Is there a Greek god for fatigue and time management Richard Armitage?

Blerg. It’s Friday already. I should really stop trying to plan on doing anything productive…it’s always a recipe for moderate disaster. Mini Me has been at summer camp this week, and I had *planned* to get tons of stuff done around the house, get back into a blogging groove, etc. After my most recent sojourn a la vertigo, I imagine you can figure out how all of that went. I did manage to get the laundry done even though my washer has decided to bite the dust this week as well.

I was just silently lamenting my lack of Mini Me-less productivity when a new tweet popped up from Richard Armitage that turned my mind back to Sleepwalker. Brings to mind Hypnos and the Oneiroi (Sleep and dreams)…food for thought…I’ll work on that, but since I seem have a brief date with Hypnos right now I’ll leave you with a little “dreamy” poetry to tide you over:

What if you slept?

by Samuel Coleridge

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then?

Beautiful Dreamers…Richard Armitage and Cupid

After a moment of uncertainty about Richard Armitage’s role, calm has been restored and I am good to go on another sleep themed foray into the classical tRAdition as shooting on Sleepwalker continues.  Today’s installment is the mythological story of Cupid (Eros) and Psyche.  In both the Greek and Roman pantheons, Cupid is a god associated with love…armed with a quiver of “love darts.”  Although he is often depicted as a roly poly winged baby, there are probably as many depictions of the god as a beautiful young man.  It is in this form that he appears the following story which survives only in the account of Apuleius within the 4th century AD novel The Golden Ass.  

The full story begins at the end of Book IV and continues through Books V and VI and is well worth a read.  I’m just going to highlight a small portion of it here:

“In a certain city there lived a king and queen, who had three daughters of surpassing beauty. Though the elder two were extremely pleasing, still it was thought they were only worthy of mortal praise; but the youngest girl’s looks were so delightful, so dazzling, no human speech in its poverty could celebrate them, or even rise to adequate description.

Uh-oh.  In myth, it is never a good sign when a human is so remarkable in anything as to attract attention away from the gods, and that is exactly what happens here.  The beauty of the youngest daughter, Psyche, was so great that people began to slow down in their worship of Venus (the goddess of Love and Beauty) to instead pay homage to Psyche.  Word got back to Venus and she was predictably offended and outraged.  She sent Cupid as the instrument of her revenge, but instead of punishing the girl, he fell in love with her on sight and implemented a plan to have her for his own.

After a consult with the Delphic Oracle, Psyche’s father the king was told to prepare his youngest daughter for marriage to a monster…a dragon even.  So, Psyche was dressed up in funeral clothes and set out on a rock to take one for the home team.  Instead of her prophesized scaly groom, she was swept up by Zephyr (the West wind) and transported to a beautiful flowery field where she fell peacefully asleep.  When she woke she found herself on the edge of a carefully tended copse, and upon exploration, she found a beautiful palace.  It seems that her mysterious new husband planned to keep her in the lap of luxury.  She is treated to a delicious banquet that served serves itself accompanied by the music of an invisible lyre.

Leery, but still curious, she consented to be led to a bedroom where her groom visited her in darkness to consummate the marriage.  She quickly began to look forward to his visits, which always came in a darkness.  Although he was tender and indulgent with Psyche, he warned her that she must never look at him in the light.  Although Psyche seemed content with the arrangement, and even conceived a child, she was lonely and convinced her secretive husband to bring her sisters to the palace for a visit.  From here, things began to unravel for Psyche.  Jealous at the opulence in which Psyche lives, her sisters planted seeds of doubt about her attentive, but unseen husband.  They convinced her to uncover his true identity lest he actually a be a monster who was planning to consume both Psyche and her unborn child.

Young and insecure, Psyche was swayed, and carried out a plan cooked up by her sisters.  One night after her husband had fallen asleep, she retrieved a hidden lamp and a dagger to reveal and kill the monster in her bed.

Cupid and Psyche by Giuseppe Maria Crespi Source

Cupid and Psyche by Giuseppe Maria Crespi

When she held the light closer, instead revealing a monster, she saw the most beautiful creature that she has ever seen – Cupid.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume he looked like this...*cough*

I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume he looked like this…*cough*

Where was I?  Oh, right…most beautiful creature and all.  Anyway, Psyche was so startled by the sight that she pricked herself on one of Cupid’s arrows and spilled hot lamp oil onto her beautiful dreamer.  Startled and angered by her mistrust, Cupid flew away from her.  Psyche tried to follow him (and who wouldn’t if he looked like that ^^ ?) but even wounded, he alluded her and she was left alone.

What follows for Psyche was a series of wanderings and labors that rival those of Odysseus, Aeneas and Hercules.  Despite the kindly wishes of Ceres and Juno on Psyche’s behalf, Venus remained unmoved and vindictively set her on a series of increasing impossible tasks until Cupid finally realized his love for Psyche was unchanged and intervened…cue super romantic reunion.

Psyche awakened by Cupid's kiss by Canova Source

Psyche awakened by Cupid’s kiss by Canova

This story is a like a greatest hits album of classical literary themes…myth, tragedy, epic…with a little Roman style happy ending worthy of a Disney princess tale thrown in!  So there you have it…in honor of Richard Armitage’s role in Sleepwalker, another slumber story from the classical tRAdition for your reading pleasure.


