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International Journal of the Classical Tradition

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 383–423 | Cite as

Neo-mythologism: Apollo and the Muses on the screen

  • Martin M. Winkler
Article

Abstract

In antiquity, the idea of myth was fluid enough to accommodate a wide variety of divergent, even contradictory, versions of the same story. This tradition continues in modern times: myths, whether ancient or later, preserve their Protean nature. Striking examples for this flexibility of mythical tales are the adaptations of ancient myths to the screen. Classical antiquity has always played a major part in the history of film (and television), but screenwriters and directors as a rule take great liberties with their source materials. In films based on Greek and Roman literature, especially epic and tragedy, and in films with invented or modern settings, figures familiar to us from classical sources recur with surprising variability. Vittorio Cottafavi, director of several films set in antiquity, coined the term “neo-mythologism” for this phenomenon.

The present paper intends to demonstrate the validity of critical examinations of such neomythologism by examining one specific topic: the appearances of Apollo and the Muses on the screen. It is the first comprehensive survey of its subject and analyzes the most important films in which Apollo and the Muses play major parts. The paper demonstrates the wide variety of neomythological aproaches which films on ancient subjects usually exhibit. They range from tragedy to epic, from musical, comedy, and romance to science fiction, from art-house films to commercial products. Although individual works differ considerably in their artistic qualities, they all present noteworthy examples of the continuing vitality of the classical past in today’s culture.

Keywords

Classical Tradition Classical Antiquity Star Trek Greek Tragedy Greek Mythology 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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References

