It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world Richard Armitage

I can’t help but notice that I seem to have an uncommonly long processing curve when it comes to Richard Armitage performances!  Although I watched Hannibal unfold in “live” network time, and I commented on the analyses of others, I’m just now getting around to analyzing it myself.


My brain works in mysterious ways.  I was thinking about something else entirely and *BOOM*  I’m thinking about how Francis Dolarhyde’s tRAnsformation into the Red Dragon reminds me of episodes of “madness” in the ancient Greek mythological and literary tradition.

Two famous instances of ancient “madness” popped immediately into my head.  The first comes from the later books of the Iliad (19-24) when Achilles’ anger transformed into a violent rage that he allowed to run completely amok…

“Nothing matters to me now

But killing and blood and men in agony” (19.226)

After learning of the death of his kinsmen and companion (probable lover?) Patroklos, Achilles anger, which is the driving thematic force of the Iliad, transformed into a homicidal rage that he never even attempted to control.  He went on a rampage and kills so many Trojan soldiers that their bodies clogged the local river.  His wrath was so unchecked that he violated all the rules of “civilized” warfare in his desecration of the lifeless body of the defeated Hektor.


Achilles looks bored as Priam pleads for the mutilated corpse of his son Hektor Source

While a modern audience might attribute Achilles’ uncontrollable rage to a variety of pathological conditions, the Greeks were having none of it.  Achilles was a paradigm of anger throughout the Iliad.  His personal anger as the “theft” of Briseis was the source of enormous hardship to the Greek forces at Troy.  His behavior was antithetical to everything the Greeks defined as heroic.  Homer, in the voice of Apollo, describes him below

Iliad XXIV.30ff

Iliad XXIV.30ff

To the Greeks, Achilles anger was his to control, and his inability or worse, his unwillingness, to do so was decidedly un-heroic.  It doesn’t really fit with how the Greeks defined “madness” either.

One of the best mythological examples of madness – particularly divinely “inspired” madness – was an episode in the mythology of Herakles.  While Herakles’ characterization as the super strongman who succeeds through brute force does not always gel well with Dolarhyde’s calm, methodical calculation, they do share a number of common elements that I found really striking.

The first is the presence of a highly malevolent maternal figure.  In Dolarhyde’s case it was the grandmother who devalued and terrorized him as a child, inflicting incalculable damage to his psyche. Herakles fell victim to a long attested trend in Greek mythology…

greek mythology

Herakles was the product of one of Zeus’ pant dropping episodes, and this earned him the everlasting hatred of Zeus’ wife Hera.  Hera had an incredibly acrimonious relationship with her philandering husband/brother…she hated him in particular, but it was his extracurricular offspring who usually bore the brunt of her malicious behavior.  Hera had an extra special loathing for Herakles, who was predestined to become a god, so she never missed an opportunity to take a poke at him.  She plagued him from infancy with a variety of attacks designed to destroy him or bar him from becoming immortal.

The worst episode of this was when Hera sent Lyssa, the goddess of mad rage to “infect” Herakles.  This scene is famously played out by Euripides in The Madness of Herakles (Ἡρακλῆς μαινόμενος) which is also known by the Latin title Hercules Furens after Seneca’s version of the play.  In this play, while Herakles is off on hero business, his family is seized and sentenced to death.  He arrives on the scene just in time to save them, but it turns out the the whole thing was a set up to get them all together in one place so that Hera could put her latest scheme into action.


Herakles goes berserk                                                                                                                     Source

When Herakles arrived on the scene, Lyssa was there – against her will, sent by Hera – to infect Herakles with her trademark madness.  Albeit under duress, she did it, and Herakles went berserk, killing his wife Megara and all of their children in a frenzy of divinely incited madness.  When he snapped out of it, he was devastated to learn what he had done – a seemingly unforgivable act.

