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.

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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.

Source

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.

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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.

 

 

 

Variations on a theme…

I don’t know why it didn’t strike me sooner –

maybe because Blake’s dragon is so much more anthropomorphic, it didn’t trigger a visual memory for me?  I’m not entirely sure, but with all the talk of dragons in the neighborhood, I did want to point out that the classical tradition is full of both stories and images of dragons…and quite of few of them are noticeably ruddy:

When Cadmus slayed this dragon and planted his teeth, up grew a race of fierce, armed warriors known as the Spartoi.  Speaking of teeth,

This toothy sea dragon looks like more than a match even for the mighty Herakles (and his kind of tiny fish hook weapon…)

There’s also a Romanized mosaic dragon…

Once I started looking, I realized that I had gravitated toward examples with a decided display of red scale action going on – red is certainly common enough as a color in classical art – but I can’t help but think I’ve been distracted by the dragon du jour…

Richard Armitage morphing... My Screen Cap

Richard Armitage morphing…Hannibal S3 Ep9
My Screen Cap

This scene…the end of which I will admit to shaking my head at...made me think again of the sort of visually metamorphic quality that Richard Armitage is bringing to these phases of Dolarhyde’s transformation into the Great Red Dragon – no wonder I can’t get this particular dragon out of my head!

 

An aside because I’m to lazy to do it separately at the moment:  When I watched the opening scenes of Ep 8 where his body contorts as if something is moving inside of him,  I was thought of a burgeoning chrysalis as it contorts to reveal the new being within, but upon inspection, it wasn’t quite right.   An then it struck me…I know exactly what that sequence reminded me of…

This is not one of my very own emergent “dragons” but I do remember the feeling!

John Porter and HeRAkles: Battered but not beaten heroes

I have been searching high and low for a classical connection to my favorite Richard Armitage character…John Porter.  I love every damaged, heroic inch of this character from his fingertip gently stroking the cheek of his distraught daughter on a computer screen, to his anguish when he learns of his mate Steve’s death….emotion aplenty.  Then there is the plain physical beauty of the man – I especially love his tantalizing teres.  Although not as obvious, there are a lot of connections to the classical tradition in Porter’s story – they just have to be fleshed out a bit more since they tend to be more conceptual than visual.  That said, it is to the visual (and how) that I turn today.

I’ve looked several times lately at a favorite sculptural work of mine known as the Farnese Hercules (I saw him “in the flesh” in 1992, and the impression has never left me.)   The connection to John Porter struck me only today.  Hercules is the Latin equivalent of the Greek hero HeRAkles.  The Romans adopted him and his mythology wholesale from the Greeks, and his Latin name has become more commonly known than the original Greek version.  There is an enormous volume of myth surrounding Herakles, especially as pertains to his famous Twelve Labors.  Less well known is the reason why he undertook the labors in the first place.

This is a story of guilt and redemption for the most part, very much like the central theme that runs through John Porter’s character arc.  A bit of back story would probably be useful.  Herakles was one of the many illegitimate children of the god Zeus (Jupiter in Latin) and as such was on the bad side of Hera, Zeus’ wife. (Ironically, the name Herakles means “the glory of Hera” in Greek)  Hera is a really interesting character…she hates her husband/brother (yep – incest was common among ancient deities), yet she is insanely jealous of his extracurricular activities.  She can’t take her jealous rage out on him – he is much too powerful, so instead, she lashes out at his lovers and his extramarital offspring.  Hera had it in for Herakles from the cradle where she sent snakes to kill him

"Baby" Hercules strangles the snakes.  I love how the classical Greeks depict infants as miniature adults... Source:  Vase Painting by the Berlin Painter in the Louvre

“Baby” Herakles strangles the snakes sent by Hera.
I love how the classical Greeks depict infants as miniature adults…
Source: Vase Painting by the Berlin Painter in the Louvre

Herakles grew into a man of tremendous strength and courage, but he was a bit of a loose cannon, so there were bumps in the road for him throughout his life.  As a young adult he married a princess named Megara and sometime 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 sentenced to carry out what came to be called the Twelve Labors of Herakles…a series of monumental tasks engineered by Hera to set Herakles up for failure and disgrace.  (and thereby keep him off of Mt. Olympus which he had been promised – along with immortality)

One by one Herakles completed each task.  The Farnese Hercules, a Roman copy of a Greek original sculpture by Lysippos, is perhaps the most famous depiction of Herakles.  It lives in the Naples Museum today.

Herakles in a moment of rest... So-called Farnese Hercules Source:  Wikimedia

Herakles in a moment of rest…
So-called Farnese Hercules
Source: Wikimedia

Here we see Herakles in a rare moment of rest, having completed almost all of his tasks.  We can see the skin of the Nemean Lion (Labor #1) draped over the club he leans on.  In behind his back, in his right hand Herakles holds the Apples of the Hesperides (Labor# 11)  The exaggerated musculature of this piece is one of its most striking elements, but I’ve also always found the weariness of the powerful Herakles extremely moving.  He is so close to achieving his goal, so close to redemption, if only he can find the strength to go on.

John Porter (Richard Armitage) in a moment of rest Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com

John Porter (Richard Armitage) in a moment of rest
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

He seems so similar to John Porter (here as he digs a grave in Strike Back S1.4).  A powerful male in the midst of an unpleasant, but necessary task.  Labor that no one else can do, labor that stands between him and his quest for redemption.  There are moments in Strike Back when Porter’s exhaustion is almost palpable…it’s not just a physical response, but a mental one as well.  The result is deeply emotional and evocative.

John Porter (Richard Armitage) fights for the will to go on... (Strike Back S1.6) Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com Source

John Porter (Richard Armitage) fights for the will to go on… (Strike Back S1.6)
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com 

Boxer at Rest, a Hellenistic Greek bronze thought to have been inspired by the Lysippan Herakles, also captures this same attitude of dogged exhaustion…the feeling of digging deep inside to find the energy both physically and mentally to achieve the goal.

"Boxer at Rest" Museo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, inv. 1055.  Lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the Republic of Italy, 2013

“Boxer at Rest”
Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, inv. 1055.
Lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the Republic of Italy, 2013

These are heroes who have been through the wringer.  They have toiled, they have struggled and for just a moment they are at rest…battered, but not beaten.