Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Orpheus and Eurydice send their greetings from the shore of the Außenalster in Hamburg.
Ursula Querner's "Orpheus und Eurydike" (2010) Alsterpark, Hamburg   — photo by Macfarlane

A bronze guy holding a harp, extending his hand to a bronze woman nearby (she with her dress up over her head as a sign of her death and burial)... It couldn't possibly be anybody but Orpheus and Eurydice. An annoyance about this sculpture group is that the label identifying the artist, title, year, etc., which was once on the block below Orpheus' left foot, is now gone. (See the photo at wikipedia commons for a hi-res picture with the label in it.)

Who is/was Ursula Querner? Why did she put Orpheus and Eurydice here? Does she often sculpt mythological persons? Is there some reason why we should note this particular myth here? What is Querner's narrative gain?

In 2011, Eurydice was stolen and part of her was cut up with a saw. The thieves hoped to sell the bronze. An article in the Hamburger Abendblat reported the story.  The article says little about the work itself, only that it's been in the park for nearly 50 years.

Why not explore this mythological usage for your next paper?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

a pair of Penelopes


If you're reading through the last books of the Odyssey and growing increasingly peeved regarding the misbehavior of the Suitors, you may like dipping into Enda Walsh's play Penelope (2010). I haven't seen it, but I'm intrigued by the reviews. (See the OGCMA slide for links.) It's advantageous that the face for the play's adverts is the grey-eyed model in the swimcap — presumably Penelope — and NOT the "four untoned [Suitors] of varying ages killing time in bathrobes and Speedos"! Reportedly, the play features a lot of grilling. You know, cooking over the Weber. That kind of barbie. And the metaphor of "dead meat" in the anticipation of an Odyssean nostos ripens throughout the play; perhaps something like Waiting for Odysseus?  —— With Enda [sic: he's a guy] Walsh's interview and a couple of published reviews, the OGCMA slide ought to give anybody interested in writing about this apparently interesting adaptation of the Penelope myth a headstart down the path of research.

Surely Ellen McLaughlin's play of the same name, which premiered last Spring (april 2012), is going to make a different sort of point altogether. In an interview, McLaughlin admits that her approach to Odysseus-and-Penelope is formed by the modern phenomenon of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. Such considerations intensify that drama that threatens to bring Odysseus' return to failure — for, what if after all the years, Penelope refuses to take her vagrant husband back?
   Indeed, a woman in my own class last year, herself the wife of an Afghanistan veteran, told me that when the husband goes away for military service, he is truly a different man upon his return.He comes back as a "stranger with the face of the man I loved."
   So, with the materials offered by the Triangle Arts organization, one can begin exploring this intriguing new treatment of the Penelope myth. Perhaps the OGCMA slide can help, also.

Students planning to write a Reception Paper will, of course, wish to treat only one or the other of these plays as topic. The prompt calls for you to "identify a [single] modern usage of a classical myth". Consider what it is that Walsh or McLaughlin gains by treating the story of Penelope in such clearly modern situations.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Usage: Condie's Sisyphus


OK. Ally Condie didn't write her novel Matched for my demographic. And I felt a little self-conscious reading the book with its dustjacket on yesterday on the plane. By the time I turned page 100, though, I didn't mind the fact that I was reading a book where the narrator is a 17-year old girl who is experiencing the conflicts of love and infatuation and her first kiss and all that. If that's what this book were about, I couldn't have moved so far so fast.

I'm having a great read.

Joelle Keliiliki is the reason why I came to read the book in the first place. Joelle is writing a very good paper about an intriguing thematic usage of the Sisyphus myth that lies at the heart of Matched. Since I know the author and like Joelle's analysis of the usage, I went and bought the book and started in.

Without disclosing details of Condie's usage of the Sisyphus myth — that would undermine Joelle's work! — I will say that to my eye the mythological usage is sophisticated.

