Myth of the Chained
This study of the Andromeda myth grew out of questions posed by an assertion in Robert Graves' The White Goddess. According to Graves,
Tales of princesses sacrificed for religious reasons, like Iphigenia or Jepthah's daughter, refer to the subsequent patriarchal era; and the fate supposedly intended for Andromeda, Hesione, and all other princesses rescued by heroes in the nick of time, is probably due to icontropic error. The princess is not the intended victim of the sea-serpent or wild beasts; she is chained naked to the sea-cliff by Bel, Perseus or Hercules after he has overcome the monster which is her emanation. (I did not have the page or chapter reference when I decided to place this essay here, and could not find it at short notice, but will when time permits.)
Such stores do seem to be thoroughly masculine in oritentation, to belong primarily to the heroic age of the ancient Near East and West rather than to any other time or part of the world, and their reduction of the female to a position of helplessness seem typical of the spirit of the heroic and patriarchal age. Thus Graves is assertion on the one hand that the myth is a misrepresentation, and on the other that it is an expression of hostility to women.
There are, however, problems with Graves' explanation. First, how can a myth so popular and so pervasive be dismissed as a mere mistake, as, in a sense, a false myth? Further, the nature of Graves' book makes his position suspect. He calls it "A historical grammar of poetic myth," but more accurately it is a religious manifesto, and he, like most religious writers, feels free to say, "My myths are true; yours are false." Finally, a theory of how a myth first came to conscousness does not really explain its meaning or significance.
Andromeda by Cavaliera d'Arpino, 1568-1640, Italian Mannerist painting. The prettiness of this painting rather detracts from the drama of its subject.
But first, a brief summary of the Andromeda story: King Acrisius of Argos, learning that he is destined to be killed by his own grandson, has his daughter Danae imprisoned in a tower so that she will not conceive. She is discovered, however, by Zeus who, taking the form of a golden shower, impregnates her. When the king learns of the birth of his grandson Perseus he has both mother and child placed in a chest and cast into the sea. The chest, however, comes to shore on the island of Seriphus, and Danae is made the slave of Polydectes, the king of the island.
Perseus, however, grows into a promising youth, and so to get rid of him, Polydectes suggests a nearly impossible task, that he kill the gorgon Medusa and bring back her head. The king, however, does not reckon with the guidance of Athena, who advises the hero on every danger and pitfall of his journey.
First Perseus goes to the Graeae, three divine but aged sisters who share between them one eye and one tooth. The eye and tooth he steals and keeps until they tell him the location of the grove of the nymphs. From the nymphs he obtains winged sandals, a helmet of invisibility, and a bag for the gorgon's head. Athena provides him with a polished shield which he can use as a mirror, and thus approach the gorgon without looking directly at her, and so not be turned to stone.
Perseus succeeds in killing Medusa, one of three sister gorgons, a creature with serpent locks and boar tusks, and starts homeward with the head. Passing above the coast of Ethiopia he sees the princess Anddromeda chained to a rock. He descends, kills the sea monster to which she is about to be sacrificed, and claims her for his wife.
The wedding feast, however, is interrupted by Andromeda's uncle Phineus who had an earlier claim on her hand, but had deserted her in her need. Perseus produces the head and turns Phineus and his followers to stone. Then he returns to Seriphus and metes out the same fate to the king who had sent him on the mission, and to his court. Finally, taking part in athletic games at Argos, he inadvertantly kills his uncle with a discus, thus fulfilling the original prophecy. This is the basic story, though I have left out a number of less essential details and minor variants.
The central element of the myth, I believe, are these: an armed hero is coming both to the rescue and to attack from the air, a serpentine monster is rising out of the sea, and a virgin princess is chained to a rock near t he edge of the water. Chained naked, Graves says, but that is a different matter, and will be taken up later.
There are two other typical elements that fall outside the visual pattern--first, the virgin is a sacrifice to appease the god who has sent the monster as a punishment for the sins of her parents, or of the society as a whole; send, the hero after his triumph in confronted with a cowardly rival for the princess' hand, or by bad faith on the part of the father, or both.
The slaying of the dragon and the freeing of the waters is one of the oldest and most universal of myths, and it would be easy to say that is what we have here. Bel and Marduk, even older heroes than Perseus, perform related feats; the battle between Mardukk and Labbu, the great sea dragon who destroys the flocks and cities of men and intimidates the gods, is typical. The introduction of a chained maiden at the very center of the action gives the story a vastly different emphasis, in fact, makes it a separate myth.
But is the story of Andromeda a myth at all, since our earliest sources are at least semi-literary? I believe that it is because it appears in very similar form in a number of cultures over a very long period of time, from perhaps a thousand years before Christ to the present. (For example, the two Clash of the Titans films, 1981 and 2010, both of which deal with the Andromeda story.) I will briefly outline the best known examples of the story.