Unlike Homeric Achilles though, Euripides presents Herakles as a figure to be pitied…redeemable Because, unlike Achilles, Herakles was not entirely responsible for his actions…clearly, the malicious madness sent by Hera was the real cause.  As such, Herakles was offered (and accepted) an avenue of redemption for his mad acts.

I found the whole scenario not unlike Richard Armitage’s characterization of Francis Dolarhyde’s “inspired” madness.  It’s fairly clear from Thomas Harris’ original text that the reader is to assume that Dolarhyde’s past treatment at the hands of this grandmother – his personal Hera – was at least in part responsible for the madness in his present.  While his original , malicious mommy dearest isn’t an active agent in his adult crimes, Dolarhyde has his own version of Lyssa, in the form of the Red Dragon, to inspire his madness.  While he doesn’t really show remorse for the families he’s “changed” his determination not to harm Reba – even though the Dragon demands her – seems similar to Herakles’ immediate horror at the realization of what he has done to his family…a possibility for redemption.

I take full credit for the cruddy screen cap above

I take full credit for the cruddy screen cap above

Unfortunately for fans of happier endings, while Herakles chose the path of redemption, Dolarhyde surrendered to the madness.




ὅ παῖς καλός – Richard Armitage: Curls, glorious curls!

*Humming the tune from Oliver…*

Curls glorious curls

Oh please can I touch them?  Everybody now…curls, glorious curls!

The Armitageworld blogosphere has been buzzing since the release of images from the red carpet for the Wellington Premeire of World’s End revealed Richard Armitage sporting slightly longer hair with delicious curls, especially at his nape.

Richard Armitage walks the red carpet in Wellington July 13, 2013 Source:

Richard Armitage walks the red carpet in Wellington July 13, 2013

Perry of Armitage Agonistes threw down the gauntlet here for me to connect those winsome waves to examples from the classical tradition – challenge accepted!  (I didn’t want to do laundry today anyway 🙂 )

References to curls are fairly uncommon in the literary tradition, but I did find a doozy!  In Book XVII of the Iliad, the action centers around the battle for the body of Patroklos, the cousin of Achilles who had been killed by the Trojan prince Hektor.  In the process of the battle, another Trojan hero, Euphorbos is killed.  Homer describes the fallen as folllows:

homer curls

For those not familiar with myrtle blossoms (I had to look them up) they do have a certain curl along the edge of each flower, and do resemble cropped curls when in bunches.  Myrtle blossoms had multiple uses in Greek ritual practice, so Homer’s metaphor would have been quite vivid to his original audience.

myrtle blossom

I found one depiction of the fight for Euphorbos’ body, but unfortunately, his notably curly hair is hidden under his helmet.

Curls obscured...Fight for the body of Euphorbos Source:  Wikimedia

Curls obscured…Fight for the body of Euphorbos
Source: Wikimedia

Greek art is littered with images of curly haired men.  Close cropped curls, long spiral curls, loose wavy curls, curls, curls, curls.  For me though, the most iconic head of hair in the classical tradition is that of Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας – Alexander the Great.  Alexander conquered much of the known world by the age of 30 and was not known for his modesty.  Portraits of him abound, and one thing is always striking – his gorgeous wavy hair.  The faces of the portraits vary to a degree, but Alexanders are almost instantly recognizable as long as the hair is intact.

Portrait Bust of Alexander - British Museum Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Portrait Bust of Alexander – British Museum
Source: Wikimedia Commons

"Alexander Mosaic" from Pompeii Even his horse has flowing wavy locks... Source:  Wikimedia

“Alexander Mosaic” from Pompeii
Even his horse (his name was Bucephalos) has flowing wavy locks…
Source: Wikimedia

Macedonia coin of Alexander as Ammon *note the nape curls everyone! Source:  Wikimedia

Macedonia coin of Alexander as Ammon
*note the nape curls everyone!
Source: Wikimedia

Let’s come in a little closer on captivating curls of Richard Armitage shall we?

