Antihero Armitage

In the interest of fair warning, I should have pointed this out in my initial post, but it simply slipped my mind since I’m pretty much desensitized to this issue.  As you may have already noticed, ancient art has no restriction on nudity, or should I say little restriction.  Since I am looking for echoes of Richard Armitage in this body of material, images of nude or partially nude ancient paintings and sculptures will figure prominently in posts here.  Do with this what you will, but be aware, that I’m not interested in debating the right or wrong of artistic nudity in any way,  shape or form.  My intention is not to scare anyone away, just to give a heads up on content.  Now, on to more interesting material:

Our ancient piece this week is another Red Figure kRAter (I can’t help it – that’s really what it’s called!), this one from Apulia in Italy, dating to around 380 BC.  The vase, pictured below, depicts the opening scene of The Eumenides by the playwright Aeschylus.

Apulian Red Figure Krater attributed to the Eumenides Painter.

Apulian Red Figure Krater attributed to the Eumenides Painter.

In the central scene, the “hero” Orestes is trying to escape the Erinyes (The Furies) by taking refuge on the Altar of Apollo at Delphi.  Orestes’  big problem is that he killed his mother Clytemnestra and The Furies are hunting him down to punish him for it.

Orestes (seated) being purfied by Apollo while the shade of his dead mother tries to wake the Furies to avenge her.

Orestes (center – seated) being purfied by Apollo while the shade of his dead mother (left) tries to wake The Furies to avenge her.

Despite having killed his mother, Orestes emerges as a sympathetic character, largely because he acted not of his own accord, but under the negative agency of another.  This type of character fits well into the textbook definition of the antihero, and that got me thinking about Guy of Gisborne.

I don’t think I’m alone in the notion that Richard Armitage’s portrayal of Guy of Gisborne in the BBC’s most recent incarnation of Robin Hood gave new life to the notion of an antihero.  We know we shouldn’t root for him, but there is just something in him that we don’t want to give up on.

(Spoiler Alert – read no further if you’ve not yet watched RH)

The character of Guy in Series 3 depicts a man all but destroyed by guilt and remorse over his role in the death of Marian.  In Guy’s case refuge seems to be self-destruction rather than a sympathetic god.  Although Guy wielded the sword that killed Marian in the final episode of S2, a case can be made that the event might never have occurred had it not been for the constant goading of Vasey, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen)

Detail of Orestes, murder weapon still in hand as he contemplates his fate

Screen cap courtesy of (image enhancement mine)

Screen cap courtesy of (image enhancement mine)

Like Sir Guy, Orestes was pushed into action by the agency both of his mother Clytemnestra and social convention.  As the story goes, Clytemnestra killed her husband, Orestes’ father,  Agamemnon.  This action forced her son Orestes to avenge his father’s death, as dictated by custom, by killing the murderer – in this case, his own mother.  Like Guy, Orestes is hounded by his actions, literally, as he is run to ground by The Furies.  Above we see Orestes and Guy in similar form, quietly contemplating their crimes, each remorseful, each facing execution.  In the end, Orestes fares somewhat better in that he is acquitted of the blood guilt of matricide and The Furies leave him alone.  Guy?  I suppose he achieves some level of redemption, if that’s how one reads his final scene in the series finale.  I tend to think he earned a bit more.


36 comments on “Antihero Armitage

  1. Leigh says:

    Great analysis, Obscura. It has been a long time since I read the ancient Greek dramas, but I can see the resonance between Orestes and Guy as antiheroes. They are both pushed into untenable positions by others and the force of circumstance. I seem to recall that Orestes needed some convincing as to his mother’s guilt, not just his sister’s prodding, just as Guy had to be pushed to the limit before he killed Marian. I agree that Guy had earned better than what the series gave him at the end.

    [Different play, but didn’t Orestes kill Clytemnestra’s second husband, too? Do the Erinyes hunt him down for the double murder, or only for matricide?]

    • obscura says:

      Talk about the “sins of the parents…” – this is one great big dysfunctional tragic family! It depends on who’s telling the story, but you are correct that Orestes needed pushing to kill his mother. In Aeschylus, he’s urged by his sister Electra (of later Freudian fame 🙂 ) and more to the point, ordered by Apollo to do his filial duty to avenge his father…then driven mad by the Furies.

