Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Retelling of Ovid's "Salmacis and Hermaphroditus"

The story of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus is one that takes place in the most majestic parts of nature. One day, while out gathering lillies for a garland to don her perfect neck, Salmacis spies the most beautiful example of the male species that she has ever laid eyes upon. Salmacis is a stunning water nymph who is graceful as a swan. Those who see her become immediately entranced, and it is the same feeling that comes over her when she spots the boy. Her love for Hermaphroditus is instant, and she knows that she must have him.

Before revealing herself to him, Salmacis checks to make sure that every curve of her body is accentuated and that she embodies sheer perfection. Her dewy skin glows with love and lust and she exudes sexuality. Salmacis approaches Hermaphroditus and the words that she speaks were these: "Would it bother you if I told you that you were beautiful? Your sculpted body and handsome face could be that of a mighty god. Is that your true form? Or are you of the loved human race? Oh to have been your mother from whose breasts you suckled...the thought of it makes me fill with envy. The only greater pleasure would to be your wife and to share your bed of bliss. If you already have a woman, tell me not, for it does not matter. If it be we shall love in secret, but oh...if not, how amazing our lives will be. We will lie together in utmost happiness and no day will ever pass that is not better than the previous. We will awaken things in one another that neither of us knew exists."

Young Hermaphroditus is baffled by her words. His innocence becomes apparent and his face flushes rose. This new color only magnifies Salmacis' desires. She stands still, heart beating through her veins like thunder in the night. Her rose petal lips long to become one with his, and she pleads for one kiss. A single kiss would make her the happiest woman in the expansive universe.

For some reason unknown to men, Hermaphroitus does not fall victim to her beauty, and is horrified by her request. "Leave me be! I will not grant you a kiss nor any other action to promote your desires. If you will not leave than I will set off never to be seen by you again. Go away from this place."

Salmacis can not imagine a life without him, and thus she leaves apologising profusely. She begs for his forgiveness and pleads with him to forget her misguided request. And so she exits the clearing, but unbeknown to Hermaphroditus hides within seeing distance. She sits in silence and watches as he enjoys the beauty of his surroundings. Believing that he is alone, Hermaphroditus enters the still water and lets the cool liquid caress his body. He removes his restricting tunic in order to more fully embrace the grasps of nature. As the young boy's white skin glistens with streams of water, Salmacis groans and imagines what could be. In her mind she takes him and he surrenders fully to her. Their love fills the clearing with a wonderful glow and he admits his undying devotion to her.

She can hold herself back no longer, and the beautiful water nymph glides across the soft ground towards the bathing boy. Her cloths are torn from her body as she made her way to the pool, and a loud shriek escapes her luscious lips. "I have won! He is mine!" She reaches him and winds her body around his. Hermaphroditus struggles to break her grip, but can not escape her binding limbs. Salmacis smothers him with her supple bosom and unforgiving kisses. She says to him, "Do not struggle my love, for we will never be separated again. The gods above have heard my plea, and they have decided that we are to be together forever."

At hearing her say such a silly thing, the gods smile with glee. The two bodies in the lake then melt into one, never to separated again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Helen's Argument

Another part of The Trojan Women that I found interesting was Helen's plea for life. It was because of her that the Trojan War began, and she is hated by both peoples for that. Had she not run away from the kingdom of Menelaus, the ten year war would not have occurred and thousands of men would not have died a bloody death. Menelaus swears that she is doomed to die for her betrayals, but allows her to speak on behalf of her actions. She gives a number of reasons why the blame is not hers, and why she therefore should not have to die.

First, Helen puts the blame on Hecuba for giving birth to Paris. Had the queen not done so, "the whole bad business" would never occurred.

Secondly, she puts the blame on Priam for not killing Paris as a child. She states that it was he that ruined Troy, not her. Had either of the previous events went otherwise the war would have been avoided.

Thirdly, she puts blame on the gods. Helen gives an account of the judgment that Paris made between the goddesses Pallas, Hera, and Cypris. The one he chose was Cypris, who had offered him the most beautiful woman in the world. Helen was the prize that she gave him. Helen argues then that it was not her fault, but the goddess'. She says that she was "bought and sold for her beauty" (pg. 221). With the goddess by Paris' side, she had no choice but to love him and go away with him. It was as if she was enchanted.

