Você está na página 1de 42

Neo-Mythologism: Apollo and the Muses on the Screen

Author(s): Martin M. Winkler


Source: International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Winter, 2005), pp. 383423
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30221990
Accessed: 16-08-2015 20:33 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/
info/about/policies/terms.jsp
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Springer is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to International Journal of the Classical
Tradition.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Neo-Mythologism:
Apollo and the
Muses

on

the

Screen

MARTINM. WINKLER
In antiquity,the idea of myth was fluid enough to accommodatea wide varietyof divergent,even
contradictory,versionsof the same story.This traditioncontinuesin modem times:myths, whether
ancientor later,preservetheirProteannature.Strikingexamplesfor this flexibilityof mythicaltales
are the adaptationsof ancient myths to the screen. Classicalantiquityhas always played a major
partin the history of film (and television),but screenwritersand directorsas a rule takegreatliberties with their source materials.In films based on Greekand Romanliterature,especiallyepic and
tragedy,and in films with invented or modernsettings, figuresfamiliarto us fromclassicalsources
recurwith surprisingvariability.VittorioCottafavi,directorof several films set in antiquity,coined
the term "neo-mythologism"for this phenomenon.
The present paper intends to demonstratethe validity of criticalexaminationsof such neomythologism by examining one specific topic: the appearancesof Apollo and the Muses on the
screen.It is the first comprehensivesurvey of its subjectand analyzes the most importantfilms in
which Apollo and the Muses play majorparts. The paper demonstratesthe wide variety of neomythologicalapproacheswhich films on ancientsubjectsusually exhibit.They rangefromtragedy
to epic, from musical, comedy,and romanceto science fiction,from art-housefilms to commercial
products.Although individual works differconsiderablyin their artisticqualities,they all present
noteworthyexamples of the continuingvitality of the classicalpast in today's culture.

This paper addresses the survival of classical mythology in today's culture in one area
of cinema. Filmic representations of antiquity either take the form of adaptations of
classical literature or of modern narratives in which figures from ancient history or myth
play a part. Most of them are highly inventive and partially or completely contradict our
ancient sources. This phenomenon goes back to the earliest days of the cinema, which has
made the greatest variety in the modern resurrections of ancient myths possible. As representative and at the same time thematically focused examples of filmmakers' different
approaches to ancient myth I will examine the screen appearances of Apollo and the
Muses, whom we encounter both in artistically significant films and in crassly commercial products. The very differences between and among these films make a systematic enquiry rewarding.' This is the more important today because the cinema, although primarily a visual and not a textual medium, has become the most influential way in which

1.

Readersunfamiliarwith the varietyof Apollonian myths and images in antiquitymay find an


overview in the essay collectionApollo:Originsand Influences,ed. Jon Solomon (Tucson:University of Arizona Press,1994).

MartinM. Winkler,Dept. of Modernand ClassicalLanguages,GeorgeMasonUniversity,4400 University Drive, Fairfax,VA,22030-4444.


InternationalJournalof the Classical Tradition,Vol. 11, No. 3, Winter2005, pp. 383-423.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

384

International
/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

we tell stories. A brief theoreticalconsideration of modem representationsof classical


themes provides the basis for my discussions of individual filmic "texts."

1. Antiquity, Cinema,and Neo-Mythologism


In recent decades, classical philology has expanded in new interdisciplinarydirections
that encompass a far greatervariety of methods of enquiry into the cultures of Greece
and Rome than preceding generationsof scholarsmight have thought possible or desirable. The main impulse for this expansion has come from modem theories of literature
and the social sciences. By contrast,the most revolutionaryculturalmedium of the twentieth century,the cinema, came into its own as a legitimateand importantareaof concern
for classical scholars only about twenty-five years ago. Before then, most professional
classicistshad kept a wary distance,chieflybecause filmicretellingsof ancienthistory,literature,and myth used to take greatlibertieswith their sources. (They still do.) It is nevertheless appropriatethat classicalphilologists should also become what may be termed
film philologists. The extensive list of historicalfilms and television series about Greece
and Rome alone provides ample justificationfor this.2Indeed, a classical scholar has recently referredto "the value of cinema to classicists (and the value of classicists to cinema)" and concluded:
It [the cinema] readily reveals connections and differencesbetween antiquity
and modern societies, and exposes the mechanisms whereby modern cultures
use the classicalpast to interrogatethe present;its study can illuminateclassical
cultures and their literatures.... cinema brings classics out into a very public
domain and makes the interrogationof antiquity and the classical tradition
availableglobally.3
In addition to historicalcinema, classicistsmay legitimately think of literatureand myth
in their film-philologicalundertakings.What cinema scholar PierreSorlin has deduced
about historicalfilms applies as well to related subjects,as my parentheticaladditions to
his text here quoted will make evident:
An historicalfilm [or a film based on a work of literature]can be puzzling for a
scholar:everything that he considershistory [or importantfor the plot and style
2.

3.

Jon Solomon, TheAncientWorldin theCinema,2nd ed. (New Haven and London:YaleUniversity Press,2001),36-99, gives the most extensive overview.Fordetailed analyses of specificaspects of Roman history on film see MariaWyke, ProjectingthePast:AncientRome,Cinemaand
History,ser. The New AncientWorld(New Yorkand London:Routledge, 1997),and Gladiator:
FilmandHistory,ed. MartinM. Winkler(Oxford;Malden,MA:Blackwell,2004).
Journalof the
MariaWyke, "AreYou Not Entertained?Classicists and Cinema,"International
9 (2002-2003),430-445;quotationat 445. I have argued for the importanceof
ClassicalTradition,
classicists'involvement in film philology on two previous occasions:in my "Introduction"to
ClassicalMyth and Culturein the Cinema,ed. MartinM. Winkler(Oxford;New York:Oxford
University Press, 2001), 3-22, and in "Altertumswissenschaftlerim Kino; oder: Quo vadis,
International
Journalof theClassicalTradition,11 (this same volume), above, 95-110
philologia?"
(review articleon PontesII:AntikeimFilm,ed. MartinKorenjakand KarlheinzTochterle,Comparanda5 [Innsbruck:StudienVerlag,2002]).

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

385

Winikler

in a literarywork] is ignored;everythinghe sees on the screenis, in his opinion,


pure imagination.But at the same time it is importantto examine the difference
between history [or the scholarlystudy of literature]as it is written by the specialist and history [or the originaltext] as it is received by the non-specialist.
Sorlin sees the most importantaspect of historical film in "the use of historicalunderstanding in the life of a society"-that is to say, in the society that makes such films.4The
same goes for literaryadaptations:the ways in which particularmodern uses of source
texts illuminate aspects of the life of the society that produces such adaptations.So the
conclusion becomes unavoidable that, as far as cinematic recreationsof times past are
concerned,in adaptationsof either historicalor literarysubjects,scholars'demands for
authenticity,while understandable,are beside the point.5They fail to take into account
the natureof film as a narrativemedium which needs the freedomto be creativein order
to tell its stories. Philologists will be reminded of the comparableconcept of contamination that is importantto the establishmentof the manuscripttraditionof classical texts.6
Forthis reason the cinema cannotbe solely or chiefly indebted to or dependent on principles of historicalor philological authenticity.This, of course, is not meant as a denigration of historicalor literaryaccuracyin a visual adaptationor retelling.On the contrary:
concernfor authenticityin the recreationof the past is a sign that creativeartistssuch as
screenwriters,set decorators,costume designers, and directorstake their task seriously.
Butcorrectnessin the representationof the past is neithera necessarynor a sufficientcondition to assurethe quality of the result.
In the areaof mythology,the traditionof imagining alternativesto well-attestedand
even canonicalversions of myth goes back to antiquityitself. Our surviving body of texts
reveals the existence of differentor mutually exclusive variants of certainparts or individual moments in a myth, and we have visual evidence of myths or versions of a myth
unattested in any text-a kind of visual equivalent to textual hapaxlegomena.It is therefore difficult,not to say impossible, to maintain that certain accounts of a myth are the
correctones and that others are false. Even in antiquity,alternativeversions spread far
and wide throughoutliteratureand the visual arts,as the works of playwrights,mythographers,and epic and lyrical poets on the one hand and those of sculptors and painters
on the other attest.7This traditionhas continued. Today,in an age of advanced technology, myths can be told or retold entirelyin images, and moving ones at that.Cinemaand
its offspring, television, have proven fertile grounds for reimagining and reinventing
4.

5.

6.

7.

Both quotationsare from PierreSorlin, TheFilmin History:RestagingthePast (Oxford:Blackwell, 1980),ix. Regardingfilms set in classicalantiquitycf. my "Gladiator
and the Traditionsof
HistoricalCinema"in Gladiator:
FilmandHistory(above, n. 2), 16-30, at 16-24 (sectionentitled
"Filmand HistoricalAuthenticity").
SergioBertelli,I corsarideltempo:Glierrorie gli orrorideifilmstorici(Florence:PonteAlle Grazie,
1995),provides the most extensive examinationsof errorscontained in a large variety of historicalfilms.
Cf. e.g., Paul Maas, TextualCriticism,tr. BarbaraFlower (Oxford:ClarendonPress, 1958;rpt.
1972),3-9 (Germanoriginal:Textkritik
[Leipzig:B. G. Teubner,1957],6-9), and M. L. West,TextualCriticismandEditorialTechnique
to GreekandLatinTexts(Stuttgart:Teubner,1973),
Applicable
12-13 and 35-37.
A case in point are the ancient portrayalsof Odysseus as hero in epic and villain in tragedy.
W.B.Stanford,TheUlyssesTheme:
A Studyof theAdaptability
Hero(Oxford:Blackofa Traditional
well, 1954;rpt. Ann Arbor:Universityof MichiganPress, 1968),is the classic account.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

386

International
/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

classical antiquity.So film directorVittorioCottafavi,who made several films set in antiquity,aptly describedhis and his fellow filmmakers'approachto theirsubjectmatteras
"neo-mythologism."8
The above observations are the frameworkfor my examinationof examples of such
neo-mythologism on the following pages. My intentions are twofold. The first is to
demonstratethe validity of the neo-mythologicalapproach.I have thereforechosen as a
test case the subjectof Apollo and the Muses, a topic that is especially suitablebecause it
remains manageable for the purpose of such an initial enquiry.The films involved are
few enough to make a reasonably complete survey possible. Traditionalphilologists
strive to demonstrate familiarity with all ancient texts relevant to their topics; by the
same token, I, too, discuss or at least mention all occurrencesof Apollo and the Muses on
the screen that I have been able to find. (I omit only some negligible instances.) On the
otherhand, films featuringApollo or the Muses are numerous enough to presentus with
a surprising breadth of themes, settings, and levels of artistic achievement. But even
works of crass commercialism,some of which will be encounteredbelow, may contain
aspects worthy of attention.As a result, the range of artisticand commercialworks, of
genre films and art-housecinema, reveals the vitality of ancient myth in today's culture.
My second intention is to illustrate through descriptions and analyses how classical
scholarshipmay approachand intellectuallyengage with themes of neo-mythologism in
a popular modern medium. So I hope to provide an impulse for all those who wish to
bridge the distance between today's cultureand ancient mythology.

2. Delphi and Apollo's Oracle


Apollo is most readily seen on screen in videos of theatrical productions of Greek
tragedy.A well-known example is the 1981 adaptationby directorPeter Hall and poettranslatorTonyHarrisonof Aeschylus' Oresteiafor the National Theatreof GreatBritain.
The production is remarkablefor Harrison'sattempt to find a modem linguistic equivalent to Aeschylus' grand poetry, for bringing out, simultaneously, the remoteness of
Greek tragedy and its closeness to us, also for its stylish use of music (by HarrisonBirtwhistle) and, not least, for its acting with masks. Harrisonhas described the purpose of
his decision to use masks in the following words:
I was interestedin exploring the world of masks and the language that was spoken in order to get a better idea of what the poetic natureof the language was.9

8.

9.

On Cottafavi and his term "neo-mythologism"see Pierre Leprohon, The ItalianCinema,tr.


RogerGreavesand Oliver Stallybrass,CinemaTwo (London:Seckerand Warburg;New York
and Washington:Praeger,1972),173-179(Frenchoriginal:LeCinemaitalien:Histoire,chronologie,
documents,images[Paris:Seghers,1966]184-190).
biographies,
filmographies,
Quoted fromMarianneMcDonald,AncientSun,ModernLight:GreekDramaon theModernStage
(New York:ColumbiaUniversityPress, 1992),145.TonyHarrison,"FacingUp to the Muses,"
Proceedingsof the ClassicalAssociation(GreatBritain),85 (1988), 7-29, discusses his views on
masks in greaterdetail at 18-22. A reprintappears in TonyHarrison,ed. Neil Astley, Bloodaxe
CriticalAnthologies 1 (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1991), 429-454 (442-448 on
masks). Cf. also PeterHall, Exposedby theMask:Formand Languagein Drama(New York:Theatre CommunicationsGroup,2000),24-30 and 33-36.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

387

In TheEumenides,the last play of the Oresteia,Apollo and Athena are commandingpresences on the stage, as even the small video screen reveals. Phoebus Apollo, god of light
later identified with the sun, wears a golden mask and is dressed in white and gold. The
stage of Hall's productionis patternedon the layout of the ancientGreektheater.'0
The temple of Apollo at Delphi, the setting of the opening scene of Aeschylus' Eumenides,was to have been transposed to modern black Africa in a film that was never
made. Italianpoet and filmmakerPier Paolo Pasolini, who, as a Marxist,was a vigorous
criticof Westernsociety,intended to film a modem adaptationof the Oresteiain Africaas
a comment on Westerncapitalismand colonialism.Pasolini had to abandon this project,
but while scouting locationsand doing otherpreproductionwork on his Oresteia,he made
an hour-long film essay: Appuntiper un' OrestiadeAfricana(Notesfor an AfricanOresteia,
1970)." Pasolini's equivalent for the Delphic temple of the god who, as leader of the
Muses, was associated with arts and sciences, is nothing but the modern sanctuaryof
knowledge, a university.Pasolini himself comments on this in voice-over.I quote from
the English-languageversion of his film:
The temple of Apollo as I will depict it metaphoricallyin my film of the African
Oresteia-I'll show it as a university,and, to be more precise, the University of
Dar-es-Salaamwhich, seen [here]from a distance, displays unmistakablesigns
of resemblingthe typical Anglo-Saxonneo-capitalisticuniversity.The external
aspect,elegant and confident in design, the internalorganizationmake it a typical universityof the kind that is frequentlyseen in black Africa.
These universities,as I repeat,follow a progressiveneo-capitalisticpattern,
and they are the seat of the futurelocal intelligentsiain the cultureand learning
of the young Africannations.