Two scenes from the story by Edward Burne-Jones, 19th century Pre-Raphaelite painter. The artist seemed to have an obsessive interest in this story--he painted several other Andromeda pictures, as well as a closely related St. George and the dragon picture. Don't make too much of the androgenous appearance of Perseus; that is merely typical of the artist's male image.
A similar story, also from Greek mythology, is that of Hercules and Hesione. Returning by sea from battling the Amazons, Hercules sees a maiden chained to a rock. King Laomedon of Troy had cheated the god Poseidon of his wages for building the city of Troy, and Poseidon had sent a sea monster to ravage the land. Laomedon, therefore, has placed his daughter there as a sacrifice. Seeing Hercules, however, he offers his daughter's hand as reward for killing the monster. Hercules descends into the body of the monster and kills it, but for the time being at least, is cheated by the king of his reward. The story is strikingly similar to that of Perseus. Even the one notable difference, the fact that Hercules does not descend for the air, is balanced by the fact that the hero does descend into the body of the monster to kill it.
Another version is that of St. George and the dragon. St. George himself apparently lived in the third or fourth century a.d.. The story of the dragon, however, can be traced back no farther than the twelfth century. In spite of that, however, by the late middle aged it was a very popular story all over Europe by the late Middle Ages. In the Golden Legend the dragon does not inhabit the sea, but a close equivalent, a lake as large as a sea. It too was sent by God as a punishment, in this case because the king and his people were persecutors of Christians. Like Andromeda, the king's daughter is exposed on the shore as a sacrifice and, as in some other versions of the myth, she is dressed as a bride. In this version the hero attacks the monster from horseback, but though he is armed with lance, sword, shield, and armor, the sign of the cross is enough to make the monster docile. The princess then leads it into the town, and there the saint cuts its head off.
St. George and the Dragon, Paolo Uccello, 15th century. The maiden has the dragon on a leash, something that may not show up clearly on some monitors.
Curiously, the story emphasizes George's beauty rather than that of the princess, who is herself taken by his good looks. This is a reversal required by the Christianization of the myth; if the saint cannot be allowed to be sexually attracted to the girl, then he himself must become the sexual attraction. This is apparently a significant element of the story, for Donatello's statue, and most of the late Medieval and Renaissance paintings show a young, virginal, attractive, and rather delicate St. George. The only masculine and fleshy George is by Reubens, but then no one in Reubens is ever delicate. Reubens, by the way, also did a "Perseus and Andromeda."
The princess' sexual attraction to the saint also highlights another element of the myth, the fact that she is not just a victim to be saved by the hero, but also a menace to him, in this case to his sexual purity. Predictably, she also involves him in other problems. There is the usual attempt to cheat the hero; a pretender appears who claims to have killed the dragon. The fraud is exposed, however, and George is rewarded with a great sum of money in lieu of the princess who, since George is a saint, he cannot marry. The money, of course, he gives to the poor. The wealth is an equivalent to the dragon's treasure which in the heroic age replaced the theme of the freeing of the waters.
In a Greek folktale, George kills the dragon in battle, and in the English Mummer's play it is King George who kills the dragon and wins the king of Egypt's daughter. The folktale is different in another respect--in it the lake has disappeared, or rather shrunk to a spring, the village's only water supply. The sacrifice, therefore, is to gain access to the spring. Here we see the myth reverting to the oldest and most persistent of themes, the slaying of the dragon and the freeing of the waters.
At this point the trail shifts from myth, legend, and folktale to the realm of literature, to Gottfried of Strassburg's Tristan, though not as a central element.
Sent to Ireland to win the hand of the princess Isolt, Tristan does so by killing the dragon. Once the whole matter is settled the dragon is never mentioned again. Still, the standard motifs do assert themselves, even if in warped form. The princess is not actually menaced by the dragon, but she is the reward for killing it. The dragon does not come from the sea, but he does live in a cave at the bottom of a deep ravine. Thus the depths are suggested. There is also a spring nearby that is important to the story. A cave appears in some medieval paintings of St. George and the dragon, Paolo Uccello's painting above, for instance. (In a more modern version, the train which is to run over the maiden tied to the tracks comes out of a tunnel.) Also, after the combat Tristan faints in a pool of water. There is also the usual fraud, a false claimant to the victory and to the princess' hand. In this case it is the king's seneschal who, like Phineus, had long loved the princess, but did not have the courage to fight for her.
In Ariosto's Orlando Furioso we finally do meet a thoroughly naked heroine chained to the rock. But more on naked heroines later. Angelica, the victim, is a king's daughter, though from another country. She has been captured by the inhabitants of an island where daily sacrifices are made to the Orc, a monster sent by Proteus, a sea god, to harry the countryside as punishment for a crime. Many years before, Proteus had loved a princess of the island and had impregnated her. Finding his daughter pregnant, the king had had her executed, thus killing both her and Proteus' unborn son. Ever after, the islanders had to sacrifice the most beautiful women they could find to the Orc to prevent him from ravaging the island.
