Game of Thrones: Jamie Lannister

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Reference: Aquila

Level: Inferred

Description: Jamie Lannister was the youngest member of the Kingsguard, sworn to protect his king. When he began his duty, he was assigned the task of protecting Aerys II Targaryen, the Mad King. However, Jamie breaks his vow when he stabs Aerys in the back near to the end of Robert Baratheon’s rebellion. Much is made of Jamie’s treasonous act in the TV series and even characters who would be glad to see the end of the Mad King’s reign use Jamie’s slaying as a means to insult him and prove his disloyalty. Jamie reveals that he only did this heinous act to save the whole of King’s Landing from being burnt down by Aerys. However, this is not a definite fact and it would not be the first time in the show that someone has lied about their actions to achieve a favourable personal result. The Roman Emperor, Caligula, also had a ‘King’s Guard’, called the Praetorian Guard. They were sworn to protect their emperor and were employed purely for that role. Yet in 41 AD, a group of Caligula’s own guards, along with some other co-conspirators (involving Senators and Equestrians) assassinated him for the greater good of Rome – or so they would have had us believe. Politically, Caligula was a nightmare for the Roman elite. He was mad, bad and dangerous to know and having to work with him in any capacity could be a degrading experience, or even fatal. The Praetorian who led the betrayal was called Cassius Chaerea and he was routinely humiliated by Caligula. Unable to take it anymore, he conspired to have Caligula executed. This coup was a success, particularly for the Praetorians, who became kingmakers when they put Claudius into the role of Emperor. The final death-blow to Caligula is attributed to a man called Aquila, who very little is known about. It is thought that Caligula may have even been dead by the time Aquila plunged his blade into him – thus rendering it a symbolic act rather than a necessary one. Therefore, it could be argued that there is nothing brave about this act by Aquila. Aquila may simply have seen which side of history he needed to be on if he was going to survive, a trait which Jamie Lannister demonstrates many times in Game of Thrones. Like the conspirators of Caligula’s assassination, Jamie tries to promote the idea that his murderous act was for the greater good, but like Aquila’s actions, Jamie’s can also be seen as symbolic rather than necessary as the Mad King had already lost the war. Like Aquila, Jamie’s name is only recorded as a kingslayer for prosperity and nothing else is written about him (In The White Book/The Book of Brothers). Jamie does not like this, but perhaps he will be grateful to be remembered for something in the end, regardless of what it is. Aquila is just about remembered by us, but there are many, many more who are not.

Contributor: David Hogg


Red Dwarf V

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Reference: The Trojan Horse, Troy, Virgil, The Aeneid

Level: Overt 

Description: Early in the episode (Season V, Episode 5: The Inquisitor), Dave Lister is reading a comic-book version of Virgil's Aeneid (or so we are told). The mechanoid Kryten sums up the Aeneid as being about, "Agamemnon's relentless pursuit of Helen of Troy", but he makes no mention of Aeneas or Rome. Lister, meanwhile, is unimpressed with the story - particularly the Trojan's willingness to take the wooden horse into the city; "it's from this period of history that we derive the phrase 'beware of Greeks bearing gifts'," he says, "when it would be much more logical to derive the phrase 'beware of Trojans, they're complete smeg heads!'". As for any other echoes of The Aeneid in the episode, I think that they would be purely inferred by the viewer rather than being deliberately overt in the plot. The episode concerns a mechanoid that travels through time erasing people whom it judges to have not led a 'worthwhile life'. Not living a ‘worthwhile life’ is something that would horrify any Homeric hero - but no clear connection is made between the mechanoid’s behaviour and Classical mythology, and I'm not convinced that linking his actions to Homeric heroes can be said to be anything other than my own inference as opposed to any intentional actions of the Red Dwarf writers.

Contributor: Matthew Lloyd

Website: https://kefkaofclubs.wordpress.com/


The Sopranos

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Reference: The Cumaean Sybil

