Usages of classical mythology are instances where narratives refer to familiar Greek and Roman myths through a sort of shorthand. Such usages, by my narrow definition, are not archetypal narratives but rather deliberate applications, where the modern artist overtly alludes to the classical narrative.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Starbucks icon: seductress yes, siren no.
— by Rebecca Barr with contributions of Roger Macfarlane OGCMA1008NOTSirens_Starbucks
The Starbucks "Siren" seduces customers worldwide. The coffee
dynasty’s marketing team purposefully developed the logo believing that “there
was something about her — a seductive mystery mixed with a nautical theme that
was exactly what the founders were looking for.”
Yet, technically, the twin-tailed figure departs iconographically from
classical definition of the
the "new" Starbucks logo debuted in 2011
Starbucks marketers equate the “16th-century Norse woodcut of a twin-tailed
mermaid” to a Siren. The earliest account from Homer, Circe advises Odysseus
that “they bewitch any mortal who approaches them. If a man in ignorance draws
too close and catches their music, he will never return.” (Od. 12.40-64) The song of the Sirens is famously seductive. “Come
hither, renowned Odysseus, hither, you pride and glory of all Achaea!” Perhaps
each man may insert his own name here. And his own proclivity here: “Pause with
your ship; listen to our song. Never has any man passed this way … and left
unheard the honey-sweet music from our lips; first he has taken his delight,
then gone on his way a wiser man.” (12.184-91) The several dozen Homeric usages
of this verb τέρπειν (“take delight” in Shewring’s translation) do not suggest
any specifically sexual overtone. For the Sirens’ destructive threat is no
respecter of inclination. They do not admit openly their song’s ruinous
effects, even if they claim its universal appeal.
Beyond their veiled threat to a
man’s homecoming (nostos), Homer
provides no information about their physical appearance. In classical
depictions they were avian creatures with women’s heads.
Their habitation of rocky Mediterranean coastline was the essence of their
threat. For the Sirens lure mariners onto their shoals and reefs, but they are
not technically marine creatures themselves.
Although similarly respected for their powers of seduction, Sirens are not
had the conception of lovely marine girls who attract and sometimes cavort with
sailors. The most famous of the nereid sea-nymphs is Galataea. (Theocrit. Id. 11) Homer identifies the benign
Leucothea, who rescues the shipwrecked Odysseus. (Od. 5.333ff.) And Peleus the Argonaut fell for the lovely Thetis
while she and her sisters bobbed seductively in the ship’s wake. (Cat. 64.12-21)
He pursued and eventually wrestled with the prodigious girl until he overcame the
wiley shapechanger. (Ov. Met.
11.217-65) Thetis and her piscinesque peers might certainly stand as forebears
of what we would recognize as mermaids. But nereids are not Sirens.
mariners thought enough about the Sirens that they identified them by name:
Ligeia, Leucosia, and Parthenope. This last lived on the rocky outcropping within
the Bay of Naples, where the stood city once named Parthenope after her. Legend
has it that when she failed to waylay Odysseus, she flung herself despondent
into the sea and — unaccustomed to the water, presumably, for she was not a
marine creature — she drowned and washed up on the reef at Margellina beneath
characterizes Starbucks’ application of its Siren’s destructive seductress. “She
is at the heart of Starbucks.” (Steve M.) For, overtly admitting seduction in
their marketing, the company achieved an icon that depicts an attractive force
that pulls customers (against their better judgment?) into their stores. Aware
of the potential disaster, Odysseus bade his men to bind him “with galling
ropes as [he stood] upright against the mast-stay”, as the Sirens enticed him
to ruin by their lovely voices. Lest they themselves succumb, Odysseus had his
crew deafen themselves with waxen ear-plugs. The Seattle dynasty links its
success to its having seduced global society into real or perceived addiction.
Whether the societal impact wrought by these caffeine dealers wrankles as physical
or environmental or merely fiscal exploitation, the marketing that literally
leads every customer under the seductive image on the shingle outside is stunningly
brazen. “She is urging all of us forward to the next thing. Who can resist
her?” asks the company’s website. Each customer is invited openly to consider the
seduction and presumed (?) danger of the transaction beyond the lovely young temptress who
search for the classical mythological figure for ruinous seduction is
remarkable. Not quite a home-run, the usage gets complicated when you figure that mermaids sing a different tune.