The hero, Roger, arrives by air riding a hippogriff--a horse-eagle-lion--and fights the dragon. After an inconclusive battle Roger uncovers his magic shield, an object of such brightness that it temporarily stuns the monster, giving him time to free Angelica and carry her away. This version, more than any other, contains revealing details of the myth, but for the moment I will postpone considering them.
Roger and Angelica--engraving by Gustave Dore. Dore did several engravings for this scene, as well as a later one in which a heroine is rescued by Orlando. He also did a painting of this scene.
There is clearly an erotic element in Dore's picture; Angelica is not only given a very attractive figure, but she is posed elegantly in a way best designed to show it off.
After Ariosto the theme receives less attention until the 19th century, when it is taken up by painters as well as poets. In the twentieth century it has taken new and peculiar forms, perhaps because the dragon has not been as successfully resurrected as a creature of real menace as werewolves and vampires have. Perhaps the reason is that the dragon's powers, not cunning or magical, but straightforwardly destructive, have largely been preempted by mechanical civilization--the ability to fly by aircraft and rockets, the armor by tanks and other vehicles of mechanized warfare, the ability to breathe fire by a whole range of modern weapons, the serpentine body by the locomotive. Thus, though the century has produced dragons--the Beast from Twenty-thousand Fathoms and Godzilla--a more convincing dragon is the mechanical monster that inhabits the wasteland of Dr. No's guano island in Ian Flemming's Dr. No. More recently some very convincing dragons were created for the otherwise mediocre film, Reign of Fire.
The age has produced a number of substitutes, the most famous being the virgin tied to the tracks. How often this was used with any pretense of seriousness I do not know, but the very notoriety of the scene suggests a certain psychological dynamism. Most probably remember The Bulwinkle Show, and Dudley Do-right of the Mounties who begins each episode by rescuing Nell from the tracks where she has been tied by Snidely Whiplash, a name that suggests the sexually sadistic element of the theme. The cartoon was upgraded to a full length, live-action film in 1999, with Sarah Jessica Parker playing Nell. Some movie ideas are fun to think about, but should never be carried out, like this, Clue, and Boris and Natasha.
A more ambitious variant is King Kong, a film effective enough to be both imitated and remade twice. In this story the heroine is tied to a pair of rocks as a sacrifice to appease a monster ape. In pictures from the ancient world Andromeda is generally pictured standing tranquilly, her arms held out languidly, as though she were a weary commuter resting by holding the straps in either side of the aisle. The film, however, plays up the perversity of the scene. Fay Wrag struggles and screams in a most satisfying manner and, more perversely yet, the great ape who comes to devour her turns out to be the hero of the story.
This heroine too is clothed--she could hardly be otherwise in a popular movie of the thirties, but we all remember, in one of the most famous scenes of film history, the great ape's not entirely successful efforts to peel off her clothing.
The ape, thoroughly masculine, falls in love with the girl and largely through her, though not by her intention, becomes the victim of treachery and shameless exploitation. In an attempt to reach her he is finally shot down from the top of the Empire State Building. The modern hippogriff is the small World War I plane, or rather planes, since the true hero is the monster, not the pilot. Once Kong is shot down, the police lieutenant says, "Well, Denham, the airplanes got him." Carl Denham, who had cynically used Ann Darrow as bait to capture Kong in the first place says, " Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes, it was beauty killed the beast." At one level the line seems very hokey, but it touches something deeper, somethime mythic, in its suggestion that the death of the great creature was not something accomplished by the cleverness of modern technology, but by the dark and primal force of animal attraction. That element of the story is rather heavily played up in Peter Jackson's remake, which makes the attraction both more obvious and more mutual.
Kong is, in fact, not unlike other film heroes of the 30's--crude, violent, inarticulate, but at the core of his being, honest, good-hearted, chivalrous; and as so many of them do, or nearly do, he falls victim to that social mileau of treachery and deceit to which the women of such films are so well adapted. Quite possibly the author of the screen play had no thought of the Andromeda myth, but a surprising number of the standard themes emerge.
But what does all of this mean?--I have already quoted Graves; here is Carl Jung's view:
They have both (Perseus and Theseus) had to overcome their fear of unconscious demonic maternal powers and had to liberate from these powers a single youthful female figure.