Level: Overt 

Description: In Season 2, Episode 4 of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano makes a ‘business trip’ to Naples. Whilst there, he meets Annalisa, who has become the boss of the Neapolitan crime organisation. Initially, Tony seems to follow the predictable path of trying to seduce her, but his attraction seems to change as he starts to see that she is wiser and more of a challenge to him than he had first given her credit for. It is during a sight-seeing tour of Naples where Tony realises that he will need to keep his ‘guard up’ because Annalisa is no fool. She takes him to the cave of Cumaean Sybil and explains how the priestess would have been able to offer guidance and advice to those who wanted answers. Tony asks what advice Annalisa (who has positioned herself as a modern Sybil) has for him and she replies, “you are your own worst enemy.” Tony responds by saying that she reminds him of someone from ‘back home’ and we know that he is talking about his psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi. It is an interesting comparison as the Sybil was able to offer advice and acted as bridge between the living and the dead. In Tony’s meetings with Dr. Melfi, she is undoubtedly trying to guide him and because of the nature of his ‘business’, she is very clearly a link for Tony to the living and the dead in his life. But to what end she is helping him is quite ambiguous. Melfi’s meetings with Tony allow him to become a better parent, but they also allow him to become a better criminal. Her moral ambivalence in their meetings often tortures her when she is away from him. Her punishment is reminiscent of Apollo’s reaction to being spurned by the Sybil in Ovid’s Metamophoses; Apollo allows the Sybil to wither away until nothing is left of her except a voice in a jar (Melfi’s office perhaps?). Dr. Melfi seems to lose more than she gains by helping the morally tortured Tony Soprano, and viewers are also forced to evaluate their too support for this murderous criminal at several points in the TV series. Tony’s meeting with Annalisa at the cave of the Sybil, is an attempt to centre Tony Soprano in the tradition of the Epic/Homeric/Classical ‘hero’ (Aeneas? Odysseus? Heracles? Achilles?) and by the end of the final episode of this TV series, it would be hard to disagree that Tony Soprano is a worthy modern addition to the pantheon of tortured ‘Classical’ men.

Contributor: David Hogg


Inside No. 9: The Riddle of the Sphinx

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Reference: Oedipus, Medea, Pygmalion, Iphigenia, Hector, Sphinx

Level: Overt and Inferred

Description: This episode of Inside No. 9 seems to ooze with the elements of Greek tragedy and while Oedipus is literally spoken about in the script, there are certainly echoes of other plays within this sumptuously sinister 30 minutes of tragicomedy (notably Medea). The premise seems relatively harmless to begin with... Crossword-setter Nigel (the Sphinx) stumbles across a young woman who has broken-in to his office and attempts to teach her how to solve cryptic crossword clues. Nigel mentions ‘My Fair Lady’ (inspired by Pygmalion) and we brace ourselves for some uncomfortable ‘flirting’. However, when Nigel describes the Sphinx as a creature that would strangle and then eat victims who could not solve its riddle, we suspect that all is not as it seems. Nina (the woman) attempts to poison Nigel as revenge for causing her own brother’s suicide, which, once we are aware of the ending seems to reference (perhaps) Electra/Iphigenia. However, things get really ‘tragic’ when it transpires that it is Nigel who has actually managed to poison Nina, thanks to help from her own father (Tyler) who is out to get revenge on Nigel for having an affair with his wife (Monica) - Agamemnon and Medea both seem to be present in this twist. But there is one more gruesome turn to come as it transpires that Nina and her brother (Simon) were actually Nigel’s children from his affair with Monica. This would be great news for Nigel except he has now poisoned his own daughter (who he also made inappropriate comments about before he knew his relationship to her) and caused the death of his son Simon by defeating him in a crossword competition where Nigel knew him as ‘Rex’ (after Oedipus Rex - who defeats the Sphinx). We are then reminded of Thyestes as Nigel is forced by Tyler to eat Nina. Distraught, Nigel kills himself after revealing his middle name is Hector. It is therefore Nina who is ‘Oedipus’ (not her brother); it is Nina who unwittingly kills her own father (believing him to be her enemy) and by trying set herself free, she becomes the instrument of her own destruction. However, this episode is not a straightforward transposition of the Sophocles play onto a new setting - the mentions of the Sphinx’s riddle and Oedipus hide the fact that Medea is as equally influential to this gruesome tale. It is an amazing piece of TV that feels as though it was written 2500 years ago - and that is absolutely meant to be a compliment.