10. MichaelPowell and EmericPressburger'sfilm TheLifeand Deathof ColonelBlimp(1943)contains a brief scene in which the protagonistattends a musical comedy called Ulyssesin a London theaterin 1902.The stage reveals Mt. Olympus, where the council of the gods is deciding
on Odysseus' returnto Ithaca,a scene modeled on Book One of Homer's Odyssey.The divine
assemblyconsistsof Zeus,Athena,Hera,Poseidon(absentin Homer),Hermes,Ares,Aphrodite,
and Apollo. Apollo appears holding a lyre and wearing a radiate crown on his head. As in
Homer,he does not take part in the deliberations.The Apollo Belvedere,a Romancopy of a
Greekoriginalnow in the Vatican,is probablythe most famous type of the god's statuary.A
gaudy partiallypaintedreproductionof it (blackhair,bright-redcloak)brieflyappearsin JeanLucGodard'sLemipris(Contempt,
1963).The type recursin the opening sequenceof BlakeEdwards's farce The Returnof the Pink Panther(1975), in which an ingenious thief steals the
world's largestdiamond (fictional)from an Easternmuseum (equallyfictional).Toimpresson
viewers the circumstancethat the museum is indeed great enough to have such a treasurein
its collection,the statueof Apollo appearsin several shots. It is the only work of artin this museum that is given such prominence,therebylending an aura of high cultureto the museum
and a measureof credibilityto the film's plot. The BelvedereApollo also appearsto the protagonistof OliverStone's TheDoors(1991)in a scene of drug-inducedhallucination.
11. On Pasolini and Aeschylus see especially Italo Gallo, "Pasolini traduttoredi Eschilo,"and
MariaGraziaBonanno,"Pasolinie l'Orestea:Dal 'teatrodi parola'al 'cinemadi poesia',"both
in: Pasolinie l'antico:I donidellaragione,ed. UmbertoTodini(Naples: Edizioni ScientificheItaliane, 1995),33-43 and 45-66. (Thebook's subtitleis a free translationof Aeschylus, Eumenides
850.) This book also reprints(257-259) Pasolini's own text on this fim ("Notaper l'ambientazione dell'Orestiadein Africa").

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

388

International
Journalof theClassicalTradition
/ Winter2005

The University of Dar-es-Salaam,a city whose name means "House of Peace,"parallels


ancient Delphi as a place where opposites may meet in harmony:black Africa with its
emergingstates and societies, white civilization with its ancient educationaland cultural
traditions.So the encounterbetween Europe and Africa for once need not be a clash of
culturesbut rathercan provide the basis for new levels of social development, learning,
and unification. Pasolini aspires to nothing less than a modern equivalent of Apollo's
sanctuary at Delphi, which had fulfilled comparable functions for the ancient Greek
city-states.
The two films of Greek tragedy that Pasolini did complete, Edipore (OedipusRex,
1967), and Medea(1969),magnificently realized his artistic vision of antiquity.Edipore,
filmed mainly in Morocco,strips Sophocles' play down to the layer of prehistoricmyth.
Its settings are primitive,but Pasolini presents them in sophisticatedways. Non-Western
music and a desert landscape tell us that we are in a time of myth, not of history or reality. As Greekwriter-directorMichael Cacoyannishas observed: "Pasolini did not make
Greek tragedy. He made very striking films about the myths on which tragedy is
based."12In Edipore,this is best seen in the sequence in which Oedipus visits Apollo's oracle. Unlike the real site, which is elevated both geographically (up in the mountains)
and esthetically (through its architecture),Pasolini's Delphic oracle is a tiny spot on the
outskirts of a village in a barren, if austerely beautiful, desert landscape (Fig. 1). A

desertoasis,withthePythiain thecenter.
Fig.1. Edipore.TheDelphicOracleas prehistoric

12. MarianneMcDonaldand MartinM. Winkler,"MichaelCacoyannisand IrenePapas on Greek


Tragedy,"in: ClassicalMythandCulturein theCinema(above,n. 3), 72-89; quotationat 81.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

389

Fig. 2. Edipore.The Pythia,wearing double-headedheadgear,and her maskedattendants.

grotesque, callous, and cruel Pythia informs Oedipus of his fate (Fig. 2). I quote her
words from the subtitles of the film's English release version:
In your fate it is written:"Youwill kill your fatherand will makelove with your
mother."[Hereshelaughsuproariously.]
Youunderstand?It'swritten in your fate:
"Youwill kill your father,make love with your mother."Thus says the God, and
it will surely come to pass. Now go away. Don't infect people [literally:"these
people"]with your presence.
The priestess's words, her strange dress and appearance,and the setting all emphasize
the devastating power of the god over a helpless and barely comprehending human.
The Pythia's prophecy condemns Oedipus as being inevitably polluted even before he
actually commits any wrong-a particularlyannihilating aspect of the divine. In this
way Pasolini demonstrates several important aspects of tragedy: the dark and violent
side of the gods, our inability to understand the divine will that may at any moment
ruin our lives, our impotence in the face of an absolute power that need not justify itself,
and the utterisolation and loneliness that result.At the end of this sequence Pasolini expresses the Sophoclean themes of light and darkness and of vision and blindness by intercuttingshots of a bright and sunny sky with blurry point-of-view shots of a lowering
sky.He also gives Oedipus a gesture that foreshadows his eventual fate, a gesture touching to those who know the outcome of his story:several times, Oedipus places his hand
or arm over his eyes. The rising curve of eleosand phobosthat Aristotle postulated for the
catharsis of tragedy in his Poetics(ch. 6.2) commences here. The sequence effectively
illustrates Oedipus' bewilderment, his intellectual incomprehension, and his sense of
abandonment.Through the bizarre figure of the Pythia and her behavior,Apollo, the

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

390

International
/Winter 2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

cause of all this, becomes an almost demonic power. Pasolini appears to hint at the proximity of what, after Nietzsche, we have come to call the Apollonian to its opposite, the
Dionysian.
The influence of Pasolini'sfilm on cinematicretellingsof ancient stories is considerable. It may be seen prominently in FrancoRossi's Eneide(1971),a six-hour adaptation
of Virgil'sAeneidfor public television in several Europeancountries.At Aeneid3.73-120,
Aeneas tells Dido, queen of Carthage,about his voyage after the fall of Troyand reports
on his visit to Delos where he received a prophecy from Apollo. Rossi includes this
episode in a brief flashback. But his Delos looks rather like Pasolini's Delphi: a vast
desert with rocky and treeless mountains in the background and African-lookingpeople. The sanctuary of Apollo, from which the prophecy emanates, is by no means the
grand temple mentioned by Virgil'sAeneas; rather,it is a large wind-blown and ragged
tent in the middle of a sandy plain. As did Pasolini, Rossi takes pains to present an exotic pre-classical world, one from which the civilization of Rome and its greatest poet
can later be born.
A Nietzschean moment even strongerthan that in Pasolini's Edipore occurs in Jules
Dassin's A Dreamof Passion(1978).The theater of the Apollonian sanctuary at Delphi
plays a majorpart in this film, in which a modem revival of Euripides'Medeais taking
place. Famous Greek actress Melina Mercouriplays Maya, a famous Greek actress rehearsing the title part. To gain greaterunderstandingof what may have driven a mother
to kill her own children,Mayabecomes absorbedby the case of Brenda,an American officer's wife who is a modem equivalent of Medea. (The film was inspired by an actual
case in Athens.) At one point, Maya, alone, enters the abandoned house in which the
crime had occurred, and writer-directorDassin fuses two temporal and psychological
levels. As in a flashback,we hear Brenda'svoice-over and see her commit the murders.
But we also see Maya watching Brendaand even taking her place. In this way Dassin
conveys to the viewer how utterly Maya, an independent and rational--one might say,
Apollonian-woman, falls under the spell of Dionysian violence and ecstasy (in its literal
sense). Maya's creative mind attempts to reach rational understanding but is subdued
by the irrationalthat it encounters.A third dimension that Dassin fuses with the other
two is the performanceof the play itself. The cinematictechniqueto convey all this to the
viewer is intercutting.
The importanceof the Delphic oracle for Greekhistory is nowhere better seen than
in the part it played in 480 B.c.,when the invasion of Greeceby Xerxes,King of Persia, at
the head of an immense army was imminent.Against all militaryodds, the Greeksmanaged first to delay the Persians at Thermopylae and then to defeat them decisively at
Salamis.Oracleswere instrumentalfor both of these famous victories. In the cinema, the
Battle of Thermopylaefound its greatesthomage with Rudolph Mat6's The300 Spartans
(1962),a film that combineshistoricalfact,mainly taken from Herodotus,with the invention that is unavoidable for a coherentretellingof the battle and what led up to it. For example, exteriorswere filmed in Greeceat authenticlocations,although the geography of
Thermopylaeand its surroundingshas changed so much since the fifth-centuryB.C.as no
longer to fit the situation. Similarly,the Delphic oraclesare quoted accurately,if in abbreviated and simplified forms. (Zeus is referredto by his Romanname for the sake of audiences more familiar with Roman than Greek gods, although Athene is not called Minerva.) In an assembly of representativesfrom various Greekcity-stateswho are debating
what to do about the approaching Persians, one delegate hostile to Athens quotes
Apollo's first oracle to the Athenians:"Flyto the world's end, doomed ones, leave your
homes, for fire and the headlong god of war shall bring you low." But Themistocles,the

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

391

Athenianleader,counters this with a quotationfrom Apollo's second and more hopeful


prophecyto Athens: "Thenfar-seeingJove grantsthis to the prayersof Athene:Safe shall
the wooden wall continue for thee and thy children."Themistocles explains what the
wooden wall is: "Ournew Athenian ships, manned by the bravest sailors in the world.
There'sour wooden wall. The wall far-seeingJove declares shall keep us safe. The gods
don't lie." In this way Themistocles manages to unite all Greece against the Persians.
Thathe is here played by Sir Ralph Richardson,one of the most commandingactors on
the Britishstage and screen, only reinforceshis authorityand wiliness.
In a laterscene, King Leonidas,soon to be the famous hero of Thermopylae,learnsof
Apollo's prophecyconcerningSpartaand himself:
Dwellers in glorious Sparta,hear now the words of your fate:
Eitheryour famous city goes down in frontof the Persians,
Or,if your city is spared, the land of Spartamust mourn
Forthe death of one of her kings.
I have arrangedthese words differently from those of the oracles quoted above to indicate their rhythmicnature, which, surprisingly in a mainstreamHollywood film, manages to imitate, if loosely, the hexametricalverse in which the Delphic utteranceswere
conveyed. This is an indication of how closely the film wishes to adhere to its source.13
As is to be expected, Leonidas is equal to the momentous prophecy: "Itis either Sparta
or a Spartanking. I accept the challenge." During the battle at Thermopylae he will
defiantly reject Xerxes' offer, made by Hydarnes, leader of the Persian Immortals,of
sparing the Spartans' lives if they surrender.He does so, in both Greek and English,
with one of the pithiest sayings ever recorded in antiquity: "Moltnlabe.Come and get
them!"14
Variationson the theme of the Delphic oracle appear in various cinematiccontexts.
The earliestexample is the one-minute film L'oraclede Delphes(1903)by Georges Milibs,
a modernstory.A thief, played by M6lidshimself, breaksinto a storehouseto steal a precious object,but "abearded figure emerges from the darknessand frightensthe thief into
returninghis ill-gotten loot."'5M6lies pioneered an exuberantuse of trickcinematogra-

13. The three oracles quoted above appear at Herodotus, TheHistories7.140-141 and 220. Peter
Wars(Berkeley,Los Angeles, and London:University of California
Green, TheGreco-Persian
Press, 1996;rpt. 1998),67-68 and 95, gives the complete versions in English. Green'sbook is
the standardmodem accountof 480 B.C.
14. Leonidas'reply is reportedby Plutarch,Sayingsof Spartans11 (= Moralia225 c-d). According
to Plutarch,Leonidasansweredin writing to a writtencommandfromXerxes("Send[i.e.hand
over] your weapons")and referredto these weapons, not, as in the film, to the Spartans.
15. QuotationfromKemp R. Niver, EarlyMotionPictures:ThePaperPrintCollectionin theLibraryof
Congress,ed. Bebe Bergsten(Washington:Libraryof Congress, 1985),232 (s.v. "TheOracleof
Delphi"),with additionalinformationon this film. Mdlibsmade several films on classicalsubjects.On Apollonianaspectsof his works see MauriceBessy and Lo Duca, GeorgesMilids,mage:
Editiondu centenaire(1861-1961)(Paris:Pauvert,1961),14 (drawingby Melies of a classicizing
musicianor danceror perhapseven a Muse, holding a lyre above her head), 36 (drawingand
text by Milids of a satiricscene from the battleof the Lapithsand centaurs,a myth that led to
one of the most famous ancient representationsof Apollo, his statue on the temple of Zeus at
Olympia),and 198 (design by Mdlibsof a scene for Faustwith ruins of Greco-Romanarchitecture,partof which somewhat resemblesthe ruins of Apollo's temple at Delphi).

