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Monday, March 20, 2017

The Land of the Lotus Eaters

So off they went and soon enough 
they mingled among the natives, Lotus-eaters, Lotus-eaters 
who had no notion of killing my companions, not at all, 
they simply gave them the lotus to taste instead … 
Any crewmen who ate the lotus, the honey-sweet fruit, 
lost all desire to send a message back, much less return, 
their only wish to linger there with the Lotus-eaters, 
grazing on lotus, all memory of the journey home 
dissolved forever.
"The Land of the Lotus Eaters" Leslie Peterson Sapp 16"x20" Collage painting on panel
The Lotus Eaters is another brief but well known episode in The Odyssey, and takes place on one of the many islands that Odysseus and his crew stop at, and they barely escape. Not because of a fighting foe, but because a potential pitfall of basic human nature. 

Most of the time people interpret this scene with two meanings; either The Lotus Eaters people who are lost in drug addiction, or people who have rejected society’s requirement to work, or strive, to achieve, and they live in the moment, at peace and one with nature. There is a famous Tennyson poem about it. Here is a link to an essay by Mike Jay about how the The Lotus Eaters symbolizes a rejection of over work, progress, colonization, imperialism. 

"The Lotus Eaters" W. Heath Robinson
I have a pretty unconventional version of the Lotus Eaters in this series, in fact, you could say I took a flight of fancy to a meaning no one else, as far as I know has arrive at.

When I start working with an image, I often start with a google search of images, to see who else out there has painted the scene and how they interpreted it, how they dealt with the space, the positioning of the characters, etc. When I did a search for the Lotus Eaters I ran across some pretty unexpected images. 

Some were connected to The Lotus Eaters, a new wave band from the early 80’s. They were one of the very earliest bands that were ascribed a gay identity. 
Along the same lines I came across the a Yaoi graphic novel series called The Lotus Eaters. Yaoi is a genre of graphic novels and fiction from Japan that focuses on same-sex romances between boys (but produced for a female audience). 
From these things I made a leap from The Lotus Eaters being a symbol not only of the rejection of work and strife to being a rejection of the masculine compulsion to prove one’s masculinity. What if the incident is a fable for men’s’ constant anxiety to appear strong, capable, macho, and above all, not gay? What if the horror of being perceived as gay is enough to compel one another to never even touch on that isle for fear that once you taste it, you’ll never escape?

But I brought them back, back 
to the hollow ships, and streaming tears—I forced them, 
hauled them under the rowing benches, lashed them fast 
and shouted out commands to my other, steady comrades: 
'Quick, no time to lose, embark in the racing ships!’— 
so none could eat the lotus, forget the voyage home. 
They swung aboard at once, they sat to the oars in ranks 
and in rhythm churned the water white with stroke on stroke.” 
To me, this scene also has a great deal of humor to it. I love the image of grown up tough guys being dragged away, tears streaming down their faces, like children who don’t want to leave a playground. I think it is funny that these men, so adventurous and brave, would cry over something like that. I love that they simply forgot all about the important mission they are on, and didn’t care anymore.

I think Odysseus’ reaction is hilarious; “Quick! No time to lose! Let’s get the heck outta here before anyone else eats these flowers!” He knew that if too many of his men tasted the flower, his plans to return to Ithaca would be doomed.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Why the Odyssey?

As with my vintage snapshots and classic films I love old stuff. This series of work just happens to be a whole lot older! I love being connected to the past. There is something about it that delights and inspires me infinitely. Finding bits and pieces of another time which I get to reassemble with bits and pieces of my own time to recreate a reality of my own imagination, my own making. My reality, my fantasy. It is an interaction, a co-creation.
Odysseus and The Sirens, Attic Red Figure, ca 500 - 480 B.C
Ancient writings open a door into my imagination. Ancient writing has a cadence that is different than today’s way of expressing oneself. It is simple and rich. The details are succinct and non-superfluous. Ancient stories are the foundation of all our other stories. It is part of our cultural, psychological heritage.

The Iliad and The Odyssey are one of the major cultural building blocks of western society. The character and incidents in it have been borrowed from and built upon ever since. It is one of the original Hero stories. Odysseus is the classic trickster hero. Its elements are reflected in almost every story you will read or watch.
Polyphemus & Odysseus' Escape on the Ram, Athenian Red Figure
ca 5th B.C.
About The Odyssey

Aristotle, in his work “Poetics“ reduces the Epic poem to 3 sentences: 
“...The story of The Odyssey can be stated briefly. A certain man is absent from home for many years; he is jealously watched by Poseidon, and left desolate. Meanwhile his home is in a wretched plight—suitors are wasting his substance and plotting against his son. At length, tempest-tossed, he himself arrives; he makes certain persons acquainted with him; he attacks the suitors with his own hand, and is himself preserved while he destroys them. This is the essence of the plot; the rest is episode.”

This is the bare bones of The Odyssey. But I’d have to say that the “episode” of it is the part that delights. He confronts monsters and gods, foreign people with strange abilities, drama, romance, heartbreak, daring feats, deceptions, politics, comedy, this story has got a bit of everything.

The Odyssey was written down almost 3000 years ago. It is a long story and it may seem sort of daunting to imagine reading it if you haven’t attempted. It isn’t exactly an easy read. You have to put yourself into a certain mindset, enjoy the poetry and appreciate the way our sensibilities have changed over the millennia. But the more you read ancient literature the easier it gets. It is the sequel to The Iliad, which is an equally long and influential poem about the Trojan War. It is also a beautiful book, but the Odyssey is actually easier to get. So if you are thinking about reading Homer, you may want to start with The Odyssey.

I found a wonderful primer about Greek mythology in general and about The Odyssey in particular on a terrific website called The Art of Manliness. 
Achilles and Patroclus, Attic Red Figure, ca 500 B.C