The tale of Arachne inspired one of Velázquez' most interesting paintings: Las Hilanderas ("The Spinners, or The fable of Arachne", in the Prado), in which the painter represents the two important moments of the myth. In the front, the contest of Arachne and the goddess (the young and the old weaver), in the back, an Abduction of Europa that is a copy of Titian's version (or maybe of Rubens' copy of Titian). In front of it appears Minerva in the moment she is punishing Arachne. It transforms the myth into a reflection about creation and imitation, god and man, master and pupil (and therefore about the nature of art).
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
*"The substantive Alpheias is Ovid's invention. It is neither a patronymic nor a geographical term, as its form suggests." - William S. Anderson, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Books 1-5, p. 548.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
First—hell is not so far underground—
My hair gets tangled in the roots of trees
& I can just make out the crunch of footsteps,
The pop of acorns falling, or the chime
Of a shovel squaring a fresh grave or turning
Up the tulip bulbs for separation.
Day & night, creatures with no legs
Or too many, journey to hell and back.
Alas, the burrowing animals have dim eyesight.
They are useless for news of the upper world.
They say the light is "loud" (their figures of speech
All come from sound; their hearing is acute).
The dead are just as dull as you would imagine.
They evolve like the burrowing animals—losing their sight.
They may roam abroad sometimes—but just at night—
They can only tell me if there was a moon.
Again and again, moth-like, they are duped
By any beckoning flame—lamps and candles.
They come back startled & singed, sucking their fingers,
Happy the dirt is cool and dense and blind.
They are silly & grateful and don't remember anything.
I have tried to tell them stories, but they cannot attend.
They pester you like children for the wrong details—
How long were his fingernails? Did she wear shoes?
How much did they eat for breakfast? What is snow?
And then they pay no attention to the answers.
My husband, bored with their babbling, neither listens nor speaks.
But here there is no fodder for small talk.
The weather is always the same. Nothing happens.
(Though at times I feel the trees, rocking in place
Like grief, clenching the dirt with tortuous toes.)
There is nothing to eat here but raw beets & turnips.
There is nothing to drink but mud-filtered rain.
Of course, no one goes hungry or toils, however many—
(The dead breed like the bulbs of daffodils—
Without sex or seed—all underground—
Yet no race has such increase. Worse than insects!)
I miss you and think about you often.
Please send flowers. I am forgetting them.
If I yank them down by the roots, they lose their petals
And smell of compost. Though I try to describe
Their color and fragrance, no one here believes me.
They think they are the same thing as mushrooms.
Yet no dog is so loyal as the dead,
Who have no wives or children and no lives,
No motives, secret or bare, to disobey.
Plus, my husband is a kind, kind master;
He asks nothing of us, nothing, nothing at all—
Thus fall changes to winter, winter to fall,
While we learn idleness, a difficult lesson.
He does not understand why I write letters.
He says that you will never get them. True—
Mulched-leaf paper sticks together, then rots;
No ink but blood, and it turns brown like the leaves.
He found my stash of letters, for I had hid it,
Thinking he'd be angry. But he never angers.
He took my hands in his hands, my shredded fingers
Which I have sliced for ink, thin paper cuts.
My effort is futile, he says, and doesn't forbid it.
The above text found here.
As Greenblatt describes it, Lucretius (borrowing from Democritus and others), says the universe is made of an infinite number of atoms ...
... moving randomly through space, like dust motes in a sunbeam, colliding, hooking together, forming complex structures, breaking apart again, in a ceaseless process of creation and destruction. There is no escape from this process. ... There is no master plan, no divine architect, no intelligent design.
...the unlikely hero of this tale, a young man, who, when he wasn't trying to gouge out the eyes of his fellow secretaries at the Vatican, turned out to be a pretty lucky book hunter. Without Poggio Bracciolini, nobody today would be reading Lucretius.
joy in existence — not suffering, or atoning or endurance — is the point of life. Greenblatt says that some of the world shakers who would be directly influenced by Lucretius' ideas are Galileo, Einstein and our very own American apostle of the "pursuit of happiness," Thomas Jefferson.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Thucydides [says] Syracuse was founded by colonists from Corinth in ca. 734 BC, led by a man named Archias. After displacing the Sicel inhabitants, the Greek colonists first settled on the island of Ortygia, famous for its fresh water spring, Arethusa.
Syracuse was blessed with the best harbor in Sicily, and grew to become the wealthiest and most powerful Sicilian Greek city. Hieron I, the ruler of Syracuse from ca. 478-467 BC, was host to several famous Greek poets: Aeschylus, Pindar, Simonides, and Bacchylides. The poets Theocritus and Moschus were residents. Archimedes, the most renowned mathematician of antiquity was born in Syracuse. Syracuse's wealth and power attracted the envy of Athens, who attacked the city under the command of Alcibiades in ca. 415 BC. The Athenians, however, were repelled and defeated with the help of the Spartans in ca. 413 BC.Gorgon Tablet, Syracuse, old temple of Athena, 610-590 BC
This mold-made, painted terracotta tablet is pierced with four holes, suggesting that it was once attached to a large piece of furniture or altar, or served as decoration for a temple. It represents the Gorgon Medusa, in a conventional pose, half-kneeling and half-running, indicating that she is sprinting at great speed. Her wings, curled up over her shoulders, are painted black and purple as is the preserved wing of her right boot. In her right hand she holds her child, the winged horse Pegasus. The figure of her other child Chrysaor was once held under her left arm and shoulder. According to Greek myth, Pegasus and Chysaor were born of her union with the god of the seas, Posidon. In a gory detail not shown by the tablet, these children were born simultaneous with Medusa's decapitation by the hero Perseus. Because the horrifying expression of the Gorgon Medusa was capable of turning men into stone, Perseus accomplished this difficult and dangerous task by viewing her reflected image in a polished shield.The image of the Medusa with her children was derived from Corinthian antecedents, and became a theme for Sicilian sculptors working in terracotta. This is one of the earliest examples of the theme in Sicily, dated to the end of the seventh, or the beginning of the sixth century BC.