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

392

International
Journalof theClassicalTradition
/ Winter2005

phy, such as double and multiple exposure,usually to comic effect.'6Since his time, such
and other,if more advanced,forms of trickeryhave served filmmakerswell to present supernaturalphenomena, not least those that are part and parcelof ancient myths. So it is
no surprisethat science-fictionand fantasy films should have oracularmoments.
TheMatrix(1999),written and directedby Andy and LarryWachowski,is an eclectic
science-fictionthriller loaded with innumerable referencesto popular culture, Eastern
and Westernreligion, and various philosophical systems. Its main charactersbear symbolic names like Neo (anagramof One), Morpheus,and Trinity.Neo, discovering that the
world he lives in is really an illusion ruled by computers,is chosen to be the one to save
mankind. Neo is taken to a woman called the Oracle in order to receive enlightenment.
"She'sa guide, Neo. She can help you to find the path," Morpheusexplains. He also informs Neo that the Oracleis "very old": "She'sbeen with us since the beginning." Surprisingly to Neo and to the viewers, this oracle is located in an apartmentbuilding in a
lower-class section of a modern metropolis. The Oracle is an elderly and motherly
woman who lives in a humble but cozy apartment,and her kitchen figures prominently
in this sequence. "Not quite what you expected, right?" the Oracle observes to Neo
(Fig. 3). The Delphic motto "KnowThyself"appears in Latin (TemetNosce)on a sign on
the kitchenwall, and the Oracletranslatesit for Neo (Fig.4). As in Oedipus' case, the Oracle reveals part of the futureto Neo ("You'regoing to have to make a choice")and warns
him of what lies ahead ("I hate giving good people bad news"). But there is an unexpected twist. The Oracleconcludes that Neo is not the One. Is she wrong? Can an oracle
err? Ironically,the subject of foreknowledge and fate has appeared in a rather playful
way a little earlierin this sequencewhen the Oraclementions to Neo a vase with flowers,
which he promptly breaks:"Don'tworry about the vase."-"What vase?"-"That vase."
She then asks Neo an intriguing question which, however, is left unanswered: "Would
you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything?"On the soundtrack,the popular stan-

Fig. 3. TheMatrix.A motherlyOraclein her kitchen.

16. The Muses briefly appear in Mdlies' 1903 film Le tonnerrede Jupiter(Jupiter'sThunder);cf.
Solomon, TheAncientWorldin theCinema(above,n. 2), 102:"a dwarfishOlympian [is] throwing cardboardlightning bolts onto the stage. They explode, he does a few amusing flips, and
the Muses appearbehind him."

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

393

Fig. 4. TheMatrix."Doyou know what thatmeans?"Neo (backto camera)looking at the Apollonian maximin the Oracle'skitchen.

dard "I'mBeginningto See the Light"provides an ironiccomment during part of this sequence.At its beginning,when Neo and Morpheusenteredthe building, a blind old man,
most likely a beggar, could briefly be seen sitting in the hallway. He nodded his head
when the other two passed by him as if he had recognized them. He may be an allusion
to Tiresias,the blind seer in Oedipusthe Kingor to the Oedipus of Sophocles' Oedipusat
Colonus.The moment is also a brief and apparentlyparadoxicalreminderof the theme of
blindness and knowledge that is prominent in Sophocles' Oedipus plays. The two sequels of TheMatrix-The MatrixReloaded(2001)and MatrixRevolutions(2003)-also feature the Oraclebut do so less prominently.Still, in the thirdfilm the Latinmotto fromthe
first warrantsa close-up inserted for special emphasis, and the same song can brieflybe
heard again on the soundtrack.
The plot of Steven Spielberg'sMinorityReport(2002)takes up the theme of fate and
destiny in a futuristiccrime thriller.Three "precogs"-people endowed with precognition floatingin a tank reminiscentof an amniotic sac-warn a special Pre-Crimepolice
unit that murdersare about to be committed;the police then prevent these crimes from
occurring.Complicationsensue when one of the policemen learns that he has been identified as someone who is going to commit the murder of a man he does not even know.
The precogs'surroundingsin the film have vaguely religious overtones that contain distant reminiscencesof ancient oracles.
In a kind of "EastMeets West"adventure, the titularhero of Gordon Hessler's The
GoldenVoyageofSinbad(1974)seeks informationin the temple of the Oracleof All Knowledge. At the price of her own exhaustion and even evaporation, the temple guardianand-priestess,a kind of Pythia figure, conjuresup a theriomorphicdivinity which utters
its prophecy in verse, if only as doggerel. In Sam Wanamaker'sSinbadand the Eyeof the
Tiger(1977),Sinbad and his fellow adventurerstravel to Hyperboreaat the far north of
the earth,a mythic country associated with Apollo.17Here they enter a sacredshrine inside a pyramid. (The film combines Arabian,Greek,and Egyptian visual and narrative

17. FrederickM. Ahl, "Amber,Avallon, and Apollo's Singing Swan,"AmericanJournalof Philology,


103 (1982),373-411,provides detailed documentation.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

394

International
/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

elements.) A pillar of light rays magically descending from above is said to be "thrown
down from the crown of Apollo itself,"just as Apollo had earlierbeen mentioned as the
source of the auroraborealis.
On a level artisticallylower but representativeof an especially popular film genre
of the 1950s and 1960s are the Italian Hercules films. An oracle scene occurs in Carlo
Ludovico Bragaglia's Gli amoridi Ercole(1960).18Early in this film, Hercules visits a
grotto in which an unspecified but elaborately dressed prophetess resides. She is photographed from a low angle, appearing in subdued light and surrounded by clouds of
smoke mysteriously swirling behind her. Hercules, a bit tired of heroism, asks her about
his future:
Oracle,you who see the truth in shifting sand, in the moving tides of the sea,
in the flight of birds across the skies, you to whom the stars reveal their secret
and the Fates disclose the mysteries we mortals see only in our admonishing
dreams, tell me if the gods have been placatedat last, if afterendless trialsI shall
have peace.
Hercules' apostrophe is elevated and flowery in a mannerbefitting an epic hero, but it is
far from accuratebecause the ways he enumeratesare not those in which such a prophetess receives her knowledge of the future.Observingthe flight of birds,for instance,is augury and has nothing to do with oracles.Neither do dreams or the Fates. Perhaps this is
the reason why the Pythia, if that is who she is, is rather aloof and unrevealing in her
reply,which she ends with the unhelpful observation:"Themist returns;all is obscured
by a cloud of blackness."In the vagueness of her reply,however, she adheres to the nature of most oracularutterancesknown from antiquity.Hercules'plea-"You must help
me to bear my destiny"-remains unanswered. Predictably,however, our brawny hero
then rises to all challenges that the plot holds in store for him.'9
In 1962, an American Herculesvisits Delphi in a ratherlow-comic context, one that
has nothing at all to do with Apollo. Instead, Delphi is mentioned merely as a readily
availablename, chosen for being familiarto audiences whose knowledge of antiquity is
not the strongest. This film is Edward Bernds'sTheThreeStoogesMeetHercules,in which
a time machine transportsthe eponymous fools to a highly fancifulancientGreece.Much
of the film's forced comedy works by way of deliberateanachronism.Muscleman Hercules has to appear in the arena, and accordingly the DelphiDaily carries the headline:
"HerculesAgrees to FinalBout."A poster proclaims,in Barnum-and-Baileyfashion, that
"MightyHercules Meets the Nine-Headed Hydra"in the "Arenaof Delphi" and further
informs us: "Admission5 Drachmas."

18. The film'sEnglish-language


version,fromwhichmy quotationbelow is taken,is variously
entitled Lovesof Hercules,TheLoveof Hercules,and Herculesvs. theHydra.
19. Shortly after this film, anothercinematicHercules receives guidance from a rathereerie (and
masked) Sibyl in MarioBava'sErcoleal centrodellaterra(1961),a film remarkablefor telling its
neo-mythologism in the style of a horror film. The film's English titles are Herculesin the
TheVampires
vs. Hercules,Herculesat the Centerof the
HauntedWorld,Herculesvs. the Vampires,
Earth,and WithHerculesto the Centerof the Earth.The titularvampires refer to Underworld
monsters and to the presenceof ChristopherLee in the role of the villainous King Lykos.Leeis
best known for playing Count Draculain several films.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

395

3. God of Light, God of Cinema


In antiquity, Apollo was the Mousagetis, the leader of the goddesses of arts and sciences
who represent all of human civilization. Today, Apollo may take on the character of what
we may call, analogously, kinimatagetfs, guardian of the cinema and preserver of its secrets as a modern form of representational art. The cinema is the art of painting moving
images in light, and light is the preserve of Phoebus Apollo, the "shining" god often identified with the sun. As god of prophecy, Apollo has the power to bring hidden things to
light and reveal the future to mortals or to withhold such knowledge. The name of the
island of Delos, on which Apollo had been born and which held his other most important
sanctuary besides Delphi, points to these aspects of the god.20 So cinema, which works by
means of photography-literally, the process of "writing with light"-is by nature a
modem Apollonian art form, close to the god of all light.21 French poet, painter, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau repeatedly hailed it as a new Muse: "FILM, the new Muse" (1920),
"the Muse of Cinema, whom the nine sisters have accepted into their close and strict circle" (1953), and: "The Muse of Cinema is the youngest of all Muses" (1959).22
The most profound recourse to Apollo occurs in a film in which the god plays a
rather unusual but crucial part, although he does not appear on screen. Theo (Theodoros)
Angelopoulos' film Tovlemmatou Odyssea (Ulysses' Gaze, 1995), with its epic running time
of almost three hours, tells a story set in the Balkan wars of the late twentieth century. The
film is a modern reworking of themes of and an homage to Homer's Odyssey.23The film's

20. The name "Delos"(etymologicallyrelatedto diloun,"tomake visible, disclose, reveal")means


"Visible,Conspicuous,Clear."Accordingto legend, the island is so namedbecauseit suddenly
becamevisible afterhaving been hidden below the sea.
21. Delos-Film,a minor Germanproductioncompany that released a few romanticmelodramas
and comedies in the mid-1950s,had a stylized Ioniccolumn for its logo. Apollo Cinemais the
name of a Los Angeles-baseddistributioncompany.Apollo Cinemasare a large theaterchain
in GreatBritain.The electronicApollo Movie Guide (www.apolloguide.com)promises "intelligent reviews online."The level of this intelligencevaries.
22. JeanCocteau,TheArt of Cinema,ed. Andre Bernardand Claude Gauteur,tr.Robin Buss (London and New York:Boyars,1992;rpt. 1999),23, 123, and 56 (with slight corrections);cf. also
176-177 and 192-193. - I have examined the final close-up on the face of Greta Garbo in
RoubenMamoulian'sfilm QueenChristina(1933)in connectionwith the face of Apollo on one
of his most famous classicalstatues, that on the temple of Zeus at Olympia, in "TheFace of
Tragedy:FromTheatricalMaskto CinematicClose-Up,"Mouseion,III.2(2002),43-70, at 65-69.
23. MartinVohler,"DieMelancholieam Ende des Jahrhunderts:Zum BlickdesOdysseusvon Theo
Film (above, n. 3), 72-83, examines classical and
Angelopoulos," in: PONTESII: Antikeimrn
Homeric aspects of the film. Franloise Letoublonand CarolineEades, "Apo tous arkhaious
stous pros6pikous mythous: To pr6to vlemma kai o arkhegonos logos ston Theod6ro AnOi ellhnikoimythoistonpankosmio
ed. MichalisD&gelopoulo,"in: Sinemythologia:
kinimatografo,
a
more
detailed
mopoulos (Athens:PolitistikPOlympiada,2003),89-113, give
interpretation.I
am indebted to FrangoiseL~toublonfor making the original Frenchversion of their article
("Des mythes antiques t celui du premierregardet de la parole originelle chez Angelopoulos") availableto me. Cf. also the chapteron this film in Andrew Horton,TheFilmsof TheoAnA Cinemaof Contemplation,
new ed., ser.PrincetonModernGreekStudies (Princeton:
gelopoulos:
Princeton University Press, 1999), 181-201. Sylvie Rollet, "Leregardd'Ulysse:Un plaidoyer
pour l'humanit6du cinema,"Positif,415 (September,1995), 18-20, gives an introductionto
Ulysses'Gazeand Odysseanovertones in earlierfilms by Angelopoulos.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

396

Journalof theClassicalTradition
/ Winter2005
International

fictionalprotagonistis a famous expatriateGreekfilm director,who remainsunnamedin the script, he is called "A"-and stands in for all filmmakers,not least Angelopoulos
himself.24This directorhas returnedto Greecefor showings of his latest film. He receives
a request through the Athens Film Archive to search for three unexposed reels of film
shot by the brothersMiltos and YannakisManaki,actualpioneers of Balkancinema at the
beginning of the twentieth century.Their 1905 film TheWeavers,brief excerpts of which
appear in Ulysses'Gaze,is considered to have been the "firstknown Greek film."25The
Manakibrothers'film for which the directorhas been searching,however, has remained
completely unknown, so his interest is piqued. On his journey to discover the whereabouts of the film, the directortravels deep into the heart of darkness of South-Eastern
Europe,the very region that had once provided the cradle of Europeancivilization. His
quest is also a journey of self-discovery.Ulysses'Gazeis Angelopoulos's homage to cinema itself, both as witness of contemporaryhistory and as a modern art form. He pays
tributeto the Manakibrothers,who had brought cinema into Greece,and to the nature of
film as artistic medium whose technology can be mastered but whose essence remains
elusive. Earlyin the film, the directormeets a young woman who works in a film archive
and is herself a preserverof cinema and culture.He tells her the story of an eerie, almost
supernatural,experience he once had on Delos. The presence and power of Apollo had
made themselves felt to him in a kind of mythic epiphany:
Two years ago, mid-summer,I was on Delos location-huntingfor a film; the sun
blazed white on the ruins. I wandered around amongst the broken marble,
fallen columns. A frightenedlizard slithered into hiding under a tombstone. Invisible cicadas droned away, adding a note of desolation to the empty landscape. And then I hearda creakingsound, a hollow sound, as if coming fromthe
depths of the earth. I looked up, and on the hill I saw an ancient olive tree
slowly toppling over, an olive tree on a hill slowly sinking to its death on the
ground, a huge, solitary tree, lying. A gash made by the fallen tree revealed an
ancient head, the bust of Apollo .... I walked on further,past the row of lions,
the columns of the row of phalloi, till I reached a small secret place, the birthplace of Apollo according to tradition. I raised my polaroid [camera] and
pressed the button. And when the photograph slid out, I was amazed to see it
hadn't registereda thing. I shifted my position and tried again. Nothing. Blank
negative picturesof the world, as if my glance wasn't working. I went on taking
one photograph after another,clicking away-the same empty squares, black
holes. The sun dipped into the sea, as if abandoning the scene. I felt I was sinking into darkness.And when the FilmArchives suggested this [current]project,
24. This is so despite Angelopoulos'sstatementthat "'A' is not me, not Angelopoulos!"The quotation is from Andrew Horton, "What Do Our Souls Seek? An Interview with Theo Aned. Andrew Horton,ContriTheFilmsof TheoAngelopoulos,
gelopoulos," in: TheLastModernist:
butions to the Study of PopularCulture66 (Westport:GreenwoodPress, 1997),96-110, at 103.
A film directedby "A"that is screenedearly in Ulysses'Gazeis never seen, but its soundtrack
is that of Angelopoulos's own film Tometeorovimatoupelargou(TheSuspendedStepof theStork,
1991).In his Taxidista Kithira(Voyageto Cythera,1983),Angelopoulos had provided the voice
for the actorwho plays the protagonist,a film director"who resemblesa younger Angelopoulos" (Horton,TheFilmsofTheoAngelopoulos
[above,n. 23], 127).
25. Quotation from Dan Georgakas,"GreekCinema for Beginners:A ThumbnailHistory,"Film
Criticism,27 no. 2 (Winter2002-2003),2-8, at 2.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

