Romantic sparring between the then presumptive heir of Downton and Lady Mary led him into a ripe classical mythological allusion.
Begun in a formal dinning-room conversation, the allusion was continued in at least one subsequent interchange between Mathew and Mary later in the same episode. Bear in mind that in Season 1, Mary and Matthew were hardly affectionate toward one another, though Julian Fellows was supercharging their relationship:
Mary: “I’ve been studying the story of Andromeda. Do you know it?”
Mary: “Her father was King Cepheus, whose country was being ravaged by storms. And in the end, he decided the only way to appease the gods was to sacrifice his eldest daughter to a hideous sea monster. So they chained her, naked, to a rock-“
The Dowager Violet: (laughs) “Really, Mary, we’ll all need our smelling salts in a minute.”
Matthew: “But the sea monster didn’t get her, did he?”
Mary: “No. Just when it seemed he was the only solution to her father’s problems, she was rescued.”
Matthew: “By Perseus.”
Mary: (surprised) “That’s right. Perseus. Son of a god. Rather more fitting, wouldn’t you say?”
Matthew: “Well, that depends. I’d have to know more about the princess and the sea monster in question.”
I call this mythological allusion OGCMA0883NOTPerseusAndromeda_Downton— "Downton Abbey", Episode Two
As with any mythological usage, the fun part is spotting that the usage is overt. The greater fun, though, comes from analysis, explaining the why.
It is interesting to me that Lady Mary's version of the Andromeda story includes the self-referential detail that Andromeda is 'the eldest daughter' of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Frankly, I've never considered whether "classical" Cepheus and Cassiopeia had any other children. Maybe, indeed, Andromeda was in the same family-spot as Lady Mary.
Within the context of this allusion, it is noteworthy that the episode does bring a very handsome and dangerous seducer into the relationship of Mary and Matthew. Downtonists who came in later may not recall the Turkish ambassador whose sudden death in Mary's bed caused no small shock waves and threatened to bring the most vile scandal upon the House. Matthew does indeed learn more 'about the princess and sea monster in question" as the episode unfolds.
Which of Mary's male interests, Matthew or the Turkish ambassador, fits the mythological allusion as
the Cetus, which the Perseus?
Not wanting to call sour grapes on the working of Downton, I will say that I was hoping for a good deal more classical mythological shorthand as the story went on. In fact, I can only recall a couple of moments in the collective series (now at the end of another season) where classical mythology came into play. I had hoped for more from Julian Fellows. (See my recent post on Julian Fellows' usage of Neleus in Mary Poppins.)