Contributor: David Hogg


Game of Thrones: Shireen Baratheon

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Reference: Iphigenia

Level: Inferred

Description: There are many violent moments in Game of Thrones (and there are many others that push the boundaries of ‘good taste’), but perhaps the most disturbing of all of its scenes is the sacrifice of the child (Shireen Baratheon) by her own father (Stannis). Shireen’s fate seems to be based on the Greek story of Iphigenia. In the myth, Agamemnon offends Artemis and in revenge, the God manipulates the winds to prevent the Greek fleet from setting off on its conquest of Troy. Agamemnon’s status amongst the Greeks becomes increasingly weaker each day that they remain stuck in harbour. The wind is literally and figuratively being taken from their sails and this is leading to dissent, dissertation and perhaps even mutiny. It is a situation that is replicated by Stannis’s march on Winterfell in Season 5, but this time it is a snow storm that prevents the leader’s progress. Both generals seek the help of immortals in order to maintain their authority over mortals and both fathers are told that the sacrifice of their own daughters will loosen this strategic ‘log jam’.  Both men feel the weight of history on their shoulders and decide that their reputation as ‘King’ is more important than their role as ‘father’ and thus, the sacrifices are carried out. Initially it seems that the sacrifices ‘work’ and both men are able to get on with attempting to write their own histories. However, for both men, the infanticide is the beginning of their end; Agamemnon’s wife kills on his return from Troy and for Stannis, it is the ‘belief’ that this act gives him, that ensures he marches into his death. In Greek mythology, there are versions of this story where the Gods replace Iphigenia with a stag at the point of her execution, thus allowing her to flee. This reference is foreshadowed in GoT when Sir Davos gives her a gift before he departs on a mission, just days before her death – it is a carving of stag.

As a side note, once Stannis wakes up after his daughter’s sacrifice, GoT becomes Macbeth for about 5 minutes: troops desert, his wife commits suicide and “no man born from a woman” delivers his death-blow (Brienne of Tarth – a woman). This is not the only time in this series where the Bard and the Classics are woven together. (See Thyestes).

Contributor: David Hogg


Legion

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Reference: Enceladus

Level: Inferred

Description: In the ‘flashbacks’ of David’s bedroom, a poster with the word ‘Enceladus’ can clearly be seen. Enceladus is a moon of Saturn and is considered to be the most viable site for life in our Solar System (excluding Earth), but it is the mythological reference that is perhaps less well-known. In Greek mythology, Enceladus was one member of larger group of unpleasant creatures called the ‘Giants’. These monsters weren’t just big; they had snakes for legs and were so strong that they could throw mountains. They also had a penchant for theft, murder and rape. It was this behaviour (and an attack on Hera) which eventually forced Zeus and the other Olympians to destroy them. The Giants had been created from blood that had been spilt on the Earth – blood that had emanated from Uranus’s castrated member. The Giants were children born from a violent act (castration), which itself was a response to a violent act (carried out by Uranus’s son, Cronos). In Legion, David seems to have the supernatural strength of a Giant within him and his potential for destruction frightens all that witness what he can do. His immeasurable mutant powers have been hijacked by a parasite that is destroying him and putting those around him at risk.  However, David is not Enceladus - the parasite in his mind is the monster and it is a monster that we know has been ‘created’ by conflict and is now out of control - just like the Giants in the mythology. In Series 2, it will be interesting to see if David can finally do what needs to be done and lock his parasite/Giant away for good (in mythology, Enceladus is buried underneath Sicily), thus conquering his ‘Giant’ and becoming ‘a god without equal’, free from threats; or will we see the Giant within him set free from its prison and run amok around the world. David needs to be aware that The Giants could not be defeated by the Gods alone and they needed help from a mortal. In mythology Heracles tips the balance in favour of the Olympians; will David need a ‘mortal’ to save him and if so, who could it be?

Contributor: David Hogg


Game of Thrones: Myrcella Baratheon

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Reference: Pliny the Younger

Level: Inferred

Description: In about 105/106 C.E., Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to Aefulanus Marcellinus about the death of Minicia Marcella – the daughter of their mutual friend Fundanus. Minicia seems to have made quite an impression on Pliny. He states, “I have never seen anyone more cheerful or agreeable or worthy of a long life-even immortality – than that girl.” More platitudes follow in the writing until he presents the bitterest pill to swallow – Marcella was engaged to be married at the time of her death and the family’s joy had now been changed to sorrow. In Game of Thrones, the daughter of Cersei Lannister is called Myrcella - a spelling that is not made clear in the TV programme, and is therefore a homophone of the Marcella found in Pliny’s letter. Like Marcella, Myrcella was also young, innocent, full of life and preparing for a happy marriage (to a Prince in Dorne). Before her death, the scenes of Myrcella’s idyllic, positive life in Dorne created a juxtaposition with the perpetual purgatory of King’s Landing and, for a while, it seemed that there was the possibility of at least one character in this drama having a nice life. Prince Oberyn had even said, “We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne”, so the signs were good! But as with Marcella, Myrcella was destined not to experience the happiness that the people watching from the outside wanted her to receive. Myrcella is murdered and Marcella dies of an illness; although the means are different, the outcomes resonate in the same the same way – the good die young and the evil never stops. Pliny finishes his letter by stating, “A mind when its grief is fresh rejects consolation, soon desires it and calmly accepts what is offered.” One wonders if we will start to see Cersei soften in the final season of Game of Thrones as she comes to terms with her grief. I somehow doubt it.