Exhibit C...for curls obviously! Source: (my zoom/crop)

Exhibit C…for curls obviously!
Source: (my zoom/crop)

Pardon the pixelation, but I submit that if someone were to get his or her fingers in there and tousle up those neatly combed waves… any volunteers?  I thought so…get in line!  My blog, I get to go first 🙂 ….  Sorry, my point was that if we ran our fingers through his hair a bit he’d come out the other side with a vertibly Alexandrine ‘do.  I have to go and compose myself now…ὅ παῖς καλός!!

Richard Armitage and Achilles – tRAgic lovers

There are a multitude of stories about the Greek hero Achilles…Homer’s epic poem The Iliad , focuses on Achilles’ rage at being thwarted by the expedition commander Agamemnon.  Achilles’ reputation was that of the greatest of the Greek warriors assembled before the walls of Troy but I don’t want to talk about Achilles the warrior today.   I’ve been thumbing through images of Achilles lately an came across one that refers to one of the few “romantic” stories in his mythology.

This part of Achilles’ story is set shortly after the action of The Iliad, when Achilles  has rejoined the Greeks in battling the Trojans.  Penthesilea (Pen-theh-si-lay-uh) was the queen of the Amazons, a mythical tribe of warrior women who lived on the fringe of Greek society.   Penthesilea was crippled by grief after accidentally killing her sister in a hunting accident. (is there no end of tragedy for these mythological characters?)  She agreed to fight with the Trojans against the Greeks because it offered her the opportunity to end her misery by dying an honorable warrior’s death – a requirement of an Amazonian queen.  There are several variations of the story, but in all of them, Penthesilea and Achilles meet on the battlefield, and powerful as she is, she is no match for Achilles who deals her a fatal blow.


Penthesilea dies in Achilles arms
Cup from Vulci, around 460 BC
Munich / Germany, Antikensammlungen 2688.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

One way or another, Penthesilea’s ends up in Achilles arms as she dies.  Several versions recount that their eyes meet and they fall instantly in love just as she dies.

Achilles and Penthesilea - The Look of Love Detail of image above

Achilles and Penthesilea – The Look of Love
Detail of image above

In the detailed image above we can see this moment depicted…damage to the vase obscures Achilles slightly, but one can still make out the connected gaze between the two figures as Achilles drives his sword home just below Penthesilea’s chin.  This is among my top ten most evocative moments in Greek myth and it is incredibly similar to a scene between Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne and Lucy Griffiths as Maid Marian in Robin Hood – the infamous death scene of course.

Death of Marian Robin Hood S2.12 Screen Cap courtesy of

Death of Marian
Robin Hood S2.12
Screen Cap courtesy of

Only seconds after he’s stabbed her, Guy supports Marian’s dying weight as she looks up and their eyes meet.  According to Robin Hood’s writers the emotion of the scene is vastly different, at least from Marian’s point of view, but the composition is eerily similar.

Richard Armitage is famously quiet regarding his personal life, (which is fine by me) but I don’t think I’m speculating too wildly to suppose that he couldn’t possibly be as tRAgic in love as either Achilles or Guy… especially since ending love affairs at sword point is highly frowned upon these days.  Here’s hoping for a much less classical ending for him in real life!

J.R.R. Tolkien, Peter Jackson, Richard Armitage and…epic heroes?

I had finally extricated myself from Hobbit fever.  With the exception of following some ongoing fanfiction pieces, I really had.  Well, that’s over!  The storm before the bigger storm blew into the U.S. on Monday when the first new images of Richard Armitage down under hit the web. Last year I was rather ambivalent about The Hobbit project, not being a huge fan of Tolkien and having an aversion to ginormous blockbuster film franchises in general, but the pull of Armitageworld was much too strong.  This time around, I’m not wasting precious energy on resistance since it’s futile anyway.  I was thinking last night about what to do…classics, hobbit, Thorin…classics, Thorin, hero….Thorin, hero, epic.  Aha!  There it is – Thorin as an epic hero, in the vein of Homeric heroes like Odysseus and Achilles.

