In the spirit of the approaching festive season, I asked my colleagues to send me information about discoveries they’ve made this year, while working on the Our Mythical Childhood project. I’ll be sharing them over the next few weeks–short snippets of scholarship that I think of as Saturnalian Surprises (Saturnalia being the feast of Saturn that ran roughly from 17-24 December). Our Saturnalian Surprises will appear over the next few weeks.
Our first snippet comes from Katarzyna Marciniak, of the Faculty of Artes Liberales, University of Warsaw. Katarzyna is the brains behind the whole Our Mythical Childhood project, so who better to start us off. She’s created a world of mythical scholarship, finding inspiration in unexpected places, and here, she shines a light on an iconic tv show from the 1980s, the CBS romantic drama, Beauty and the Beast, showing how it draws on myths as old as time…
— Liz Hale
Sharing the Light of Myths
My Favourite Mythical Discovery in 2017 was in fact a re-discovery from my childhood: mainly, the series “Beauty and the Beast” of 1987–1990. While working on my paper for the Our Mythical Hope stage of the ERC project, I came across a remake of the series and the enchanting live-action version of Disney’s famous animation. Both productions brought me back in memory to the tale as old as time, rooted in the ancient myth of Eros and Psyche.
The series of 1987–1990 is truly unique because it contains numerous literary quotes, thus acquainting young people with classical culture – in the broadest me aning of the term – namely, with such authors as Virgil, Ovid, Milton, Shelley, Kipling, Rilke, Tolkien, etc. The richness of this intertextual web of references is not surprising once we note that among the writers for the series was George R.R. Martin, today world-famous for his “Game of Thrones”.
Classical Antiquity manifests itself also through mythological motifs. For example, the Beauty of the series, a lawyer named Catherine Chandler, is brought to the Underworld in New York by a lion-like creature Vincent in the role of Orpheus à rebours, for he saves her life when she falls the chance victim of an assault. There is also an episode entitled explicitly “The Song of Orpheus”. Moreover, the series’ authors seem to be aware of the ancient Orphean relationship between the Word and the Music and they make ample use of masterpieces by such composers as Beethoven, Chopin, Vivaldi, etc., offering us total immersion into the mythical experience of art.
The myth and the fairy tale work together so that we can retell the classical story that is an everlasting source of the rays of hope – exactly as the series’ protagonists repeat at the ceremony called Winterfest: “Even the greatest darkness is nothing, so long as we share the light”.
In one of the episodes Vincent reads from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” about “those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples…” And he assures us: “We must not be frightened”. Indeed, Classical Antiquity will not let us fall. We only need to remember and to share the light of myths.
P.S. If you wish to read more on the series and other Antiquity-inspired works of culture, look for our ERC volume “Our Mythical Hope”, ed. Katarzyna Marciniak, in preparation for publication.