21 June 2021

Nostalgia and Pasipha'e's Consenting Bull

I have been accused (I think, a trifle pompously) by one reader of indulging myself too much Nostalgia. Rubbish. I merely follow the advice of C S Lewis to "read old books" ... not because other cultures got everything right, but because, as he carefully explains, it is probable that the things one age gets wrong, another will get right. And vice versa.

And ... in any case!! ... a decade I often revisit, the Thirties, is a decade in and by which I attempt critically to identify some of the roots of many of the grossest errors of our own age. I find in that decade an aid to Discerning the Times, not a safe refuge from present realities which frighten me.

And ... in any [MORE!] case!! ... how exactly am I supposed to wallow in the Future?

Quae praefatus ... I offer here some Classical nostalgia.

In the Review section of last Saturday-but-one's Times, there was a review of film called Sweet Tooth. It was accompanied by a picture of (I think) an American boy-child; like all such, sweetly chubby-faced. And with Deer Ears and antlers. "Gus [is] a rare deer-child hybrid with antlers, glow-in-the-dark eyes and an acute sense of smell ... We also get [a] syrupy voiceover telling us that 'this is a story about a very special boy'".

Hrrrmph ... the culture on which I prefer to nostalge also amused itself with phantastical games involving imaginary Hybrids. Perhaps the most famous of these was the Minotaur. And here I must share with you one of the great tragic (in both senses) accidents of literary history. A play by Euripides called Kretes (the Cretans) was lost ... probably during those centuries when Brother Turk was spreading his Nostalgia all over the Levant. Lost: all of it but for one third century A.D. parchment page (you thought I was going to say papyrus, didn't you?). Editio princeps by the formidable Wilamowitz. Accessible in Loeb Select Papyri III.

Small though the fragment is, it gives me a mighty appetite for what is lost. King Minos refers to hede xunergos: probably the Nurse figure who bestrides both Euripidean Tragedy and Menandrian New Comedy. How we would have enjoyed the arguments with which this corrupt old woman encouraged Pasipha'e to give way to her Illicit Passion for the Bull! How subtle and plausible will have been the picture of Pasipha'e's gradual consent! I wonder how Nurse carried messages to and from Lover and Beloved.

Like me, you are wondering if the arch-technocrat of Antiquity, product of a pre-Periclean Silicon Valley, Daedalus, was among this play's prosopa. He would have given an account of the skill with which he had manufactured the artificial cow into which Pasipha'e inserted herself in order to accommodate the bull's, er, addresses. 

We Chaps sometimes claim ... mischievously, of course ... that in any argument between a man and a woman, she will inevitably eventually succeed in proving him to be the one responsible for whatever has gone wrong. So, in Pasipha'e's speech to Minos, she concludes toi m'apollus, se gar he 'xamartia, ek sou nosoumen ... She is no Common Whore; it is not that "the sight of his pretty clothes, the gleam of the wine-red light that shone from his eyes, his auburn hair, the beard dark upon his chin" led her astray.

Indeed not, my dear, but do you not here reveal yourself as having a rather roving eye?

I have sometimes wondered whether this speech made comic use of tropes and topoi which might have been exchanged when a husband of a young wife made the discovery that she had not been quite as safely inaccessible within the gunaikon as he had assumed. 

Never forget the comedic possibilities when you are reading Euripides. He didn't.

In Euripides, there is a sort of comic realism (you get it also in Ovid) which asks "If X were possible, what would its details have been like?" And an actual hybrid would very probably not have been a cuddly little Bambi. Like Actaeon and Titian, I've never met a cuddly stag.

Beatrix Potter, a writer who deserves to be nostalged, was gloriously unromantic and unsoppy. Caught rabbits, in her world, get eaten (in pies). Incautious ducks do not live happily ever after. I think Hunwicke's Thirteenth Law might be that, the more corrupt an age is, the soppier, more sentimental it is. 