The myth of her transformation begins when she came across a clear stream and began bathing, not knowing it was the river god Alpheus. He fell in love during their encounter, but she fled after discovering his presence and intentions, as she wished to remain a chaste attendant of Artemis. After a long chase, she prayed to her goddess to ask for protection. Artemis hid her in a cloud, but Alpheus was persistent. She began to perspire profusely from fear, and soon transformed into a stream. Artemis then broke the ground allowing Arethusa another attempt to flee. Her stream traveled under the earth to the island of Ortygia, but Alpheus flowed through the sea to reach her and mingle with her waters.
During Demeter's search for her daughter Persephone, Arethusa entreated Demeter to discontinue her punishment of Sicily for her daughter's disappearance. She told the goddess that while traveling in her stream below the earth, she saw her daughter looking sad as the queen of Hades.
Arethusa occasionally appeared on coins as a young girl with a net in her hair and dolphins around her head. These coins were common around Ortygia, the location in which she ends up after fleeing from Alpheus.
[8.54.1] LIV. The boundary between the territories of Lacedaemon and Tegea is the river Alpheius. Its water begins in Phylace, and not far from its source there flows down into it another water from springs that are not large, but many in number, whence the place has received the name Symbola (Meetings).
[8.54.2] It is known that the Alpheius differs from other rivers in exhibiting this natural peculiarity; it often disappears beneath the earth to reappear again. So flowing on from Phylace and the place called Symbola it sinks into the Tegean plain; rising at Asea, and mingling its stream with the Eurotas, it sinks again into the earth.
[8.54.3] Coming up at the place called by the Arcadians Pegae (Springs), and flowing past the land of Pisa and past Olympia, it falls into the sea above Cyllene, the port of Elis. Not even the Adriatic could check its flowing onwards, but passing through it, so large and stormy a sea, it shows in Ortygia, before Syracuse, that it is the Alpheius, and unites its water with Arethusa.Alfeios: In the Aeneid, Virgil describes the Alpheus as flowing under the sea to resurface at Ortygia on Sicily, or "so runs the tale".
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
‘“Ceres first turned the soil with curving plough, first ripened the crops and produce of the earth, first gave us laws: all things are Ceres’s gift. My song is of her. If only I could create a song in any way worthy of the goddess! This goddess is truly a worthy subject for my song.
This structural scheme indicates that the Muse does not know how to produce an effective narrative; she cannot refrain from getting herself involved in secondary tales of metamorphosis, which distract us from the supposedly main narrative and present unattractive qualities of both Ceres and Proserpina...
- Finally, how does all this relate to Book 5 as a whole, to the story of Perseus and Medusa, and for that matter, to the developing "plot" of the Metamorphoses as a whole, at least so far?
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” — Muriel Rukeyser
the biased "art" of the Pierid involves slighting the metamorphosis by special verbs and reduction of the gods to epithets. First, then, Apollo is literally inside a raven and Bacchus inside a goat.
the one who had first declared the contest sang, of the war with the gods, granting false honours to the giants, and diminishing the actions of the mighty deities.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Friday, September 9, 2011
Thursday, September 8, 2011
I came across a neat 10-page essay by Calvino in his book Why Read the Classics? It's called "Ovid and Universal Contiguity" and explores some of the reasons the material is grouped the way it is and how he varies the rhythm of his narrative with various patterns and POV devices. It might be worth a look if you can get the book in your libe.
As for the Graiai, Janet and I heard John Barth read at Queens College from his book Chimera when it was published in 1972. He read (brilliantly) from the tale called "Perseid" (a novella)--the scene in which Perseus confronts the sisters and the sleight of hand that takes place with the eye, the tooth, etc. There's also a "Bellerophoniad" in the same book. Might also be worth a look.
Monday, September 5, 2011
τὸ δὲ μόρσιμον οὐ παρφυκτόν,—ἀλλ᾽ἔσται χρόνος
οὗτος, ὃ καί τιν᾽ ἀελπτίᾳ βαλὼν
ἔμπαλιν γνώμας τὸ μὲν δώσει, τὸ δ᾽ οὔπω.What is fated cannot be escaped. But that time will come,
striking unexpectedly, and give one thing beyond all expectation,
and withhold another.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
. . . of outstanding beauty, his sixteen years unimpaired, enhanced by his rich robes, wearing his military cloak of Tyrian purple, fringed with gold. A gold collar ornamented his neck, and a curved coronet his myrrh-drenched hair. He was skilled at piercing anything with the javelins he launched, however distant, but was even more skilled at shooting with the bow. While he was bending the pliant tips in his hands, Perseus struck him, with a log that had been smouldering in the middle of the altar, and shattered his face to splintered bone. (All translations from Kline).
One very old man, Emathion, was there who upheld justice, and feared the gods. He stepped forward, and since his age prevented him fighting, he warred in words, cursing their sinful weapons. Chromis decapitated him with his sword, as he clung to the altar with trembling hands, and the head fell straight on to the hearth, and there the half living tongue still uttered imprecations, and its life expired in the midst of the flames.
Pelates, from the banks of Cinyps, tried to take the bar from the left door, and, while attempting to do so, his right hand was transfixed by the spear of Corythus, from Marmarica, and pinned to the wood. Abas pierced him in the side as he was fastened there, and he did not fall, but hung there, dying, from the post to which his hand was nailed.