Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The ancient Greek subtext for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Also the Roman influence in The Great Gatsby. Both act as historical-literary contexts (AO4)

The ancient Greek subtext for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Also the Roman influence in The Great Gatsby. Both act as a historical-literary contexts (AO4)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is replete with references to ancient Greece with several characters’ actions paralleling characters from Homer’s grand narratives, The Odyssey and The Iliad.

For instance, Mandras’s harsh journey home from fighting the Italians and German parallels that of Odysseus . Structurally De Bernieres text is built upon several parrallels through characters, chapters, and the Greek, classical past.

To a degree Captain Corelli also parallels Odysseus’s voyages when he goes abroad for so long after leaving the island.

Penelope weaving a shroud for her father-in-law, which she picked apart at night, to keep her unwanted suitors at bay
  Penelope and Pelagia (puh-NEL-uh-pee) noun: faithful wife.
Like Odysseus’s wife, Pelagia is left behind waiting for her lover to return. Penelope waits for Odysseus (Roman name, Ulysses) for decades!

De Bernieres uses element from Greek tragedy in his form and structure of his novel. For instance, Pelagia’s lament in Chapter 67 the long soliloquies of Greek characters from ancient tragedies in which Pelagia considers her situation. In Greek tragedy the action stops and the character’s problems are discussed directly with themselves. Of course, audiences and the reader shares what is going on in the character’s mind. Pelagia’s Lament pastiches this aspect of Greek tragedy.

If you wish to go further into this look for a translation of a Greek tragedy: Euripedes’ Medea for example, or Aeschylus’s Agamemmon, and look particularly at the speeches of Medea and Clytemnestra. Then compare the style of their speeches with Pelagia’s in Chapter 67.

From Penelope, the wife of Odysseus and mother of Telemachus in Greek mythology. She waited 20 years for her husband's return from the Trojan War (ten years of war, and ten years on his way home). She kept her many suitors at bay by telling them she would marry them when she had finished weaving her web, a shroud for her father-in-law. She wove the web during the day only to unravel it during the night

Odysseus is the hero of The Odyssey, the classic tale by the ancient bard Homer. The Odyssey tells of Odysseus's 10-year struggle to return from the Trojan War to his home in Ithaca. A manly warrior at Troy (he was among those who hid in the famous Trojan Horse), Odysseus is cunning and resourceful, but also loaded with his share of pride and human failings. On his travels he survives encounters with many of ancient literature's most famous characters, from the monstrous one-eyed Cyclops to the tempting (and deadly) Sirens. He is by turns aided and thwarted by the whimsies of Zeus, Poseidon and other Greek gods. After 20 years away (10 for the war and 10 for the trip back) he returns to his long-waiting wife, Penelope, and slays the greedy suitors who have besieged her. Odysseus's mighty deeds and all-too-human weaknesses have made him a favourite with scholars and storytellers down through the years. Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Ulysses was one of the best-known poems of the 1800s, and James Joyce's groundbreaking novel Ulysses used Homer's adventures as the inspiration for a modern-day tale set in Dublin. Of course, de Bernieres parallels this character first with Mandras and then with Captain Corelli.

A modern painting of The Feast of Trimalchio in which he is disinterestedly looking away on the left
The Great Gatsby and Trimalchio
There is a single mention of Trimalchio in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby as his showy parties and background parallels that of Gatsby. Trimalchio and Trimalchio in West Egg were among Fitzgerald's working titles for the novel. Chapter Seven begins, "It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night - and, as obscurely as it began, his career as Trimalchio was over."

Trimalchio is a character in the Roman novel The Satyricon by Petronius. He plays a part only in the section titled Cena Trimalchionis (The Banquet of Trimalchio). Trimalchio is a freedman who through hard work and perseverance has attained power and wealth. His full name is Gaius Pompeius Trimalchio Maecenatianus; the references to Pompey and Maecenas in his name serve to enhance his ostentatious character. His wife's name is Fortunata, a former slave and chorus girl. Trimalchio is known for throwing lavish dinner parties, where his numerous servants bring course after course of exotic delicacies, such as live birds sewn up inside a pig, live birds inside fake eggs which the guests have to 'collect' themselves and a dish to represent every sign of the zodiac.

The Satyricon has a lengthy description of Trimalchio's proposed tomb (71-72) which is incredibly ostentatious and lavish. This tomb was to be designed by a well-known tomb-builder called Habinnas, who was among the revellers present at Trimalchio's feast. He sought to impress his guests—the Roman nouveau riche, mostly freedmen—with the ubiquitous excesses seen throughout his dwelling. By the end of the banquet, Trimalchio's drunken showiness leads to the entire household acting out his funeral, all for his own amusement and egotism.

Below is a modern painting called, “The Feast of Trimalchio.” It captures the nouveau rich Trimalchio throwing an unusual party trying to impress other freedmen.

Some references and text extracts were also drawn from Wikipedia for this post.


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