Contributor: David Hogg


South Park

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ReferenceThyestes by Seneca

Level: Implied

Description: Revenge may well be a dish best served cold, but in the South Park episode Scott Tenorman Must Die, the dish is unbearably hot. After being mocked and exploited by the older Scott Tenorman, Eric Cartman decides that there is only one form of vengeance that will erase his humiliations – he will cook a meal for Scott Tenorman. Anyone who has seen South Park knows that Eric Cartman does not cook for his friends, let alone his enemies and we are immediately on tenterhooks as we await the Cartman coup de grace. When it comes, we are shocked into disbelief. Cartman has killed Scott Tenorman’s parents and fed them to him in a bowl of chilli. This is a riff on Seneca’s revenge Classic Thyestes. In Seneca’s play, Atreus exacts vengeance on Thyestes (his brother) after he steals his kingdom and his wife from him. To pay him back, Atreus holds a banquet and feeds Thyestes food made from his own children. As an audience member, your moral compass is all over the place and this is symptomatic of the best revenge tragedies from the Classical world. Medea is another example of a play which uses an extreme act to transform the victim into the violator; no-one can deny that Medea has been wronged, but no-one can deny that her revenge goes too far. Despite the fact that we expect Cartman to test our taste-boundaries, his culinary comeback still shocks – even though ‘the Classics already did it’ 2000 years before.

Contributor: David Hogg


Game of Thrones

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ReferenceThyestes by Seneca

Level: Implied

Description: (SPOILER ALERT) After following the trials and tribulations of Arya Stark over 1000s of miles and several years, viewers were relieved when they discovered who she had become – a cold-blooded killer, driven by revenge with a penchant for showomanhsip. There were doubtless many people incongruously cheering at the TV when they found out that Walder Frey was eating a pie made from his own sons in Season 7. It was an abominable act that was a signal to the viewers that the Stark fight-back was well and truly on! The feeding of children to their parents as an act of revenge can be traced back to Seneca’s Thyestes. In this play, Thyestes robs his brother (Atreus) of both his kingdom and his wife. As payback, Atreus invites Thyestes to a banquet where he is served food made from his own children. Has Atreus crossed the line? Discuss. In Game of Thrones, Walder Frey was such an abhorrent character that it is hard to argue that he did not deserve this stomach-churning punishment. The Starks had also been victims of such a horrendous narrative (partly thanks to Frey) that to begrudge the family of the serving of this dish would be cruel. Plus, the writing was probably on the wall for the sons, since their father is named after a pie maker (See Fray Bentos).

Contributor: David Hogg


Game of Thrones: Cersei Lannister

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Reference: Circe

Level: Implied

Description: (SPOILER ALERT) This name is more than just homophonic. The significance of the sound of her name (rather than the spelling) reminds me of the scene is Macbeth and the false-king stumbling around calling out for ‘Seyton’. I know it has a different spelling, but the audience hears Satan and this carries aural weight and adds an additional layer to the meaning of the scene; as does Cersei’s name every time she appears on screen. In The Odyssey, Circe is a witch who surrounds herself with lions and wolves. At the start of Game of Thrones, Cersei is surrounded by the wolves of the House of Stark and lions from her own family, the House of Lannister. Circe poisoned her victims, which is the weapon of choice for Cersei – until she gets enough power to use other means. In mythology, Circe is meant to have killed her husband, as does Cersei (by expediating her husband’s end). Interestingly, a boar is the source of Robert Baratheon’s demise, which echoes the fact that Circe the witch used to turn her victims into pigs. Finally, Circe bedded the sailor/warrior Odysseus and Cersei Lannister has most recently found herself with the Iron Island’s sea-dog Euron Greyjoy. Is there one final Circe-esque turn to come, or has this TV character evolved beyond her original allusion?

Contributor: David Hogg


True Blood

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Reference:    Maenads, Dionysus/Bacchus

Level:             Implied

Description: In Season 2 of this American TV series, there are vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters and, well, just generally any kind of mythical creature they can crowbar in - all in one small town (what are the chances!). It gets really interesting, though, when Maryann Forrester rocks up in town and gets everyone a little hot under the collar. Turns out she's a Maenad (from Greek mythology) who worships Dionysus, known as the God of Wine (and all things indulgent and hedonistic). In Roman mythology, Maenads were also known as Bassarids (or Bacchae or Bacchantes) after the Roman equivalent of Dionysus, known as Bacchus; cue maniacal dancing to the sound of loud music and crashing cymbals, in which the Maenads whirl, scream, become drunk and incite one another to greater and greater ecstasy. Season 2 gets hotter and hotter as it moves towards the climax of the whole town falling under Maryann's spell for some sacrificial purpose - can anyone stop her? Do they want to?

Contributor: Keeley Hogg


Red Dwarf VI

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Reference:    Sirens

Level:             Overt

Description:   Series VI, Episode 1 is called Psirens. The 'silent P' emphasises the psychological aspect of these aliens and their ability to get into the characters' psyche. In adding a 'P' to siren, a modern, sci-fi twist is given to the traditional mythological rock-dwellers who lured sailors to death with their songs. In this episode, the Psirens transform themselves into what the characters most desire or who they obey, before luring them into striking range and sucking out their brains. Space is a fantastic setting to place mythological creatures - we don't know what's out there and therefore ANYTHING could be out there! Sirens are part of our modern lexicon now - everyone knows what someone means when they call a woman a 'siren' - but is the term applicable to men? And if not, what is the male equivalent of a siren? Roxy Music's Siren album cover features Jerry Hall as an iconic siren.

Contributor: David Hogg


Battlestar Gallactica

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Reference:    Virgil, Aeneid

Level:             Inferred

Description: There are many references to 'the gods' in this TV series, but the overall structure follows the Aeneid in lots of ways. When watching this, it is heaps of fun to see if you can spot the narrative parallels before your other Aeneid-obsessed friends can (or perhaps this is just me...)!

Contributor: David Hogg


Game of Thrones

Reference:     Julius Caesar

Level:              Inferred

Description:  (SPOILER ALERT)Popular 'man of the people' John Snow is stabbed to death by men more honourable than him, including a boy that he trusted. Sounds very familiar... Snow almost looks at the boy and says, "And you little boy...". Just as Julius Caesar could not believe Brutus (his young nephew) conspired against him, Snow cannot believe he is betrayed by his adolescent squire.

Snow does not need a 'Mark Antony' to seek revenge for him though, as he is simply resurrected in the next series and carries on where he left off. This leads to an interesting 'what if...' question. What if Julius Caesar had been brought back from the dead by a local haruspex? What would Rome have become? Would he have been a good king or would he have given the powers back to the people? Would he have united the 7 kingdoms against the White Walkers (or the German Tribes as he'd have probably called them [in Latin])? Would he have grown a beard?

Contributor: David Hogg


Doctor Who

Reference:     Minotaur

Level:             Overt

Description: In series 6, the Doctor gets locked in a prison from which he cannot escape and is chased by a minotaur. The minotaur here is not a straightforward 'baddie' minotaur who eats 7 boys and 7 girls for breakfast and in the end, we end up feeling sympathy for the half-man/half-bull.

 Spoiler alert: The Doctor gets out.

It is interesting that minotaurs have been given a lot of positive press over the last 100 years. C.S. Lewis eventually brought them over to the good side in his books. It is almost as if a monster this good can't be that bad.

Contributor: David Hogg


Riviera

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Reference:     Io, Jupiter, Juno, Argus

Level:             Overt

Description: Riviera is a great example of how Classics can be used to add a 'bit of class' to a straightforward TV drama. The plot is heavily based around fine art, specifically Lorrain's painting Juno Confiding Io to the Care of Argus. The painting and the myth behind the masterpiece are mentioned frequently in the series. The characters speak about the mythology and the idea of 'hiding in plain sight' and we the audience are led to think that there MUST be a link between the plot and 'hiding in plain sight'. If Julia Stiles was meant to be Io, perhaps there is a Season 2 on the way. The last scene has her sailing away on her boat, where she will perhaps continue the mythology and bump into a version of Prometheus chained to the rock (perhaps her father who is, as we know, in prison).

Contributor: David Hogg