Perseus had to cut off the head of the gorgon Medusa, whose horrifying visage and snaky locks turned all who gazed upon them to stone. He later had to overcome the dragon that guarded Andromeda. Theseus represented the young patriarchal spirit of Athens who had to brave the terrors of the Cretan labyrinth with its monstrous inmate, the Minotaur, which perhaps symbolized t he unhealthy decadence of matriarchal Crete. (In all cultures, the labyrinth has the meaning of an entangling and confusing representation of the world of matriarchal consciousness; it can be traversed only by those who are ready for a special initiation into the mysterious world of the collective unconscious.) Having overcome this danger, Theseus rescued Ariadne, a maiden in distress.
This rescue symbolizes the liberation of the anima figure from the devouring aspect of the mother image. (citation to be added later.)
This expanation has a number of points of contact with that of Graves, and like it can easily be taken at full face value. There are, however, problems. First, Ariadne is neither helpless nor in distress, and it is she who supplies the tools whereby Theseus kills the Minotaur and escapes the labyrinth. Further, he rather ungratefully deserts her on his way home. There are also problems with this as an analysis of the Andromeda story. The fact that it totally ignores the erotic element alone is enough to raise suspicion. Also, Andromeda is not guarded by, but is rather about to be devoured by the dragon. The difference is important. Further, if the monster is simple "the devouring aspect of the mother image," why in none of these stories, including that of Theseus, is the monster female? After all, female mosters are common enough--Grendel's mother, the Dragon of Errour in The Faerie Queene, for example. In both the stories of Perseus and of St. George, at least in some versions, the heroine is dressed as a bride, indicating that she is in a sense to be given in marriage to the devouring dragon. Finally, when we see the frantic struggles of Fay Wray, are we really approaching "a special initiation into the mysteries of the collective unconscous," or is it really the latent element of sado-masochism in all of us ithat is being revealed? In short, I do not believe t hat the myth has as tight, simple, and straightforward an explanation as Jung suggests.
Anchient Greek representation of Andromeda as a commuter.
But let us consider the dragon. The killing of the dragon and the freeing of the waters is a theme so ancient that no time or place can confidently be named as its origin. The full significance of this myth I do not claim to understand. In "Snakes," however, I have shown that all the various significances of the dragon-serpent relate in one way or another to water, and that the dragon-serpent in its various forms represents the waters in all their forms--the waters on the earth, under the earth, around the earth, in the air, and above the firmament. In the heroic age, however, the dragon takes on other associations as well. First there is the heroic age's hostility to the feminine, a hostility both psychological and ideological, and which is reflected in such stories as those of Pandora and Eve. Second, the dragon, which has definite connections with the female in her earthly and cthonic nature, also becomes associated with the hero. As J. R. R. Tolkein suggests, (citation to be added later) the dragon is the hero's alter-ego, the hero seen from the victim's viewpoint. Both hero and dragon are armored, spread fire and destruction, create wastelands, collect gold, kill heroes, and have an appetite for virgins--similar activities, different perspectives. Thus we see one reason that the dragon is not presented as female--the dragon is, at least in one sense--the masculine principle which expresses its hostility to the feminine by devouring virgins, a hostility not entirely unjustified, at least in the context of the stories; not only does the hero become involved in treachery by rescuing the maiden, but so does the monster. In some versions of the St. George legend the virgin leads the docile dragon to the slaughter on a leash, and a very similar fate befalls King Kong. We are almost encouraged to sympathize and identify not with the all-too-predictable rescuer, but with the doomed but always determined dragon. It is this identification that makes any discussion of the theme a little imbarrassing.
Here Roger and Angelica become significant. Roger, as he and the beautiful and naked Angelica travel through the air, is continually giving her backward glances. He brings the hippogriff to earth on a headland and begins feverishly and clumsily attempting to pull off his armor. Angelica only escapes ravishment by the aid of a ring of invisibility. As so often in myth, a thing also means its opposite--to rescue is to ravish. After all, the hero wins the girl, which is what the dragon wanted too; the two of them simply had slightly different ideas of what to do with the winnings. And, after all, devouring has its sexual aspects--one can devour with his eyes, as Roger has been doing during the ride. However, the interchangability of "devouring" and "sexual intercourse, not only in the language of psychology, but in myth and folklore as well, is already well known. Thus the dragon's frustration on one headland is mirrored by Roger's on the other.
Devouring as sexual act: Gustave Dore, "Red Riding Hood".
This version is also significant in that the sadistic elements here become overt. The poet puts great emphasis on Angelica's nakedness, helplessness, embarrassment, and terror. She is, in fact, the first naked Andromeda.
The predatory hero, however, also appears in the story of Hercules and Hesione. Tricked out of his winnings, the princess Hesione, Hercules returns to Troy with an army, ravages the country, destroys the city, kills all the male members of the royal family but one, and then takes Hesione by force and gives her to his companion Telamon. The dragon was punishment for Laomedon's first deception, Hercules for his second, and of the two the hero turned out to be the greater scourge. Both, however, behave in a quite similar manner.