Helen then says that after Paris died the enchantment lifted and she regained her whits. She claims that she tried to escape to be with Menelaus, but was forced to remain with the Trojans.

After Helen has given her plea, Hecuba steps in in response. I am not sure who's side I am on. Granted, Helen was given to Paris as a gift of Cypris, and it would seem that she did not have any other choice. At the same time, had she really not wanted to leave with Paris she could have fought it or as Hecuba mentions, done the noble thing and killed herself. Love is a funny thing. It will make one do things that one would not normally do. It is not my place to judge Helen, but I thought that her plea was quite interesting. I feel like the first two points that she makes are a bit far-fetched, but that the third could be considered valid. Luckily it was not up to me to decide her fate.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Worst Example of Suffereing

I spoke a little bit about the comparable suffering that could be caused by death and life in regards to "The Trojan Women" in my last blog, but I now think that different characters should be looked at. In some many ways I feel, and others may not agree, that Cassandra suffers the most in The Trojan Women.

Although Cassandra did not experience the death of a child, she did endure much suffering. As a young woman Cassandra was given the gift of prophesy, but later a curse was added to it. She has the ability to see what the future will hold, but nobody will believe her visions. Cassandra foresaw the demise of Troy, and even warned her people about the Trojan Horse, but no one believed what she said. Would that not cause unbearable suffering? She saw her country men die not once, but twice. She had to live with the knowledge that her father and siblings would die terrible deaths and that she could do nothing to change their fates. There have been a number of television shows in which a character has the ability to see the future, but in virtually every case that character has the ability to alter the future as well. Cassandra is left completely helpless and is forced to watch as her visions play out in real life. To add to her sufferings, Cassandra has nobody to share her grief with. When Hecuba, along with every other woman left in Troy, learns of the death of her children and husband, there are many people there to share their grief with. Hecuba is not alone in her suffering, but when Cassandra foretells what will happen she is. There is no shoulder for her to cry on, and sharing her visions makes things worse because she is seen as crazy.

After Troy is burned Cassandra is given to her enemy as a concubine. She, who is pure and has not yet given herself to any man, is expected to sleep with the very man who brought death to those she loved. Hecuba moans and moans about how she is going to have to live the life of a slave, but her situation isn't nearly as bad as Cassandra's. Yes, she will no longer be garbed in the jewels and rich clothing of a queen, but she will not be a man's sex slave either. Hecuba will not have to lay with the man who killed her family members, nor will she most likely be given a very strenuous job at all. Don't get me wrong, she suffers terribly, but not so much as Cassandra. What could be worse than Cassandra's fate?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Life or Death....which is really worse?

We have both read Euripides' "Trojan Women" and watched a portion of it on film in class. After doing so, one of the things that the class took from the play is that the worst thing that one can go through is the sacrifice of a child. I am not sure that I agree with this notion, and I feel like it is something that is somewhat contradictory in the text.

I am not heartless, seeing Hecuba in her state of grief was heart wrenching and I most definitely sympathised with her. It would be extremely hard to lose a child much less numerous children. Something that did really bother me about her character though, is her blatant disregard for her people. As a queen, she should consider all of her subjects to be like children, yet she does not even think once about them while she grieves. Hecuba just sits there and wails in self pity without even a thought for the rest of her people who are going through the same thing. Going back to the original topic, when Andromache is forced to give up her child to be sacrificed, it is again terrible. In fact, I would say that being forced to choose the death of your child would be much more difficult than just losing them. However, I feel like in certain situations, such as that presented in The Trojan Women, perhaps death would be a better alternative than life.

Hecuba: Ah, my child! Brutally butchered! Ah and again ah! How shameful a death.
Andromache: She died as she died.--And yet in death she was luckier that I who live.
Hecuba: Death and life are not the same, my child. Death is nothingness; in life there is hope.
Andromache: The dead, I say, are as if they had not been born. It is better to die than to live in pain; the dead have no sorrows to hurt them, but when a man passes from happiness to misery his heart hankers restlessly after the joys he once knew. Polyxena is dead as if she had never seen this life; she knows nothing of her sorrows.

