The Rape of Io
Rainer Crone and David Moos
To Paint a Fiction
Myth, Metamorphoses, and the Real
…on connaît encore des zones où la pensée sauvage, comme les espèces sauvages, se trouve relativement protégée: c’est le cas de l’art, auquel notre civilisation accorde le statut de parc national, avec tous les avantages et les inconvénients qui s’attachement à une formule aussi artificielle; et c’est surtout le cas de tant de secteurs de la vie sociale non encore défrichés et où, par indifférence ou par impuissance, et sans que nous sachions pourquoi le plus souvent, la pensée sauvage continue de prospérer.
- Claude Lévi-Strauss La pensée sauvage, 1962
Of Savagery and Hospitality
Upon first look the painting is not inviting. Mostly black around the outside, the central orb is composed of flesh tone, the colors of a face belonging to either or both sexes–androgynous? [color plate, page 8] We know that it is a face because there are two eyes–retreating human eyes–a nose, high cheeks with underlying bones, and a gaping mouth. We are fixated by this facial situation: the mouth with its almost lasciviously retreating tongue, a tongue sinking to orient itself in an action which has pried the mouth open, obliterating the lips in order to prepare the way. Instantly, this face signals to us the entire range of horrifying human emotions; it is conflicted by the possibility of sensuous fulfillment, let loose in the purity of an attack which provokes the cornucopia of existential human expression to pour forth, to erupt, to ignite in the pictured panic. In the cancelling eruption of such a face we glimpse the expressive impulses which confine and constitute the aspirations of a life in today’s society; we are impelled to witness this effeminate mouth filled by the void of exhaling fear, of sudden realization. What one would like to think of as a blur of desperation is, upon further examination, a reality, a clarity, a vision of excess that refuses to loose resolution. Even if we wish it not to be, the image is conspicuous. A human face is pictured in a moment of fluid dread, a section of life gone wrong. Frozen in the unreality of nightmare, the face of, probably, a woman contorts under the duress of an episode dawning–an occurrence to be etched forever in personal memory. But as this moment releases itself, as the primal power of her silent scream pierces the surface, we–as viewers looking into the painting–come to realize that this indelible biographical moment will, like the others in the long line of life, eventually fade, mutate, degenerate in form under the devious mystifications of memory. Even those episodes we are unable to explain, which still seem incomprehensible, are subjected to the unknown, unpredictable time possessed by memory alone. In the way that we recall events, they necessarily change. What was, exactly, the foundation of reality in childhood? In adolescence? In time past now forever lost?
Any recollection will be imperfect1; it will be modified by the needs of our necessity to go onward, to move beyond who we were and what it was that we were doing then–who we were in the past caught in the unease of moments. The painting, unlike this described reality, displays a moment in the life of a woman that cannot and will not, be mutated into the transience of memory. The pictorial vision, despite its melting, melding implications of formlessness, is nightmare clear. The face slips beneath the veil of our imposed expectations, imploring for surcease and release from memory–from any exposure that recollection will demand.
Tell us about your story, tell us about the way that it happened! Do not fail to recall any details in your description, do not bend the truth we seek! If this really happened, then we, who are looking at its display, want to know the circumstances of this tragedy, of this hellfire flaming, of this nightmare dawning. Not simply why, but how–in all the intricacies of the question–did this come about?
When seeing becomes synonymous with hearing, the zones of human sensorial reception blend and blur, scatter into the shapelessness of perception undergoing a re-orientation. Will there be any more paintings, will one look upon such a philosophy complete statement in visual form ever again? How can such torture be rationalized into the canonical modes of picturing reality about human beings? Is not savagery as old an instinct as hospitality…?
MOUTH: The mouth is the beginning or, if one prefers, the prow of animals; in the most characteristic cases, it is the most living part, in other words, the most terrifying for neighboring animals. But man does not have a simple architecture like beasts, and it is not even possible to say where he begins. He possibly starts at the top of the skull, but the top of the skull is an insignificant part, incapable of catching one’s attention; it is the eyes or the forehead that play the meaningful role of an animal’s jaws.
-Georges Bataille,Visions of Excess,1927-30 2
Entering Main Street
"Gotti Guilty of Murder and Racketeering: Faces Life Term." With headlines such as this you can imagine a Dick Tracy 1940s newspaper kid belting out the news from his "Extra, Extra" corner, as people rush by. But we don’t live in black and white movies, nor do we live in the comics. Walking into the Monroe Diner, we catch a glimpse of this New York Times headline, picking up the paper at the cash register; the Monroe Diner, somewhere along any of those strip mall made-over Main Streets in the endless belt of suburban build-up that sprawls outward from the metropolis. Open 24 hours a day. A faked king’s palace or pseudo-Mexican ranch house, the diner with its washed out Pepsi-Cola sign prides itself with a massive salad-bar island (rivaling McDonald’s sanitized, pre-packaged salads diagonally across Route 17). The sagging self-serve cornucopia is lodged at the intersection which separates the three dining rooms from the counter area; one, the Mexicana, with a low stucco ceiling, is for families, another non-smoking with Solomon’s columns, and the third is regular American, smoking only. Just before midnight a few people eat in the smoking room. A couple of women sit across from each other by the windows, speaking quietly, as if in a conference. When we sit down at a corner table, Gotti’s photo holds our attention, seen at the moment when the jury announced its verdict of "Guilty," a fateful decision that seems to have little effect upon his comportment. As the waitress pours coffee, dropping containers of half-and-half onto the rim of the saucer, the elegantly dressed Mafia boss displays his familiar air of confident sangfroid, his unaffected tight-lipped smile flickering, making his complacent composure all the more impressive.
In walk four men, typical, if not archetypal, Americans. Just like people in Chevrolet advertisements, or Miller beer ads. The busy manner of their entry suggests they know each other well. Perhaps it’s their league bowling night. One of them, a man of about fifty, with mustache, close cropped hair, clean-looking and slightly heavy-set, sits down at a table; he is clearly the leader–seemingly wise. Leaning back to light a cigarette, he takes a menu from the waitress. He orders coffee. To the thin, tenacious man sitting across from him, he says, "It was a point of pride for the government, that’s why they got him. It won’t change anything though." Rapidly talking about his view of the Gotti trial, the four men are joined by a fifth, who sits at the far end of the table, smoking and listening. "With or without Gotti the Mob’ll run business the way they always have," he comments. The elder speaks specifically to the thin man, and enjoys himself, acknowledging how the others listen. "Look," he says, "take any business. You got a candy store, say, for ten years. And they come around one day and tell you ten percent of your business now belongs to them. They’ll take care of your garbage, give you protection and watch out for your interests. You can’t say no." He looks around, prompting the others with a curt laugh. "They can say to you, your wife, your children, your cousins, every person in your family is dead if you don’t pay up…" and the thin guy completes the thought by saying, "And nobody wants to get whacked."
