Monday, January 14, 2013

Sicilian transformations

Aeneas's arrival in Trinacria is barely mentioned when Metamorphoses 13 launches a series of rich and strange tales involving love triangles, aversion, monsters, transformations from mortals to gods, or from modalities of earth to those of the deep sea.

Acis and Faunus

Acis, the beloved of Galatea, is the child of Faunus, an indigenous Italian deity -- he was blended with Pan, or another Greek figure back-formed from the Italian god. Acis is transformed, at his murder, into the river Acis, which flows by Mt. Aetna. Faunus was also believed to be the son of Picus, the original king of Latium, who was both the root of the Latin kings, and, after his transformation into a woodpecker, the leader of children expelled from the community in a practice known as the sacred spring (Ver sacrum).

Phorkys, Polyphemus and Scylla

The genealogies of both Polyphemus and Scylla lead back to the ancient Phorkys and Keto (aka Phorcys and Ceto). According to Theoi, Phorkys was depicted in ancient mosaic as a grey-haired, fish-tailed god, with spiky crab-like skin and crab-claw forelegs. His attribute was a torch:

Phorkys and Dynamene
Their children were dangerous sea-monsters: Skylla (the crab) a monster who devoured passing sailors, Thoosa (the swift) mother of the rock-tossing cyclops Polyphemos, Ladon (strong flowing) a hundred-headed sea-serpent, Ekhidna (viper) a she-dragon, the Graiai (grey ones) spirits of the sea-foam, and the Gorgones (terrifying ones) whose petrifying gaze probably created the dangerous rocks and reefs of the sea.
We met some of these creatures earlier in the tales of Perseus in Metamorphoses 4, particularly the Graiai and Medusa, both of whom were overcome by the Greek hero.

Now we're encountering Polyphemus and Scylla, who were successfully evaded by Odysseus, and are now encountered, indirectly, by Aeneas. He will hear of them in Book 14, and avoid them. But their stories rise up here, front and center, displacing the Roman hero nearly to the point of vanishing altogether.

We'll want to consider this suggestive coincidence of Trinacria, the triangular island, with these fatal love triangles, and novel transformations that mix the human, the god, and the monstrous.

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