From Richard Kearney’s “Melancholy: Between Gods and Monsters.”

“…In short, sexual desire for female beauty was intimately linked, in our mythological unconscious, with an initial ac of sundering and separation. Without castration there could be no sense of that lack, difference or otherness which is so indispensable to the workings of eros. Indeed, we find countless allusions to the amorous, venal and sometimes lecherous character of the melancholic throughout the ages.

The identification of Kronos-Saturn with ‘time’ is more than a phonetic coincidence (Kronos-chronos). The [melancholic] is intimately related to the dread produced in mortals by the scythe of Time the Reaper — i.e. by that separation of all separations, death. The ‘chronological’ character of melancholy is thus captured in Kronos’ threefold act of devouring, substitution and castration, each of which represents a fundamental aspect of time. Indeed another way to read this myth would be to emphasize the futility of Kronos’ efforts to remain eternal by reversing time, drawing is progeny back into himself: an act of monstrous self-absorption punished by the inevitable passage of time as both substitution  (one moment replacing another) and castration (the cutting of the illusion of phallic self-sufficiency). In other words, to the extent that Kronos destroys he is himself destroyed. Kronos is the destroyed destroyer, just as he is the castrated castrator.This paradoxical character of the Kronos-Saturn figure is further underscored, moreover, by the fact that the experience of sundering can also give rise to reactivity. The inaugural myths of castration lead not only to the survival and empowerment of the greatest Olympian deity — Zeus — but also to the birth of beauty and desire (Venus rising from the waves bloodied by castrated genitals). In this reading cyclical time which seeks to return itself gives way to chronological time which acknowledges the ineluctability of historical transience and mortality. It is the virtue of wisdom, capable of accepting the ruptures of mortal existence, which lies at the root of the visual representations of Saturn as elderly sage and resigned soverign. Disenchanted with the narcissistic ideal of self-plenitude, the creative melancholic is one who re-experiences the world without illusion, that is, with eyes capable of seeing otherwise.

According to this Saturnine narrative, in sum, the artist is one who lets go of the ego in order to rediscover him-or herself anew. Working through melancholy towards a form of productive mourning, the artist becomes like a wise Olympian deity, a curious ‘gaiety transfiguring all that dread’ (Yeats). This more upbeat legacy runs from certain ideas of classical antiquity up to the middle ages an early Renaissance, as witnessed in countless sculptures, frescoes, murals and portraits depicting Melancholia as creative thinker, head on hand, calmly embracing death. This is the melancholic mind that authentically accepts its ‘being-toward-death’ (Heidegger). Or to use psychoanalytic language, it is the nationalistically wounded soul that has undergone ‘symbolic castration’ and acknowledged its incorrigible and ultimately insatiable condition as ‘want-to-be’…The melancholic moves from destruction to creation by accepting his/her own death. Darkness encountered and traversed becomes a source of new light, a ‘black sun’. Hence the proliferation through the Western visual tradition of images of the castrated-castrating Kronos holding aloft a sickle, scythe or dragon of time biting its own tail. Unless, these symbols suggest, we embrace our mortality as a limit-experience of irreversible loss, we cannot transform the disease of melancholy into healing insight.”  -Richard Kearney in Strangers, Gods and Monsters. 

See also: On the Sacrifice of the Scapegoat. 

Could Neil Gaiman be wrong? Exploring the ‘gateway books’ theory:

‘So why is it that I’ve been reluctant to hand over to my young Riordan aficionado the review copy I received of the author’s other recent publication, “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods”? Lavishly illustrated on heavy, glossy paper, this is Riordan’s answer to the D’Aulaires’ celebrated volume. It is the same size as that familiar book, with its cover even drawing from the same color palette of yellows and blues. Inside, it contains the old stories, as retold in the voice of Percy Jackson himself: “A publisher in New York asked me to write down what I know about the Greek gods, and I was like, ‘Can we do this anonymously? Because I don’t need the Olympians mad at me again. ’ ”

Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire, European immigrants to the United States who co-authored many books after their marriage in 1925, retold the myths in a heightened, poetic language: “In olden times, when men still worshiped ugly idols, there lived in the land of Greece a folk of shepherds and herdsmen who cherished light and beauty,” their book begins. Riordan’s book strikes a very different tone. It is inscribed with obsolescence (Craigslist, iPhones, and the Powerball lottery are invoked) and delivered in the kind of jaded teen argot that proves irresistibly cool to kids from grade school up: “At first, Kronos wasn’t so bad. He had to work his way up to being a complete slime bucket.” While the D’Aulaires wrote that “Persephone grew up on Olympus and her gay laughter rang through the brilliant halls,” Percy’s introduction to the story of Demeter’s daughter reads, “I have to be honest. I never understood what made Persephone such a big deal. I mean, for a girl who almost destroyed the universe, she seems kind of meh.” The former book, which was published fifty-two years ago, remains mostly lucid, even if in places it is stilted and dated. But I suspect it would be a very discerning elementary or middle-school student—or a willfully perverse one—who would chose the old version over the Percy Jackson retelling. Put the books side by side, and the D’Aulaires look more like the Dull’Aires, as Percy and his demigod pals might put it. (Wow—this affect is contagious.)

Gaiman’s view that any book that is avidly embraced can serve as a gateway to an enduring love of reading is surely true: my own earliest literary love affair was with Enid Blyton, that mid-century spinner of mysteries and boarding-school stories, who is among the authors Gaiman lists as having been deemed bad for children. But the metaphor of the gateway should prompt caution, too, since one can go through a gate in two directions. What if the strenuous accessibility of “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods” proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same? There’s a myth that could serve as an illustration here. I’m sure my son can remind me which one.’  – Rebecca Mead. Read the rest here. 

We do wonder how many American Gods and Percy Jackson fans have actually read the classical myth-lit such books pay homage to.

We also wonder where Percy Jackson got the idea to remain anonymous (cough, cough).


Rebecca Mead has a new book out we would really like to read.