The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony

Book - 1993
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Presenting the stories of Zeus and Europa, Theseus and Ariadne, the birth of Athens and the fall of Troy, in all their variants, Calasso also uncovers the distant origins of secrets and tragedy, virginity, and rape. "A perfect work like no other. (Calasso) has re-created . . . the morning of our world."--Gore Vidal. 15 engravings.
Publisher: New York : Knopf, 1993.
ISBN: 9780679733485
Characteristics: 403 p. ; 24 cm.


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Feb 03, 2018

If you've ever read the myths and heard the echoes in one of another, Colasso will speak to you. In his winding prose, he draws out the parallels between Io and Europa, Apollo and Dionysus, Medea and Ariadne, and Rhea-Demeter and Demeter-Persephone. According to Colasso, duplication has not its opposite but it's reflection in the unique or The One.

For him, Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in all of the world, is the personification of that singularity- and yet all about her are indications that she is a phantom, whether literally or figuratively (there is a myth that she did not proceed with Paris to Troy but actually stayed in Egypt while Proteus sent a phantom of her with Paris). He also goes with the myth of her having been the product of a union between not Zeus and Leda but Zeus and Nemesis. Here Nemisis is not the goddess of vengeance but the consequences of our actions. She is, according to Colasso, a member of the family of destiny and necessity. Helen, then, is Beauty brought forth- forced out, as it were- from Necessity. And why is she necessary? Because it is she who will be the center of the storm that will bring about the end of the Age of Heroes so that they may live in glory afterward.

The other agent in that end, of course, is Achilles, and his involvement in the Trojan War goes back before his birth. The Apple of Discord is thrown at the wedding of his parents, Peleus and Thetis, and it is this that leads to the Judgment of Paris and the "award" of Helen by Aphrodite. But Colasso's theory is that Achilles' involvement stretches back even further, to his mother Thetis' destiny to bear a son that would be greater than his father. For this reason, Zeus ended his pursuit of her, but in some ways he looked on Achilles as the son that should have been his. Thus, Achilles was the one chosen to be the shortest-lived but most glorious hero in history. I've always been troubled by the way Achilles was bound up in the Trojan War even before he was born, and Colasso's explanation makes more sense than anything else I've ever heard.

The Greeks understood, perhaps, what John Donne wrote in the 17th century: "No man is an island." The stories of Persephone and Athena seem to center on the importance of another- or An Other- in order to know one's self; we need a mirror in order to see ourselves, and there is none better, according to Colasso, than the pupil of another's eye (indeed, "Kore", one of Persephone's names, translates into both "maiden" and "pupil"). Sometimes that knowledge is dangerous and involves sacrifice (see: Hades in the Persephone myth and the daughters of Cecrops), but we are irresistibly drawn to it. And however dangerous Hades or half-snake Athenian infants might have been, the risk of not having another set of eyes to look into is even greater: just ask Narcissus- and Echo.

There's a lot more here (Plato, Sparta, exogamy and an Egyptian temple to a prostitute, among other things), and of course Cadmus and Harmony. What's significant, to me, is what's missing. There is precious little for Ares, and only a bit more for Artemis. (Nothing for poor Hestia, but what else is new?) Colasso also throws out that Apollo is actually the son destined to take over from Zeus, but doesn't really develop it. He seems to believe that Zeus was ambivalent about his desire to preserve his power at the expense of born and unborn children, but in that context, leaving out the treatment of Hephaestus is a glaring omission.

And yet... even if you don't buy into every theory, they are all food for thought. His argument is not new- all stories are variations on one- but the way he pulls in and unites seemingly disparate variations of the same myth and draws out parallels other readers may have seen through the corner of their eyes is what makes this enjoyable reading for fans of the myths.


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