Jun. 7th, 2017

dmilewski: (Default)
I was thinking about the story of Perseus the other day, and what gobsmacked me about the story was the absolutely pointless rescue of Andromeda. What was behind that? What narrative purpose did it serve? The only answer that I could come up with was that a queen was a necessary component of ruling as a king. In that vein, I will posit the Greek Ruling Couple meta-narrative.

According to Greek myth, Zeus was the king of the gods, while Hera was the queen. You can't pick and choose, having one or the other. You must have both aspects, both male and female, the make a stable throne. Zeus and Hera, Cronus and Rhea, Uranus and Gaia, these each represented the paradigmatic couples. If we dig a little deeper, we notice that we know the names of both the king and queen in all the stories, which is odd because you normally don't expect to know all the queens, especially in the Trojan War, where the relationships between these couples are significant. 

The Greek Ruling Couple Meta-Narrative looks like this:
  • A kingdom requires both a king and a queen.
  • When a kingdom is missing either, it is incomplete and unstable.
  • Happiness ensues when the ruling couple is united again.
  • The ruling couple exists for life. Nothing short of death divides the divine couple.
  • They are the symbolic embodiment of Zeus and Hera on earth.
  • Each rules over their own gendered sphere.
  • When things go awry, the situation can't be resolved unless the couple is reunited or somebody dies.
We see this strongly with Odysseus. He spends his years traveling home, waylaid by multiple women, but these women aren't enough to make him happy. He will only be set right when he reunites with his wife. Meanwhile, Penelope is desperately fending off suitors, because she doesn't believe that her husband is dead, and if he's alive, the gods will surely frown on the new divine couple, wrecking havoc on the kingdom. The story ends when Odysseus and Penelope are reunited, the divine couple is formed again, and those who would blaspheme the divine couple murdered by the score.

With this understanding, the abduction of Helen becomes all the more terrifying. Helen leaves her role as divine queen, but that's something that she can't do. There's no way possible for Menelaus to ignore this slight, for while Helen is alive, he cannot remarry and form a new divine couple. His kingdom is literally doomed because it has lost its feminine elements. The loss of  Helen is not just a loss to ego, but a stab to the very heart of  of the Laconia. He has no choice but to respond, and his allies join in, because they too recognize the blasphemous act. The war cannot end until the divine couple is restored. (Of note, when one person finally won Helen's hand, all other suitors swore to act against any who would break up the marriage. They all understood the important of a divine couple.)

Compare this to Agamemnon, whose wife took a lover during the war, then murdered him on his return. This is not only shocking because a queen assaults a king, or a wife kills a husband, but because the action is a total abrogation of the divine roles of each ruler. 

This interpretation makes the story of Oedipus all the more shocking, as if all the relationships in Oedipus weren't shocking enough already. Oedipus makes an utter twisted horror of the divine couple.

During the Trojan war, Achilles falls for his slave girl, Chryseis. Even though they weren't married, you can see how a young man would project the divine couple idea onto a possible future bride. (She was from a good family and would have made an acceptable wife.) For Agamemnon to step in and attempt to take her away would not only have been a social affront, but perceived as religious affront by Achilles, one strong enough to demand an extreme response.

Resolving these issues takes either reconciliation or death. You can see how that sort of extreme solution would result in a series of happy endings or bloodbaths or both, which helps makes sense of the body count in Greek tragedies. 

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