Like the generations of leaves…

homer veterans day

Today is the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  On the eleventh hour of this day in 1918 the armistice ending hostilities on the Western Front in World War I was signed.  Since then, November 11th has been designated by some as a day to commemorate the service of military veterans (Remembrance Day in the UK, Veteran’s Day in the US).

However much I wish and hope for lasting peace in the world, I will always acknowledge the service of veterans.  Whether they were compelled to serve, or volunteered, whether they served at home or abroad, they were and are real people who lived real lives and who made real sacrifices, so I remember them…my Dad, my uncles George, Jerome, Jack, Tom, Bob, Steve, John, George, Bob and Jim, my cousins Barbara, Greg and Lisa and a host of others whose names I will never know.

poppy

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:  www.richardarmitagenet.com

Richard Armitage walks the red carpet in Wellington July 13, 2013
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

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:  www.richardarmitagenet.com (my zoom/crop)

Exhibit C…for curls obviously!
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com (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!!

Sing to me, O Muse! : Richard Armitage and InspiRAtion

For those who don’t know, I live in Wisconsin.  In addition to a reputation for cheese and beer, Wisconsin is a state prone to wild swings in weather.  Subzero temperatures and snow falling by the foot in the winter, extreme heat and humidity in the summer.

This never seems to get old to me...

This never seems to get old to me…

Today is one of those “dog days of summer” that makes me remember the icy winds of January fondly – there’s no pleasing some people is there?  To make things even better, the A/C is out in my car, and now the passenger window had decided not to open.  Suffice it to say that today’s fifty minute commute in 90+ degree heat left me feeling more than a little wilted.  I arrived at my office in need of some serious inspiration!

I walked into the office and this is what I see:

Making special note of circled area...

Magnetic wall in my office:  make special note of circled area…

Ahhh,  I’m feeling better already!  I love the 1st birthday cake pic of my daughter and the collage of Greece, but Richard Armitage seems to act as some sort of balm for me from time to time.  Suddenly, I was feeling inspired, so I mapped out another section of Recovery.

When it comes to inspiRAtion for me (and a whole lot of others in the fandom from the looks of it) Richard Armitage certainly functions as a personal Muse.  The Greek Muses were a collection of goddesses who functioned as the personification and “patron” divinities of arts, literature and science.  The earliest references name three, but by the classical period their number was firmly set at nine.  They are most often identified as the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (the personification of memory).  The Greeks believed that The Muses epitomized the arts and inspired creativity through their own artistic and literary works.  By the later Hellenistic period, each Muse became associated with a particular genre of creativity and could be identified visually by an emblem or attribute.

muses table

Even earlier than this it became customary for writers to call upon the Muses for inspiration at the beginning of a literary work.  Below are the first lines of three famous poems:

muse quotes

Homer is “writing” very early in the Greek literary tradition, so it is in no way surprising that he does not refer to a particular Muse by name (in this case Calliope, since The Iliad and The Odyssey are epic poems), but simply refers to her as “Goddess” or “Muse”.  The Latin poet Vergil, writing in the 1st century BC, would have been well aware that Calliope was the Muse specific to epic poetry, but rather than name her, he also simply invokes the “Muse”.  This is almost certainly a deliberate homage to Homer.  Regardless, this tradition of calling upon a Muse for inspiration was one started by the Greeks that is still in use today.

I think it might be rather difficult to associate Richard Armitage with a specific area of inspiration…he seems to inspire many different people in a variety of different ways.  Some are inspired to create original artworks based on him or one of the characters he brought to life, others write stories or poems while still others create fan vids or write and record original songs.  Everytime I think I’ve seen it all, something new emerges.

One thing though seems to be timeless… “Sing to me O Muse, a song of…..SQUEEEE!!”

Look...even the interviewer is doing it!!  Source:  www.richardarmitagenet.com

Look…even the interviewer is doing it!!
Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

Given his immense and, seemingly, effortless ability to inspire, perhaps we really should inaugurate a new Muse:

Armitage bumps out Sappho as the 10th Muse... Source:  Wikimedia with a little help from richardarmitagenet.com

Armitage bumps out Sappho as the 10th Muse…
Source: Wikimedia with a little help from richardarmitagenet.com

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 Gallika.com via The Heirs of Durin

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

Rallying the Troops
Screen Cap from Gallika.com via The Heirs of Durin

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

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

Discovery of Orcrist
Screen Cap from Gallika.com 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 Gallika.com via The Heirs of Durin

The Goblin Kingdom
Screen cap from Gallika.com 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 Gallika.com via The Heirs of Durin

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

The Oakenshield
Screen cap from Gallika.com 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 Gallika.com via The Heirs of Durin

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

Thorin in the grip of Azog
Screen cap from Gallika.com 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?