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    Readers unfamiliar with the variety of Apollonian myths and images in antiquity may find an overview in the essay collection Apollo: Origins and Influences, ed. Jon Solomon (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994).Google Scholar
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    Delos-Film, a minor German production company that released a few romantic melodramas and comedies in the mid-1950s, had a stylized Ionic column for its logo. Apollo Cinema is the name of a Los Angeles-based distribution company. Apollo Cinemas are a large theater chain in Great Britain. The electronic Apollo Movie Guide (www.apolloguide.com) promises “intelligent reviews online.” The level of this intelligence varies.Google Scholar
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    Martin Vöhler, “Die Melancholie am Ende des Jahrhunderts: Zum Blick des Odysseus von Theo Angelopoulos,” in: PONTES II: Antike im Film —(above, n. 3), 72–83, examines classical and Homeric aspects of the film. Françoise Létoublon and Caroline Eades, “Apo tous arkhaious stous prosôpikous mythous: To prôto vlemma kai o arkhegonos logos ston Theodôro Angelopoulo,” in: Sinemythologia: Oi ellênikoi mythoi ston pankosmio kinêmatografo, ed. Michalis Dêmopoulos (Athens: Politistikê Olympiada, 2003), 89–113, give a more detailed interpretation. I am indebted to Françoise Létoublon for making the original French version of their article (“Des mythes antiques à celui du premier regard et de la parole originelle chez Angelopoulos”) available to me. Cf. also the chapter on this film in Andrew Horton, The Felms of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation, new ed., ser. Princeton Modern Greek Studies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 181–201. Sylvie Rollet, “Le regard d’Ulysse: Un plaidoyer pour l’humanité du cinéma,” Positif, 415 (September, 1995), 18–20, gives an introduction to Ulysses’ Gaze and Odyssean overtones in earlier films by Angelopoulos.Google Scholar
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    This is so despite Angelopoulos’s statement that “‘A’ is not me, not Angelopoulos!” The quotation is from Andrew Horton, “What Do Our Souls Seek? An Interview with Theo Angelopoulos,” in: The Last Modernist: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos, ed. Andrew Horton, Contributions to the Study of Popular Culture 66 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997), 96–110, at 103. A film directed by “A” that is screened early in Ulysses’ Gaze is never seen, but its soundtrack is that of Angelopoulos’s own film To meteoro vima tou pelargou (The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1991). In his Taxidi sta Kithira (Voyage to Cythera, 1983), Angelopoulos had provided the voice for the actor who plays the protagonist, a film director “who resembles a younger Angelopoulos” (Horton, The Films of Theo Angelopoulos [above, n. 23], A Cinema of Contemplation, new ed., ser. Princeton Modern Greek Studies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999, 127).Google Scholar
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    Fainaru, “The Human Experience in One Gaze,” 98. Angelopoulos’s entire description of this scene here is worth reading. Cf. Horton, —The Films of Theo Angelopoulos (above, n. 23), 195: “‘A’s’ eyes fill with tears as he looks toward us and thus up at the screen where the lost film has just finished running.” According to Angelopoulos, the three reels of film shot by the Manaki brothers do exist, but the chemical process necessary to develop them is unkown.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Angelopoulos’s own words on this important point as quoted by Horton, —The Films of Theo Angelopoulos (above, n. 23), 199. Létoublon and Eades, “Apo tous arkhaious stous prosôpikous mythous” (above, n. 23), To prôto vlemma kai o arkhegonos logos ston Theodôro Angelopoulo,” in: Sinemythologia: Oi ellênikoi mythoi ston pankosmio kinêmatografo, ed. Michalis Dêmopoulos (Athens: Politistikê Olympiada, 2003), note 21, quote the director’s final soliloquy and provide the references to the Odyssey which his words contain.Google Scholar
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    Quoted from Andrew Horton, “National Culture and Individual Vision” (1992 interview), in: Theo Angelopoulos: Interviews —(above, n. 28) 83–88, at 86. The quotation also appears in Horton, The Films of Theo Angelopoulos (above, n. 23), A Cinema of Contemplation, new ed., ser. Princeton Modern Greek Studies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999) 3 and 196.Google Scholar
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    Otta Wenskus, “Star Trek: Antike Mythen und moderne Energiewesen”, in PONTES II: Antike im Film —(above, n. 3). 128–135, discusses this episode at 132–133 and mentions (130) that the motto of the Starfleet Academy (Ex astris scientia) is patterned on that of NASA’s Apollo missions (Ex luna scientia).Google Scholar
