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— G.B. Gabbler (@CircoFootnotes) October 31, 2020
“Persuaded by Hera, [Zeus’s] perennially offended wife, that if she was sleeping with a god she ought to have the satisfaction of seeing him in all his glory, Semele nagged at Zeus night after night to throw off his disguise and appear as he really was. Finally, exasperated and perhaps by now tired of her, he did and she was vaporised. It was no doubt their bad experiences with these two, Tantalos and Semele, that made the gods wary of getting too close to the mortals of later generations.”
-John Spurling, Arcadian Nights
“Pelops was the son of Tantalos, said to be a child of Father Zeus and a favorite of the gods; such a favourite that they even invited him to their divine banquets of ambrosia and nectar and when eh invited them back, accepted. This was altogether too much for his sanity. He was beside himself with self-importance, promising his human friends that next time he was invited to Mount Olympos he would put aside a little of the gods’ food and drink and bring it back for them to taste, and asking them meanwhile to find hi the choicest foods and wines in Greece to set before the gods. He knew, of course, that the gods never touch human food or wine. They like us to offer them a prime ram or bull and to pour on the ground a libation of he costliest wine, but not for them to consume, only to demonstrate our love and esteem, our sense of gratitude for what earth gives us, our willingness to sacrifice the best things we have in their honour.
So when the twelve Olympian gods came to diinner at [Tantalos’s] place in Arcadia — that made thirteen at the table, including the host — Tantalos did not expect them to eat any of the twenty or thirty courses he provided, nor to drink any of the choice wines from Thasos and Chios, Rhodes and Cos, and nearby Nemea. What he did expect them to do, as each delectable dish was brought in and placed on the table with its aroma wafting around the hall, as each superlative wine was opened and poured into the mixing-bowl and then both dishes and wine removed untouched, was to appreciate his very special, very expensive sacrifice. And they did. They smiled and laughed and sniffed the wonderful scents of the wines and powerful aromas drifting round the hall from every sort of meat and game and fish and vegetable and herb. But [Tantalos’s] disastrous mistake was the piece de resistance. It was a huge casserole and Tantalos in his blind pride dared to set the gods a test. Could any of them, he asked, lifting the lid himself with a flourish so that the savour rose up in a rush with the steam, tell him what was in the casserole? A dreadful silence followed, but Tantalos thought it was only because they were flummoxed. He took a juicy piece of meat out of the pot and held it up for them to see. He even bit into it and chewed it with relish.”
See also: The gods don’t need your worship [essay]
Through its neat plays on old storylines—the OA regains her sight, rather than losing it; Homer is the blind prophet’s lover, not her creator—The OA toys with our expectations and with a rich and old narrative tradition. But it’s the OA’s ordeal that elevates these references into something deeply thoughtful. Her secret is that she and several other people (including her beloved Homer) were kept locked up in a psychopath’s basement, hewn out of bare rock.
As with its treatment of Homer, The OA both reverses and strangely expands upon parts of Plato’s allegory. Much like Plato’s captives, the prisoners understand part of the mysteries confronting them. They can see shapes of ideas. How can they get out? Why are they here? Why does this nutty scientist care about their brains in particular? They see the answers to such questions like half-formed shadows playing against a wall. But as the show unspools, we realize that the captives can only find the truth by turning inward.