Sleeping Beauties: Richard Armitage and Endymion

Given that I am almost never the first person to hear about Richard Armitage related news, I’m going to assume that everyone is aware of his new project, Sleepwalker…reportedly a suspenseful film about a somnambulist (Ahna O’Reilly) in which Richard Armitage plays a doctor specializing in sleep disorders.  The subject of this film called to mind several things.  One is that I need to have a sleep study done, but I have been putting it off…in part because of my schedule, but also because I am slightly uneasy with the vulnerability aspect of it all.  The notion of having people observe me while I’m asleep and not aware of my actions unnerves me quite a bit.

More interestingly, it got me thinking about how stories of sleep manifest in classical myth.  The Greek god Hypnos (Somnus in Latin) governed sleep…he was generally considered a benevolent deity who gifted mankind with the renewing benefits of sleep.  There is not a terrible lot of mythology surrounding this rather minor god, but there are several really interesting myths centered around a sleeping figure.  One of my favorites is the story of Endymion and Selene.

Like most Greek myths, there are variations to the story depending on which ancient source one reads.  This is a fact that is always kind of confusing to my students, who really seem to want there to be one right version of everything.  Ancient culture is rarely so simple.  It’s not particularly hard to see how variations in the myths evolved.  The Greeks had literacy (such as it existed in most of the ancient world) in the late Bronze Age, but then it was lost from about 1100 – 800 BC.  This means that mythological stories would have been transmitted orally during those centuries.  Oral traditions preserve the basic framework of stories very well, but it is not unusual for the details to vary from place to place over the centuries…kind of like the modern idiom of a “fish story” where the details change a bit every time the fisherman tells the tale.

Way back when in a course called Classical Mythology I learned the myth of Selene and Endymion following the version recounted by Apollonios of Rhodes which reads rather like a fairy tale…

Once upon a time, Selene, the goddess of the moon fell in love with a beautiful mortal named Endymion.  She loved him so much that she asked his father Zeus to grant him eternal youth so that Endymion could stay with her forever.  Zeus granted her wish, but there was a catch…he placed the youth into an eternal sleep.  Endymion would be eternally youthful and beautiful, but he would also be eternally asleep.

Selene & Endymion  by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini Source

Selene & Endymion
by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini

Apparently, this everlasting slumber wasn’t much of an obstacle to Selene’s love for him.  The story goes on to recount that she visited her sleeping beloved every night and the two of them had fifty daughters.

Good gravy – where to start with this one?!  Firstly, this version of the story is a perfect example of the English idiom, “be careful what you wish for…”  or at least be very specific.  The Greek gods had a tendency to be extremely capricious when granting this sort of wish (I’ve heard similar tales of the caprice of genies and leprachauns…you just can’t trust supernatural wish granters I guess!)  It’s fairly obvious that Selene might have preferred that Endymion be eternally youthful and awake, but she didn’t stipulate that specifically.

By now, everyone is probably aware of the element of coercion that so often plays a role in the sexual politics of Greek myth.  By modern understanding, what Selene does to generate fifty offspring by an unconscious partner would be considered sexual assault.  However, it would have only been unusual to the Greek’s in terms of the gender reversal of who is doing the coercing, but since Selene is a goddess and Endymion a mortal, it’s fair game.  This story reminds me distinctly, and I wonder if there is a trace connection, of tales of the medieval succubus…a female entity who preyed upon unsuspecting men – often by seducing them in their sleep.  (which also would be a convenient way to explain unsanctioned nocturnal activities…*cough*  “The succubus made me do it!” ).  

Roman Sarcophagus Source

Roman Sarcophagus – 2nd century AD

In later Roman antiquity the story of Selene and Endymion preserved all of its somnolent eroticism (note all of the little winged babies on the image above…they are Erotes (Amores in Latin), clear indicators that love is afoot.) but the persistent notion that Endymion never died, but rather was eternally asleep also made depictions of this story very popular on funerary pieces like the sarcophagus above.

Fragment of the group of Selene and Endymion. Marble. Roman, after a Greek original of the 2nd century B.C. Inv. No. A 23. Saint-Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Source

Fragment of the group of Selene and Endymion.
Marble. Roman, after a Greek original of the 2nd century B.C.
Inv. No. A 23.
Saint-Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum.

There is something really compelling to me about images of the sleeping Endymion.  He is always depicted as powerfully masculine, yet in sleep, he is also vulnerable.  The sculptural fragment above also conveys a kind of latent eroticism with his arm raised above his head, leaving him open and exposed and perhaps even inviting to Selene’s amorous advances.  As usual, I didn’t have to look terribly hard to find some equally enticing Armitaganda…

Lucas North sleeps... Spooks 8.5 Source

Lucas North sleeps…
Spooks 8.5

Guy of Gisborne sleeps...fitfully Robin Hood 3.6 Source

Guy of Gisborne sleeps…fitfully
Robin Hood 3.6


As Keats said in his poetic Endymion:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever…