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Beauty, love, death ... flower? (The Bus 3.9)
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In ancient Greek mythology, Hyacinthus was a young Spartan prince who’s extraordinary beauty caught the eye of the god Apollo and the two became lovers. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the god ‘admired Hyacinthus above all others …. His arrows and lyre were abandoned; his normal pursuits were forgotten. He’d willingly carry his favourite’s nets, hold on to his hounds, or follow him over the rugged ridges of dangerous mountains. His passion was fuelled by all the hours that they spent together.’ For a while, the two appeared to share a perfect love … but, as with all Greek myths, it was not to be.
One day, Apollo decided to teach Hyacinthus to throw the discus: ‘he poised the plate and launched it into the sky, where it severed the clouds in its path.’ Remaining aloft for a long time, it finally began descending to earth, when suddenly Hyacinthus, in an attempt to impress the god, ‘dashed forward to pick the plate up, but it landed hard on the soil with tremendous force and then rebounded straight in his beautiful face.’Apollo tried his best to save his friend’s life, ‘but all his medical arts were in vain’ and Hyacinthus died of his injuries.
Distraught at the death, Apollo forbade Hades to claim the youth’s soul and swore his name would ‘resound in the music I play, in the songs that I sing,’ and that Apollo’s ‘sighs’ would be ‘scored in the marks on a new flower.’ As the god spoke these words, ‘the blood which had spilled from the wound to the ground and darkened the green grass suddenly ceased to be blood; and a flower brighter than Tyrian purple rose from the earth.’The flower - called hyakinthos - is not the modern hyacinth but instead either a larkspur or fritillary, both of which have petal marks which in the right light might be seen to appear as AI, AI - the sound of Apollo’s mourning sigh.
Each year the death of Hyacinthus was celebrated by the second most important of Spartan festivals, the Hyacinthia, in the Spartan month Hyacinthius. An early summer festival, the celebration was connected with vegetation and fertility, and focussed on marking the ‘passage from the youthful verdure of spring to the dry heat of summer and the ripening of the grain.’ The festival lasted for three days, with the rites moving from a period of mourning for the death of Hyacinthus, to ones ‘rejoicing in the majesty of Apollo.’
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Today’s Detour is to a video of one of today’s playlist tracks: Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’ (3:46). Directed by Spike Jonze,the video - considered one of the best ever made - is a great example of guerrilla film-making (it was shot on location without the property owner’s permission). Starring Jonze and a fictional dance troupe - the Torrance Community Dance Group - the video (made for around $800) was filmed in front of genuinely puzzled onlookers waiting for tickets at the Fox Bruin Theatre in Westwood, Los Angeles. Absolutely worth a watch!
Today’s Recommendation is Ovid’s Metamorphoses.Written in 8 CE, it is a poem in 15 books in which the author collects mythological and legendary stories - many from Greek sources - in which the idea of transformation (metamorphosis) is involved. Though essentially unrelated, the stories are told in chronological order from the creation of the world (the ‘first metamorphosis, of chaos into order’) to the death of Julius Caesar and deification of Augustus (the ‘culminating metamorphosis’). This version is a particularly smooth read with an excellent introduction to the poet and his world, the language and themes of the various poems, and each of the books is introduced and summarised for ease of understanding. And, of course, there are copious end notes and annotations if you wish to dive a bit deeper. It’s long, and probably best dipped into when the mood strikes - that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 17 years!
From the back: Ovid’s sensuous and witty poem brings together a dazzling array of mythological tales, ingenuously linked by the idea of transformation - often as a result of love or lust - where men and women find themselves magically changed into new and sometimes extraordinary beings. Beginning with the creation of the world and ending with the deification of Augustus, Ovid interweaves many of the best-known myths and legends of ancient Greece and Rome, including Daedalus and Icarus, Pyramus and Thisbe, Pygmalion, Perseus and Andromeda, and the fall of Troy. Erudite but light-hearted, dramatic and yet playful, the Metamorphoses has influenced writers and artists throughout the centuries from Shakespeare and Titian to Picasso and Ted Hughes.
This lively, accessible new translation by David Raeburn is in hexameter verse, which brilliantly captures the energy and spontaneity of the original. The edition contains an introduction discussing the life and work of Ovid as well as a preface to each book, explanatory notes and an index of people, gods and places.
Remember: You can always buy Metamorphoses from Amazon, but you can also get it from your local new or used bookstores - or check it out from the library. And those options are better for everyone.
Today’s playlist is a selection of five upbeat tracks that at best have a tenuous link to today’s topic: ‘Fever’ (The Black Keys, 2014), ‘Good Feeling’ (Flo Rida, 2011), ‘Praise You’ (Fatboy Slim, 1998), ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ (Foster the People, 2011) and ‘Banquet’ (Bloc Party, 2004). Enjoy!
Today’s Thought is from the British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872-1970):
‘Boys and girls should be taught respect for each other’s liberty … and that jealousy and possessiveness kill love.’
If you have a thought on this Thought - or any part of today’s issue - please leave a comment below:
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Until the next Stop …
Hyacinths are one of my favourite flowers, partly because I think they look like a sugar confection that wouldn’t be out of place on a cake, but also because of a family photo I have of a freak Easter snowstorm in the very early 70s: we’re living in Albemarle, NC and we’re standing in front of our house in the snow. It’s obviously very cold (we’re dressed in winter coats) - but Spring is there, too, because all these hyacinths - blue, purple, pink - are popping up through the white. I guess some juxtapositions stick with you. Sources for today’s Stop include Metamorphoses (Britannica), Ovid, Metamorphoses: A New Verse Translation. Trans. David Raeburn. London: Penguin, 2004, Hyacinthus, and Hyakinthos.
Another version of the myth has the god Zephyrus (the west wind) causing the young man’s death: in love with Hyacinthus and jealous of his relationship with Apollo, he blew the discus off course to strike the boy, killing him.
For more about Tyrian Purple, see The Bus 1.16 (Tyrian Purple) (paid access only).
Jonze (1969 - present), born Adam Spiegel in Rockville, Maryland, started his career after graduating high school by moving to LA and becoming a photographer for the BMX biking magazine Freestylin’. His interest in videoing skateboarders led to work on music videos including Sonic Youth’s ‘100%,’ Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’ and The Beastie Boys’s ‘Sabotage.’ His first feature film was the mind-bending Being John Malkovich (1999) - see The Bus 2.4 (Oblique Strategies) - which was followed by Adaptation (2002), Where the Wild Things Are (2009) and Her (2013), for which he won an Academy Award. For more, see: Spike Jonze (Britannica).
Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BCE - 17 CE) was a Roman poet noted especially for his Ars amatoria and Metamorphoses - both of which have been immensely influential since their publication. For more information, see: Ovid (Britannica)
The same version quoted in today’s Stop: Ovid, Metamorphoses: A New Verse Translation. Trans. David Raeburn. London: Penguin, 2004.