In reading this conversation, it would seem that Andromache would welcome death. Although she would not want to personally inflict it on her son I'm sure, it seems that she might feel as if it were for the best. With his death, he no longer has to face the horrors of life. His father has died, his mother is distraught, and if he were to live he would be brought up by his enemies. In some ways, I feel like this would be a worse fate than death, and Andromache indicates that she does as well when referring to Hecuba's daughter Polyxena. Had she lived, the horrors that she had faced thus far would be just the beginning. Women who were taken after war were either kept as slaves or concubines. Either life would be a terrible one, not to mention that your master would be your enemy and the man who had killed numerous members of your family and people. As for the shame that Hecuba talks about in the death of her daughter, would it not be worse if she had to serve as another man's prostitute. It seems like the shame in losing your virginity too, as well as continuously sleeping with, someone who killed those close to you would be more shameful.

Andromache seems to change her stance on the whole thing when it is her child that must die. Rather than seeing the good as she did in the death of Polyxena, she only sees the bad. She curses Odysseus and wishes for the same thing to happen to his children. I found this contradiction interesting, and am not sure what stance I myself would have taken. While now I believe that the death of my child would be much more forgiving and less horrific than the life that they would live in captivity under enemy rule, one can never say how they would really feel until they actually experience it for themselves. I think that that is why Andromache does contradict herself. While looking at someone else's child she can see the good, but the thought of loosing her own is overwhelming and she can not see past her sorrow.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cassandra in Modern Lit

The term "Cassandra" is now commonly used by people to describe someone who has predicted a certain outcome but was ignored. Economists who predicted the recession have donnd the term, as have scientists who predicted mass global warming. Robinson Jeffers, an American poet, is someone who has incorporated this idea into one of his poems. In it, he deems himself a "Cassandra" and condemns many poets and religious figures for speaking and promoting lies. I came upon it in my American Literature II class and thought I would share it with the rest of the class. I just thought that the poem, and the way in which it applied an old story to a present situation, was really interesting. As Dr. Sexon continualy reminds us, the past truly does posses the present.

by Robinson Jeffers

The mad girl with the staring eyes and long white fingers
Hooked in the stones of the wall,
The storm-wrack hair and screeching mouth: does it matter,
Whether the people believe
Your bitter fountain? Truly men hate the truth, they'd liefer
Meet a tiger on the road.
Therefore the poets honey their truth with lying; but religion—
Vendors and political men
Pour from the barrel, new lies on the old, and are praised for
Wisdom. Poor bitch be wise.
No: you'll still mumble in a corner a crust of truth, to men
And gods disgusting—You and I, Cassandra.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


What does the movie "Hook" have in common with the books Lysistrata and The House on Mango Street? Examples of flyting, the exchange of insults, can be found within each. Such arguments are often extremely comical, although the parties involved generally do not intend them to be this way. I remember partaking in such arguments as a child, most often with my sister, and I most definitely took them seriously.

If I remember correctly, one of the students pointed out that an example of flyting could be seen in the movie "The Sandlot." I will admit that I have never seen this movie, yes I was deprived as a child, but the first movie that came to my mind was "Hook." There is a scene in which Peter, Pan as an adult, exchanges numerous colorful insults with Rufio. The argument can be seen on You Tube (both links below), and ends with Peter saying, "Rufio, if I'm a maggot burger why don't you just EAT ME? You two-toned zebra-headed paramecium-brain, munchin' on your own mucus, suffering from Peter Pan envy!" (This example isn't a very good recording, but you can hear everything that is said. In the link below portions of what is said is beeped out.)

There is an example of flyting, one that could have been similar to what was said between my sister and I back in the day, in The House On Mango Street. The conflict is between three young girls, go figure. They go from talking about clouds to insulting one another and their mothers. The portion of the argument that I have included below is between two of the three girls.

Rachel: You know what you are Esperanza? You are like the Cream of Wheat cereal. You're like the lumps.
Esperanza: Yeah, and you're foot fleas, that's you.
Rachel: Chicken Lips.
Esperanza: Cockroach Jelly.
Rachel: Cold frijoles.
Esperanza: Your mama's frijoles.
Rachel: Your mama's ugly toes.
Esperanza: That's stupid.
Rachel: Who's stupid?

One can just imagine how the rest of this argument would play out. Sandra Cisneros, the author, ends the chapter here leaving the rest to the reader's imagination. We have all been there at one point or another, so this task is most likely not a hard one.

These are just two of innumerable examples of flyting incorporated into media and literature. I hope everyone enjoyed them and that they helped those who were unclear about what flyting was to gain a better understanding.