Following Ariosto, Ingres, in his third version of the scene paints a nude Angelica chained to the rocks, and a contemporary, Louis Rioult, adds a portrayal of Riger's unwelcome attentions to Angelica as they fly away. Delacroix does not paint this scene, but does both Perseus and St. George, and contrary to both traditions and the logic of the situation, portrays a nude virgin in both cases.
"Roger and Angelica," 1839 version. The 1819 version is very similar. In it, the dragon is on the other side of Angelica, so that the lance cuts across her body, emphasising its phallic nature. Here he has tightened the picture structurally, and made it psychologically more complex by making the relationships more ambiguous.
The 19th century's interest in this theme seems extreme. Ingres apparently had to paint the scene once every twenty years, since he has versions from 1819, 1839, and 1859, and he does considerably less with the subjecty than Burne-Jones does. I will consider Igres' 1839 picture. It is full of the sexual. As if rocks did not have phallic associations already, Ingres has made this one phallus-shaped. (actually a number of other painters do so as well.) His heroine, who has managed to find a pose that leaves almost nothing to the imagination, manages to look at once seductive and terrified. The hero is attacking the orc with a long, phallic lance,, while the rearing hippogriff appears about to attack Angelica with his claws. In fact, she seems in far more danger from the hippogriff than from the orc, whose attention is turned solely upon Roger. Look at the picture as a gestalt, as perhaps one should look at a painting, rather than as an illustration from a story, and what do we see--a hero rescuing a maiden from a dragon--perhaps. How about two rivals for the princess, one from the sky, one from the depths? Or how about a siren who has used a pretended helplessness to lure a knight to within reach of either herself, or of her monstrous accomplice?--perhaps that too.
If Joseph Fontenrose is correct, (citation to be added at a later time.) the combat myth, at one stage of its development, is a battle against first a male, and then a female monster, as in Beowulf's fight with Grendel and Grendel's mother, Apollo's defeat of the python and then of the pythoness, Sigurnd's defeat of the dragon and then of the valkyrie. (Sigurd's defeat of the valkyrie does not come until after the second trip through the flames when, disguised as Gunnar/Gunther, he wrestles her to submission, but our versions of that story are relatively late.) Thus in the earlierst pictures, as Graves says, the hero may be chaining rather than freeing the woman. That, of course, is not the story as we have it, but it does show the elements that went into it, elements in which the maiden is something mroe than mere victim. How about the monster as emanation of the female? In that case we have a nice balance--the man attacking the sea serpent which is the emanation of the woman, while the horse-eagle, wich is the emanation of the man, is attacking the woman. There is a remarkable ambivalence to this picture.
The English did not dare go quite this far in painting, but Dante Gabrielle Rosetti did produce two sonnets inspired by Ingres' first Roger and Angelica painting, and many of the Victorians gave the subject a try at one time or another. (Apparently it didn't mater whether the victim was Angelica or Andromeda--they were all interpreted as Andromedas.) One of Gerard Manley Hopkins' only mythological poems is a sonnet about Andromeda. Charles Kingsley wrote a long poem, for which he prepared by making dozens of pencil drawings. Dozens?--"obsession" might be a better word than "preparation." William Morris and Edward Dowden also wrote poems on Andromeda, and Browning, who possessed a treasured engraving of the subject, devoted an impassioned passage in his long poem "Pauline" to the beauty and suffering of Andromeda.
The dominant Victorian view would seem to be that Andromeda represents beauty, spiritual, intellectual, or physical menaced by a crass and destructive world, while Perseus is the romantic poet, intellect, or soul, a hero not of mere muscle, but of sensibility. This is a view a little like Jung's, but infused with romantic egotism. The clearest, but fairly typical statement, is that of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet on Hiram Powers' statue, "The Greek Slave," though here the heroine is menaced by the Turk rather than by a sea monster. But I discuss this work elsewhere, and so will not do so here.
A somewhat different, but also typically romantic view of the myth is expressed by Delacroix' Perseus and Andromeda. In this painting a red-haired Andromeda stands naked in the foreground, at the edge of the water, one foot on the rock, and on her discarded robe, the other in the water. Just below her, in the dark waters is a rough, crudely-formed dragon, hardly distinguishable from the rocks. Plunging down from above, sword drawn, is Perseus, surrounded by the red-gold of the sun. The horizon divides the picture into two planes, one the dark water plane persided over by the dragon, the other the sunlit sky persided over by Perseus. Andromeda's figure, far larger than either of the others extends nearly from top to bottom of the picture, half in one plane, half in the other, her red hair blending into the sun's rays, her red robe disintegrating into water at the bottom of the picture.
Eugene Delacroix, Perseus and Andromeda. 1853. Delacroix also painted another Andromeda the year before, also red haired.