397

I was only too eager; it was a way out. I'd have given up soon enough, only I
discovered something:three reels of film not mentionedby any film historian.I
don't know what came over me then;I was strangelydisturbed.I tried to shrug
the feeling away, to - to breakfree,but I couldn't.Threereels, perhapsa whole
film, undeveloped. The firstfilm, perhapsthe firstglance, a lost glance.A lost innocence. It turnedinto an obsession, as if they were my own work, my own first
glance, lost long ago.
The directorfinds Apollo--or rather,Apollo reveals himself to him-but loses his gaze,
his ability to record,realisticallyas well as artistically,the world around him.26Or does
Apollo take his creativityaway, symbolically protectingthe mysterious nature of art in
an age of advanced technology and of the political abuses of art?As Angelopoulos put it
when he was writing the film's screenplay:"Thefilmmakertries to take a picture of this
event, but when he develops it, he sees that nothing appears. You see, the head had
emerged from the spot where Apollo, the god of light, had first appeared. The light at
such a spot, the source of light, was too strong for the camera!"27
The way in which Angelopoulos presents the film director'saccount of his experience with Apollo to the viewers of his own film is significant,too, for it subtly reinforces
the meaning and importanceof this crucial episode. The director tells his story to the
woman in a trainstation.He is on boardthe train,standing in the open door;she is on the
platform.Then,while the directoris still giving his account,the trainbegins to move, and
the woman has to walk, then run, alongside the train.Soon she jumps on board to hear
the end of his story.At the climacticmoment of this scene and to our surprise,we then
see the two embraceand kiss passionately.At first,this may seem like a plot clichi familiar from dozens of other films: star and leading lady must begin a romance.But the real
point is something different.The actresswe see here plays several charactersin the film,
both in the present and in the past. In a brief episode later in the film, she will play another lover of the director.More importantly,she will appear as his mother in a long
flashbackin which the directorreminiscesabout his youth. The story of his mystical encounter with Apollo is a reminiscenceas well, but one presented in a radicallydifferent
way. Other film directorsmight show us, in a flashbackto Delos, what the directorsaw
there,but Angelopoulos grantsus only a verbal account.Just as the images had been denied the directoron Delos, so the images of the story he tells are now denied us, the viewers. Visually and verbally,with flashbackand, in the train-stationsequence, its denial,
Angelopoulos weaves together the layers of his complex narrative.The story of Apollo
which we hearbut do not see points to the elusiveness of memory,of the director'sand,
by extension, the viewer's gaze, and of the cinema itself. Revealingly,the images of the
train gathering speed while the director is telling his story make for an increasingly

26. The descriptionof the director's experience with Apollo on Delos as given by Horton, The
FilmsofTheoAngelopoulos
(above, n. 23), 189,does not conformto the text quoted above. Horton, 202, quotes Angelopoulos'sown verbaldescriptionof the moment, given in an interview
about two yearsbeforefilming Ulysses'Gaze;it, too, is differentfrom what appearsin the film:
"Oneday while he is visiting the sacredisland of Delos, the birthplaceof Apollo, from a crack
in the ground a marblehead of Apollo mysteriouslyrises from the ground and shattersinto
many pieces."
27. Quoted fromHorton,TheFilmsof TheoAngelopoulos
(above,n. 23), 202 (immediatelyfollowing
the words quoted in the precedingnote).

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

398

International
/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

blurredbackgroundon the screen. In the film's final sequence, Angelopoulos will reinforce these points to great emotional effect.
The fact that Apollo's head is said to have shatteredtakes on added resonancesome
time later in Ulysses'Gaze.The film containsan unforgettablesequence in which a gigantic granitestatue of Lenin, toppled and sawed into several pieces, has been loaded onto a
barge that slowly floats down a river.Wefirstsee the severed head of the statue being put
on the bargeby a crane.His encounterwith the head of Apollo inspires the filmmakerto
embarkon his search for the unknown film, a symbol of his own "lostinnocence"and of
the origins of cinema and all art.But will Apollo reveal the secret of the lost film?
In the last sequence of Ulysses'Gaze,the directortracksdown the lost reels in warSarajevo.An old film archivisthas saved them from destruction.He, too, is a pretomrn
server of culture and civilization in the midst of war. Togetherwith his daughter and
some little childrenhe will soon die a senseless death in a civil-warmassacre.But shortly
before, the archivist had managed to begin developing the reels of film and had shown
some of the film to the director."Acaptive gaze ... set free at last,"the archivistobserves.
We see both men looking at the film strip; overjoyed at the discovery of these images,
they break into spontaneous laughterand embrace.We are meant to conclude from this
brief scene that the film strip being developed contains images from ninety years ago.
The last scene of the film, however, in which the director himself finally projects and
looks at the lost film, admits of two differentinterpretations."Thereare several ways of
looking at this,"Angelopoulos has said.28
Angelopoulos shows the director,now completely alone, looking at the screen. We
only see the flicker of the projector'slight on an empty screen and hear the projector
noise on the soundtrack(Fig. 5). The common, and realistic,view of this scene is that the
directorhas indeed watched the old film. This is a view thatAngelopoulos himself seems
to adopt:"Idid shoot the scenes he sees, but finally we decided not to show them because
it was too concrete.... It doesn't matterwhat is on the film; maybe it's just rushes that
were never supposed to be shown."29But there is also a radically different possibility,
borne out by the circumstance-apparently unnoticed by critics-that the sound from
the projectoris steady and going on for longer than a "leader,"the blank film strip at the
beginning or end of a reel,would make possible. Nor do we hear the loud flapping sound
of the film strip turning once the last frame of the leader has run through the projector.
The steady sound of the projectorextends even beyond the visual part of Ulysses'Gaze.
When the image fades out and the end credits appear in white letters on black background, the projector'ssound continues to be audible until everything fades away with
the last frame of the film. Fromthis second perspective,Angelopoulos shows us, his audience, what the directorsees or has seen of the long-lost film:nothing. That is to say, the
silent film's images, which presumablyhad been real enough a little earlier,have now
faded or vanished, and we are remindedof the director'searlierwords: "Nothing. Blank

28. Dan Fainaru,"TheHuman Experiencein One Gaze: Ulysses'Gaze"(1996interview), in: Theo


Interviews,ed. Dan Fainaru,ser. Conversationswith Filmmakers(Jackson:UniAngelopoulos:
Press
of
versity
Mississippi,2001),93-100;quotationat 98.
29. Fainaru,"TheHuman Experiencein One Gaze,"98. Angelopoulos's entire description of this
scene here is worth reading. Cf. Horton, TheFilmsof TheoAngelopoulos(above, n. 23), 195:
"'A's' eyes fill with tears as he looks toward us and thus up at the screen where the lost film
has just finished running."Accordingto Angelopoulos, the threereels of film shot by the Manaki brothersdo exist, but the chemicalprocessnecessaryto develop them is unknown.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

399

Fig. 5. TovlemmatouOdissea.The irretrievableimage on a blank screenat the film's conclusion.

negative picturesof the world." As he had said about his experienceon Delos: "Thesun
dipped into the sea, as if abandoning the scene." Does Apollo here also abandon the
scene, turning away from the willful destruction that mankind is inflictingon itself and
removing from modern man's gaze the innocent art he protects?The irrevocablevanishing of the long-lost but until now miraculouslypreservedimages parallelsthe vanishing
of Apollo himself from modern civilization.That,in turn,symbolizes the vanishing of all
civilization,which in this film threatensto sink into barbarism.But there is still hope, as
the words fromthe Odysseywhich the directorquotes in the final scene reveal.30Even the
scene of the massacrethat preceded it is framed by a referenceto the Apollonian. The
youth orchestraof Sarajevowas playing amidst civil-war ruins and continuing carnage.
Music, after all, is one of Apollo's most importantdomains and a general symbol of culture and civilization.
The final minutes in Angelopoulos' mournfulwork on the natureof history,art,and
culture and on the part that the medium of film has come to play in all three rankamong
the cinema's most haunting moments of visual poetry. Ulysses'Gazebegins with an epigraph slightly adapted from Plato, which summarizes Angelopoulos's perspective on
history and civilization and, by implication, on the Apollonian: "And the soul, if it is

30. Cf. Angelopoulos'sown words on this importantpoint as quoted by Horton, TheFilmsof Theo
(above,n. 23), 199. L6toublonand Eades,"Apo tous arkhaiousstous prosapikous
Angelopoulos
mythous" (above, n. 23), note 21, quote the director's final soliloquy and provide the references to the Odysseywhich his words contain.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

400

International
Journalof theClassicalTradition
/ Winter2005

going to know itself, must itself gaze into the soul."31This alludes to the famous classical
maxim "Know Thyself," one of the inscriptions on Apollo's temple at Delphi. It is entirely appropriate,then, that Angelopulos's philosophy of art and culture should be a
philosophy of cinema:"Theworld needs cinema now more than ever. It may be the last
importantform of resistanceto the deterioratingworld in which we live."32
4. Apollo's Final Frontier
In starkcontrastto a work of cinematicart like Angelopoulos's film, a commercialproduct designed for easy consumptionby mass audiences can still manage to address some
serious points about myth and religion.An example is Episode 33 of the Americantelevision series Star Trek;its title is "Who Mourns for Adonais?" (1967),directed by Marc
Daniels.33On an unknown planet, the crew of the spaceship Enterprise encounters
Apollo, the last survivor of the ancient gods (Fig. 6). He identifies himself with a thunderous greeting: "Welcometo Mt. Olympus, Captain Kirk!"His words already reveal
that he is a god of knowledge and foresight.The earthlingsat first do not know what to
make of him, but fortunatelya young lady on their crew with a vaguely Greeknameshe is called Carolyn Palamas-has the requisite training as an A and A Officer,whose
specialty is "archeology,anthropology,ancient civilizations,"as one crew member puts
it. (Such an officer appears only in this episode.) The dialogue at this moment is disarming in its naivete; it expresses not only the futuristic but also the general twentieth
-century ignorance of classicalantiquity:"We'regoing to need help in all those areas!"
Such help Carolyn is ready to provide. The informationshe gives CaptainKirkand
the others is largely accurateand only slightly neo-mythological:
Apollo-eh, twin brotherof Artemis,son of the god Zeus and Leto,a mortal.He
was the god of light and purity.He was skilled in the bow and the lyre.
The goddess Leto has become mortal for script purposes because this change informs
viewers unschooled in Greek mythology that gods have sexual relations with humans
and prepares them for the ensuing almost-romance between Apollo and Carolyn.
Through this liaison Apollo intends to repopulate his solitary planet with a new race of
worshipers. The episode thus addresses some of the main issues that are important in
Greek mythology and the literaturederived from it. A god cannot exist without worshipers;in returnfor his demands-"I want from you what is rightfully mine: your loyalty, your tribute, and your worship," says Apollo-he offers "life in paradise."Apollo
sees himself as the literaland figurativefatherof these and futurehumans. As an infatu-

31. Plato,AlcibiadesI, 133b.This was one of Plato'smost influentialworks, although some modern
scholarsquestion his authorship.
32. Quoted from Andrew Horton, "NationalCultureand Individual Vision"(1992 interview), in:
TheoAngelopoulos:
Interviews(above,n. 28), 83-88, at 86. The quotationalso appearsin Horton,
TheFilmsof TheoAngelopoulos
(above,n. 23), 3 and 196.
33. Otta Wenskus,"StarTrek:Antike Mythen und moderne Energiewesen,"in PONTESII:Antike
im Film(above, n. 3), 128-135, discusses this episode at 132-133 and mentions (130) that the
motto of the StarfleetAcademy (Exastrisscientia)is patternedon that of NASA's Apollo missions (Exlunascientia).

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

401

Fig. 6. StarTrek:"WhoMournsfor Adonais?"Apollo in his temple.

ated Carolyn says later:"He wants to provide for us. He'll give us everything we ever
wanted. And he can do it, too."
Thereis also a brief explanationof the origin of religion and mythology from an appropriatelyfuturisticperspective.Its neo-mythologicalovertones remind us of Erichvon
D~iniken'sChariotsof the Godshypothesis.34Nevertheless, Captain Kirk'sspeculation to
Dr.McCoy about Apollo is, overall, in keeping with more rigorous scholarlyanalysis:
KIRK:

Apollo's no god. But-he couldhave been taken for one, though--once.


Say,five thousand years ago, a highly sophisticatedgroup of space travelers landed on Earth,around the Mediterranean.