Epic as a literary form appears in a variety cultures.  The Epic of Gilgamesh of Ancient Sumeria, The Mahabharata of Vedic India, The Epic of Sundiata in Mali are a few that come to mind.  Of the group, I would hazard to guess that the Homeric epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey are the most widely known in the western tradition.  Most of us educated in this tradition have either read them, read parts of them, or have encountered Homeric themes in one way or another along the way.  Many of the conventions developed regarding epic evolved out of examination of the Homeric texts, a fact which works out well for me.  The characteristic features of the epic hero are dealt with in numerous and sundry places, but The Victorian Web entry on Heroic Poetry does a nice job of summing the topic up in readable English at a single location, so all the quotes below are drawn from that synopsis.

J.R.R. Tolkien was certain to have encountered Homer in the course of his studies in English Literature and philology at Oxford, and it is not difficult to find the influence of Homeric epic in the pages of The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings trilogy.  A simple Google search will reveal that much ink, both real and virtual has been spilled on the Homeric qualities of the Lord of the Rings cycle, and also on trying to work Bilbo Baggins’ quest into the epic form.  What I didn’t find immediately was any sign of people making the connection between Homeric heroes and Thorin Oakenshield.  (If anyone knows of such, I’d love to see it.)  At first glance, I think that there are enormous similarities, especially in Peter Jackson and Richard Armitage’s version of Thorin.

Disclaimer:  Before I continue, I’d like to note for the record that I’m neither a Tolkien scholar (The book was read to me in 2nd grade and I may have dozed through parts – don’t judge!  It was immediately after lunch recess and I was 7.  Besides, Tolkien apparently used it as a bedtime story.) or a specialist in Homeric poetry.  I’ll be referring heavily to the screen version of The Hobbit, and as for the Homeric scholars in the crowd…whatever, this is a blog, not a master’s thesis.  🙂

Thorin Oakenshield as an Epic Hero

1. “The hero is introduced in the midst of turmoil, at a point well into the story; antecedent action will be recounted in flashbacks.”

  • So far so good.  The action is well underway when Thorin enters the scene in media res preceded by an extensive flashback to the fall of Erebor (I particularly like the part where Thorin admits that he got lost on the way to Bag End…a deliberate reference to the wandering of Odysseus?  I don’t know, but I don’t find it in the original text.)
Thorin Arrives in Bag End Screen Cap from via The Heirs of Durin

Thorin Arrives in Bag End
Screen Cap from via The Heirs of Durin

2. “The hero is not only a warrior and a leader, but also a polished speaker who can address councils of chieftains or elders with eloquence and confidence.”

  • No problem – who wasn’t moved by Thorin’s speech to his assembled men, or more so as he spoke to his elder adviser Balin about “loyalty, honor and a willing heart?”
Rallying the Troops Screen Cap from via The Heirs of Durin

Rallying the Troops
Screen Cap from via The Heirs of Durin

"Loyalty, honor and a willing heart..." Screen Cap from via The Heirs of Durin

“Loyalty, honor and a willing heart…”
Screen Cap from via The Heirs of Durin

3. “The hero, often a demi-god, possesses distinctive weapons of great size and power, often heirlooms or presents from the gods.”

  • Thorin is not divine, but he is royal, and he does acquire a particularly special weapon in Orcrist which seems to fit the Homeric bill.  (prior to this is another flashback – this one to the battle with the Orcs where Thorin gained his epithet “Oakenshield”)
Discovery of Orcrist Screen Cap from via The Heirs of Durin

Discovery of Orcrist
Screen Cap from via The Heirs of Durin

4. “The hero must undertake a long, perilous journey, often involving a descent into the Underworld (Greek, “Neukeia“), which tests his endurance, courage, and cunning.”

  • Though not strictly an “Underworld” in the sense that Homer intended, the Goblin kingdom is certainly evocative of a lot of the qualities that we might attribute to a “hellish” place.
The Goblin Kingdom Screen cap from via The Heirs of Durin

The Goblin Kingdom
Screen cap from via The Heirs of Durin

5. “Although his fellows may be great warriors (like Achilles and Beowulf, he may have a commitatus, or group of noble followers with whom he grew up), he undertakes a task that no one else dare attempt.”

  • I am sure that there will be many more of these episodes in the 2nd and 3rd films, but Thorin’s heroic rescue of Bilbo from the side of the cliff during the Battle of the Stone giants is a decent example of his willingness to go over and above what others might do.
Thorin to the rescue... Screen cap from via The Heirs of Durin

Thorin to the rescue…
Screen cap from via The Heirs of Durin

6. “Whatever virtues his race most prizes, these the epic hero as a cultural exemplar possesses in abundance. His key quality is often emphasized by his stock epithet: “Resourceful Odysseus,” “swift-footed Achilles,” “pious AEneas.””

  • “Oakenshield” does not simply represent Thorin’s shield, but his character.  Oak is renowned for being hard and unyielding, able to sustain enormous winds and still stand…all virtues to be valued in a dwarf, especially a dwarf king.
The Oakenshield Screen cap from via The Heirs of Durin

The Oakenshield
Screen cap from via The Heirs of Durin

7. The concept of arete (Greek for “bringing virtue to perfection”) is crucial to understanding the epic protagonist.

  • This is a perennial issue for the ancient Greeks, the quest for excellence or arete…Thorin possesses this drive for excellence in spades, but he also suffers from the dangerous side effect…excessive pride, or hubris which led many a would be hero to his doom.  Thorin’s arete is visible throughout the film, but I think the most telling scene of his potential for hubris is the period in Rivendell when his pride threatens the whole quest.
Thorin beats back hubris for the good of the quest Screen cap from via The Heirs of Durin

Thorin beats back hubris for the good of the quest
Screen cap from via The Heirs of Durin

8. “The hero establishes his aristeia (nobility) through single combat in superari a superiore, honor coming from being vanquished by a superior foe. That is, a hero gains little honor by slaying a lesser mortal, but only by challenging heroes like himself or adversaries of superhuman power.”

9. “The two great epic adversaries, the hero and his antagonist, meet at the climax, which must be delayed as long as possible to sustain maximum interest. One such device for delaying this confrontation is the nephelistic rescue (utilized by Homer to rescue Paris from almost certain death and defeat at the hands of Menelaus in the Iliad).”

10. “The hero’s epic adversary is often a “god-despiser,” one who has more respect for his own mental and physical abilities than for the power of the gods. The adversary might also be a good man sponsored by lesser deities, or one whom the gods desert at a crucial moment.”

  • Not too hard to see where I’m going here I expect.  The final battle of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is rife with Homeric symbolism.  It is certainly not un-Homeric that Thorin is defeated by Azog, but still lives to fight another day.  In fact, far from undermining his heroic nature, that he survived a battle with a much superior opponent enhances his heroism.
Thorin in the grip of Azog Screen cap from via The Heirs of Durin

Thorin in the grip of Azog
Screen cap from via The Heirs of Durin

11. “The hero may encounter a numinous phenomenon (a place or person having a divine or supernatural force) such as a haunted wood or enchanting sorceress that he most use strength, cunning, and divine assistance to overcome.”

  • The film has not reached this point, but the challenges in Mirkwood and those posed by Thranduil or especially Smaug seem to satisfy this criteria as well

Even just this cursory glance through the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has provided us with ample indication that there is definitely a Homeric quality to the characterization of Thorin Oakenshield.  I’m not so far gone as to argue that Richard Armitage is a hero along Homeric lines, but he sure does play one well at work!

Stay tuned for future installment:  Who’s Thorin:  Achilles or Odysseus?