit like some of those Chelsea and West sedatives - makes you sleepy, happy, and forget about everything. This will sound a bit school-ish but I think is fascinating and oh-so clever: as the poem goes on the structure, rhythm and rhyme changes, and ends up in a lulling 'choric song' (that even has to be numbered, bless) as the men slip into a unified lazy slumbery druggy chant; very different to the beginning where "COURAGE!" alongside strength and determination is practically shoved down your throat like some over-ambitious American 'hockey mom'. Don't take drugs, kids. (Unless you have Odysseus to drag you away from 'bad influences'.)

A few summers ago I went to the Waterhouse exhibition at the Royal Academy - I made mum book tickets as soon as I heard it was coming because I knew I would never forgive myself if I missed it! Waterhouse, as well as taking inspiration from the poems of my favourite poets such as Keats, also painted mythical scenes, and oh my jeeez, I've never been so awe-struck walking round an exhibition. Sounds silly, but I really was. Painting after painting was a perfect, beautiful representation of Homer's tales, so completely epic yet delicate at the same time. It's like he had captured the magical, intangible quality of myths and folklore, yet had given them all the gravitas, solidity and grandeur that myths inherently possess. So here are some pics, not just by Waterhouse, inspired by greek mythology. I like it when you find two different interpretations of a myth or a poem, just to see how different painters approach the subject.

'Circe' Wright Baker

'Ulysses and the Sirens' Herbert Draper

'The Siren' John William Waterhouse

'Ulysses and the Sirens' John William Waterhouse

'Circe offering the cup to Ulysses' John William Waterhouse
'Circe Invidiosa' John William Waterhouse (This is also my bookmark!)

Doing a little more reading earlier, I was drawn to the section about The Fates. Now as i'm not religious and so don't really want to pray to god or anything regarding transplants-hurrying-the-fuck-up, I decided I could try turning to the Fates. The Fates, or the Moreae, are comprised of Clotho (the spinner), Lachesis (the measurer), and Atropos (the cutter), with Atropos being the most deadly as she is the one who decides when your thread of life is to be chopped! Apparently, not even Zeus is immune from the Fates' devious fingers. But I can't really ask for lovely Atropos to cut someone else's golden thread thanks dear, that's just sick. It's not my life they're contemplating just yet...

Then there's also Tyche and Nemesis - Tyche is the holder and therefore provider of luck and fortune, but who deals out this good fortune in a haphazard manner. I'm a fan of this sense of equality and fairness in receiving good fortune - if only religions were as blind. Nemesis means 'to give what is due', and therefore if the beholder of Tyche's luck does something to render this luck undeserved, Nemesis makes sure that person receives some form of divine retribution or punishment. So here's me hoping Tyche's spinning ball lands on my number soon, and that Nemesis thinks i've been an allright kinda gal and doesn't inflict rejection or an un-shrinking spleen or any nasty transplant complications upon me! After all, what had Prometheus also put inside Pandora's box on the off-chance that it would be opened? Hope. And that's what I got baby!

'Justice & Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime', by Pierre Paul Prud'hon

I hope this has been interesting, or at least re-ignited your love of Disney's Hercules. I now have all the songs stuck in my head... damn it! ("And then along came ZEUS")

("Zero to hero, just like that!")

1 comment:

  1. I love your posts like this! I miss my English classes so much but I get my fix from these haha! And you're way more fun than my old teachers (your one sounds a bit funny though!) I vaguely remember my brothers playing a Hercules game, it might have been the same one but I wouldn't know. Bullies wouldn't let me join in :( xxx