34. Erichvon Diniken's pseudo-scientificbestseller Erinnerungen


an die Zukunft:Ungelste Rlitsel
derVergangenheit
(literally,"Remembrancesof the Future:Unsolved Riddles of the Past";Diisseldorf and Vienna:Econ,1968;rpt. 1976)appearedin Englishas Chariotsof theGods?Unsolved
Mysteriesof the Past, tr. Michael Heron (New York:Putnam, 1970; rpt. New York:Berkley
Books, 1999, but without the question mark). A companion book--Meine Welt in Bildern:
Bildargumente
(Diisseldorfand Vienna:Econ, 1973)-fir Theorien,
Spekulationen
undErforschtes
was published in Englishas In SearchofAncientGods:My PictorialEvidence
tr.
for theImpossible,
MichaelHeron (New York:Putnam,1974;rpt. New York:Bantam,1975).A film duly followed
the first book: Harald Reinl's Erinnerungen
an die Zukunft(1970;English title: Chariotsof the
Gods,without questionmark).The film's Englishads asked:"WasGod an Astronaut?"

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

402

International
/Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

McCOY: Yes, to the simple shepherds and tribesmen of early Greece creatures

like that wouldhave been gods.


KIRK: Especially if they had the power to alter their forms at will and command great energy. In fact, they couldn't have been taken for anything else.
Apollo himself explains why belief in classical myth declined and why humans turned
away from the gods. His words to Carolynnot only corroborateKirk'sspeculation about
the original intergalacticabode of the gods but also echo ancient perspectives on man's
intellectualdevelopment from mythosto logos.35Rathersurprisingly,Apollo's mention of
the overreachingand dangerousingenuity of the human mind even parallels the theme
of Sophocles' famous pollata deinaode fromAntigone:
APOLLO: We're immortal, we gods. But the Earth changed, your fathers

changed. They turned away until we were only memories. God [sic]
cannot survive as a memory.We need love, admiration,worship, as
you need food.
CAROLYN: You really think you're a god?

APOLLO: In a real sense we weregods. We had the power of life and death. We

could have struckout from Olympus and destroyed.Wehad no wish


to destroy.So we came home again. It was an empty place without
worshipers,but we had no strength to leave. So we waited, all of us,
throughthe long years .... Even for a god there'sa point of no return.
... But I knew you would come, you striving, bickering,foolishly
brave humans.I knew you would come to the starsone day.
When angry, this Apollo goes into neo-mythological Zeus mode. He does not shoot arrows but, as a "far-shooting"Apollo of the future, hurls lightning bolts and even causes
a storm (Fig. 7). When he demonstratessome of these powers, Carolynbrings up another
fundamentalquestion inherentin myth and religion:"How can they worship you if you
hurt them?"
These moments show that even as hokey a product of mass culture as this can exhibit a certaindegree of sophistication.But there is more.A rathersinister side to the apparently benign father figure of Apollo becomes explicit when he paints a picture of the
paradise he envisions as the result of his union with Carolyn.He tells her:
You'll all be provided for, cared for, happy. There is an order of things in this
universe. Your species has denied it. I come to restoreit. And for you: because
you have the sensitivity to understand, I offer you more than your wildest
dreams have ever imagined. You'llbecome the mother of a new race of gods.
You'llinspire the universe.All men will revereyou almost as a god yourself.

35. The scholarlylocusclassicusfor this is WilhelmNestle, VomMythoszum Logos:Die Selbstentfaltung des griechischenDenkensvon Homerbis auf die Sophistikund Sokrates,2nd ed. (1941;rpt.
Stuttgart:Kraner,1975).On this see now Glenn W. Most, "FromLogos to Mythos,"in: From
of GreekThought,ed. RichardBuxton (Oxfordand
Myth to Reason?Studiesin the Development
New York:OxfordUniversityPress,1999),29-47.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

403

Fig. 7. StarTrek.Apollo hurlinglightningat the Enterprise.

Apollo's speech points to recent twentieth-century totalitarianism,in which an allpowerful individual, accorded quasi-divine status, receives unquestioning obedience
from his subjectsso that a new and perfect race of supermen may achieve their earthly
paradise in a new order under his leadership. Perhaps it is not by accident that Apollo,
when he refers to the happiness of future humans, raises his right arm to a horizontal
level in front of his body in a hint at the Fascist salute, a gesture emphasized by a
medium close-up shot (Fig. 8). We hardly need Kirklater telling Carolynabout Apollo:
"He thrives on love, worship, attention .... Accept him, and you'll condemn all of us to
slavery,nothing less than slavery."This realizationis based on Apollo's earlier show of
force and on his words to Kirk: "We shall not debate, mortal .... But what I ask for I

insist upon."
The episode's conclusion, although melodramatic and with an Apollo reduced to
tears, still manages to be emotionally involving even to viewers who are not Trekkies.
Modern and secularized homotechnologicusrefuses to believe in and worship a traditional god. "We'veoutgrown you," Kirktells Apollo, "you asked for something we can
no longer give." (This is despite Kirk'searlier token affirmationof religion: "Mankind
has no need for gods. We find the One quite adequate.")Such a refusalleads to Apollo's
extinction. Rather touchingly, the source of his interplanetary power-in sciencefiction terms, his "energy"and "technology,"which he controls through a mysterious

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

404

International
Journalof theClassicalTradition
/ Winter2005

Fig. 8. StarTrek.Apollo's gesture duringhis vision of the futurehuman race.

"organ"in his chest-turns out to be his temple, which the Enterprisedestroys. Apollo
now chooses death: "Thetime is past," he realizes, "thereis no room for gods." This in
turn prompts Kirkto a poignant rdsumbabout the ancient Greeks,on which the episode
ends: "Theygave us so much. The Greekcivilization, much of our culture and philosophy come from the worship of those beings, the way they began, the Golden Age. .. ."
Up to a point, this ending justifies the episode's title, which derives from high culture and may at first strike viewers as pretentious. "Who Mourns for Adonais?" is a
quotation from line 415 of Shelley's "Adonais:An Elegy on the Death of John Keats"
(1821), which in turn is based on the ancient Greek poems by Theocritus and Bion on
the death of the proverbially handsome youth Adonis.36The death of the young poet
and the extinction of the god of poetry are instances of loss and causes for mourning.
In Shelley's poem, the Muse mourns for Adonais. But in today's age of advanced tech-

&Ad6niazousai:"TheWomenof Syracuse,or The Womenat the Festi36. Theocritus15 (Syrakosiai


Ad6nidos:"Lamentfor Adonis").Textsand English translaval of Adonis");Bion 1 (Epitaphios
tions of these poems are easily accessiblein TheGreekBucolicPoets,ed. J. M. Edmonds (Loeb
ClassicalLibrary;rev. ed.; Cambridge:HarvardUniversity Press;London:Heinemann, 1938;
several rpts.),175-195 and 385-395.ForShelley see Shelley'sAdonais:A CriticalEdition,ed. Anthony D. Knerr(New York:ColumbiaUniversity Press, 1984);cf. JenniferWallace,Shelleyand
Greece:RethinkingRomanticHellenism(Basingstoke:MacMillan;New York:St. Martin'sPress,
1997),pp. 109-118.
This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

405

nology and general historical and cultural amnesia, where is the Muse to mourn for
Apollo?37

5. Divine Inspiration
Now from Apollo to the Muses. Films in which these goddesses appear are few. Best
known today is the animated Disney feature Hercules(1997),a musical comedy-adventure directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. Beforethe credits, the cameramoves
over dusty images of ancient ruins and works of art to a close-up of an amphora on
which we see both a large painting of Hercules wrestling the Nemean lion and above it a
small one on the vase's neck showing five dark women. A male off-screen narrator meanwhile introduces us to ancient Greece and Hercules and portentously intones: "What is
the measure of a true hero? Ah, that is what our story is-." But a female voice interrupts
him, and we see the women on the vase come to life. They are none other than the
Muses.38 They immediately assert their authority:
FIRSTMUSE:

Will you listen to him? He's makin' the story sound


like some Greek tragedy.

SECONDMUSE[to narrator]: Lighten up, dude!


THIRDMUSE:

We'll take it from here, darling.

NARRATOR
[resigned]:

You go, girl.

37. In science fiction,the name Apollo appearsbecause of the names from Greekmythology that
have been given to most constellationsand that are also prominentin space travel.The television series BattlestarGalactica(1978)and relatedTV films have a CaptainApollo, who has advanced to CommanderApollo in BattlestarGalactica:
TheSecondComing(1999).WilliamHanna
and JosephBarbera'sanimatedJetsons:TheMovie(1990),an expansionof their 1960stelevision
series, includes someone called Apollo Blue. But Ron Howard'sApollo13 (1995),a film about
that ill-fated moon mission, makes no mention of Apollo at all. - Several characterscalled
Apollo appearin film stories set in modern times. In the silent era, B. A. Rolfe'scrime drama
Miss 139 (1921) featuresa ProfessorApollo Cawber,and in D. W. Griffith'sreligious melodramaTheWhiteRose(1923),set in the AmericanSouth, a characteris nicknamedApollo. AnotherApollo appearsin Sydney Morgan'sShadowof Egyptof 1924."JohnnyApollo" is the protagonist's alias in Henry Hathaway's 1940filmnoirof that name. AnotherApollo is in Daniel
Mann'sA Dreamof Kings(1969),based on a work by Greek-AmericanauthorHarryMarkPetrakisand set in Chicago'sGreekcommunity.The blackboxerApollo Creedis the eponymous
hero'sformidableantagonistin four of the five Rockyfilms directedby JohnG. Avildsen (1976)
and SylvesterStallone(1979,1982,1985).In the late 1990s,Greekmythology made a popular
comebackto television in the series Hercules:TheLegendary
Journeysand in some television or
video films spun off it, such as Hercules:Zeroto Hero(1999).Greekgods, includingApollo, play
prominentroles in this Hercules'adventures.So do the Muses. Earlier,TheIlliac[sic] Passion
(1967), directed by Gregory J.Markopoulos and loosely based on Aeschylus' Prometheus
Bound,also features an Apollo, although its ancient model did not. Other curios with an
Apollo are the silent TheTriumph
of Venus(1918),directedby Edwin BowerHesser,and TheAffairsofAphrodite(1970),directedby Alain Patrick.The 1980stelevision seriesMagnum,P.1.featured Dobermanguard dogs named Apollo and Zeus.
38. CarmineGallone'sepic Gli ultimigiornidi Pompeii(TheLastDays of Pompeii,1926)brings the
Muses to life in a similarfashion,if within a differentplot context:in "acleverinsanityscene,"
"Glaucusstares at a fresco of Zeus and the dancing Muses, and the figures on the wall suddenly come alive!"Quoted fromSolomon, TheAncientWorldin theCinema(above,n. 2), 82.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

406

International
/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

With snappy gospel songs, the chorus of these five-not nine-Muses now takes over
and provides a commentaryon the film's action. The narratoris never heard from again.
(His voice is that of CharltonHeston, who, in his time, had himself played real and fictional ancient heroes.) But these Muses first have to introduce themselves to their audiences, who may not otherwise recognize them: "We'rethe Muses, goddesses of the arts
and proclaimers of heroes . . ." Having left the frame inside which they had been

painted, they introduce, to continuing gospel rhythms, the mythical prehistory of Hercules, beginning with Zeus' defeat of the Titans: "He hurled his thunderbolt,/locked
those suckersin a vault .... And that's the gospel truth!"This last becomes their regular
refrain.
Despite their warning about Greek tragedy in the prologue, the film in good tragic
fashion has the Muses return throughout the story being told. With their singing and
dancing at appropriatemoments in the story,they provide musical interludes and comment on the action,just as the chorus on the classicalGreekstage had done in its stasima,
the odes it performedon the stage. The Muses provide the cue-or is it the inspiration?to the film's gleefully irreverentAmericanizedand multiculturalnarrativeabout a Hercules who grows from "zero to hero." Lest energy flag, they may even exhort one another:"Tellit, girl!"That the facts of Hercules' life and adventurespreserved in classical
mythology take a backseat to their fanciful retelling is unavoidable. Despite some excesses, as with a satyr called Phil (for Philoctetes) who becomes Hercules' friend and
helper alongside his winged horse Pegasus, the film is a witty rewritingof Greekmyth as
consumerismand celebrity cults. "Herc"becomes a sports superstar
a satire of modemrn
and, for example, the sponsor of "GrecianExpress"credit cards. His romanticentanglements with Megara ("Meg"),a slinky and sultry redhead with a New Yorkaccent, and
his defeat of Hades, his arch-enemy,lead to the inevitable happy ending on Mt. Olympus. Here the Muses, prompted by Hermes ("Hit it, ladies!"),sing their final song ("A
star is born").As had been the case with the exit song (exodos)of the chorus on the Greek
stage, the purpose of the Motown Muses' final ode is to bring home to the audience the
lesson to be learned from the story they have been watching:
Just remember,in the darkesthour
within your heart'sthe power
for makin'you
a hero, too.
So don't lose hope when you're forlorn ...
Although there is nothing profound here, it is amusing to see modern American obsessions, especially those with teenage self-esteem and the turmoil caused by adolescent
stirrings of love and sex, being projectedonto a story of venerable antiquity that is, at
the same time, being told with state-of-the-artanimation technology. But not least because of the infectious rhymes and rhythms of our Muses, we leave the theater happy
and entertained.Small wonder that the film inspired an animated television series and a
video sequel.39
Two years after this Hercules,SharonStone in the title role of Albert Brooks'sHollywood-insider comedy TheMuseprovides a differentkind of story inspiration,this time to

39. Solomon, TheAncientWorldin the Cinema(above, n. 2), 123-124, points to a number of the
film's cinematicsourcesand outlines its titaniccommercialsuccess.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

407

various film producers, writers, and directors. Among these are Rob Reiner, Martin
Scorsese, and James Cameron,for whose successes she is responsible.This thoroughly
modern Muse is a highly material girl who expects lavish and expensive presents and
treats:"Thehappier she is, the betterMuse she is. Don't you want the best Muse you can
get?"On the other hand, she causes considerabledomestic upheaval in the life and marriage of the film's main character,a failing screenwriter."Never get too close to a Muse,"
he is warned by a more experiencedfriend. And: "Youdon't want to piss off a Muse. If
you get them angry,they can do the opposite of what they're supposed to do." As befits
a sex symbol, Stone even has a moment of callipygian nudity. But at the end a plot twist
reveals her to be not a real Muse but an impostor,an escapee from a mental institution
with a multiple personality.However,yet anothertwist gives her the upper hand, at least
for a while. And a particularcomment about Hollywood as producer of illusions and
catererto the fantasies of people aroundthe globe---"Thisis Hollywood.... People here
believe anything,don't they?"-may even remind us of all the neo-mythologismthat the
dreamfactoryregularlyturnsout.