As platters of fried food arrive, the men pass ketchup between them, shaking it down onto their plates. Initially their talk seems pedestrian, but gradually it expands into matters of general concern. For people who live in the obscurity of a pseudo-suburb, they seem to know a lot about how the metropolis functions, about the specific implications of the premier crime boss being put behind bars for the rest of his life.
"All those warehouses near the piers in Newark are filled with toxic waste," the thin man interjects. "Yea, they tell you they take it away but what they do is put it in a warehouse and then dump it in the river at night and that’s that." The fifth man mentions that some toxic chemicals were dumped right in this area, in a pond behind a restaurant. When the restaurant people started complaining about the smell, some sanitation people arrived and sprinkled sweet-smelling foam all-over the pond. "These guys in yellow space gear walking around, making everybody think it’s cleaned up," the grey-haired man jokes through exhaling smoke. Another mentions something he knows about the incident. Duck Cedar Pond, he says quietly, "It still leaks into the river."
The subject of bottled drinking water comes up. It is discussed, scoffed at and dismissed. Swaying in humor, these men break out in laughter, howling about Perrier and the concept of bottled water, how everybody thinks when they buy bottled water they get nice clean water. "You could piss in your tap water, bottle it and people wouldn’t know the difference," says the thin man. "They’ll buy anything. All you got to do is advertise and everybody would buy it."
These ordinary men converse about the environment, about corruption in the waste disposal industry and how its effects manipulate the chemistry of the nation. They are howling: in all seriousness, over the idiocy of how affairs are being run. "You know who got his ass kicked," breathes the elder, pushing his emptied plate away. "That guy Geraldo Rivera. He was doing this big, live, surprise coverage of a waste-dumping scam and was out in the middle of the bay following one of those boats, and he pulls up with the cameras rolling and accuses these guys of dumping all these toxic barrels into the water and they just tell him to leave. But he doesn’t, so they drive right up to him in their speed boat, circle around, soak him and take off and that’s it." With this punchline the elder man mimics the sound of a speed boat zooming past, as the five men picture Heraldo–a self-styled television muck-raker vigilante–getting doused in toxic water.
For five men who spend Thursday nights bowling, eating dinner afterwards at the diner, their conversation is sophisticated, if not even more advanced, than any intellectual battle one might over-hear in the downtown restaurants of Manhattan–for that matter, it surpasses the level of reflection in the most influential newspaper of the most powerful nation in the world. These men don’t speak about personal problems–petty or endemic. They don’t quibble with each other, but grasp the world around them with a deep wit and complex concern that shocks any on-listener into a dumbfounded, almost reverential silence of eavesdropping. Somewhere in the course of the discussion about Mob involvement in the waste-disposal racket, the elder guy brings up Robert Kennedy, explaining how his pursuit of Jimmy Hoffa ("With one phone call Hoffa could stop every truck in the country") was too ambitious a reformation plan within a system that used established corruption as its means of legitimation. The eloquence of this energetic man is astounding. His view of the world, history, the state of current affairs, how a modern, first-world highly technologized country worked and why it continues to function in this same way, how the government could not control corruption–all of these ideas brought across with the clarity of profound depth and simplicity, making us aware that fundamental values in today’s society are not the property of an administrating or cultural elite. Rather, five men in a suburban diner after midnight on an ordinary day make apparent what knowledge means, that knowledge of the world is best served by those who make the world. Are these the genuine myth makers of modern society…?
To stand in accordance with the subject is to necessarily sacrifice an ultimate perspective upon the object. There can and will never be a relation between the subject and its implied content. At the moment where cognition threatens to produce comprehension, the mechanisms of acquisition (phrased within the…general economy of psychology) impede the original aims of perception; namely, our desire to make the present less opaque and more accessible.
- Günter Wedenheimer, "Notes on Perceptual Derangement," 1906 3
Tracing the Way We Made It
There was a time in the world when the definitions between people in it and those above it were clear. It was a time when people understood themselves and their lives to be mere mortal shadows or reflections of immortal characters. When the gods ruled man at the whimsy of concern from Olympus on high, man conceived of himself and his deeds on earth as a paradigm or a scheme of episodes spun from visions that had created the gods. Trials and tests of human will could be situated within the infinite variety of example provided by the heroes of mythology–gods who succumbed to ambition, retribution and cunning, but who alternately allowed man to overcome each designated obstacle posed in the path toward self-realization. This explanation of how man can conduct himself in the world differs vastly from a perspective that can be ascertained from recent scientific and technological reasonings of ontology; while ancient gods maintained a valuable moral distance from man, exempt from their own codes of conduct, the technological retains no such impeding, differential distance. For, unlike the texts of mythology, technology is an open-ended script that man can continually re-write for his own, inevitably fluctuating purposes.
If there is one evolutionary event–one meta-narrative in the story of man–that separates modern times from those mythologically constituted ancient societies, then we might isolate and refer to, this apparently contradictory narrative of the modern as the technological. With technology’s advanced inception, loosely concurrent to the rise of refined international capitalism, the primary trope of progress emerges to evaluate, and motivate the ever increasing presence of the technological, eclipsing the mythological.
At the end of the twentieth century, it seems that the time has come where the downside of progress and the modern exact sciences can be seen to have dramatically affected the intrinsic balances within the composure of nature–balances initially embodied through the wisdom offered by ancient mythology. One cannot help but assess how the never-ending urge for improved and increased refinements of technology–what is familiarly known as progress–has ultimately disturbed the most intimate contours of nature. To what degree can the concept of nature as being an infinitely open field, a laboratory for experimentation (receptive to improvement by feats of the exact sciences) be upheld when implicit in this construct is denial, or ignorance, of the very values which are contingent upon the survival of humanity within nature? But beyond these instinctual concerns, are not the more profound values of civilization questioned–values of morality, ethics, and human conduct–all threatened with extinction by technological exertion? The disciplines of science, with their relentless emphasis upon exactitude, and desire to produce ever more efficient and innovative objects, now find their aspirations of advancement trapped inside a process of resolving and confronting the effects of previous innovations. The fundamental and seemingly endless cycle intrinsic to the scientific adventure is revealed as one that defines its future by always improving upon the errors of its immediate past–a limitless attempt at overcoming what has not been rigorously treated, of eliminating unforeseen flaws. This familiar spiral of improvement and amendment is, of course, satisfied only by the ill-formed belief that an ultimate level of symbiotic accomplishment might be achieved; it is a utopian conception that we will be able to enjoy all the fruits of technology without draining or damaging the tree of life. But, indeed, as practitioners of Utopia have all been forced to concede in retrospect–from Karl Marx to Stanley Kubrick–an ideal future envisioned from the present cannot be incarnated by the drives of technology. The imagination and the implementation of its ideas has never run a concordant course, nor have we anticipated reality in ways we could have predicted. This idea is the central proposition that the sciences–with their overt premium on truth and fact–are unable to internally reconcile. If a common conversation among men, like one overheard in a diner, indicates that levels of toxicity have reached amusingly dangerous proportions while also implicating, even locating, the sources and causes of this trauma, then one might concede that technology’s empty vacuum of creation is one which presumes no end in itself except that of immediate fulfillment and spontaneous succession.
Technology appears to be the only ambassador able to commute between supposedly distinct, even opposite cultures of the world. But the products of technology and the knowledge they advance contains little orientation beyond basic functionality–thereby fueling the global thirst for fast progress beyond established or valued parameters of application. The pan-attractive god of technology–fashioned out of the same ethos guiding advanced capitalism–is one who exclusively depends upon humanity for a system of ethical and valuative implementation. Indeed, use of refined knowledge converted into technology desperately invokes the need for standards, for values that overreach the merely instrumental. It is this quest, concerning the inclusion of such a structure of meaning, that we seek to examine.
In a globalized moment of recursive material improvement the void of comprehensive, even ontological meaning is a gaping absence concerning the applications and acquisitions of science. How does the everyday operate to maintain or produce ontological meaning? The pendulum that oscillates between crating the world (of technological improvement) and destroying the world (of human interaction) swings in a space that is empty; as with all inanimate objects, it is subject to the forces that act upon it. For a humanly-oriented will to exert a direction giving change, would be to infuse this swing of motion with a movement toward a unified concept of the world, toward meaning invested in technology’s implementation. There is, of course, intrinsic to this meta-narrative of technological exertion, the dormant and always implied, concept that technology–the primary means with which to perceive, construe, and construct the objective world–overwhelms and dominates its subject, the subjectivized domain of human conduct and interaction. The sciences have always offered to man a smoothly progressing world of objectification.
Under the aegis of the Enlightenment’s scientific mandate to figure out the world–the Cartesian division between RES COGITANS and RES EXTENSA–the subject of man collapses under the weight of virtual discovery, of pure knowledge applied to eventual objects, to inventions, to technology’s mechanistic interpretation of the world. In this equation, we must inquire, where does the dehumanized sensitivity of man find placement, find elucidation and development within those ancient paradigms resembling a mythological–and practically totalizing explanation of human ontology.
The ultra-modern state of today’s technology, with its myriad enthusiasms, can summarily be verified in historicizing terms 4. Since Christianity’s abolishment of slave society with its concomitant economies, the imperative for viable substitutes to human labor necessitated advancements in the harnessing of natural resources through technological means. Water, wind, metal, iron, gunpowder–elements of nature, compounds, or chemicals–whatever recalcitrance the natural world possessed, man successively marshalled his intellect in order to overcome its obstacles, to tap into and to mold its energies. Insight as invention spawned discovery and application–technology traces the roots of Western civilization from early Christian times through to the Enlightenment–it is a course of continuous "progress." Gutenberg’s printing press, for example, was a technological breakthrough that permitted new knowledge to be quickly and easily processed and disseminated.
While in Antiquity there was little need or will for refined inventions with which to convert the natural world, with the rise of Christianity, however, increased orders of innovation were required to aid the religion’s grasp and consolidation of its power. Only after Medieval times, beginning in the Renaissance, where we find the theoretical infiltration and reflection of technology by the exact natural sciences–as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo demonstrated with their calibrating and measuring instruments designed to observe and explore the universe–do we uncover the nascent drive for invention, efficiency and technology phrased as an imperative 5. Consequently, since that time, technology has evolved its own internalized pathways–exerting its own possibilities in systematic, classificatory fashion. Only this co-mingling of technology with the exact sciences prepares the ground for a new TYPE of man–the inventor. From Leonardo da Vinci to Huygens, Daguerre, Noble and Edison, the technological hero was always the individual inventor. The inventor has been traditionally defined by his ability to convert imagination into functional objects. In most recent times, however, this individual has been replaced by the team, the group, the corporation. The modern ages with their advanced technologies are inevitably seen to be fundamentally different from Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
This development was dominated by progress and exactitude to such a degree that technology sometimes transgressed its limitations–reaching toward "l’art pour l’art" games. It was the advancement towards increased precision of form under the aegis of technology’s will to progress that eventually allowed for mass production and mass consumption–only such exactitude permitted efficiently reproducible production of clear schematic elements according to strict rules and laws. Thus, at this level of technology, it is evident for the qualities of technological production that only FORM can be exact, precise, immutable–and not its content 6. A society such as ours, fundamentally determined by mass production and mass consumption, with its tell-tale hallmarks of total availability and interchangeability, is governed by notions of rationality and instrumentality (figure 1: General Motors Chevrolet assembly plant, Dearborn Michigan, 1934). Hence, here, at this moment in our accumulated technologized history lie the sources and roots of our current de-mythologized status. We are lacking our ancestors’ ritualized elements of taboo. Today we have succeeded, as Kazimir Malevich so prophetically declared in 1922, in systematically stylizing our understanding of the material world into a scientifically scrutinized universe of matter: "Man is preparing to comprehend and learn ‘everything,’ but is this ‘everything’ before him? Can he put this ‘everything’ on a table in front of him?"7
Questions which address the ‘why’ and ‘for what purpose’ of technology still remain to be posed, while our communal orientation continues to fixate upon the exactitude of formal ends alone; the unlimited replication of exactitude in precise forms which, in itself, has given way to and, indeed, instigated the unforeseen dominance of the technological. This state of affairs PER DEFINITIONE does not allow for a binding order of values in accord with which man aspires to act independently, or even beyond the congealed parameters of mass-Modernism’s preference for unequivocal precision. The question, which might be best phrased as a refutation, remains to be posed and pondered; it alerts us, however, to current deficiencies in the intra-subjective conduct of humanity–a conduct, that if it is to fulfill itself, must escape from the refined archetypes of technology’s forms.
The term ‘codes’ has already been used and it is appropriate to explore its implications a little further. The notion that we ‘encode’ our experience of the world in order that we may experience it; that there exists, in general, no pristine range of experiences open to us, comes directly from the work of Edward Sapir, Benjamin Lee Whorf and Claude Lévi-Strauss.
We thus invent the world we inhabit: we modify and reconstruct what is given. It follows that, implicated as we are in this gigantic, covert, collaborative enterprise, none of us can claim access to uncoded, ‘pure’ or objective experience of the ‘real,’ permanently existing world.
- Terence Hawkes, Structuralism and Semiotics, 1977 8
Come Back to the Five and Dime
Unlike any other implicated participant in the "encoded" world–one which we have discerned to be primarily governed by the technological–the artist is, perhaps, one who decodes, or recodes, the information of REALITY; a person whose work escapes from the seemingly unstoppable and all-encompassing fabrications of technology. Not that the traits associated with industry are alien to artistic creation, but, after the hallmarks of refined craftsmanship have been secured, the artist acts as an individual possessing at least the potential to invest unique values–an underlying meaning beyond technology’s bounds–into an artwork, an INDIVIDUUM. Value-orientation remains the preserve of the innovative imagination; expressed pictorially, it circumvents the prevalent structures of the technological. The painting can speak in any dialect(ic) we are capable of looking at, towards a language of humanism that technology has forgotten. Although technology may speak in many voices, the content of its utterances does not formulate advanced notions of individual human interchange. Words without semantic implication are simply spoken words; from where does meaning come?
The content, in essence, of the conversation taking place in the diner between five men from the environs of Monroe, close to New York City, was ultimately about the structure of a society wholly determined by modern science, replete with its implicative characteristics–the formalized continuum of progress spawning mass (re-)production. When progress becomes envisionable in terms that impinge upon the infinite, the always upward spiral of mass production followed by mass consumption, we encounter the limitations of the system. Where, within this flowing network of production, do cultural models acquire situation? This is the unwitting ultimate goal of today’s western society. Can the progress of technology be imposed onto the role of the artistic in contemporary times, in times which rotate around the absence and professed delivery of human values?
The problems arising from these objectives (that is, infinite progress in terms of prevalent mechanisms of production and consumption) were explicitly addressed by the five men in the diner. Their conversational topics implicated problems derived from the unqualified manufacture of technologized progress; overtly unqualified because of its incompatibility to nature–to nature as a unified total, a balanced, millennially harmonious system.
The conception of nature as a unified entirety was, we might observe, first reflected upon in mythological narration–in ancient mythology manifesting itself to man as a translation from his empirical experiences. Mythology’s construction of nature, however, appears to us today as counter-scientific, as proposing logically non-deductible conclusions from an apparently antiquated world-view–a WELTANSCHAUUNG–which inscribed an ultimately harmonious exchange between man and the natural world. These once wise readings of nature, as we can almost nostalgically recall, formulated the structures and powers of the natural so that man’s project coincides with the earth’s.
This dialectical relationship between nature and man–fundamentally between subject and object–is topical for both the status of myth and of modern science. Considerations intrinsic to the mythological reemerge with influence in scientific domains, especially concerning the battles that science has waged in this century to infuse its primarily technological creations with ethical and moral content. What are the ultimate differences between the mythological and the scientific, between two systems which afford man a seemingly comprehensive reading of the world? In myth it was assumed that there is a final unity to the mutual conceptions of god(s) and man, whereas in modern science there is no such presumption of a unified total.
The mythological intends to explain the world as much as the natural sciences do, although intrinsic methodological differences prevail. The sciences, from hypothesis to conclusion, transpire within the ascribed function that formulaically address a limited domain of problems streamlined into the urge of objectified progress. This singular trait can be traced back to the functionalized and instrumentalised logic of Christianity. Myths, however, do not serve such exactly defined roles. Following this view, is it relevant that the syntax of myth is rooted in the real/representational world, while the syntax of science is neither rooted in nor governed by the real/representational world?
Although a summary of mythology’s present status is unwieldy for our purposes here, we might highlight certain discrepancies and incompatibilities between the mythological and the technological in order to motivate a more holistic reading of value-structures within the contemporary world. Value-structures we presume to be reflected, even created, in the work of certain artists today. Are we to surmise, then, that this disparity should be considered irreconcilable; or, is it possible to reason a productive synthesis between a historically generated world-view and our present technological universe?
A partial answer to these questions might commence at the turn of the present century, in a country which had already recognized the conceptual prospects of mass technologized society, but was steeped, and even mired in much older traditions of humanism, religion, and mythology. The Russian Formalists began their evaluation of art, specifically of literature, with the fundamental premise that vanguard literary art used language that could be overtly distinguished from everyday speech or historically rooted linguistics: "What was specific to literary language, what distinguished it from other forms of discourse, was that it ‘deformed’ ordinary language in various ways."9 The group of critics, who became known as the Russian Formalists, believed that the linguistics of literature offered man renewed awareness of his role in the world–an awareness of fundamental human values: "By having to grapple with language in a more strenuous, self-conscious way than usual, the world which that language contains is vividly renewed…The Formalists saw literary language as a set of deviations from a norm, a kind of linguistic violence; literature is a ‘special kind of language, in contrast to the ‘ordinary’ language we commonly use."10 Elaborating upon not only the means by which literature affects its distance from the ‘everyday,’ but also upon the underlying content of these features, we can observe the notion of the NARRATIVE as it endures a similar ‘defamiliarization’–a rupturing of normal cause-and-effect sequentiality, a major distension within the framework of inhabited, perceived temporality. We can detect refined examples of painting which attempts, inadvertently or intentionally, to address these radical ideas about the narrative in Francis Bacon’s work of the 1950s, and later, in the attenuated visions of the human body presented by Lucien Freud, or through the lacerations and inversions inflicted into painting by Georg Baselitz.
Constructed literary narratives–understood here in relation to the mythological and in contrast to the technological–were regarded by the Formalist critics as deliberate ‘impeding’ or ‘retarding’ devices which heighten our awareness of structure and of possibilities within structural organization and presentation of ideas: "If a story breaks off and starts again, switches constantly from one narrative level to another and delays its climax to keep us in suspense, we become freshly conscious of how it is constructed, at the same time as our engagement with it may be intensified."11
Formalism, developed by key Russian critics such as Roman Jakobson, Osip Brik, Yury Tynyanov, in the first decades of this century, provides us a means with which we are able to reconcile and comprehend various narrative strategies presently operating in the world. Literature, as merely one escape into narrative comprehension, yields a useful criterion. The Formalists developed their theories in direct reaction to nineteenth century trends in literary criticism which emphasized a mystical-symbolist foundation of analysis. Predictably, the concomitant practices of Realism (specifically regarding post-Victorian formulations of the novel which emphasized empiricist models of naturalist perception) received an equally critical dismissal. By using the Formalist platform as a point of departure into twentieth century narratives, we come to reconcile seemingly contradictory historical circumstances–mainly in this context, the divergent advancements of ‘Technology’ and ‘Mythology.’