Condie develops one of her protagonist's most moving characteristics upon her reaction to Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." It is a counter-cultural statement that has been repressed and accepted as illegal within the suffocating dictates of The Society where Cassia and Xander and Ky are trying to live. That world is not many years in our future.  Through effective social engineering, Society Officials have so effectively improved humanity's condition that no hardships need affect anyone, as long as they comply willingly. Raging, raging against the dying of the light will be futile. Cassia, though, is learning otherwise.

The situation is perfectly laid by this novelist, then, to introduce precisely mid-way through, a theme from classical mythology. Condie achieves it with masterful adeptness. Ky mis-tells the myth of Sisyphus. At least we can say that there are details in Ky's futuristic account that couldn't be found in Homer's or Alcaeus's. Still, the result is the same. There's a hill and a rock and an eternity of futility. "He went on pushing the rock to the top. He went on pushing forever." (Matched 235) But, the telling of the myth is foreshadowed by a mention of it several pages earlier. (187) Condie allows the reference to settle into the reader's conscious awareness and fertilize it for a few pages.

So, the situation set, Condie introduces into this tale of "raging against the dying of the light" the spectre of humanity's greatest Disgracers. Finding himself in the World of the Dead, Odysseus had no need to tell his audience what Sisyphus was doing there. (Hom. Od. 11.593-600) They all knew the myth already. We, however, can scarcely recall what Sisyphus did wrong. A young woman, like Cassia, needs to be told. We, too, need to know, because Ky's father was clearly Sisyphaean. Thus, Condie has Ky tell the tale. Coming from the mouth of an Aberration, the son of an outlaw, the tale of futile climbing toward light dawns with thematic significance.

Condie's narrative is a page-turner. I'm looking forward to my schedule's next clearing so that I can learn what happens when Ky and Cassia get tired of climbing that hill. I'm also eager to learn just how far Condie will work this intriguingly rich mythological simile.

Keep turnin'.

      Added 19 Oct 2013: Look at one of my follow-up postings from Dec 2012, click here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

an ancient usage: Alexander as Heracles

Alexander the Great was presented as Heracles in many images minted onto coins. The image below shows a silver tetradrachm struck at Amphipolis in the Kingdom of Macedon around 320-319 BC. That date occurs a few years after Alexander's death. The coin's reverse shows Zeus of the Phidian type holding an eagle in his right hand.
Alexander III ‘the Great’ (336-323 BC), silver tetradrachm, "Amphipolis" mint, Kingdom of Macedon
Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin / AΛΕΞΑΝΔΡOΥ, Zeus Aëtophoros seated left; monogram in the left field. ‘Amphipolis’ mint. Struck under Antipater or Polyperchon, circa 320-319 BC. 25mm, 16.9 grams; Troxell, Studies, Group I2.
 The head of the Nemean Lion, which protects the crown of Alexander's head, is essential iconography for Heracles; the face of Alexander is unmistakable for its type. The merging of mythical and historical personae is a striking 4th-century usage of classical myth.

What does Alexander gain by casting himself as humanity's greatest hero?
What does Antiper (or Polyperchon) gain by minting a coin with Alexander's likeness on it?
Does the coin overtly connect the facing images, Heracles and the majestic Zeus?

Students in ClCv241 may NOT treat this mythological usage for Reception Papers. The prompt calls for students to treat modern usages of classical myths. The spirit of this usage, however, shows the very sort of usage that can become a topic for a good paper in this class.

Students might, rather, write about the first 2-euro coin minted by Greece (2002) which depicts the Rape of Europa: click.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Usages to think about

Several days having passed since my most recent blogpost, I'll simply toss out here a handful of topics I might be inclined to pursue as usages. Further fleshing-out of these topics could lead me (or any student in the class) to a reasonably good reception paper.

