The Argonauts, or: Merry Chronicle of a Dangerous Voyage

Saturnalia stretches on.  This time, we have the discovery made by Hanna Pauloskaya.  Hanna is a scholar of Neo-Latin and Reception studies, and a key player in the University of Warsaw team that leads the Our Mythical Childhood project.   Her current interest is the presence of antiquity in children’s culture of the Soviet Union, paying special attention to animation and cinema for children in communist cultures.  Hanna’s discovery is a 1986 Soviet musical film about the Argonauts, inspired by the adventures of the British explorer Tim Severin, who retraced a number of epic sea voyages, mythical and real, including the voyage of the Argonauts.   Hanna’s discovery is an extraordinary salad of influence, exploration, creativity, and more, and has given the title to her blog about her current research on Soviet children’s animation.  Enjoy!  –Elizabeth Hale.


The Argonauts or Merry Chronicle of a Dangerous Voyage

The first time I watched this movie was while posing as a model for a sculpture my husband was making. So I could only see the picture for 3 minutes every 10 minutes, turning round all the time. The movie itself is also not so conventional and it didn’t make the process of understanding easier. It was a kind of mess of a plot seasoned with nice music, after the first time I ‘watched’ it. I really liked it after the third time and further on.

The movie is called ‘The Argonauts or Merry Chronicle of a Dangerous Voyage.’ The director is Eugene Ginzburg. It was made in 1986 in Moscow (the Ekran Studio) and Tbilisi (the Georgia Film).  It is a musical, or rather a ‘revue’ as it was called officially then. The greater part of it is made by Vocal-Music Instrumental-Ensemble ‘Iveria.’ ( Sergei Zhuk has written a wonderful book about the story behind the ensembles and rock-n-roll and rock in the Soviet Union: Rock and Roll in the Rocket City!)

So here they are — this music, these dances, young Georgian and Russian actors playing Greek heroes, Georgian wine and dances. In the beginning they say they will tell ‘their own’ story of the Argonauts, their vision of why did the Greeks sail to the end of the world.

The inspiration for the movie was an expedition of Tim Severin who, aiming to reconstruct the voyage of Jason, reached the shores of Georgia in 1984. So, two years later we have the movie that starts with documentary shots of the British explorer and his team. The Soviet Argonauts have also reconstructed the ship, and they filmed landscapes of Georgia and Armenia, giving their version of the myths. The whole trip looks like a journey of young men on vacations, happy to have adventures and mighty to overcome them. It seems that the actors also had a great time while filming the movie. Now, regarding this time 30 years ago, they say:

‘A small Georgian town of Poti, where the main shooting took place, was remembered for a long time by everybody. For two days the crew could not start the work. Summer, sun and Georgian feasts ruined all the plans.’

Watch here to see the participants’ memories of making this ‘merry chronicle’

And who knows, perhaps, the Soviet young crew was right and the journey really looked like this—happy, joyful, merry, a bit drunk, where the biggest danger was a stone falling in the mountains and Medea was a beautiful, young, chaste girl, completely in love with a handsome stranger, looking like a son of a king.

–Hanna Paulouskaya


The Origins of Love . . . Cupid and Psyche in the Young Adult Novels of Jendela Tryst

Who said Saturnalia should stop with the New Year? Not Antipodean Odyssey., certainly. We’ll continue sharing our discoveries across the summer. Here’s Lisa Maurice, who is a Senior Lecturer in Classics at Bar Ilan University. She’s the brains behind The Reception of Ancient Greece and Rome in Children’s Literature: Heroes and Eagles (Brill 2016), and as part of the Our Mythical Childhood project is overseeing Our Mythical Education, which will gather classical curriculum and pedagogical material from around the world. The discovery she shares is  The Origins of Love series of teen novels by the American writer Jendela Tryst — Elizabeth Hale

The Origins of Love . . .

I think one of my most interesting finds in the mythological realm is Jendela Tryst’s recent version of Apuleius’ Cupid and Psyche, a trilogy of young adult novels entitled The Origins of Love. Great reading for teens who have an interest in mythology, the first volume, Struck: Eros and Psyche – A Myth was published in 2014 and the second, Scorched, in 2015, and the third, Rupture, in January of this year. With each book running to close to 200 pages, this retelling is a thoroughly twenty-first century approach to the story.


Jendela Tryst’s website explains her approach to mythology and her reasons for writing:

Jendela Tryst worries that humanity is in trouble. The world has become too cynical. By marrying ancient traditional tales with modern values, she reminds readers that love is older than ancient scripture, and that true love may even outlast the androids destined to replace us. Within every book, a little bird called Hope sings on.

This combination of myths and contemporary values has led to a refreshing and wholly believable world in which the Greek gods, and the mortals with whom they mix, are fully fleshed characters and wholly believable. The advertising blurb to the first volume of this modern and lovely narration runs:

He thought he knew everything about love, until she made him redefine it.
When Eros, the devil-may-care god of love is pricked by his own arrow, he falls for the most unsuitable of mates, a mortal woman he has been ordered to destroy.

Without knowing Eros’s true identity, spirited, intelligent Psyche shows the god just what it means to be on the receiving end of his arrows, with all its sweet pain and torment, and all its rapture.

The laws forbid their union, and Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and passion, is determined to see Psyche destroyed. Furthermore, the two must deal with their own doubts about themselves and each other which threaten their fragile relationship. Will Eros and Psyche become the canon of all that love has the potential to be, or will they follow a tragic path, with lessons learned too late to save them?

Meanwhile the back cover, which pre-empts the rest of the trilogy, runs:

While Eros battles rebels against the forces of Olympus, strong-willed Psyche must journey through inferno to prove her worth.  Time is running out for two determined lovers whose growing strength challenges the gods. Eros and Psyche’s inspiring devotion arouses unlikely allies, culminating in an alliance that threatens ancient traditions. Can a seemingly impotent god and a young mortal woman surmount immortal deities or will their love be buried in the destructive rubble of fear and ambition?

It is immediately apparent that this is a very different kind of retelling from most of the adaptations of the tale for young readers. The gods themselves are not only anthropomorphized as one would expect, but fascinatingly three dimensional and, while still retaining their otherworldliness and godliness, they are in many ways, “human”. In fact, as in some other recent cinematic portrayals, their lack of humanity is contrasted negatively with that of mortals.


The Enduring story of Cupid and Psyche

This Psyche is also not a princess but a farmer’s daughter. Her beauty is unconventional and the physical descriptions of her that speaks of her skin that is “not quite bronze and not quite gold”, and long hair that is dark brown, with natural red and blond streaks in it, perhaps owe more to Tryst’s Indian heritage than to Hollywood ideals of beauty. Her Psyche is also a thoroughly modern woman, despite living in Bronze Age Greece (the Trojan War is taking place at the time of the events of the story) – she is “strong-willed”, “spirited” and “intelligent”, and this is a match of true love, and of justice and freedom from oppression, as part of a much wider universal story. The book is also far more graphic in its sexuality than most juvenile versions of the story. It is beautifully told, truly a rendering for the twenty-first century, and yet, paradoxically, in some ways it seems very close to the feeling of the original in its sophistication and creation of a fully developed world. — Lisa Maurice



ps, you can find out more about Jendela Tryst and her website at, and the books are available on Amazon as both print and kindle editions.