While we have observed the globalizing narrative discourses of technology’s development to be centrally motivated, almost exclusively, by the unidirectional axis of "progress," an alternative re-emergent narrative which circumvents this code might be thought of as the mythological; the purely creative and artistic, exempt from any inherited formulas. The literary foundation, adopted from Russian Formalism, pierces the depth of ancient definitions concerning notions of narrative, presenting us in the twentieth century with a platform from which to refute technology’s unidirectional narrative thrust through the world.
A text such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses–which submits to the narrative criteria conceived of by the Russian Formalists–provides the reader with an episodic purview of characterological events that are often discrete, disjunct, temporally non-linear, proposing a fractured narratological multiplicity predicated on the notion of unexpected, totally unpredictable transformations. Contrary to the linearly directed refinements of technology–which is a narrative bound to strictures that can be regarded as proximate to those of Nineteenth Century Realism–the mythological offers comprehension of the twentieth century world in more accurate and emotionally fashion. How, for example, are we able to resolve the sub-nuclear reality created in Einsteinian temporality with the routine workings of our conscious, waking world–with a world of war, contradiction, emotion, morality, and occasional personal triumph. Although the epochal achievements of the exact sciences early in this century permitted humanity an unprecedented command over nature and the forces of the universe, their advancements impacted only on the level of operational capability, only in directly affecting the time-honored core of human values.
What are the only things we are able to paint? Alas, always only what is on the verge of withering and losing its fragrance! Alas, always only storms that are passing, exhausted, and feelings that are autumnal and yellow! Alas, always only birds that grew weary of flying and flew astray and now can be caught by hand–by our hand! We immortalize what cannot live and fly much longer–only weary and mellow things! And it is only your afternoon, you, my written and painted thoughts, for which alone I have colors, many colors perhaps, many motley caresses and fifty yellows and browns and greens and reds: but nobody will guess from that how you looked in your morning, you sudden sparks and wonders of my solitude, you my old beloved–wicked thoughts!
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 1886 12
When in Rome…
She was beautiful enough to incite the fancy of a god; certainly not a common beauty, and no ordinary god. For Jupiter’s roving vision to become preoccupied in his imagination by the sensuous pulchritude of a river nymph, his desire would have had to have been as great as his guile. With deception aimed to divert the wiser gaze of his wife, which was doubly a ruse to entrap the fleeing nymph, Jupiter cast himself in the form of an amorphous darkening mist. In this clandestine way the god descends into the deepening forest, his vaporous shape ensnaring her. Halting her escape for fear of becoming lost, enmeshed in brambles or branches and further bewildered by this opaque mist which drains her of sight, sense and direction, she stands alone in the wood at the mercy of desire. Slowly, gently the mist reformulates itself into human shape. From out of this mist, from the cloud itself the god arrives to embrace this nymph, take hold of her already de-robed body to revel in the silken white wonder of her flesh. She is seen to surrender an ecstasy fitting for an eternal appetite, to hold the arm that embraces her, to lift her throat and offer up her mystery to the pervading cool of this divine intrusion.
In this manner Antonio Allegri–known as Correggio–painted in the early 1530s, the moment of encounter between Jupiter and Io (figure 2: Correggio Jupiter and Io, ca. 1532 canvas 104 x 45 IN. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). This vertical panel, which stands out in the history of painting as one of the most revealing and consuming visions of sexual climax, depicts the episode in the pictorial poetic calm of a transcendent embrace. The trapped nymph rolls back her heavy lidded eyes in a moment of dull, opened surrender, as the god’s visage emerges from the mist to caress her cheek with his wondering, lustful lips–the first illicit kiss of his prize. In a painting pervaded by darkness, with the forest glade obscured by the god’s descent, Io’s sensuous flesh is seen in the full clarity of light. This inversion of visual importance between god and mortal tells of the deed that transpires; the obscured god deferentially honoring his mortal fantasy by accentuating her luminosity against his undisclosed, saturating darkness.
Correggio has temporally, but not historically, located this scene as belonging to the lore of the ancients. The inclusion of an Attic amphora becomes a visual metaphor that doubles for the act of rape–a vessel to be filled. The antique ceramic is a clear indication of how the Renaissance painter viewed his subject matter: as contemporary homage to the explicitness of classical culture.
But the story does not end there…for while the god is ravishing the nymph, his wife’s suspicion is awakened–her curiosity piqued by the sudden appearance of clouds so dense that the bright of day is transformed into dusk. Well aware of her husband’s deceptions, Jove descended from high heaven to investigate this mysterious vapor. In the moment prior to Jove’s arrival, while god and mortal are still entwined in the furious clutches of love, Jupiter changes his nymph into a heifer–a milk-white cow lowing at the sun. Jove’s interrogation of her suddenly self-deprecating husband reveals that some treachery has occurred. Not knowing precisely its nature, Jove finds it most unusual that Jupiter would deign to associate with a cow. For want of a better explanation she asks him if he might confer this creature as a gift to her. Although Jupiter’s heart is still pounding with the fury of lust, he fears further complications and thus consents to grant the cow to Jove.
While Correggio selected to paint only the most urgent moment, the myth of Jupiter and Io–with its allegorical overtones–continued to operate in the cultures of Europe for as long as its knowledge could be kept afresh. As the Renaissance gave way to Mannerism, and as these trends falteringly coalesced into the Baroque, a new cultural mythology rose to prominence and displaced ancient writings, like those of Ovid, in favor of the urgency of the present. Nicholas Poussin and Peter Paul Rubens–the two most prolific masters of the early Baroque–assigned primary significance to religious, particularly Christian subject matter. With Rubens’ early reputation as artist secured, by completion of the Antwerp altarpieces, he was equipped to serve Counter Reformation Christendom in even more powerful and efficient ways than as merely an able interpreter of the Vulgate (and as a didactic painter of Council of Trent dogma). With effortless ease, Rubens, the great religious painter, also become Rubens the international shuttle statesman–an able envoy who prided himself with the art of détente, while simultaneously conferring upon acquiescent royal houses, the added honor of receiving major paintings from him. In this manner we can observe how the classical role of the artist diversified, leaving the didactic core of Western humanism to become increasingly aware of, if not motivated by, contemporary issues of state, church and nation.