The painting is, perhaps, self-explanatory, but I will give it a little amplification. In Oriental terms we would speak of Yin and Yang. Historically, we could speak of that great transformation from the dark, downward-looking agricultural religions of the great goddess and the cosmic serpent, with their ritual bloodshed and human sacrifices, to the victorious Olympians and their other patriarchal counterparts, the upward-looking, sky-oriented religions, a psychological transformation which not only took place in the history of the race, but which also takes place in the human psyche when the child learns to look beyond the mother for his source of gratification. The hero is the individual, the differentiated being. Though Perseus is contrasted here to the monster, he is also contrasted to Andromeda; he is in the sun, she separated from it by rocks; he flies, she is immobilized; he is armed, she helpless; he is clothed in the blue of the sky, her discarded robe is red, the color of flesh and blood. Thus Delacroix suggests Andromeda's partial identity with the monster, as well as her need to be saved from bondage to it and to the earth. She needs to be brought up into his world; perhaps he needs to reaffirm his connection with the dragon's world as well.
Charles Kingsley's poem, "Andromeda" (1858), written five years after Delacroix' painting, takes a similar approach. Partially quoting, partially summarizing Kingsley's words thus:
The myth was "a very deep one," and belonged to the primitive period of human sacrifices to the
powers of nature, which died out throughout Greece before the higher, sunnier faith in human
gods." He wished to show Andromeda as "a barbarian" with "no notion (besides fetichism) toward
pleasure and pain, as of an animal. It is not till the thinking, sententious Greek, whith his awful
beauty, inspires her, that she develops into a woman. (citation to be added later.(
Like St. George, it is Perseus, not Andromeda, who in this version possesses beauty. Delacroix, also has not gone out of his way to emphasize Andromeda's beauty or her sexual appeal, as Ingres has. Thus her nakedness may be less a matter of sexual appeal than of her incomplete humanity. None of these ideas inherited from the ancient world and from the Renaissance would have seemed strange to a typical Victorian, who at the same time would probably have also believed the opposite, that woman was the household angel, the repository of morals, civilization, and social values in general. It was, in fact, during this period that angels began being most often represented as female.
Perhaps in this context we might also recall that other famout romantic, Shelley, and his fondness for rescuing and educating the beloved, which in Jungian language may simply be an externalization of the felt need to redeem the anima. In any case, Shelley played Perseus three times, the third an attempt to save a virgin from the greatest beast of them all--the Church of Rome. The girl, however, remained in the nunnery.
The patriarchal victory is not simply a matter of anthropology, but a fact that has profoundly colored Western and Near-Eastern history for the last three thousand years. With the celebration of purely masculine virtues, much has been sytenatically surpressed or repressed. If the myth, on one level, states the need to redeem the feminine for patriarchal Greece and Rome, then the story of St. George does the same for patriarchal Christianity. But, as Emma Jung points out in The Grail Legend, it is a need largely dormant until the establishment of order and the defeat of paganismm that is, until the high middle ages. (citation to be added later.) Earlier, woman was execrated by the priest and relegated to extra-curricular activities by the knight. Then the cult of the virgin, courtly love, and obsession with witchcraft all came to the fore together, and with them, of course, St. George and the dragon.
The Patriarchal Reformation, and the rationality of the eighteenth century, I believe, again brought the need to redeem the feminine to the fore. And, what century was ever more ambivalent on the subject of women than the ninteenth--what, except possibly our own? Woman was idealized and sequestered, held up as a model, while increasingly denied legal rights. Her helplessness and delicacy were exaggerated. Aesthetes held the female for to be the most perfect expression of beauty, while practicing ideal, or not so ideal homosexuality. The importance of female influence was stressed, while woman was made more inaccessible than she had ever been. No doubt one appeal of the chained maiden was that here at least she was accessible. And even a dragon might have seemed a small obstacle compared to the intricacies of Victorian propriety.
The theme differs in emphasis from Ingres to Delacroix, but between them they catch most of what the nineteenth century had to say on the subject. There are, however, two related loose ends to tie up. I have emphasised the sun behind Perseus in Delacroix's picture, while Kingsley uses the term "sunnier" to describe the Olympians. This is neither coincidental, nor simply a reflection of ninteenth century scholarship's excessive emphasis on solar myth. The solar hero is the real hero of the myth.
For instance, Sigurd in the Volsungasaga is clearly a solar being. He not only has bright red-gold hair and beard, but his eyes are so bright that no one dares look into them. Further, he has the typical Apollonian virtues; he is moderate, sober, just, rational, and even-tempered, a striking contrast to everyone else in the saga. He too kills a dragon and rescues a maiden; in the saga the one event follows immediately upon the other. In other versions, however, he actually frees the maiden from the dragon.
