Golden Boys: King Midas and Thorin Oakenshield

“It’s this attraction to gold which becomes their downfall, has always been at the back of his mind.”

 -Richard Armitage (http://collider.com/richard-armitage-the-hobbit-interview/)

The allure of gold, the danger of succumbing to greed, is a recurrent theme in many world societies, and it was certainly of interest to the ancient Greeks.  Arguably the most famous cautionary tale from Greek mythology is the story of King Midas.   As the Greeks tell the story (and a lot of them do!)  Midas was a powerful king of the kingdom of Phrygia in central Anatolia.  He was renowned for a lot of things, including wisdom and a love of the arts and literature, but it is the story of The Golden Touch that most everyone remembers.

A lot of authors tell this story and virtually all the versions start with the wanderings of the reveling followers of Dionysus, his favorite satyr friend Silenus in particular.  The revelers were travelling through Midas’ neck of the woods and Silenus was separated from the group, ending up in the famous rose gardens of Midas.

Silenus brought before the king... Source: http://www.ancient.eu.com/midas/

Silenus brought before the king…
Source: http://www.ancient.eu.com/midas/

When the drunken old satyr (half man, half goat) was apprehended and brought before the king, Midas treated him with cordiality and hospitality.  When Dionysus heard of the friendly reception that Silenus had received from Midas, he offered the king anything he wished in thanks.  Midas asked Dionysus to grant him a golden touch…that is, that everything he touched would turn to gold.

In theory, this sounds like a good idea, but in practice it turns into one of those “be careful what you wish for” scenarios.  Dionysus told Midas as much, warning him of the potential dangers of such a wish, but Midas would not be talked out of it, so the wish was granted.  Initially, Midas was ecstatic…touched a branch – Presto! – gold branch.  Touched a rock – Shazam! – er…you get the picture.  Midas made his way home, touching everything in sight as he went.  (Good thing ancient kings always traveled with large retinues – somebody had to carry all that gold!)

By the time he made it back to his palace, Midas was jubilant…and famished.  Gold making is hungry and thirsty work!  He ordered a feast to be laid out for him and quickly encountered the catch of his golden wish.  Everything he touched turned to gold…everything, including the bread he picked up to eat and the wine he tried to drink.  When he tried to sleep, his comfy bed with its sumptuous coverings, turned to cold hard gold too.  Before long, the very sight of gold was abhorrent and Midas was headed back to beg Dionysus to reverse the “gift.”

This story served two purposes for the Greeks.  It was an etiological myth that explained why gold was so plentiful in a certain river in Lydia…Dionysus instructed Midas to bathe in the river Pactolus to lose the golden touch.  It also served as yet another illustration of the Greeks’ assertion that sophrosyne was the way to go.   Midas would have been fine with a moderate gift of gold from Dionysus, but his greed in wanting it all was his undoing.

Thorin’s ability to withstand the lure of the “dragon sickness” that had consumed his grandfather is certain to be a major theme in the remaining films of The Hobbit trilogy.   Thorin is even more aware of the potential dangers than Midas.  Midas had only been warned of the threat…Thorin has seen for himself the damage that greed for gold wrought on his house.  I will be very interested to see how Richard Armitage characterizes this growing obsession in Thorin’s character….the peeks from the trailer are alluring!

Richard Armitage (ok, Guy of Gisborne) and Apollo: Spurned Lovers

The character of Guy of Gisborne (as portrayed by Richard Armitage) in Robin Hood (BBC 2006-2009) is a rich source for classical comparisons.  I’m returning to another story of the Greek god Apollo for this one.  As I mentioned here, Apollo was one of the most renowned of the gods in the Greek pantheon, and like his father Zeus, in addition to all of his supernatural powers, he also seems to have had a supernatural libido…in layman’s terms – Apollo was a major player.  The fact that some of his would be lovers were were noticeably repulsed by him didn’t seem to be much of a hindrance to Apollo.  Convinced of his own irresistibly, he pursued a number of human women and nymphs who turned him down repeatedly.  Unfortunately (for the women and nymphs) Apollo’s refusal to take “no” for an answer usually put them into a difficult circumstance.

A story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses gives a great example of this tendency of Apollo – complete with two gods having a pissing contest (pardon my  language 🙂 – RA isn’t the only one who gets to throw out off color slang around here!)  over the relative size of their weapons.  You can find a translation of the whole story here, but the nuts and bolts of it go something like this:

The great archer Apollo is teasing Eros (Cupid) about how tiny his eensy weensy little bow and arrows are.  What Apollo apparently forgot was that Eros’ arrows might be tiny, but they packed a huge wallop – one that not even the other gods were immune to.  To prove the might of his weapon he shoots Apollo with a golden arrow causing him to fall in love with the first person he sees…in this case the nymph Daphne.  To really drive the point home, Eros shoots Daphne with a lead arrow, causing her to be turned off by Apollo in a big way…the result?  He sees her and falls madly in lurve…she sees him (and presumably the acute case of bedroom eyes he’s shooting at her) and takes off running.  The chase is on!