      He did kill Aegisthus (mom’s lover) but that was completely a justifiable murder in this case…the Furies were hounding him specifically for the stain of killing his mother (family murder can almost never be justified in myth)

  2. guylty says:

    Great analysis, Obscura. It is interesting how the central themes of art have been coming back again and again for thousands of years. Not necessarily as in matricide, but as in externally controlled actions. Guy is such a prime example for that…
    Aside – I was laughing about this expression in your disclaimer/intro: “…Richard Armitage in this body of material…” *coughs* Yup, body is about right *ahem*. Can’t wait what you will present us with next… And please don’t hold back. I am one of those thoroughly corrupted people who will not avert her gaze in the face of “nude body of works” 😉

  3. obscura says:

    I think that part of the reason why Greek drama is still read is that it hits constantly on indelible elements of human nature…with hyperbole of course :).

    I was again struck by the powerful profile comparison too…art of the classical period has this kind of compositional “stillness” to it regardless of the chaos of the scene. I loved this moment of stasis for both the mad Orestes and tormented Guy. RA has an awesome classical profile!!

    Yeah, the whole nudity thing…I doubt many people are bothered anymore by the static nudity in ancient art, but I just want be sure they know what to expect here ;). Now as to the contemporary nudity….

    • Leigh says:

      Yes, I agree that Greek drama hits us in the emotional solar plexus, and it uses hyperbole and choruses to add to the impact,

      The profile — there’s one shot [I think it’s Ascroft again) that made me think of the classical profile contrasted with the stubble, and the modern haircut, almost as if xenios Zeus had gone walkabout in modern dress.

      Nudity in art has never bothered me, but there’s always someone out there who’s a member of the fig-leaf brigade. Makes me want to hang an ancient type of windchime from the balcony…

      • obscura says:

        LOL…you mean the windchimes shaped like “cornucopia” right 😉 (too funny – I’m teaching Pompeii and Herculaneum tonight – bound to run into some of those windchimes!)

  4. Servetus says:

    Excellent! I have a theory about ways in which Armitage picks roles, and a word that he’s used more than once is “epic.” I don’t read him as a big consumer of Greek drama, but I think that these archetypes as reflected in later literature are very much at work in his head.

    • obscura says:

      I love that word – archetype – I haven’t thought about his deliberation much, but a lot of his roles do seem to cluster around archetypical characters. I would love to see what he would do with Euripides’ Jason or Pentheus who embody all the clueless arrogance that the Greeks defined as hubris (and suffered accordingly) I especially detest Jason, so I’d be really curious to see if RA could find anything redeeming in him. Epic? Oh I feel an Achilles post coming on. I wonder if he’s read The Iliad?

      • Servetus says:

        Would you be up for a team effort on Achilles? That’s something I’ve been thinking about intermittently since May of 2010. If not, that’s cool, too.

        • obscura says:

          Sure…I’m not much of a Homeric scholar, but I’ve got “feels” on Achilles.

          • Servetus says:

            That would be me, too. How can any feeling human not have feels on Achilles? 🙂

          • obscura says:

            They only know of him from the Brad Pitt version? (In BP’s defense, it was going ok in the first 1/3 of the film…before it derailed into melodrama)

          • Servetus says:

            I haven’t seen that. My only Achilles is the one in the Lattimore translation which I read probably every three or four years or so 🙂

          • Leigh says:

            Same here, except almost all of my books have been in storage for three years. Contemplating buying a Kindle until I can have them shipped.

          • Servetus says:

            maybe we need to have a symposium 🙂

          • obscura says:

            We’ll all have to be hetaiRAi…or they won’t let us in! I had no idea how many of these I would find in transliterated Greek!

          • Servetus says:

            There’s another post for you 🙂

          • obscura says:

            They’re cropping up from various directions…huge fun. Too bad I’m not independently wealthy. 🙂

          • Servetus says:

            I think that every second I’m blogging. OTOH it means your blog will have a very long life as you explore all the possible acronym appearances in all the centuries of Greek culture: heRAclites, anyone? pantA Rhei?

          • obscura says:

            LOL…. and I haven’t even started on the Roman contributions to the tRAdition yet…

          • Leigh says:

            LOL! We would have to be, wouldn’t we? Love the thought.