Sigurd is invulnerable in the world of men, but once he becomes the object of the machinations of three women, Brynhild the valkyrie, Gudrun his wife, and Grimhild his mother-in-law, he falls an easy victim, and the saga returns to the darkness and unrelieved savagery that characterized it before Sigurd's advent.
Solar myth would also seem to explain Roger's magic shield. After an inconclusive battle with the orc, he uncovers his shield which is so bright that all who see it are dazzled to unconsciousness. Ingres, whose first two paintings are in a night setting, picks up the solar element in the third, and shows Roger blinding the orc.
The second loose ind is the hero's mode of locomotion. How does a solar hero travel? Several go into battle on horseback--a not inappropriate means. Apollo's chariot is pulled by horses. Further, the horse is a pure animal, characterized by dignity, nobility, and sexual restraint--the appropriate citizens of Swift's utopia in Gulliver's Travels. The horse is identified with the masculine. The horse is Apollonian. Further, until modern times, travel on horseback was the closest man ever came to flight. In fact, riding a galloping horse is probably as close as many people would ever want to come.
However, in a contest between sky and depths, it would be more appropriate for the hero actually to fly. Perseus' winged sandals, however, provide rather unsubstantial footing for battle. We might wonder why he did not ride the winged horse, Pegasus, which sprung from the neck of the dead Medusa. Another her, Belaraphon, however, does ride the winged horse against a dragon that has been ravaging the countryside. This story, though, lacks a chained maiden; perhaps after Andromeda and Hesione, a third would be too much of a good thing. Many painters have, in fact, substituted Pegasus for the sandals. Pegasus would also have been appropriate for that other solar hero, St. George, but winged horses are not a part of Christiam mythology, and so he has to do without.
The eagle is, of course, the solar creature par excellance, and is the mythic enemy of the serpent of the void. The eagle and serpent is a well-known Mexican symbol, and in Borneo, an eagle representing the male principle and a serpent representing the female principle inhabitants the world tree, wage constant war. (I have not recovered this citation yet, though it is probably from Joseph Campbell. But Mircea Eliade in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, chapter VIII, tells us that the Tree with an eagle at the top and a serpent at its roots is not only common to Africa and Indonesia, but is also attested by the Turks and Germanic people. In the latter case, it is Yggdrasil, the World Ash that has an eagle at its top, a serpent gnawing at its roots, and a squirrel that acts as go-between.) The Christian counterpart is the winged angel Michael who battles Satan, the serpent of the void. Ariosto, as he so often does, finds the perfect compromise--the hippogriff, or horse eagle. (Actually, the hippogriff is also part lion, another masculine and solar animal.)
Now I have to take a short excursion to the fringes of my subject as an introduction to my last example of the Andromeda myth. In the popular historical novel of the first half of the 20th century the chained maiden was a standard feature. In the American myth of progress it is the dark heritage of the past that attempts to make her its victims. The forces of repressive institutions are embodied in the person of a coarse and lustful brute whose intention is usually rape. A novel, however, is different than a statue. Hiram Powers' "Greek Slave" only exists in the posture that we see her; the heroine of a novel ultimately marries the hero, and therefore must not be unduly defiled. After all, she is destined for the Apollonian hero, a forward-looking person, but who as an Apollonian does represent the patriarchal order, with its stress upon the female's spiritual and sexual purity.
Hiram Powers. "The Greek Slave." This statue created a sensation at England's 1851 Industrial World's Fair.
Here rage or devouring are out of the question, and instead of the serpent of the void, we have the blacksnake whip. This fact does somewhat open up the sadistic element of the theme; with a devouring dragon the hero is either too late, or he is on time--period. With the heroine chained to the phallic post instead of the phallic rocks, various degrees of lateness are possible.
The sadism of the theme suggests a naked heroine; patriarchal American puritanism insists upon keeping her clothed. Traditional popular novels usually compromise, and the heroine is stripped to the waist. Further would be a serious compromising of her purity. Why?--because the lower half of the body is identified with the more earthly--what we call the lower--functions, the realm of the dragon. In Delacroix's picture, Andromeda's body is bisected in this manner--from the waist up, in the sky, from the waist down, in the world of sea and dragon.
In the historical novels (bodice rippers), of the late 20th century, the puritan compromise was largely abandoned, not only by male writers, but by female as well. The hero is likely to be the same person as his dark alter ego, and the heroine is far more likely to be subjected to far greater indignities than in the past. The reason is not that we are becoming more brutal, but that we neither value virginity as highly as out ancestors did, nor shrink as much as they did from the darker side of ourselves. Perhaps another reason is that, unlike with historical romances of the earlier part of the century, the later writers were nearly all female, and female writers seem to be less prudish about the heroine's modesty and virtue.