The case of Rubens–his florid biography coupled with his artistic oeuvre–is taken here to be the fulcrum of a cultural and historical shift in artistic subject matter–a shift which re-delegates the concerns of art away from Ancient sources (away from the ideals of the Renaissance) toward more contemporary issues. As Europe congealed through its bloody history of nation making, present and pressing issues of national and personal survival were viewed against prospects of salvation, the mythical paradigms of existence were superseded by religious edicts of spirituality that could more summarily be instrumentalized at the service of state. This shift in cultural emphasis was augmented through successive centuries, culminating in the nineteenth century when it became obvious that the subject matter and themes of painting no longer looked to the distant past for moral inspiration and spiritual survival-revival. Courbet’s declaration of Realism, along with the Impressionist’s cry not merely for spontaneity, but for contemporaneity, diverts attention from classical texts, supplanting the example of the ancients with the always, successively more spectacular, chapters of PROGRESS.
It is, then, possible, if we follow this deep perspective, to surmise that the rise of modernism declared an end to the influence and cultural sway of ancient thought. Nowhere in the art of recent times do we find a painter who seriously addresses his art to truly classical dimensions, to ideas that circumvent the immediate pressures of modernism in favor of an alternative narrative. If we were to discover a thematically inclined artist intent on retrieving a classical narrative, how could such ancient ideation find its way into the contemporary world; how would modernism intersect to reevaluate the classical? Would such an endeavor of fusion produce a culturally unified vision, or would its outcome be synthetic, tainted by regression or nostalgia? Would the undertaking breed hybridized, miscreant progeny or could gesture, form, and theme yield substantially holistic results–a transformation in time suitable for the ale knowledge of out times?
My Dad keeps a record collection in cardboard boxes lined up along his bedroom wall collecting New Mexican dust. His prize is an original Al Jolson 78 with the jacket taped and even the tape is ripped. Last time I saw him he tried to bribe me into taking it back to L.A. and selling it for a bundle. He’s convinced it’s worth at least a grand. Maybe more, depending on the market. He says he’s lost touch with the market these days.
My Dad has a picture of a Spanish señorita covered in whip cream pinned above the sink to his kitchen wall. My Dad actually does. He walked me over to it and we both stared at it for a while. "She’s supposed to be naked under there, but I’ll bet she’s wearing something," he said.
- Sam Shephard, The Motel Chronicles, 1979 13
To Paint a Contemporary Mythology: Episodes of the Real?
The paintings of Tony Scherman deny the discourses of formal progression and theoretical overthrow in favor of a subtext which seeks to connect the demands of contemporary culture with the social 14. The artistic culture of this century has sought, since Picasso’s antagonistic engagement of the public with his Les Demoiselles d’Avignonof 1907,–which, we might here be reminded, depicts transactions within a modern whore house–to reconcile stylistic and, ultimately, content-oriented readings of the human figure in a referential framework of constant formal progression concerning one type of human rendering in opposition to others. A move away from this foundational visual formulation and contextualization, toward a new level of interpretation, a new hermeneutic reading of ever more compelling and contemporary life, entailed that artistic innovation proceed with a premium placed upon formal novelty 15. If the technologically inclined world surrounding humanity was ceaselessly advancing, then, so too should the pictorial world, whose mandate was to visualize the progressive human form; indeed, so should visual culture manifest its own destiny under the rubric of formal invention. With the technological impinging so prominently upon the potential and prowess of human ability, pictorial culture has–so evidently in this century even if we only cursorily consider the non-representational status of abstract painting–often seemed to bypass the humanistic in favor of seemingly more exhilarating concerns.
By taking as his main theme an episode from Ovid’s first book of the Metamorphoses, Tony Scherman ultimately seeks to reattach emptied pictorial discourses to the sociological status of his community at large, a world that it has made as much as having been made. By offering in each painting clear traces of the process of making, each of us becomes a participant witnessing in cinematic lucidity the discrete and discrepant focuses of the narrative versus its subject matter…cinemacology threatening to undermine technology, where the (painted) product purports to use us rather than be used. What could the function of narrative pictorial art be in invented circumstances such as this, when the ascribed narrative exists only as a conducting fiction, a fluctuating circuit of various parts?
When we regard the pregnant image of a young girl on a slope, dressed in an unappropriately provocative white skirt of innocence, we cannot help but fear for her fated future, for the moments in her life that ineluctably extend before her. As she navigates her way in the undulating landscape: seen apparently through a lens, taking each careful step tentatively at a time, we become engrossed in her hesitant progress. We wonder if she will make correct, productive decisions.
Abandoned among strangely construed natural elements in a seemingly innocuous landscape, we slowly realize that it is not the natural world which poses itself as a threat to her immediate future, but rather the molded world of man-made aggression which portends to alter her potential. Unknown to her–but very much on our alerted minds–we comprehend that forces beyond her consciousness are already at work, are already designing the capability of a next step for her, and assessing where that step will lead.
If we regard this child within the framework of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, we might understand the gravity of her movement. The child, by virtue of her naiveté, elicits an immediate emotive response of prone empathy, stepping along the sparsely forested slope of her future, we begin to see ourselves as people who might intervene. Her plump innocence makes us want to intrude, to deal with and dispatch the sundry horrors of her immanent encounter. If we were to read the text of her life–a text that was written more than 2000 years ago–we might become upset, discontent over our inability to affect her fate.
But this is not simply a text we are looking at and, regardless of its underlying textual constructs, it is a painting–a pictorial realization that enables us to read into the narrative a multiplicity of directed sequences and manifest layers of implication not present in the original text. The story, edited for dissection into pieces of a story, has undergone a transformation into a seductive field of amplified cognition–the visuality of pictorial rendering where ideas that previously assumed written form are metamorphosized. Our visual response to the painting is one that borders both seduction and fear. Indeed, we fear for her future but, embarked upon the instinctive way to this emotion, we become detoured, seduced by the way that this image appears to us, how it is painted. After comprehending the various brushstrokes that constitute what appears to be a rapidly created image, we as viewers question distinctions between line and form, mass and substance, color and its underlying stroke. As if we were watching frames in a film that refused to focus or be resolved within the supplied narrative, the character we observe drifts from expectation, familiarity, and normalcy. Unable to record our thoughts in the syntax of the filmic, initial banality bends into the uncanny–what we are incapable of reproducing in the semantics of representation.