          • obscura says:

            You know, I was really ambivalent about the whole concept until I won an iPad, and I’ve found that I do really like the Kindle style reading…although, I do still love to hold a book, and the iPad packs a punch when I doze off and it hits me in the face! 🙂

          • obscura says:

            IMO, don’t bother…man candy not withstanding, if you like Homer, you’ll be dissatisfied with the film I think. Lattimore is the go to for a more literal translation, although I think I have Fitzgerald around here somewhere. Curious…do you read the catalog of ships? I find it about as interesting as the “begetting” passages in Genesis. 🙂

  5. Servetus says:

    I loved Homer from the first time I read it (despite hating the professor) and couldn’t understand why I’d been denied it in high school …

    • obscura says:

      No one to teach it maybe? I read it in high school, but it was a college English class taught through a local UW campus – I had to fight my way through the first book, but then my first trip to Greece, I didn’t got to the Acropolis…I am an anti-archetypical archaeologist – how’s that for alliteration?!

      • Servetus says:

        LOL, I was just thinking about that class — we had it too. Probably through the same local UW campus, occasionally epitheted with reference to a Roman numeral? For some reason that class did not have any Greek stuff in it. Very heavy on English and European lit though.

        • obscura says:

          The very same…I think they were the only ones doing it, I seem to recall that I had some choice and picked the Iliad – we also read a whole slog of life sucking American lit in that class.

          • Servetus says:

            I don’t think we had very much US lit in that class. Maybe the instructor could pick? (I had lots of US lit elsewhere, junior year).

            What I remember from that semester: Beowulf, Macbeth, Hamlet, Murder in the Cathedral, The Brothers Karamazov, Death Comes for the Archbishop, Morte d’Arthur, a lot of awful Tennyson poems, The Crucible, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, 1984. probably some other stuff, too. The main thing I remember is the reading list was incredibly long. And when I got to college I realized no actual intro to lit course would ever force you to read that much stuff!

            I took the class for graduation credit, but not for college credit because I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be allowed to go to UW even though I applied at Eau Claire. And then my best friend who took it for credit couldn’t get it to transfer to River Falls… What a pain.

          • obscura says:

            Carumba…we read nothing like that! We’re they trying to scare kids away from college? I have some strange aversion to American lit., especially 20th century…which explains why I took Great American Novels in college…Hawthorne, Melville, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald… So much depression, so little time!

          • Servetus says:

            I think they were trying to put the fear of G-d into us, yes. Then again not many of us went to college or at least not straight to college. Maybe ten or so in a class of 120. Most people who wanted to go to college went to the Army first (and then were enlisted during the 1991 war), and I think a lot of people went afterwards. But as you know my HS didn’t have a rep for academics or anything else, really, at the time. Babysitting the future farmers and paper mill workers of the world.

            I think there were maybe fifteen people in the class. We spent a lot of time on college study skills, too.

            Chief intellectual memory: having to write a five page essay explaining what Hamlet means in Act I, scene 2, when he says, “Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not ‘seems’.” We all got terrible grades. I found out in college that that is one of the most commented upon passages in all of Shakespeare. NO ONE knows what it means.

            I guess you can at least say the teacher (who I loved) wasn’t afraid of much.

          • obscura says:

            I think a fearless teacher is the best kind to have…I strive for it in my own classroom and hope for them for my children.

          • Servetus says:

            She was also the Quiz Bowl coach (I was on the team). I had her a lot — like for English 9, and then the year survey of Brit Lit, and then this College prep class. That was a weird high school because of “the strike” — they only hired non-WEA teachers, and she had been a scab during the strike. That was already pretty fearless. Then when the local teachers formed a (non-WEA) union, she refused to join. You may remember her as the woman who ran for State Superintendent of Public Instruction several times in the late 1990s early 2000s. She retired recently.

          • Leigh says:

            I detested the great heap of “life-sucking” American lit I was force-fed in high school, along with all of Dickens. “So much depression, so little time” is right. The survey of English lit the following term was a lot better, even if the reading list was longer. The “comparative” lit course was even better, with the ancient Greeks among others.

          • obscura says:

            Do people really read something like As I Lay Dying for enjoyment? I liked Hawthorne, but the rest had me reaching for the Prozac! I thought that semester would never end!

  6. […] Armitage (and nudity without shame). Guy of Gisborne as Orestes. If you don’t know who Orestes is, get your fingers over there […]

  7. […] later in a state of insane rage caused by Hera killed both his wife and their children.  Like Orestes, he fled to Delphi for advice from the oracle.  To redeem himself from his crimes, he was […]

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