Hercules and the Distracted Boyfriend

You've probably seen the meme about the young man, his girlfriend, and the "other" woman. You can make your own at Github, Imgflip, or at any of the other meme generator sites. Last year a student even made one for this class, ha ha:


There is a history of this meme at Know Your Meme: Distracted Boyfriend. The long article documents when the photo first appeared and how it started circulating as a meme, along with recreations, parodies, gender flips, etc.

What that article does not mention, though, is that this image fits into the ancient tradition of "The Choice of Hercules," where the hero Hercules (Heracles) must choose between Virtue and Vice, personified as two women. A famous example is this Renaissance painting by Annibale Carracci:


See the similarity? :-)

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

The story of Icarus is one of the most enduring stories from Greek mythology, and it is part of the UnTextbook: Daedalus and Icarus. What I wanted to share here today is the beautiful painting called Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, attributed to Pieter Bruegel.


~ ~ ~

The painting, in turn, inspired an amazing poem by W. H. Auden, who saw this painting in Belgium in 1938 (more at Wikipedia); the text is from Paintings and Poems:

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

~ ~ ~

And William Carlos Williams also wrote a poem about the same painting (more at Wikipedia); the source for the poem again is Paintings and Poems:

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning




Roman Mosaic: The goddess Thetis

As you might know, the Greek hero Achilles had a divine mother: Thetis, the sea goddess. The mosaic below shows Thetis (with her name spelled out in Greek), along with fishes and other sea creatures. This is a mosaic from a Roman bath house in Armenia, dating to around the year 300 C.E. You can read more about the floor mosaic at this website: Armenian Heritage - Garni. Roman Baths.

At Wikipedia, you can read more about Thetis and about Achilles, and their story is told in the Iliad unit here at the UnTextbook.



Book Illustrator Warwick Goble: Pentameron (1-10)

One of my favorite book illustrators is Warwick Goble, and I was excited to find his illustrated Pentameron at Hathi Trust. Here are the images that are contained in the book: beautiful! Click on the images for a larger view:

1. The Prince and Zoza, with the Story-Tellers... in How the Tales came to be told (text)



2. The Fairy appearing to the Prince ... in The Myrtle (text); see also Wikipedia.



3. Vastolla and Peruonto approaching the Ship... in Peruonto (text); see also Wikipedia.



4. Vardiello with the Cloth ... in Vardiello (text)


5. The Princess as the Ogre’s Bride ... in The Flea (text); see also Wikipedia.



6. The Fairy appearing to the Prince in the Grotto (not in color for some reason in this Hathi book, but it is in color at Sur La Lune) ... in Cenerentola (text); see also Wikipedia.



7. The Two Courtiers presenting Cienzo to the King ... in The Merchant (text); see also Wikipedia.



8. The Lizard showing Goat-Face the Palace... in Goat-Face (text); see also Wikipedia.


9. Fenicia and the Two Brothers... in The Enchanted Doe (text); see also Wikipedia.


10. The Prince and Parsley looking for the Gall-Nuts... in Parsley (text); see also Wikipedia.



Wikpedia Trail: From Thalaba the Destroyer to the Goldilocks Planet

I decided to do a Wikipedia Trail, starting with this book: Stories of the Magicians Alfred J. Church. The first part of that book is about "The Story of Thalaba," so I decided to start there with the Wikipedia article about Thalaba:


Thalaba the Destroyer
This is an epic poem written by Robert Southey published in 1801; the main character is named Thalaba and he is engaged in a war with sorcerers (the Wikipedia article has a detailed plot summary). The story is a mix of Islamic motifs (it even includes the Simurgh!) but it is set in a fantasy version of ancient Babylon. I don't know anything about Robert Southey, so I decided to look him up next.

Robert Southey
Southey was a Romantic poet, and Poet Laureate of England from 1813 to 1843. Some people consider the Thalaba poem to be his masterpiece, and he also wrote histories as well as poetry. And imagine my surprise: he was the first person to publish the story of The Three Bears. So of course I have to look that up next!


Goldilocks and the Three Bears
This story started out as being about three bachelor bears and an old woman who enters their house, but the old woman eventually turned into "Goldilocks" and the bears turned into a Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear. Robert Southey's version, published in 1837, has the three bachelor bears (one big, one small, and one in-between), and the old woman. A version with a little girl appeared in 1849, but "Goldilocks" belongs to the early 20th century.


Goldilocks Principle.
And from that article, I found out that there is even a Goldilocks Principle: "in a given sample, there may be entities belonging to extremes, but there will always be an entity belonging to the average." So, it's not really about Goldilocks, but about those three bears: two extreme and one in the middle. The article gives examples from economics, psychology, medicine, and even astrobiology: "The Rare Earth Hypothesis uses the Goldilocks principle in the argument that a planet must neither be too far away from, nor too close to a star and galactic center to support life, while either extreme would result in a planet incapable of supporting life." Such a planet is called a Goldilocks Planet... which is where I will end my Wikipedia Trail for today!