6. Terpsichore'sEpiphany
The most fascinatingof all films featuring the Muses is Alexander Hall's musical comedy-romanceDown to Earth(1947),in which another Hollywood sex symbol, Rita Hayworth, plays Terpsichore.(Hayworth'spopular honorificwas "love goddess.")Although
it suffers from a stereotypicalplot, this film is of considerableinterestfor its presentation
of Greek culture in modem society. The plot is about one Danny Miller,a young and
struggling producer and writer-director,who is in rehearsalsand then try-outs for his
Broadway musical "Swinging the Muses." In this show two American aviators,whose
plane has crashed into Mt. Parnassus,promptly encounter the Muses-a novel kind of
the traditionalgradusad Parnassum.Bizarrely,the chief Muse, Terpsichore,later wants to
marryboth of them. But the real Terpsichoreup in the heavens gets wind of this windy
story.Outraged,she comes down to earth,takes over the lead in the show-as herself,of
course, although she does not reveal her true identity and takes a differentname-and
proceeds to change the show from a brash musical to something authentic.(She is, after
all, the expert.) The contrastbetween both versions of "Swingingthe Muses" is instructive. Our firstglimpse of how its producerintends it to be is the film'sbiggest production
number,a brassy and swinging big-band song in the musical and verbal style popular
among youngsters of the 1940s.Eight of the stage Muses, holding little toy lyres as a visual reminderof the Apollonian art of poetry and song, begin by introducingthemselves
and the show's topic, then call upon Terpsichore:
In section Two-Four-SixA-B
at your public library
books on Greekmythology
are gettin', gettin' dusty on the shelves.
It's nigh on two thousand years
since we startedour careers.
No one digs us, it appears,
so we must, we must talk about ourselves.
We'rethe nine Muses, nine Muses,
and we live on Mt. Parnassus;

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

408

/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition
International

we're the goddesses who


bring art and cultureto you.
Terpsichore,Terpsichore,
give with the news of the Muse!
These hip-swinging Muses are swinging hipsters, up on the latest jive. So is Terpsichore,
who now takes over:
Well,hello, Jack,what's new outside?
I just got back from a chariotride.
I heard I've been elected to
tell you what we Muses do.
The jive is that from way backwhen
our kiss could inspire many men
to sing, to dance, to act, to paint;
it's up to us if they is or ain't.
For instance, take a chick like me;
they call me Terpsichore.
I'm the goddess of song and dance;
I put the ants in the dancers'pants.
The nine of us in our careers
kissed three million guys in two thousand years.
The Muses now proceed to provide a catalogue of "the characterswe kissed," a witty
potpourriof artists from RenaissanceEurope--e.g. Bellini-down to popular Americae.g. Benny Goodman (Fig. 9). But the real Terpsichoreis outraged and tells her sisters
about Miller's show. This leads to a clever and funny dialogue scene among the heavenly
Muses:
TERPSICHORE:
It's disgraceful!

AMUSE:
AMUSE:
AMUSE:

What's so disgracefulabout that?


We'vebeen glorifiedin song and story for centuries.
Shakespeare,WaltWhitman,RobertBurns!

TERPSICHORE:
But this barbarian isn't Shakespeare, Whitman, or Burns.

Why,he's portrayingus in a low and vulgar manneron the public


stage. [TheMusesgasp.]Accordingto him, I'm nothing but a manchasing trollop.
THEMUSES: Oh no!
TERPSICHORE:
Oh yes! And as for the rest of you, he says you kissed over three

million men. [Anothergasp.]Imagine that!


A MUSE:
A MUSE:

That's scandalous!
We haven't kissed a man in over two thousand years.

AMUSE
AMUSE:
AMUSE:

ExceptApollo-once.
[demurely]:
Thatcould only come from America ...
Who does this savage think inspired Michelangelo, Da Vinci,
Rembrandt?
TERPSICHORE:
Do you know who he'stelling the world we inspired? The man
who invented the skinless weenie-a frankfurter!
A MUSE:

A frankfurter-how

ghastly!

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

409

Fig. 9. Downto Earth.The AmericanMuses and one of their earthlyvisitors in the originalversion
of "Swingingthe Muses."

This is followed by Terpsichore'sdecision to take matters into her own divine hands
(Fig. 10).Afterall, as she says: "Thetheateris myprovince. It belongs to me. I'll show this
Millerimbecilea thing or two."
In all this we have a case of neo-mythologism as seen through the lens of irreverent
American popular culture. By contrast, the scene from "Swinging the Muses" as rechoreographedby the realTerpsichoreand the general reactionto it are revealingin what
they tell us about the supposedly proper attitude toward classical culture.Gone now is
all the originalexuberance.Jazzy rhythmshave been replacedby virtually atonal music
that could appeal only to die-hard devotees of Stravinsky or Sch6nberg.A pretentious
vocalese replacesmost dialogue, and the sexy swing of the Muses has turned into artsy
modern dance. The setting is dark and depressing; everything has become high-brow
and is subjectedto a dose of severe seriousness (Fig. 11). The Glory That Was Greece is
meant to awe the spectators,not to entertainthem. But can we only appreciateancient
Greece if we adopt a reverentialattitude?Such a perspective is unappealing to modern
society and thereforecannot prevail. To put it in popular Americanterms paraphrasing
Duke Ellington,such Muses as these "don'tmean a thing since they ain't got that swing"
any more.Smallwonder that their audiences are falling asleep, despite the fact thatTerpsichore makes sure that she takes center stage and appears in attractiveclothing-after
all, the filmmakershave to show off their star (Fig. 12). Not only that, but the theatergoers are mainly older high-society types, whose culturalpretensionsthe film briefly sat-

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

410

International
/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

Fig. 10. Down to Earth."Ohno!" The real Muses, aghast, learn from Terpsichore(backto camera)
what is happening to their reputation.
irizes. After a performance of the new show, some elderly upper-class art connoisseurs
approach Terpsichore with fulsome if utterly clich6d words of praise: "My dear, magnif-

icent, magnificent!Sheer poetry-poetry of movement. Why, every scene a painting!"


One of these art experts is an old lady with an appropriatelystarchy name ("I'm Mrs.
Fenimore Hume"), the president of the Pure Art Forum. But it is evident that this kind of
show will never open on Broadway, and Terpsichore eventually relents in order to save it
from being a flop. Ironically, what is supposed to be the accurate presentation of Greek
culture is just as inauthentic as the "wrong" one had been: wrong costumes, silly headdresses, stereotypical d~cor. On this subject, an earlier scene is telling. Danny Miller and
Terpsichore, whom he knows only as Kitty, are rehearsing. They are seen on the set and
near a gigantic-and, of course, inauthentic-prop representing, of all things, a tragic
mask. Terpsichore is reading from her script:
TERPSICHORE:
"I'm Terpsichore, the daughter of-of-."

Look, Mr. Miller, it

says here "Zeus,"but it's all wrong. Terpsichoreis notthe daughter of Zeus. My father-I mean, herfather-was Dionysus.
MILLER:

No, no, Zeus.

TERPSICHORE:
That's the popular belief. But I happen to know the facts. It's
Dionysus.
MILLER:

I didn't put this show together with thumbtacks. It so happens


that I looked up this particular item in the encyclopedia.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

411

Fig. 11. Downto Earth.Terpsichore(center)in her version of "Swingingthe Muses."

TERPSICHORE:I hate to disillusion you. But the encyclopedia is wrong.


MILLER:

No, Kitty-you know more than the EncyclopediaBritannica?

TERPSICHORE:

About things like this, yes.

MILLER:

Aha!

TERPSICHORE:And now that we're on the subject: you got a lot of things wrongMILLER:

Forinstance?

TERPSICHORE:For instance, you've got me drinking ambrosia. Ambrosia is food.

Nectar is the drink. And your scenery-why, it doesn't bear the


faintestresemblanceto Mt. Parnassus.As for your costumesMILLER:

Look,Kitty,I haven't time to fiddle around. Do you mind?

As ancientauthorsand modem encyclopediasand handbooks on Greekmyth unequivocally tell us, the Muses are indeed the daughters of Zeus and not of Dionysus. So the
"real"Terpsichoreis wrong, and the "barbarian"Milleris right. On the other hand, he is
wrong and she is right about nectarand ambrosia.She is also right about his set decorations, but her own set design is just as wrong as his had been. But none of this is a problem for the film, just as most audiences would not have taken offense at-or even have

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

412

International
/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

Fig. 12. Downto Earth."Poetryof movement":Terpsichoreas star of her own show.

noticed-the strange costuming of the stage Muses in the original version of "Swinging
the Muses" in the scene discussed above. Thereeight of the Muses had darkpink ribbons
on their white dresses, while Terpsichorewas distinguished from them by a dress entirely in pink. Moreover,all these Muses wore head decorationsof dark pink grapes. The
pink color--the Homericterm oinops("wine-dark")will immediately come to any classical scholar's mind-and even more the grapes are obvious hints at Dionysus. So why
does Miller have the daughters of Zeus dressed as if they were indeed daughters of
Dionysus? The Muses in Terpsichore'sreworking of the show no longer hold lyres, but
they also do not wear these grapes. Butwhy don't they?No explanationis ever provided.
Nor does there seem to be a problem for the film's directorand screenwriterswith having one of the Muses admit that she once kissed Apollo. Apollo is mentioned for his close
association with the Muses, his half-sisters,but nowhere in the ancient sources does he
ever kiss any of them. The moment is the more remarkablein that, to PuritanAmerica,a
kiss of the sort implied here between Apollo and one of the Muses would come uncomfortably close to the violation of a sexual taboo. From this modem perspective, even if
the Muses werethe daughtersof Dionysus, it would be equally inappropriatefor them to
kiss Apollo because they would be his nieces. (Apollo and Dionysus are both sons of
Zeus.) But then, what kind of kiss might this have been, anyway?The only context for the

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

413

Muses' kiss mentioned in Down to Earthis that of artistic inspiration,not eroticism or


love. So again Apollo is an unsuitableobjectfor such a kiss, because as the god of music
and poetry and as leader of the Muses, he hardly depends on them for inspiration.
A minor point is the Muses' age, or ratherthe chronologyof their existence.Both the
"wrong"Muses and the real Terpsichorereferto a period of "two thousand years."But
two millennia back from the mid-twentiethcentury brings us only into the Roman,not
the Greek,period of antiquity.So the Muses are considerablyolder, even by millennia.
Presumablythe real Terpsichorewould know how old she is. The reason for the erroneous chronology is that it does not matter:the scriptwriters'"two thousand years"
serves to take us back to a genericantiquity,and, for all intents and purposes, that is quite
sufficient.Who needs pedantry or exactitude?Neo-mythologism prevails.
Thereis, however, anotherside to all this. Downto Earthis a loose sequel to director
Hall's HereComesMr.Jordan(1941),a romanticcomedy about reincarnation.In order to
appeal to the widest possible audience and to avoid disturbinganybody's religious sensibilities,this film's view of the afterlifeis entirelysecularized.The titularfigureserves as
a kind of modemnCharon(his name echoes the colloquial phrase "crossingthe Jordan"
for dying) who organizes the dead souls' passage to heaven. (An airplaneis their means
of transportation.)This set-up duly recursin Down to Earth,where it makes for a bizarre
mixture of Greek antiquity and American modernity, as when we see Terpsichoreappealing to Mr.Jordan,at the beginning, for permission to come to earth and, at the end,
for being allowed a reunion with Danny Miller,with whom she has fallen in love. In a
flash-forward,Mr.Jordangrantsher a glimpse of Danny and herself at the moment of his
boarding the heavenly plane once his time has come. Love conquers all-even at the
price of mixing charactersand plot devices that had betterremainedseparate.The power
of Hollywood to induce willing suspension of disbelief in its paying customers seems
limitless.
So we may conclude that the filmmakerscombine Greek myth, neo-mythologism,
and their remarkableconceptions of Greek art and architecturein a gleefully unconcerned manner,at the same time throwing in a hefty measure of "cinematicintertextuality,"as it might be called. Only scholarsare liable to tear theirhair.But, if they do so, do
they not also run the risk of being as stuffy as the membersof the PureArt Forum?
Whatis most telling in the scenes discussed is the film's dual view of classicalantiquity. If Greek myth is to be appealing to modern mass audiences, it has to be updated
and in the process distorted;it cannot avoid becoming neo-mythological.This is so because the real past-in Leopold von Ranke's famous phrase, wie es eigentlichgewesen
("how it actually was")-is either unrecoverableor, to most people today, too alien and
remote even to be of interest. Disney's Hercules,with its multiculturalcharactersand
their relentlessly Americanized names-"Herc," "Phil," "Meg"-is a recent case in
point.40Thereis a lesson in this for all those who want to keep antiquityalive today,for
most people derive their usually neo-mythologicalknowledge from films and television.
In our society at large,books on Greekmythology and classicalcultureare indeed gettin'
dusty on the shelves, but the stories told in the popular visual media save the day for
chicks like Terpsichore.

40. Such abbreviationshave a long history,however, and are not exclusively American(or lowbrow). In George BernardShaw's Androclesand the Lion (1913), for example, Androcles becomes "Andy"(and even "Andy Wandy"in his baby talk during his first encounterwith the
lion);his nagging wife Megaerais "Meggy."