Remember how weepy the Gentle Giants of Harfang grew as the Autumn Feast approached.

P.S. Has the traditional notion that an antlered male is a cuckold disappeared in poor Mr Biden's America? Is Gus still the hypocoristic form of Augustus? Was Augustus Caii Filius a cuckold? Am I, a mere simple hypernostalgic European, missing out on rarified but delightful transpontine intertextualities?

 

 

5 comments:

Fr Edward said...

The chubby cheeked Sweet Tooth, along with many other hybrids, was born during the time of a devastating virus. They are blamed for it by a great many of the surviving population; so we know the pattern of first given a generic name, then excluded and then exterminated. Brave people hide him, moving him from location to location, etc, etc, zzz.

So, you see, it's the 1930s again, or any other other date one might choose for man's inhumanity to man.
Dehumanisation is the key: give his sort a generic name (Hybrid, Yid, Hun, Tommy, Gook...), then it's not so difficult to hunt and kill them.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Father, The Venetians, of whom it has been said "The men act like women, the women act like men, and they both act like monkeys," had some interesting ideas about how to deal with their women suspected on not being exactly committed to their marriage vows.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/57731892@N07/14544253282

ABS and The Bride saw that in their interesting visit to The Doge's Palace.

Grant Milburn said...

Talking of Beatrice Potter, the last pages of Pigling Bland are reminiscent of an heroic escape from East Berlin, back in the day:

Suddenly Pigling stopped; he heard wheels.

Slowly jogging up the road below them came a tradesman's cart. The reins flapped on the horse's back; the grocer was reading a newspaper.

"Take that peppermint out of your mouth, Pig-wig, we may have to run. Don't say one word. Leave it to me. And in sight of the bridge!" said poor Pigling, nearly crying. He began to walk frightfully lame, holding Pig-wig's arm.

The grocer, intent upon his newspaper, might have passed them if his horse had not shied and snorted. He pulled the cart crossways and held down his whip. "Hallo? Where are you going to?"—Pigling Bland stared at him vacantly.

"Are you deaf? Are you going to market?" Pigling nodded slowly.

"I thought as much. It was yesterday. Show me your licence?"

Pigling stared at the off hind shoe of the grocer's horse, which had picked up a stone.

The grocer flicked his whip—"Papers? Pig licence?" Pigling fumbled in all his pockets, and handed up the papers. The grocer read them, but still seemed dissatisfied. "This here pig is a young lady; is her name Alexander?" Pig-wig opened her mouth and shut it again; Pigling coughed asthmatically.

The grocer ran his finger down the advertisement column of his newspaper—"Lost, stolen or strayed, ten shillings reward"; he looked suspiciously at Pig-wig. Then he stood up in the trap, and whistled to the ploughman.

"You wait here while I drive on and speak to him," said the grocer, gathering up the reins. He knew that pigs are slippery; but surely, such a very lame pig could never run!

"Not yet, Pig-wig, he will look back." The grocer did so; he saw the two pigs standing stock-still in the middle of the road. Then he looked over at his horse's heels; it was lame also; the stone took some time to knock out after he got to the ploughman.

"Now, Pig-wig, NOW!" said Pigling Bland.

Never did pigs run as these pigs ran! They raced and squealed and pelted down the long white hill towards the bridge. Little fat Pig-wig's petticoats fluttered, and her feet went pitter, patter, pitter, as she bounded and jumped.

They ran, and they ran, and they ran down the hill, and across a short cut on level green turf at the bottom, between pebble beds and rushes.

They came to the river, they came to the bridge—they crossed it hand in hand—

then over the hills and far away she danced with Pigling Bland!

Grant Milburn said...

Beatrice? I mean Beatrix. Sorry Miss Potter, I went all Dante for a moment. Tsk, tsk, tsk, the silly mistakes I make. More water with it dear, as my mother used to say.

Banshee said...

Cuckolds have horns, not antlers.

I have no comment on Netflix shows, mostly because they all seem to be terrible.