  •     The new film, "Argo", seems to have no overlying connection to classical mythology. It seems to be about a moment in American/Iranian history, when the American embassy to Tehran was overrun and American hostages taken. The subsequent events are narrated in this new film. Reviews are pretty favorable all around. Having NOT seen the film myself, I don't know what the connection to the mythological ship, the Argo, is; but, I'm intrigued.
        The sailing of the Argo is, in classical mythology, a moment of water-shed importance. The sailing of the Argo was the first moment in Greece's interaction with the distant East. Historians sometimes look to the sailing of the Argo as a more-than-mythological narrative, a narrative of commercial interaction between East and West. In myth, though, Jason builds the Argo under divine supervision, fills it with the best heroes of the age, and sails it to Colchis to recover the Golden Fleece. The episode comes before the Trojan War; for Peleus and Thetis, Achilles' parents, meet during the Argonautica.
        If I were to view this film, I would watch for some overt reference to the mythological ship. Why is the film named after the Argo?

  • Any mastery image, any film in the Orpheus Film Festival, any piece of art dated after 1300 AD in Morford and Lenardon's mythology book could be taken on as a fair-game topic. Some from this last set (ML) will be more engaging than others.  

    From the page of Morford and Lenardon, I am drawn to 
  •     Joyce Carol Oates, Angel of Light, a 1981 novel offering "an American version of the Oresteia". Since the course turns toward Oresteia after Odyssey, this would be a timely topic.
  •    Barry Unsworth, The Song of Songs, a 2003 novel offering "a revisionist retelling of the sacrifice of Iphigenia. The sacrifice of Iphigenia is a key element in both the narrative of the Trojan War and also in the fate of Agamemnon (i.e. the Oresteia). This topic would prepare you for material coming soon in the course.
  • Harry Partch's Revelation in the Courthouse Park, a modern reworking of the Bacchae by Euripides.  I've never seen this, but I've read about it for years in ML's text. I think I'd like to actually see it and then write about it. Partch himself discusses the usage himself in an essay excerpted by ML on p. 320 (text box).
       I don't know Partch's music, but the HBLL has all the works mentioned by ML in p. 320 fn. 8 and p. 333. This one seems straightforward and easy.
  • George Friedrich Handel's Semele. This opera is about Jupiter's seduction of Semele. Having seen it in 1999 on a stage, I am still moved by the lengthy aria by Semele, whose anticipation of her association with Jupiter is partly erotic and partly ecstatic. She sings of her association with Jupiter in almost religious terms of an acolyte encountering the sky god. Handel worked with several mythological narratives in his operas and oratorios. This seems to me one of the most engaging.

Stumped for a topic?
   Consider the database of slides at fm/OGCMA or stick your nose into Reid's OGCMA.
   Feel free to float ideas past the TAs or Macfarlane.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Usage: Elysian Fields

An NPR discussion between Scott Simon and classicist Elain Fantham informed me years ago about an American baseball park of historical and mythological significance. The Elysian Fields near Hoboken, NJ continues a placename from classical mythology. It's a good topic for a Reception Paper.
If I were reading a Reception Paper on this topic, I would look for these elements.
  • Has the author sought to inform herself about the mythological background? Did she check Reid, the acknowledged authoritative source.
  • Does the paper have a clearly stated thesis, one that drives the paper and guides the reader?
  • Has the author looked into the usage itself so as to determine whether the original usage of the myth expressed overt awareness of the mythological connection? (Here: Did the guy who named the place after Elysium know what he was doing?)
  • Does the author try to convince me, the reader, that he knows why the classical myth is invoked?
  • Does the author show that she has looked for evidence that supports her thesis?
    • And is this evidence gathered from authoritative sources? [These days: Is the internet used appropriately for gathering evidence, or does the author rely on easy-peasy cheap searches only?]
NB: I choose this one, because finding it in Reid was going to be challenging. However, the name of the baseball grounds after the classical Elysian Fields is so clearly overt, that I know there's going to be material for writing a good paper.
  The OGCMA reference would be OGCMA0486NOTHades(2)_Hoboken [but, when I learn who named the place, I'll change the "artist's" name in the listing.]

INVITATION: Have at it. Go write this paper for me. Please.