Even a nimble Naiad like Daphne can’t outrun the great god Apollo forever.  Just at the point that he catches her, (beautifully articulated in marble by the Italian sculptor Bernini) she appeals to her father, the god of a local river to help her escape Apollo.  Her father does so by turning her into a tree…a laurel tree (we might know it better as the tree that produces bay leaves in the US).

Apollo and Daphne Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Apollo and Daphne
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Apollo mourns his “lost” love by making a wreath of the leaves that sprout from her as the metamorphosis is complete.  The laurel becomes a sacred tree to Apollo and the laurel wreath one of his frequent attributes.   (You might think that Apollo would learn from this episode…um, not so much!)

I noticed a certain similarity between Apollo and his inability to leave Daphne alone and Guy of Gisborne’s refusal to take no for an answer in his persistent pursuit of Marian.  One scene struck me as particularly similar to the scene above between Apollo and Daphne.

Marian strains away from Guy's embrace (Robin Hood S1 E11) Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com

Marian strains away from Guy’s embrace (Robin Hood S1 E11)
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

Guy has caught the object of his desire, but as he leans in to kiss her, she very clearly strains away from him before he can reach her.  (Right about now I’m yelling at my TV… “What is wrong with you woman?!”)   Marian’s poor taste in lovers aside, like Apollo, Guy’s caught her, but he won’t be able to keep her.   A moment later, lacking the intercession of a divine father, she wrenches away and flees from him.  One might think that Guy might take the hint and find more accessible prey, but like Apollo, he will pursue her desperately – to no good end for either of them.

Psst…Apollo?  Guy?  Hint…if a girl runs away or would rather turn into a tree than kiss you…she’s just not that into you!  (Don’t worry, there are plenty of us who are! 🙂 )

Richard Armitage and Apollo concentRAte

Sometimes things just seem to come together.  I was scrolling through some images last night and found one of the Greek god Apollo that resonated with a screen cap of Richard Armitage from “Hood Academy” that I’d seen resurface on Tumblr this week.  Here I am to share it with you.  If you’ve come across any classical mythology in your travels, you’ll probably have learned that the Greek gods often have Roman equivalents:   Greek Zeus = Roman Jupiter, Greek Aphrodite = Roman Venus, etc.  Such is not the case with Apollo.  For the Greeks, and later the Romans, Apollo had numerous areas of influence.  He was associated with art, music and literature and is often depicted playing a lyre.  The nine Muses who govern all things artistic and intellectual reported to Apollo.  He was also associated with light/the sun, as well as with healing and prophecy.  There was no god like him in the Roman pantheon, so the Romans simply worshiped Apollo as Apollo.

Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, the goddess of the hunt were also associated with the bow.  Interestingly, Apollo’s association with the bow and archery was connected to neither hunting nor military use, but rather with the skill and concentration required for accuracy.  One famous story about Apollo and his bow is depicted on the kRAter below (BTW…I am not singling out the kRAter shape… rather the RA related material I find turns up on them…fate?)

Apollo takes aim at a Niobid Source: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Apollo takes aim at a Niobid
Source: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

According to myth, a human woman named Niobe had bragged that since she had fourteen children, she must be superior to the nymph Leto who had borne only Apollo and Artemis.  This kind of boasting was guaranteed to earn Niobe a swift and harsh punishment.  The Greeks valued achievement, but perceived that there was a fine line between being proud and being too proud.  Those who were too proud were prone to hubris and almost always met a bad end at the hands of one or another offended deity.  This vase painting shows us Apollo and Artemis avenging their mother’s reputation by shooting down all of the Niobids (the children of Niobe).

apollo niobid close up

In the detail above we can see the steady determination of Apollo, depicted here as an unbearded youth, as he takes aim at a Niobid.  I thought this image seemed familiar, and then I remembered that earlier in the week, I’d seen this one:

Richard Armitage at Hood Academy Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com

Richard Armitage at Hood Academy
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

I’m fairly certain that Richard Armitage is not taking aim at a Niobid, or any other living thing, but his focus on the target is just as fixed as that of Apollo’s in the vase painting above.  Armitage and Apollo:  concentRAting archers.  There is one possible similarity that I cannot confirm…

tongue of concentration

Does Apollo employ the Tongue of ConcentRAtion too?