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    Erich von Däniken’s pseudo-scientific bestseller Erinnerungen an die Zukunft: Ungelöste Rätsel der Vergangenheit (literally, “Remembrances of the Future: Unsolved Riddles of the Past”; Düsseldorf and Vienna: Econ, 1968; rpt. 1976) appeared in English as Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, tr. Michael Heron (New York: Putnam, 1970; rpt. New York: Berkley Books, 1999, but without the question mark). A companion book—Meine Welt in Bildern: Bildargumente für Theorien, Spekulationen und Erforschtes (Düsseldorf and Vienna: Econ, 1973)—was published in English as In Search of Ancient Gods: My Pictorial Evidence for the Impossible, tr. Michael Heron (New York: Putnam, 1974; rpt. New York: Bantam, 1975). A film duly followed the first book: Harald Reinl’s Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (1970; English title: Chariots of the Gods, without question mark). The film’s English ads asked: “Was God an Astronaut?”Google Scholar
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    The scholarly locus classicus for this is Wilhelm Nestle, Vom Mythos zum Logos: Die Selbstentfaltung des griechischen Denkens von Homer bis auf die Sophistik und Sokrates, 2nd ed. (1941; rpt. Stuttgart: Kröner, 1975). On this see now Glenn W. Most, “From Logos to Mythos,” in: From Myth to Reason? Studies in the Development of Greek Thought, ed. Richard Buxton (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 29–47.Google Scholar
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    Theocritus 15 (Syrakosiai ê Adôniazousai: “The Women of Syracuse, or The Women at the Festival of Adonis”); Bion 1 (Epitaphios Adônidos: “Lament for Adonis”). Texts and English translations of these poems are easily accessible in The Greek Bucolic Poets, ed. J. M. Edmonds (Loeb Classical Library; rev. ed.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, London: Heinemann, 1938; several rpts.), 175–195 and 385–395. For Shelley see Shelley’s Adonais: A Critical Edition, ed. Anthony D. Knerr (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984); cf. Jennifer Wallace, Shelley and Greece: Rethinking Romantic Hellenism (Basingstoke: MacMillan; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), pp. 109–118.Google Scholar
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    In science fiction, the name Apollo appears because of the names from Greek mythology that have been given to most constellations and that are also prominent in space travel. The television series Battlestar Galactica (1978) and related TV films have a Captain Apollo, who has advanced to Commander Apollo in Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming (1999). William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s animated Jetsons: The Movie (1990), an expansion of their 1960s television series, includes someone called Apollo Blue. But Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (1995), a film about that ill-fated moon mission, makes no mention of Apollo at all.—Several characters called Apollo appear in film stories set in modern times. In the silent era, B. A. Rolfe’s crime drama Miss 139 (1921) features a Professor Apollo Cawber, and in D. W. Griffith’s religious melodrama The White Rose (1923), set in the American South, a character is nicknamed Apollo. Another Apollo appears in Sydney Morgan’s Shadow of Egypt of 1924. “Johnny Apollo” is the protagonist’s alias in Henry Hathaway’s 1940 film noir of that name. Another Apollo is in Daniel Mann’s A Dream of Kings (1969), based on a work by Greek-American author Harry Mark Petrakis and set in Chicago’s Greek community. The black boxer Apollo Creed is the eponymous hero’s formidable antagonist in four of the five Rocky films directed by John G. Avildsen (1976) and Sylvester Stallone (1979, 1982, 1985). In the late 1990s, Greek mythology made a popular comeback to television in the series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and in some television or video films spun off it, such as Hercules: Zero to Hero (1999). Greek gods, including Apollo, play prominent roles in this Hercules’ adventures. So do the Muses. Earlier, The Illiac [sic] Passion (1967), directed by Gregory J. Markopoulos and loosely based on Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, also features an Apollo, although its ancient model did not. Other curios with an Apollo are the silent The Triumph of Venus (1918), directed by Edwin Bower Hesser, and The Affairs of Aphrodite (1970), directed by Alain Patrick. The 1980s television series Magnum, P.I. featured Doberman guard dogs named Apollo and Zeus.Google Scholar
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    Carmine Gallone’s epic Gli ultimi giorni di Pompeii (The Last Days of Pompeii, 1926) brings the Muses to life in a similar fashion, if within a different plot context: in “a clever insanity scene,” “Glaucus stares at a fresco of Zeus and the dancing Muses, and the figures on the wall suddenly come alive!” Quoted from Solomon, The Ancient World in the Cinema —(above, n. 2) 82.Google Scholar
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    Such abbreviations have a long history, however, and are not exclusively American (or low-brow). In George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion (1913), for example, Androcles becomes “Andy” (and even “Andy Wandy” in his baby talk during his first encounter with the lion); his nagging wife Megaera is “Meggy.”Google Scholar
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    An affectionate tribute to it is the short film by Lars Christiansen, Bag om fremviseren (Two for Cassiopeia, a Love Story; 2000), whose plot reworks the earlier film’s story line.Google Scholar
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    The film’s English titles are The Wooden Horse of Troy, The Trojan Horse, and The Trojan War.Google Scholar