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

414

International
/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

7. Down to EarthAgain
Two films thatwere inspiredby DownToEarthillustratethe positive and the negative possibilitiesof such neo-mythologism.The positive example came four years later,with Torben Anton Svendsen's musical-comedy-romanceMadmig pd Cassiopeia(1951;"MeetMe
on Cassiopeia"),a classic of Danish cinema.41This time the Muse Polyhymnia comes
down to earth from the constellationCassiopeia, the gods' abode, to help a struggling
composerwith an operettacurrentlyin rehearsal.She becomes attractedto him, then falls
in love with a dashing aviator.ButZeus tries to interferebecause a Muse should not mingle too closely with mortals. When Polyhymnia resists his paternal authority,he, too,
comes down to earth.He appearsat a costume ball where his Olympian garb is entirely
apropos.Romanticand funny plot complicationsensue. Zeus even lands in jail for drunk
and disorderlyconduct. He eventually returns to the heavens and forces Polyhymnia to
return as well. But a happy ending is in store for all concerned,just as the composer's
show is a hit.
The film is one of the most light-hearted comedies about the ancient gods, if not
without bitter-sweet overtones. Its Muse, played by a radiant Bodil Kjer,is utterly irresistible. The film presents a literal version of the inspiration she provides: when she
blows her divine breathor even her cigarettesmoke on people, they are immediately affected in a positive way. In view of my earlierdiscussion of "WhoMournsfor Adonais?"
(above, pp. 400-405) it is worth noticing that in Madmigpd Cassiopeia,too, the gods and
the Muses no longer reside on Mt. Olympus or Mt. Parnassus.In an age that no longer
believes in them and that has seen mountain climbers explore the highest peaks of
Greece, the ancient divinities have to be relegated to outer space. Only in that way can
theirsudden appearanceamong humans preserve the unexpected and supernaturalaura
that divine epiphanies need.
If Med migpd Cassiopeia
is an elegant souffl4 of a film, the opposite is true for Robert
Greenwald'sXanadu(1980).The charmof the earlierfilm is sadly lacking,and its Terpsichore,a bland blonde played by pop singerOlivia Newton-John,is no matchfor RitaHayworth's.This time around,the artisticachievement,if such it can be called, aroundwhich
the plot revolves is the opening of a disco-music roller rink, the eponymous Xanadu. In
Los Angeles, a young graphicartistmakes his living painting advertisementsbut aspires
to higher things. In frustration,he tears up one of his drawings and throws it out of the
window. But the wind carriessome of the scraps to a muralon which the nine Muses are
painted.They now magicallycome to life during the film's firstmusicalnumber.Its vapid
lyrics are sung, strangely enough, by a male voice ("I'malive.... Suddenly I am here
today;/seems like foreverfrom today.... Is this really me? I'm alive.. ."). Since the film
reflectsthe youth culture of SouthernCaliforniain the late 1970s,one of the Muses then
approachesthe young man on rollerskates,kisses him, and immediatelyvanishes. Naturallyhe falls in love with this mysterygirl, in due course finds her,and the predictableromance ensues. Eventually,she discloses her true identity as Terpsichoreto him:
I'm not as I appear to you. Have you ever heard the expression
TERPSICHORE:
"kissedby a Muse"?I am-I'm a Muse.... I come from Mt. Helicon. I'm a daughterof Zeus. I have eight sisters. My real name is

41. An affectionatetributeto it is the short film by LarsChristiansen,Bagomfremviseren(Twofor


a LoveStory;2000),whose plot reworksthe earlierfilm's story line.
Cassiopeia,

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

415

by his kiss].Look up the word "Muse"in


Terp-[she is interrupted
a dictionary.... Read it.
SONNY

[readsfroma dictionary that just happens to be handy]: "Muse": ...

"Any of the nine sister goddesses in Greekmythology presiding


over song and poetry and the arts and sciences ... "
When Terpsichorethen turns on the television set, she appears in an old film noirthat is
being broadcast.Her black-and-whiteself and other charactersalso interactwith her
modern self. This is meant to illustrate to the viewers of Xanaduthe supernaturaland
eternalnatureof the Muses. Terpsichorecontinues her culturallesson with a brief,if neomythological,recapitulationof a point made in Down to Earth:
We'vebeen painted by Michelangelo.Shakespeare'swritten sonnets about us.
Beethoven'splayed music for us. We'renot supposed to feel emotion or show
any feelings. Muses are just supposed to inspire. I fell in love .... It was a mistake.I broke the rules.... I'll love you forever.
To ensure a happy ending, the plot has Sonny discover and magically enter the Muses'
mural. But he finds himself and his Muse in a supernaturallimbo, from which the offscreen voice of Zeus bids him return.(Film lovers note with chagrin that distinguished
British actor Wilfrid Hyde-White provides this voice.) But Zeus is rather befuddled
about time; being immortal, he forgets the difference between a moment and eternity
and thus mistakenly grants Terpsichoreher wish to remain with her earthly lover, if
only as a mortal. A second voice, also off-screenbut female this time, interferes.This
seems to be Zeus' wife Hera, who often in Greekmyth lords it up over her hen-pecked
husband. Here she calls him "dear"in a condescending tone and manipulates him into
granting the Muse's request as if she were her mother.She also turns out to be as clueless about time as Zeus is.
Xanaduinspired the Razzie Awards for WorstAchievement in film, and its director
won, if that is the word, the first such award in the WorstDirectorcategory.(O tempora,
o Musae!)The film also holds a special place in cinematic history in that dancer Gene
Kelly had his last role in it. He plays a relic from the swing era who had been inspired
by the same Muse in the 1940sand who is still in love with her. Ironically,in 1944 Kelly
had co-starredwith Rita Hayworth in Charles Vidor's glossy musical romance Cover
Girl. In homage to CoverGirl, the characterhe plays in Xanaduhas the same name as
did his characterin the earlier film. The German release title of CoverGirl-Es tanztdie
Gifttin("The Goddess is Dancing")-brings us full circle to our original Hollywood
Muse.
In a variationof the plot device in which gods or heroes from classical mythology
come down to earth, statues of them may come to life. The best-known example is
WilliamA. Seiter's One Touchof Venus(1948),based on a Broadwaymusical with a score
by KurtWeill.(AvaGardneris this film's love goddess.) A comic variationon this plot device is Lowell Sherman'sTheNight Lifeof the Gods(1935),in which an eccentricinventor
brings statues of the gods in the MetropolitanMuseum of Art in New Yorkto life with his
magic ring. (Among them is Apollo, but he takes a backseatto some of the othergods, especially Bacchus,who lends himself more readily to comedy.)In WalterLang'sThere'sNo
BusinessLikeShow Business(1954), one of the earliest CinemaScope extravaganzas,a
song-and-dancenumber has life-size statues of young women come to life and dance.
They are mute and are never identified as the Muses, but theirnumberis nine, they wear

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

416

International
Tradition
2005
/ Winter
Journal
oftheClassical

pseudo-ancientgarb,and the sceneryaroundthemfeaturessome classical-lookingcolumns


and amphoras.
A Muse of a radically differentcolor-red-appears in TerryM. West's slasher film
Bloodfor the Muse (2001).An alienated young clerk in a video store becomes obsessed
with Melpomene, the Muse of tragedy,whom he believes he must attractby the serial
murderof call girls. Not surprisingly,this film was never released theatrically.

8. TheReturnof Apollo and the Nature of Neo-Mythologism


The preceding sections of this paper have examined differentapproachesto Apollo and
the Muses on the screen. Despite their variety, all of the examples discussed have one
thing in common:none faithfullyadheresto the literaryor artistictraditionthat has come
down to us from antiquity.This is because invention is necessary for adaptationsof classical culture to modem society and its mass media. Even the lowest level to which cinematic representationsof the Olympiansmay descend reveals something about the nature
of such adaptations,if only unintentionally.A case in point is ArthurAllan Seidelman's
Herculesin New York(1970),with bodybuilderArnold Schwarzenegger,billed as "Arnold
Strong,"in the title role. Scenes set on Mt. Olympus-filmed in CentralPark,with modern trafficaudible on the soundtrack-include several of the gods. One handsome young
male, wreathed and brieflyseen instructinga younger god, presumablyCupid, in the art
of archery,turns out to be not Apollo but Hermes. Apollo has only a verbal cameo, as it
were, when Hercules, newly landed on Earthand getting acquainted with the modern
world, engages in the following dialogue with a New Yorkpretzel vendor unaware of
who the hulky naif beside him in a taxi cab really is:
VENDOR: I used to know a Greekguy.... His name was Apollo. I never found
out what his second name was.
HERCULES:I know Apollo.

VENDOR: You do? Well,is this a small world? You know Apollo? Gee. I wonder where Apollo is now....
HERCULES:He's back home.

VENDOR: He went home, huh? Yeah,well, he was all the time talking about
how homesick he was .... Say,he was a real nice guy, Apollo.
Conceded. They say there'snobody handsomer than Apollo.
HERCULES:
VENDOR: Handsome?Apollo? Oh, you must be kidding. Handsome?Withthe
big black wart on the end of his nose? And the little beady crossed
eyes? ... I wonder if Apollo ever got married. You know he was all

the time looking for a wife ...


HERCULES:
Diana and Terpsichoreare in love with him. I think Hebe is attracted,too.
VENDOR:

That just shows you how desperate some women could be ...

Theirtalk at cross purposes is representativeof the low level of verbal and visual humor
in this film. So is the carefreemixtureof Greekand Romannames, with Zeus being mar-

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

417

ried not to Hera but to Juno,etc. Evidently,where mythology in popular culture is concerned, anything goes. This case, however, is particularlytelling because Hercules does
not even know that, according to Greek myth, the goddess Hebe whom he associates
with Apollo has nothing at all to do with the god but is none other than his-Hercules'
(better:Heracles')--own Olympian wife. This distortion is probably an instance of the
filmmakers'sheer ignorance.But who in the targetaudience cares?
Even as infantile a film as Herculesin New Yorktells alert viewers something about
the natureof filmic approachesto classicalmyth and culture.They become, in their own
right, part of the endless matrix, as it might be called, of modern retellings of classical
myths which are the most powerful archetypesof our popular stories.A cinematicreincarnationof a mythical figure closely associated with Apollo explains this phenomenon
to us. The Trojanprincess Cassandrahas received the gift of prophecy from Apollo, but
she is fated to make only negative predictions that no one will believe. Near the end of
Giorgio Ferroni'sLaguerradi Troia(1962),Cassandraaddresses Aeneas, the film's hero,
during the night of Troy'sfall.421 quote her words from the English-languageversion:
Troyis living her last night. For millenniums to come, men will search in her
ashes to find the vestiges of her noble walls .... The horrors we have seen in

these years [of the TrojanWar]will always live in legend.


The very film in which she makes this prophecy about the survival of Troyproves her
right, in regardboth to the sensational discovery and excavation of its site by Heinrich
Schliemannand to Troy'squasi-mythicalpresence in popular culture.The cinema and related visual media are today the most powerful means to preservethe memory of ancient
legends and myths. In this, of course, the neo-mythological outweighs the accurate.La
guerradi Troiais itself an example of such a legend in that it is a very loose adaptationof
parts of Homer's Iliadand Virgil'sAeneid.Moreover,this film is only one of many that
have reworked stories from classical mythology since the earliest days of the cinema.A
sequel to Ferroni'sfilm released the same year that Cassandramade her prophecy was
The factthat it featuresfootage from the earlier
appropriatelycalled Laleggendadi Enea.43
film when Aeneas reminiscesabout the fall of Troycleverly illustratesthe survival of ancient myths in a new medium, since here a modern retelling,that of Laguerradi Troia,itself becomes elevated to a quasi-mythicallevel when it is reprisedin Laleggendadi Enea.
Appropriately,Aeneas is played by the same actor in both films. But this actor is none
other than musclemanSteve Reeves, who impersonateda numberof heroes fromancient
myth, most famously Hercules.So did several other actors.Audiences immediately recognize the interchangeabletype of hero they are watching in any one film and feel at
home in his company.The same, if on a smaller scale, is true for Cassandra.44Ultimately,
these figures are all membersof a large mythic-heroicfamily which well illustrates the
principleof cinematic"intertextuality."

42. The film's Englishtitles are TheWoodenHorseof Troy,TheTrojanHorse,and TheTrojanWar.


43. The film's English titles are TheAvenger,TheLastGloryof Troy,and Warof the Trojans.It was
directedby GiorgioRivalta.
44. Cassandrasappearin MarcAllegret's L'amantedi Paride(TheLovesof ThreeQueensor TheFace
ThatLaunched
a ThousandShips,1953),MarioCamerini'sUlisse(Ulysses,1955),FrancoRossi's
television Odissea(1968),MichaelCacoyannis'sTheTrojanWomen(1971,played by Genevieve
Bujold), Enzo G. Castellari'smodern farce Ettorelo fusto (Hectorthe Mighty,1975), Woody

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

418

International
/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

Cassandra'sobservationabout the survival of Troyin popular legend is borne out


nowhere more spectacularlythan in WolfgangPetersen'sTroy(2004).The words of Thetis
to her son Achilles early in this film even echo those of Ferroni'sCassandra:"Theywill
write stories about your victories for thousands of years."But Cassandraherself is missing from Troysince the aristocracyof Troyand the rosterof the Greekheroes fightingin the
TrojanWarhave been rigorouslylimited in number for the sake of a compact plot. On a
narrativelevel, Troyextensively changes ancient literature,especially Homer's Iliad,in a
particularlynoteworthyexampleof neo-mythologism.Most of the Olympiangods, for instance,are conspicuousby theirabsence.Zeus ratesonly one verbalmention. By contrast,
Apollo is of majorimportance,and the verbaland visual referencesto him reveal the variety that we may find in today's retellingsof ancientmyth. As he was in the Iliad,Apollo is
still the chief guardianof Troy."45
The Trojans'elite guard of warriorsare even called Apollonians. "He thinks the sun god will protecthim,"says Agamemnonof Priam,and Priam
tells Hector:"Apollo watches over us." Hector,however, is ratherskeptical:"And how
many battalionsdoes the sun god command?"he asks his fatherin return,with a phrase
reminiscentof Josef Stalin'scontemptuousquestion about the number of divisions commanded by the pope.46PrincessBriseis,here Apollo's chief priestess and a memberof the
Trojanroyal family,is a much more importantfigure in the plot of Troythan she was in
Homer.But despite all this, Troydoes not even seem to have a temple of Apollo within its
walls, unless the sanctuaryto which Briseisflees in the film's last sequence and in which
Agamemnon and Achilles both die is to be understood as such. Instead,Apollo's main
temple is implausibly located on the beach outside the city walls. Since it is entirely unprotected,it easily falls into the hands of Achilles and his Myrmidonsupon theirlanding
and is despoiled and desecrated.Its architecturefeatureslarge stone statues,both standing and sitting, that are reminiscentof ancient Egyptianstatuary,just as the city of Troy
displays an eclectic mix of Minoan, Egyptian, ancient Near Eastern,and archaicGreek

