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.

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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.