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    The film’s English titles are The Avenger, The Last Glory of Troy, and War of the Trojans. It was directed by Giorgio Rivalta.Google Scholar
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    Cassandras appear in Marc Allegret’s L’amante di Paride (The Loves of Three Queens or The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships, 1953), Mario Camerini’s Ulisse (Ulysses, 1955), Franco Rossi’s television Odissea (1968), Michael Cacoyannis’s The Trojan Women (1971, played by Geneviève Bujold), Enzo G. Castellari’s modern farce Ettore lo fusto (Hector the Mighty, 1975), Woody Allen’s comedy Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Chuck Russell’s The Scorpion King (2002), John Kent Harrison’s Helen of Troy (2003), a television epic, and in the animated Hercules films and series mentioned earlier. Noteworthy television adaptations of Aeschylus had Cassandras played by Mariangela Melato in Luca Ronconi’s Orestea (1975) and by Helen Mirren in Bill Hays’s The Serpent Son (1979), a three-part BBC adaptation of the Oresteia written by Kenneth McLeish and Frederich Raphael. Apollo appears in both. The British version is particularly remarkable for its distinguished cast of actresses (also Claire Bloom, Siân Phillips, Diana Rigg, and Billie Whitelaw). The short-lived British television comedy series Up Pompeii (1971) featured an unfunny Roman Cassandra.Google Scholar
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    In Marino Girolami’s L’ira di Achille (Fury of Achilles [USA], Achilles [UK], 1962), a neo-mythological muscleman epic that still demonstrates its makers’ close familiarity with the Iliad, Apollo plays a significant part as well, although he remains off screen (unlike Athena or Thetis). On first meeting Chryseis, the captive daughter of Apollo’s priest Chryses, Agamemnon boasts to her: “I am the king of kings.” Unimpressed, she counters: “And I am consecrated to Apollo, the god of kings.” Apollo miraculously reveals a treasure to Chryses with which to ransom his child; Apollo’s voice is heard on the soundtrack. He later causes a sudden storm that mysterously kills many of the Greeks; this is the film’s equivalent of the plague Apollo sends them in Book 1 of the Iliad. The omniscient narrator portentously intones: “Like darkest night, the mighty god descended and wreaked his fury [sic] on the Grecian fleet.”Google Scholar
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    Stalin’s saying is quoted in several versions and with varying dates and addressees. The most famous is in Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 1: The Gathering Storm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948), 135: “‘Oho!’ said Stalin. ‘The Pope! How many divisions has he got?’”Google Scholar
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    For illustrations see Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, The Severe Style in Greek Sculpture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), figs. 5–7; she describes the temple on pages 13–17 and the statues on page 16.Google Scholar
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    Virgil, Aeneid 7.648.Google Scholar
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    Plutarch, Alexander 6. For just one example of the analogy of Alexander and Apollo cf. the close similarity in their portraits on the two coins reproduced by Robin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great (1973; rpt. London and New York: Penguin, 2004), Plates 1 and 2 (following page 288). Fox was historical advisor on Stone’s film.Google Scholar
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    Another row of stone lions patterned after those on Delos appears in Robert Rossen’s Alexander the Great (1956) before the palace of Philip of Macedonia. A large statue of Athena Promachos—i.e. the goddess in full warrior garb—stands nearby. All this statuary signals Philip’s and then Alexander’s military power and imperial ambition.Google Scholar
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    Odyssey 21.265–268. similarly, in Rossi’s Odissea Antinous comforts the other suitors who have failed to string Odysseus’ bow with the reminder: “Tomorrow is the festival of Apollo the archer. Let’s postpone the contest till tomorrow. He will grant us the necessary strength.”Google Scholar
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    George Depue Hadzsits, “Media of Salvation,” The Classical Weekly, 14 no. 9 (December 13, 1920), 70–71. I discuss this article and its implications in my “Introduction” to Classical Myth and Culture in the Cinema (above, n. 3), ed. Martin M. Winkler (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 3–9.Google Scholar
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    “Introduction” to Homer in English, ed. George Steiner (London: Penguin, 1996), xv-xxxiv; my quotations are from pages xxviii, xvii, and xvi.Google Scholar
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    Hesiod,Theogony27-28; my translation.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Transaction Publishers 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin M. Winkler
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of Modern and Classical LanguagesGeorge Mason UniversityFairfax

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