My last example of the theme, Jame's Dickey's "May Day Sermon by a Woman Preacher Leaving the Baptist Church," has affinties with the theme as we meet it in the popular historical novel, such clear affinities that it would be surprising if Dickey did not realize that he was recreating the Andromeda myth. The poem, which is quite long, was the most substantial he had written until that time (1967). It was published in The Atlantic, and the cover picture was an abstract illustration of the poem. The poem caused an extreme reaction, with some readers hailing it as a great work, others calling it trash and pornography.
The story the woman preacher tells is a simple one, though heightened by the feverish rhetoric of rural evangelism. A Georgia small farmer discovers a condom beside the creek, evidence of his daughter's sexual activity. He drags her off to the barn in the gathering darkness, hangs her up by her wrists and her red hair from stump-pulling chains, tears her clothes off, and whipers her while shouting verses of scripture. That night in bed she hears the approach of her lover's motorcycle, gathers up an armload of clothes and hurries out to meet him. She pauses at her father's bedroom, thinking of putting an ice pick through his eye, but then goes on. She sets all the barnyard animals free, then rides off with her lover, still naked, like Angelica on the back of Roger's hippogriff, leaving a trail of stockings behind her, caught on branches like the cast skins of nakes. But then the trail runs out, and the narrator suggests that they ride upward on the road of mist rising from the creek, and disappear into the night sky.
The poem is a reversal of the whole tradition. The woman preacher is leaving the church because of its brutal life-and-nature-denying patriarchal influence, the influence of the father (or Father). It is a May Day sermon, a sermon celebrating the divinity and vitality of nature, of life, of fertility, of sex. The girl is red-haired, like Delacroix's Andromeda, and red is a recurrent color theme--the red hair, the red Georgia earth, red blood, the red of the phallic copperhead, and the red of the kudzu vine. (In the literary/film iconography of female sexuality, sexual nature is indicated by hair color--dark haired women embrace their sexuality freely, blondes accept it only as far as social mores permit, and redheads must first be forced, but then fully embrace their sexuality. It is therefore common for European harem girls to be pictured as red haired. A great proportion of Andromeda's are also red haired. And far more of the "slave girls" in Gorean roleplay channels present themselves as red haired than is likely in real life.)
N. C. Wyeth. "Andromeda". Another redhead. Since this is from what is essentially a children's book, she is half-clothed. .
The protector of the girl's virtue and exponent of the sky father and of patriarchal values, the father, is the villain. The hero is the one who has compromised her virtue. He is that rather dubious character, the motorcyclist, and he arrives not like a solar hero with the sun at his back, but by night, and much too late for any heroics.
The motorcycle is not a bad hippogriff; riding one is very much like flying, so much so that there is a temptation to make it actually fly, to jump seventeen semis, a pool of sharks, the Snake River Canyon. Unlike the hippogriff, however, the motorcycle is not a solar mount; it is identified with death, violence, and the darker side of human nature generally. The actual comparison Dicky uses, and uses three times, is to a hog. "Hog," by the way, is the common term for the Harley-Davidson 1200 c.c. motorcycle, and its even bigger bore descendants. If this mount does ascend, it is not toward Apollo's sun, but toward the mysterious, feminine moon. Riding naked behind a Hell's Angel is a not uncommon female fantasy, but it is hardly an Apollonian one.
The father plays one side of the dragon role, but there is a serpent too, two of them, in fact--a milk snake and a copperhead. Dickey apparently does not know what to do with them, however, and so they are simply spectators. The copperhead's phallic appearance and reddish color do identify it with the girl, and the natural order that the father is the enemy of. Early in the poem the copperhead is also identified with Jehovah--a rather existential Jehovah looking for an identity other than God the Father--but that theme does not develop. The serpent is, however, so "right" a part of the theme that it seems important, and in the abrstract cover picture, it and the girl's are the only two recognizable shapes.
In this poem we see an extreme that the Romantics and Victorians, with their sentimental primativism, never dreamed of, or at least never admitted they did. Dickey has attempted to reverse the myth, to make it a celebration of the instinctive and feminine, to make Perseus and St. George the villains, and the dragon the hero. In short, to bring back the old religion.
To conclude, I do not believe that either Graves or Jung do justice to the myth--Graves because of his impatience with its element of anti-feminism, Jung because it falls so neatly into a Jungian pattern at one level that he simply does not press it further. Neiter shows any awareness of what to the average person is probably its most obvious feature, its quality of eroticism and sado-eroticism.
Both, as we have seen, have identified important elements of the theme, but both toget her do not exhaust it. I have, perhaps, overemphasized the darker shades; to do so is characteristic of our age. The blindness of the Victorians to such implications might seem naive to us, but the views of people of taste and intelligence should not be too easily dismissed. If the Victorians can seldom see shadow where there is light, we too seldom see light where there is shadow.