Allen's comedy MightyAphrodite(1995),Chuck Russell's TheScorpionKing(2002),John Kent


Harrison'sHelenof Troy(2003),a television epic, and in the animatedHerculesfilms and series
mentioned earlier.Noteworthy television adaptationsof Aeschylus had Cassandrasplayed by
MariangelaMelato in Luca Ronconi'sOrestea(1975)and by Helen Mirrenin Bill Hays's The
SerpentSon (1979), a three-partBBCadaptation of the Oresteiawritten by Kenneth McLeish
and FredericRaphael.Apollo appearsin both. The Britishversion is particularlyremarkable
for its distinguished cast of actresses(also ClaireBloom, Sian Phillips, Diana Rigg, and Billie
Whitelaw).The short-livedBritishtelevision comedy series Up Pompeii(1971)featuredan unfunny RomanCassandra.
45. In MarinoGirolami'sL'iradi Achille(Furyof Achilles[USA],Achilles[UK],1962),a neo-mythological muscleman epic that still demonstrates its makers' close familiarity with the Iliad,
Apollo plays a significant part as well, although he remains off screen (unlike Athena or
Thetis).On first meeting Chryseis,the captive daughter of Apollo's priest Chryses,Agamemnon boasts to her:"Iam the king of kings."Unimpressed,she counters:"And I am consecrated
to Apollo, the god of kings."Apollo miraculouslyreveals a treasureto Chryses with which to
ransom his child; Apollo's voice is heard on the soundtrack.He later causes a sudden storm
that mysterously kills many of the Greeks;this is the film's equivalent of the plague Apollo
sends them in Book 1 of the Iliad.The omniscientnarratorportentouslyintones: "Likedarkest
night, the mighty god descended and wreakedhis fury [sic] on the Grecianfleet."
46. Stalin'ssaying is quoted in severalversions and with varying dates and addressees.The most
famous is in WinstonS. Churchill,TheSecondWorldWar,vol. 1: TheGatheringStorm(Boston:
Houghton Mifflin,1948),135:"'Oho!'said Stalin.'ThePope!How many divisions has hegot?'"

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

419

decoration,statuary,and architecture.In front of Apollo's temple we see a visual representationof Homer's "far-shootingApollo,"which reminds us of the god's first appearance in Westernliteraturein BookOne of the Iliad.This is a golden statue of the god, who
is sitting, knees raised, and bending his bow (Fig. 13).It is adaptedfromstatuesof kneeling archerson the east and west pediments of the temple of Aphaea on the island of
Aegina.47In antiquity,no example of this type of statuaryexisted for Apollo.
In the most astonishingtwist on ancientmyth and religion,this statueand, by implication, the god it represents,suffer a fate which serves to illustratethe neo-mythological
extreme to which modern directorsor screenwritersmay go in order to present a compelling story to audiences only loosely familiarwith antiquity."Thesun god is the patron
of Troy,our enemy,"Achilles says to his soldiers once they have takenApollo's temple,
and he exhorts them to loot and plunder.Achilles is duly warned against this course of
action-"Apollo sees everything. Perhaps it is not wise to offend him"--but pays no
heed. In this he resemblesnumerousfigures from Greekmyth and tragedywho come to
a well-deserved bad end in punishment for their hubris. But Achilles goes furtherthan
merelyutteringblasphemous words. He decapitatesthe statue of Apollo with a strokeof
his sword. In his attitude toward Apollo, the characterfrom ancient literaturewhom he
resembles most closely is Mezentius, the Etruscan leader who is first in war against
Aeneas and the surviving Trojansin the Aeneid.VirgilmemorablyintroducesMezentius

Fig. 13. Troy.Achillesand the statueof "far-shootingApollo."

47. Forillustrationssee BrunildeSismondoRidgway,TheSevereStylein GreekSculpture(Princeton:


PrincetonUniversity Press, 1970),figs. 5-7; she describes the temple on pages 13-17 and the
statues on page 16.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

420

International
/ Winter2005
Journalof theClassicalTradition

divum:"spurnerof gods."48Petersen'sAchilles is such a man.


with the phrase contemptor
He later tells Briseis,his prisoner:"Ithink your god is afraidof me" and rhetoricallyasks
her: "whereis he?" This question about the presence or absence of a god or gods--or of
God-despite people's professed beliefs and despite the predominanceof religious artifacts and buildings in all civilizationsis equally ancient and modern;here, in a commercial work of popular culture,it effectivelypoints to the eternalproblemof man's place before the divine. Hector will later comment to Priamand the Trojanelders about Achilles'
sacrilege:"Apollo didn't strike the man down. The gods won't fight this war for us." So
when an anxious friend wishes for Apollo's protection for Hector before his duel with
Achilles, an encounter which audiences know Hector will not survive, his words
("Apollo guard you, my prince!")are a poignant reminderthat, in the world of Troyjust
as in the modern world, humans are essentially on their own.
Except for Hector, the Trojansare misled by their understandingof the divine. The
omen of an eagle holding a serpentin its talons is misinterpretedas a sign of victory sent
by Apollo. Laterthe Trojansdiscover the wooden horse among a number of dead bodies
lying on a beach now desertedby the enemy.They recognize the devastationcaused by a
plague and connect all this to the Greeks' sacrilegious treatment of Apollo. A Trojan
priest, presumablythe film's equivalentof Laocoon,explains: "Theydesecratedthe temple of Apollo, and now Apollo has desecratedtheirflesh."He is, of course,wrong.Tellingly,
the real reason for the plague is never given, for the fact that Apollo does cause a plague
among the Greeks in Book One of the Iliadis inadequate as an explanation here. Neomythologism can be as mysterious or unresolved in its implicationsas authenticancient
myth and literatureoften were. Troyprovides us with a worthwhile example of the value
of the formerto think again of the latter.
A short six months after the release of Troy,Apollo is again referredto on the cinema screen. Oliver Stone's Alexanderdisplays different types of statuary of most of the
Olympian gods, including Apollo's, in a few scenes. These statues are made to look like
gilded bronze or painted marbleand serve only decorativepurposes. The same is largely
true of the numerous verbal referencesto the gods, chiefly Zeus, Dionysus, and Apollo.
But Apollo plays a more importantpart in one early scene, although he is not present or
directly involved. Young Alexander tames Bucephalas by observing that the horse is
afraid of his shadow. He calms him down by turning him around, at the same time explaining to him that shadows are insubstantial and harmless; they are only cast by
Apollo's sun. The scene is the first instance of heroism on Alexander's part in Stone's
film, and the mention of Apollo, not reported in Plutarch'saccount of this famous moment, is an appropriateand charmingaddition.49
Remarkableas the retelling of Greekmyth in Troymay appear to today's audiences,
it has a close relative in an earlierfilm based on Homer,MarioCamerini'sUlisse(Ulysses,
1954).A brief comparison is instructive.As is Petersen'sAchilles, Camerini'sOdysseus,
too, can be contemptuous of gods. In Polyphemus'cave, he invokes the principleof xenia
(guest friendship,hospitality) over which Zeus guards only for the purpose of manipulating the Cyclops. More importantly,and in a mannerboth neo-mythologicaland paral-

48. Virgil,Aeneid7.648.
49. Plutarch,Alexander6. Forjust one exampleof the analogy of Alexanderand Apollo cf. the close
similarityin theirportraitson the two coins reproducedby RobinLaneFox,AlexandertheGreat
(1973;rpt. Londonand New York:Penguin,2004),Plates 1 and 2 (following page 288).Fox was
historicaladvisor on Stone's film.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

421

lel to Achilles' decapitatingthe statue of Apollo, this Odysseus topples a statue of Neptune during the conquestof Troyand later,when his ship is caught in a storm,pushes another one overboard."There'sno Neptune out there,"Odysseus shouts to his frightened
crew,therebydenying if not the very existence then at least the power of the god over the
element he rules. (The use of the sea god's Romanname may be explained by the film's
Italianorigin.)Somewhatinconsistentwith this is Odysseus' belief in Athena,his protectress. "Preparethe firesfor a sacrificeto Athena,"he tells his men at one point. Odysseus'
hubris toward Poseidon explains the god's persecution of him. Still in Troy,Cassandra
curses him and prophesieshim exile and death at sea. The latterpart of her prophecy,as
we know from the outset, will not be fulfilled;the film does not address the issue of false
prophesiesderiving from true divine inspiration.
Odysseus' contempt of Poseidon contrastswith the far more religious atmosphere
on Ithaca.Penelope has a large wall painting of Athena in her chambers.Presumablyit
had been therebefore Odysseus left for the TrojanWar;it is thereforeconsistentwith his
belief in the goddess. But Apollo is even more prominent in this cinematic island kingdom. The courtyardof Odysseus' palace has several large stone sculpturesof lions atop
columns which resemblethe row of stone lions on Delos (Fig. 14). Lions generally symbolize royalty and power.soSo they do here, but in addition they may even be intended
to referspecificallyto Odysseus who on his returnwill fall upon the suitors as a lion does
on his prey.More importantin Camerini'sfilm than the lions, however, is the contest of
the bow, which will determinewhich suitor Penelope will accept for her new husband.It
takes place during games in honor of Apollo, and we see a large bronze statue of Apollo
beforewhich the suitors make sacrificebefore the games. The archergod is indeed an appropriatedivinity to have such a contest held in his honor,and the film indirectlytakes
up the referenceto Apollo made in the Odysseyby Antinous, chief among the suitors.51In
the film,Antinous firstobjectsto the archerycontest:"Thisis no part of Apollo's games."
Later a suitor who has unsuccessfully attempted to string Odysseus' bow exclaims:
"Apollois offended.He's takenaway our strength."Antinous sarcasticallyreplies:"How
can Apollo take away what you never had?" Next to Neptune-Poseidon,Apollo is the
most frequentlymentioned god in Ulysses.Since Camerini'sfilm has been popular for
decades, the prominenceof Apollo in Troymay derive from that in the earlierfilm. If so,
we have a case of one neo-mythologicalstory influencing another-a telling illustration
of the mythicalmatrixwith which the cinema preserves our ancient traditions.
In the past, most scholars disdained such neo-mythologicalretellingsas a matterof
course and pointed to their inaccuraciesas the basis for value judgments.I have here attempted to show its narrownessand have argued for the value of close examinationsof
what, to a cursory glance, appears to be unworthy of criticalattention.The cinema may
not be one of the "mediaof salvation"for classicalstudies, as classicist GeorgeHadzsits

50. Anotherrow of stone lions patternedafterthose on Delos appearsin RobertRossen'sAlexandertheGreat(1956)beforethe palace of Philip of Macedonia.A large statue of Athena Promachos-i.e. the goddess in full warriorgarb-stands nearby.All this statuarysignals Philip's
and then Alexander'smilitarypower and imperialambition.
51. Odyssey21.265-268.Similarly,in Rossi's OdisseaAntinous comfortsthe othersuitorswho have
failed to string Odysseus' bow with the reminder:"Tomorrowis the festival of Apollo the
archer.Let'spostpone the contest till tomorrow.He will grantus the necessarystrength."

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

422

International
Journalof theClassicalTradition
/ Winter2005

Fig. 14. Ulysses.The "Delian"row of lion statues at Odysseus' palace on Ithaca.

memorablycalled it decades ago in his plea to classicalscholarsnot to ignore film.52But


even so, criticsmay wish to keep two things in mind. Cinema and its neo-mythologism
have kept interestin antiquityalive outside the halls of academe and beyond the dreamy
spires of universities. No form of scholarshipor high art has ever had such worldwide
reach. Does not a criticalanalysis and interpretationof the neo-mythological aspects in
popular adaptations of older poetic texts illuminate these texts' influences on modem
culture-their reception, as scholarsnow term it? But this process is nothing new. It already obtained for the very origins of Westernliterature,the Homeric epics. As George
Steinerhas put it, the Iliadas we have it is "the product of an editorial recension of genius, of a wonderfully formativeact of combination,selection and editing of the voluminous oral material"that existed before and that served as its source. This in turn set the
pattern for the "perennialubiquity of translationsfrom Homer,of Homeric variants, recreations, pastiches and travesties."Steiner appropriatelyrefers to "the complexity of
modulation"that is found in the English-languageadaptationsof Homer (as it is in other
languages).53He refersonly to literarytexts, but we may easily think of visual narratives
told in the complex language of film as well.
52. George Depue Hadzsits, "Mediaof Salvation,"TheClassicalWeekly,14 no. 9 (December 13,
1920),70-71. I discuss this articleand its implicationsin my "Introduction"to ClassicalMyth
andCulturein theCinema(above,n. 3), 3-9.
53. "Introduction"to Homerin English,ed. GeorgeSteiner(London:Penguin, 1996),xv-xxxiv; my
quotationsare frompages xxviii, xvii, and xvi.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Winkler

423

Today,historical figures, heroes and heroines of myth and legend, and gods and
goddesses all come back from the past or down to earth and visit us on our screens. In
our visual culture,classical antiquityin general and Apollo and the Muses in particular
are a continuing presence. Only churls unaware of the fluid characterof myth will deplore this, even if neo-mythologism in the cinema is not always as sophisticated as we
might wish it to be. But then, classicalliteratureitself long ago revealedto us the true nature of myth. None other than Apollo's Muses, the very goddesses who inspire epic
poets, tragedians,historians,and other writers, are reportedby the archaicpoet Hesiod
to have confessed, without any apology whatever:
"Weknow to tell many lies resemblingthe truth,
but we also know, when we want, to pronounce truths."4

54. Hesiod, Theogony27-28; my translation.

This content downloaded from 83.137.211.198 on Sun, 16 Aug 2015 20:33:12 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions