Friday, September 14, 2012

Usage: Manship's Actaeon

Paul Manship's "Actaeon #2" (1923, Smithsonian) articulates a disoriented man's confused anguish. Mary Grant said it better:
“The American sculptor, Paul Manship, has a bronze group of Actaeon and his dogs, in which he has skillfully shown the psychology of the metamorphosis — the animal 'change' in Actaeon’s features with the sprouting of horns on his head. Late Classical writers, playing with such themes, were often interested in more than the physical transformation. Ovid is a conspicuous example."
Manship uses classical mythology to illustrate.

Manship's usage is lasting, but succinct and unmistakeable. I call it a "usage" because
  • the work mentions the myth in the title
  • the work depends upon essential identifiers — horned man, dogs
  • the work omits elements that can reasonably be extrapolated by one who knows the myth (e.g. Artemis, Actaeon's error).
Not every deer in the headlights is an Actaeon.
What ARE the essential identifiers for an Actaeon narrative? Is it the dogs? Is it a man-stag? Will antlers alone do it?  If one of these were missing, could Manship's bronze still be identifiable as Actaeon? Somewhere in the process, Manship's sculpture became a treatment of the Actaeon myth.
Mary Grant, trans., The Myth of Hyginus, University of Kansas Humanistic Studies 34 (Lawrence 1960). (notes)

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