Beyond the girl and underneath her painterly substance, we enter into the overall presentation of this scene. It is painted utilizing the most alluring and attractive of techniques, which in turn instigates our deepest fantasies about visualized representational fulfillment (figure 3: detail of color plate, The Rape of Io: Players). Indeed, Tony Scherman deploys a full range of encaustic seductiveness as made available by Jasper Johns and Brice Marden–the colors bled into others, the line succeeded by amendments, the form liquidified into shadow that disappears under bland connotations of foliage in order to confuse our expectations. Our capacity to organize this scene into a conclusive narrative entirety is thus technically undermined. We wish for music, for sound to fill the void of inevitable circumstance and semantic multiplicity–a sound that will not formulate itself in the shrill viscerality of a scream.
This painting, depicting a young child, presents us viewers in the late twentieth century with narratives of implication that we find to be conflicted, torn amidst the desires of a biographical futurity incarnated by the urgency to amend the immanence of circumstance. Regardless of the monetary, political or technological power we purport to wield (as a society as well as individual persons), we already feel indebted to the future of this little girl. If we know the power of myth, we know the ineffectuality of our human acts. If she, indeed, is a girl from out of civilization’s mythical past–the proverbial child abandoned to the wilderness of the world–then we, consequently, are products of an incapacitated technological moment, where all our ingeniously fabricated strengths vaporize beyond shadows of the instant.
How, in attempting to paint an interconnected cycle of representational paintings, does Tony Scherman’s The Rape of Io deviate from its original, inspirational text? How does it depart from conventional representational narratives that have become so familiar to us in the media-saturated, technologically fashioned, special-effected late twentieth century? By deploying the technique of encaustic–a fast, liquidly hot medium which carries the pigment through fluency into a congealed proximate image–visual focus upon the OBJECT is distended, distanced, if not, to recall that Russian Formalist credo, ‘defamiliarized.’
When we compare The Rape of Io paintings to that field of 1980s image production in the Anglo-American vein–trends which encompass paintings by Bruce McLean, Eric Fischl, David Salle and David Bates–we might recognize the departure to reside in conceptions of how the painter is able to construct a narrative. By linking together each painting subliminally to the text and sequentially to the next, erecting a cycle with only internal but no empirical beginning or end, Scherman permits insight to be gathered from certain individual aspects of each painting, rather than from any painting in particular. The way that the burn-lesioned lips of a goddess appear, the throbbing chest of a retreating woman, are juxtaposed in the cycle with overripe fruit splitting into an olfactory display. Each of these images, fragrant fragments of a pictorially interpreted narrative, combine and condition to shape our grasp of every individual brushstroke; each painting is a keystone in the arch that encloses a full circle. If our desire is to seek through a narrative sequence to arrive at a singular conclusion, then these paintings refute desire, circumvent the speed of formulation through the subversion of expectation; the cycle only works if we take each part, each discrete painted utterance (whether linear, blended, or brushed) as an entirety–the Greek notion of synecdoche, where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, where the shape of a classical narrative mutates into the modern and beyond.
The cycle of paintings entitled The Rape of Io aspires to reinterpret a single, multilayered episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, to accelerate the timelessness of historical writing into the future we have come to inhabit. Among painted images in the cycle we see The Rape of Io: Argus’ Dream, a still life cornucopia of fruit looming huge, rising above us. If in reproduction the painting appears to be conventionally constructed, in real terms our encounter with it provokes overwhelming, almost imposing aspirations. Must we succumb to its hugeness or enlarge ourselves to match its scale? Against a blackened background the scale of objects in our world loosens from the logic of convention, where the bulbous curve of a pear acquires the same size as a woman’s bodice, a god’s head. Symbolism is abstracted into a frenzy of conclusiveness that sublimates the smoothness of an inherited narrative, passing it through the content of a post-technological, demythologized world–inventing a circumstance where anything is not possible because it is only pictorial. Information is called up at random, triggered in associated patterns that spin and marvel at the inadequacy of collective memory.
We may recall from the history of art, various still life paintings which become tangled into this painted vision; a glimpse of a Chardin, a Zurbaran, a slice of Cézanne, with a more recent trace of David Hockney’s colored pencil line. In observing these recollections, however, we emerge to assess and reconcile pictorial syntax against narrative elasticity. The fruit arrangement appearing in The Rape of Io: Argus’ Dreamis composed of mythological fruits, ambrosia conflated with the perishing food of mortals, as long as we subscribe to the narrative. But as fruits painted out of the modern world they lack all connotations of material, objective classicism; they are organic commodities grown with fertilizer and pesticides, groomed and harvested by machine. These realistically painted fruits set against an amorphous, broodingly ambivalent ground, reside precisely in such temporal and cultural bivalence.
In this sphere of pictorial dislocation, which equally extends into the painted figures participating in The Rape of Io, contradiction (of cultural history) and conflation (of pictorial art history) serve to banish the nostalgia of both short- and long-term memory. By looking alone we must resolve these presented circumstances and excite a logic of continuum. Each painting must tear itself apart, into vestigial visual parts, in order to conceive of wholeness; to unite old narratives in the new content of the cyclic context–narratives that never did flow smoothly or fit seamlessly together when they were first told.
Publius Ovidius Naso Metamorphoses (Jove and Io)
English Translation by Frank Justus Miller
There is a vale in Thessaly which steep-wooded slopes surround on every side. Men call it Tempe. Through this the River Peneus flows from the foot of Pindus with foam-flecked waters, and by its heavy fall forms clouds which drive along fine, smoke-like mist, sprinkles the tops of the trees with spray, and deafens even remoter regions by its roar. Here is the home, the seat, the inmost haunt of the mighty stream. Here, seated in a cave of overhanging rock, he was giving laws to his waters, and to his water-nymphs. Hither came, first, the rivers of his own country, not knowing whether to congratulate or console the father of Daphne: the poplar-fringed Sperchios, the restless Enipeus, hoary Apidanus, gentle Amphrysos and Aeas; and later all the rivers which, by whatsoever way their current carries them, lead down their waters, weary with wandering, into the sea. Inachus only does not come; but, hidden away in his deepest cave, he augments his waters with his tears, and in utmost wretchedness laments his daughter, Io, as lost. He knows not whether she still lives or is among the shades. But, since he cannot find her anywhere, he thinks she must be nowhere, and his anxious soul forebodes things worse than death.
Now Jove had seen her returning from her father’s stream, and said, "O maiden, worthy of the love of Jove, and destined to make some husband happy, seek now the shade of these deep woods"–and he pointed to the shady woods–"while the sun at his zenith’s height is overwarm. But if thou fearest to go alone amongst the haunts of wild beasts, under a god’s protection shalt thou tread in safety even the inmost woods. Nor am I of the common gods, but I am he who holds high heaven’s sceptre in his mighty hand, and hurls the roaming thunderbolts. Oh, do not flee from me!"–for she was already in flight. Now had she left behind the pasture-fields of Lerna, and the Lyrcean plains thick-set with trees, when the god hid the wide land in a thick, dark cloud, caught the fleeing maid and ravished her.
Meanwhile Juno chanced to look down upon the midst of Argos, and marvelled that quick-rising clouds had wrought the aspect of night in the clear light of day. She knew that they were not river mists nor fogs exhaled from the damp earth; and forthwith she glanced around to see where her lord might be, as one who knew well his oft-discovered wiles. When she could not find him in the sky she said: "Either I am mistaken or I am being wronged"; and gliding down from the top of heaven, she stood upon the earth and bade the clouds disperse. But Jove had felt beforehand his spouse’s coming and had changed the daughter of Inachus into a white heifer. Even in this form she still was beautiful. Saturnia looked awhile upon the heifer in grudging admiration; then asked whose she was and whence she came or from what herd, as if she did not know full well. Jove lyingly declared that she had sprung from the earth, that so he might forestall all further question as to her origin. Thereupon Saturnia asked for the heifer as a gift. What should he do? ‘Twere a cruel task to surrender his love, but not to do so would arouse suspicion. Shame on one side prompts to give her up, but love on the other urges not. Shame by love would have been o’ercome; but if so poor a gift as a heifer were refused to her who was both his sister and his wife, perchance she had seemed to be no heifer.
Though her rival was at last given up, the goddess did not at once put off all suspicion, for she feared Jove and further treachery, until she had given her over to Argus, the son of Arestor, to keep for her. Now Argus’ head was set about with a hundred eyes, which took their rest in sleep two at a time in turn, while the others watched and remained on guard. In whatsoever way he stood he looked at Io; even when his back was turned he had Io before his eyes. In the daytime he allowed her to graze; but when the sun had set beneath the earth he shut her up and tied an ignominious halter round her neck. She fed on leaves of trees and bitter herbs, and instead of a couch the poor thing lay upon the ground, which was not always grassy, and drank water from the muddy streams. When she strove to stretch out suppliant arms to Argus, she had no arms to stretch; and when she attempted to voice her complaints, she only mooed. She would start with fear at the sound, and was filled with terror at her own voice. She came also to the bank of her father’s stream, where she used to play; but when she saw, reflected in the water, her gaping jaws and sprouting horns, she fled in very terror of herself. Her Naiad sisters knew not who she was, nor yet her father, Inachus himself. But she followed him and her sisters, and offered herself to be petted and admired. Old Inachus had plucked some grass and held it out to her; she licked her father’s hand and tried to kiss it. She could not restrain her tears, and, if only she could speak, she would tell her name and sad misfortune, and beg for aid. But instead of words, she did tell the sad story of her changed form with letters which she traced in the dust with her hoof. "Ah, woe is me!" exclaimed her father, Inachus; and, clinging to the weeping heifer’s horns and snow-white neck: "Ah, woe is me! art thou indeed my daughter whom I have sought o’er all the earth? Unfound, a lighter grief than found. Thou art silent, and givest me back no answer to my words; thou only heavest deep sighs, and, what alone thou canst, thou dost moo in reply. I, in blissful ignorance, was preparing marriage rites for thee, and had hopes, first of a son-in-law, and then of grandchildren. But now from the herd must I find thee a husband, and from the herd must I look for grandchildren. And even by death I may not end my crushing woes. It is a dreadful thing to be a god, for the door of death is shut to me, and my grief must go on without end." As he thus made lament star-eyed Argus moved his daughter away and drove her, torn from her father’s arms, to more distant pastures. There he perched himself apart upon a high mountain-top, where at his ease he could keep watch on every side.
But now the ruler of the heavenly ones can no longer bear these great sufferings of Io, and he calls his son whom the shining Pleiad bore, and bids him do Argus to death. Without delay Mercury puts on his winged sandals, takes in his potent hand his sleep-producing wand, and dons his magic cap. Thus arrayed, the son of Jove leaps down from sky to earth, where he removes his cap and lays aside his wings. Only his wand he keeps. With this, in the character of a shepherd, through the sequestered country paths he drives a flock of goats which he has rustled as he came along, and plays upon his reed pipe as he goes. Juno’s guardsman is greatly taken with the strange sound. "You there," he calls, "whoever you are, you might as well sit beside me on this rock; for nowhere is there richer grass for the flock, and you see that there is a shade convenient for shepherds."
So Atlas’ grandson takes his seat, and fills the passing hours with talk of many things…
…When Mercury was going on to tell this story, he saw that all those eyes had yielded and were closed in sleep. Straightway he checks his words, and deepens Argus’ slumber by passing his magic wand over those sleep-faint eyes. And forthwith he smites with his hooked sword the nodding head just where it joins the neck, and sends it bleeding down the rocks, defiling the rugged cliff with blood. Argus, thou liest low; the light which thou hadst within thy many fires is all put out; and one darkness fills thy hundred eyes.
Saturnia took these eyes and set them on the feathers of her bird, filling his tail with star-like jewels. Straightway she flamed with anger, nor did she delay the fulfilment of her wrath. She set a terror-bearing fury to work before the eyes and heart of her Grecian rival, planted deep within her breast a goading fear, and hounded her in flight through all the world. Thou, O Nile, alone didst close her boundless toil. When she reached the stream, she flung herself down on her knees upon the river bank; with head thrown back she raised her face, which alone she could raise, to the high stars, and with groans and tears and agonized mooings she seemed to voice her griefs to Jove and to beg him to end her woes. Thereupon Jove threw his arms about his spouse’s neck, and begged her at last to end her vengeance, saying, "Lay aside all fear for the future; she shall never be a source of grief to you again"; and he called upon the Stygian pools to witness his oath.
The goddess’ wrath is soothed; Io gains back her former looks, and becomes what she was before. The rough hair falls away from her body, her horns disappear, her great round eyes grow smaller, her gaping mouth is narrowed, her shoulders and her hands come back, and the hoofs are gone, being changed each into five nails. No trace of the heifer is left in her save only the fair whiteness of her body. And now the nymph, able at last to stand upon two feet, stands erect; yet fears to speak, lest she moo in the heifer’s way, and with fear and trembling she resumes her long-abandoned speech.
ISBN 3-89 322-241-4