Saturday, February 8, 2014

Reading Stanley Lombardo's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses and watching Top of the Lake

Phaëthon and Callisto

How is Ovid's Metamorphoses like the television miniseries Top of the Lake?

Parents do love their children: Phoebus's misery at the death of Phaëthon

"Meanwhile, Phaëthon's father mourns, bereft
Of his bright glory, as if he were in eclipse.
He hates the light, hates himself, hates the day.
He gives his soul over to grief, to grief adds rage,
And refuses his duty to the world." p. 44

Children do not receive proper guidance from their elders: Phoebus grants Phaëthon whatever he wishes as proof of his fatherly love. 

"His words were no sooner out than the boy asked
To drive his father's chariot for a day
And take control of all that horsepower.
The father regretted his oath. Three times
Four times, he shook his luminous head saying,

"'Your words show that my own were rash. I wish
That I could take back my promise.'" p. 34

 Men are predatory ... 

"When she started to talk about which woods to hunt,
He stopped her with an embrace, betraying himself
With a less than innocent act. She did struggle,
As much as a woman can--had you seen it,
Juno,you would have been kinder--but what man
Can a girl overcome, and who can overcome Jove?" p. 46

Sometimes it might be better to undergo a metamorphosis than to carry on in the world as it is.
Juno turns Callisto into a bear in revenge for Jove's lust for Callisto

"And now Lycaon's grandson, Arcas, who knew
Nothing of his parents, had just turned fifteen.
While he was out hunging, scouting the best spots,
And enmeshing Arcadia's woods with his nets,
He came upon his mother, who stopped in her tracks
At the sight of Arcas. She seemed to recognize him.
He shrank back from the gaze of those unmoving eyes,
Afraid without knowing why; and as the bear
Started to advance, panting and eager,
He raised his sharp spear to pierce her breast.
But the Olympian stoped him, removing at once
Both of the principals and the crime from the scene.
He whisked the pair up through the void in a whirlwind
And set them in the sky as conjoined constellations." p. 49

"Top of the Lake was written" by noted New Zealand author Jane Campion and Gerard Lee. It is set in a remote New Zealand town, Top of the Lake, which has a strange misogynistic culture.

The women at the piece of land known as Paradise are like Diana and her forest women, not virgins in this case, but self-exiled from the world of men. Unlike Callisto, Tui is not exiled from their company because of her pregnancy, she would have been welcomed and nourished, but even among these forest women, she is not safe. She exiles herself to protect herself from all of the  grown men including her father ...She lives like a bear living in the woods and caves throughout the winter, relying on her wits and her young friends to see her through.

Robin, the detective is searching for the twelve year old Tui, the father of her unborn child not yet revealed, or who may be, as Tui claims, "no one." In searching for Tui, Robin learns that she and Tui not only share the experience of rape and pregnancy as a child, but they share the same biological father. By the end of the story, the trauma that they have witnessed and experienced leaves them no better off than Callisto, chased by men, who, drunk with their divinity and power, believe they should not be denied anything or anyone. In the final scene of "Top of the Lake," as the two sisters sit at the water's edge, we can imagine them transformed into graceful fish or birds who can leave everything behind, disappear without a trace, but continue to thrive in a newly opened up world known only to them.  Even Paradise is too close.

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