Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The famous Eros and Psyche

19 10 01 AE 26/27  Nicopolis ad Istrum.  Julia Domna, bust to r.  IOVLIA DO   |   MNA SEBA.  Rev. Capitoline Aphrodite, frontal, with Eros (looking up at her) frontal holding torch in his r. and wreath in his l. hand, as a pair with supporting legs on the outside of the composition.  VPA AVR GALLOV (the OV ligate)  |  NIKOPOLITON (letters diminishing in height after the last omicron) and in exergue PROS IS (the IS again very small).  Full legend confirming Pick for St. Petersburg example.  Coiffure of JD goes with assumption that, like Plautilla's and her own AE 22, this is datable to the occasion of Caracalla's marriage.
The Cupid and Psyche of Apuleius
As I was preparing an essay to illuminate (if only I can) the 2003 La Scala production of Rossini's Moïse e Pharaon, and its ballet entitled Fête d' Isis, I realized that I could not really remember what Apuleius said (which I need for the ballet named for it), but once I had a working eBook (for the eye-friendly font) I realized that though I certainly had "read" Apuleius at the time when I took a course in Classical Mythology, I was barely 21 years old, and had no idea of the picaresque, and had no idea of Eros outside of art history (and not enough of that).  Someone had told me of Ptolemaic queens thinking of themselves as Aphrodite, but not much more.
Even now it is hard to admit that it might be something like sixty years before I could realize, with great delight, that in the Cupid and Psyche chapters (4–6) of The Golden Ass I would find the most charming and trenchant Psychology of Sex that you'll find anywhere.  And, yes, Eros (Amor) does, once Psyche is put through the wringer, come to Love, and to Psyche rather than Venus.  Apuleius's account saves Reinhold Begas's 19th century statuary group in Berlin from its apparent crudity; he took the subject, literally, from Apuleius.  Of course, many visitors may not see it that way, but his Pan is untamed Nature, not some dirty old man.
Berlin, StMuseen.  Reinhold Begas, Pan comforts Psyche.
Do not let me spoil Apuleius for you.  The 1999 Penguin Classics Apuleius, edited by E. J. Kenney (b. 1924), whose Introduction is really worth reading (but so are several others), is the only good one as an eBook.  The one, however great a classic, that Shakespeare read, and every other Engishman. too (Spanish having its own classic translation), does not work well on the Kindle, and, as Prof. Kenney says, reading Apuleius in King James Version English is really a hang-up. 
I think I'll go back and read it all over again.  And the Isis part, too, though it is not the classic in its own right that the Cupid and Psyche is.  Then, e.g., A Midsummer Night's Dream and the rest, and consider how much we have lost, since it is plain that, like his contemporary Lucian of Samosata, who wrote an Ass of his own, Apuleius had a good half a millennium of fiction behind him, even if only his novel survives complete as Don Quixote, for example, does, the rest being substantially lost.  I used to have Cervantes' Novelas Ejemplares in Spanish; probably the library will have it.
But it became clear to me that everybody read the Golden Ass, including monks (of course, they being also the most literate class in the middle ages), and they all loved it.  St. Augustine read it; he says so!*
And those empresses and princesses and all, who could muster enough Latin, would, like Julia Domna, have had a richer fantasy life than most of us imagine their having; the subject was more than conceits for the imperial coinage.  On the coins of Rome herself (the coin at the top of this essay is from a Danubian city, but that type of Aphrodite is the one in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, though there are other copies of the type all over the Empire), Septimius is shown with two babies at his feet, as well as Julia Domna, and they were not alone or the first.
Go read Apuleius, and see if 20th-century psychology can teach you anything.  Isolde and Brunhilde certainly can't.
*Augustine doesn't say that he loved it (though as a youth he may have done), but he does mention him as a respected neo-Platonist (as Augustine had been) and seriously considers whether all the fabulous creatures could have been observed firsthand; remember that Augustine did not know Greek, as Apuleius did.
Several years ago, I contributed an essay on Wings in Greek art, used as connotations of bodilessness; such as it is, it is in the Introduction to Francis Jarman's wonderful website, done in Blogspot format, containing so far 42 types of Roman Imperial coin types of Eros:
http://eroscoin.blogspot.com  Prolegomena to a Study of Eros on Roman Provincial Coinage 
headed by his own essays based on his knowledge of European literature, especially German.
My own essay has little to do with any literature, even Greek, though it's OK in its own terms.  They aren't the terms that the mainstream literary tradition thought of.
Francis Jarman's work, though, is outstanding.
The blog format puts everything in reverse order; its advantage is flexibility.  As he says in the heading of the blogsite, you can get the whole work in logical order in the blog archive list when you scroll down.

1 comment:

  1. I really like Greek mythology and happen to think that it was a great rich culture. Thanks so much for this post, really enjoyed it!