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Thank you to everyone who played our celebratory contest! I hope you had fun looking at the images and thinking about what they are or where they are.  We will quickly go through the correct answers–or at least we will list my best understanding of what is correct.  At the end I will announce the proud winner of these exquisite mint-condition Zoomorphs toys and we can start to fumble towards the logistics of getting you your toys, hooftales…er I mean “mysterious contest winner”.

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Wherever possible, I have linked back to original articles and posts, so, if you have a moment and are curious about these strange places and things, why not click all of the links and continue voyaging through vast realms of life, time, and art!

OK, here we go with the answers:

THINGS:

1.

1

A Song Dynasty (or ‘Sung” Dynasty…if that is how you Anglicize ) ewer not wholly unlike this one or these later Mongol ewers.

2.

two

A parasitoid fairy wasp (Mymaridae family) upon a human hand

3.

3

A Melo Pearl, the world’s rarest and most expensive type of pearl!

4.

4

Whoah! It’s an ancient Visigoth votive crown from the fabled treasure of Guarrazar!

5.

5

A Chiton, the armored mollusk

6.

6

Aww! It’s an adorable school of tiny little glass catfish.

7.

7

Roses, tulips, irises and other flowers in a wicker basket, with fruit and insects on a ledge (Balthasar van der Ast, ca 1614-1619) oil on panel.  (Here is a Ferrebeekeeper post about Van der Ast).

8.

8

The Cap of Monomach, a treasure of the early tsars.  I still think Putin wears it sometimes. Hell, he’s probably wearing it right now!

9.

9

It is the brain of an Etruscan shrew, arguably the smallest mammal.  The arrows point to the trigeminal nerve (black arrows) and optic nerve (blue arrows).

10.

10

Hahahaha! These are Polish chicken chicks. Look at that expression!  The poor li’l guy does look a bit down.

11.

11

A lituus, a mysterious Roman divination device.

12.

12

The underworld deity Xolotl, the scrofulous salamander deity of Aztec mythology’s weird death realm.

13.

13

The “Borghese Vase” a colossal Ancient Roman Urn which was one of the treasures of the Garden of Sallust

PLACES:

1.

ONE

The Faroe Islands (Photo by Tom Glancz)

2.2

A Masai giraffe walking by Lake Manyara Tanzania

3.

Three

Standard Poodles in the Ohio Valley

4.

four

 

5.

five

A welwitschia plant in the Namib Desert

6.

Six

The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda of Xi’an, Shaanxi.  I need to write a post about this one in the future!

7.

seven

Ovid Among the Scythians (Eugène Delacroix, 1862) Oil on Canvas

I find it strange that this fantasy piece about Scythians (and poets) was painted during the American Civil War.

8.eight

Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania

9.nine

The world’s largest potash fertilizer plant at Lop Nur, China

10.

ten

The Planet Venus, sans clouds. Sigh…someday

11.

eleven

The Armenian cemetery in Julfa, Azerbaijan…desecrated and bulldozed in the 1990s

12.

dozen

A colossal snake swimming in the Trans-Saharan Seaway of Mali during the Eocene

13.

t

The Site of Eridu, humankind’s first known city.

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I can’t believe how well our contestants did! I am not sure I could have identified any of these…and I have written about most of them!  There were a few humorous stray answers, but even the answers which weren’t a hundred percent right were still clever and well thought out.  Our Ferrebeekeeper mental Olympics thus ends with the following champions:

Gold: hooftales

Silver: Vicki

Bronze: eekee

Everyone is a winner (although Hooftales gets the zoomorphs and the national anthem of the hooftales homeland is currently playing as we wipe away proud tears).  I enjoyed putting this together and revisiting these concepts! Should we do another one at some point? Should the images be harder or easier or what?  Talk to me below (Hooftales, we will figure out how to get you your prize) and thanks again for playing and, above all, for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Today we feature something completely new for Ferrebeekeeper–a contest!  This challenge will test your acumen, breadth of knowledge, and grasp of cultural and biological material.  And this is not just for bragging rights (although those are certainly to be had); there is an actual prize–a good one.  Hopefully this contest will also simulate the joys of travel and the delight of discovery in this sad & locked-down era.

Here are the rules:  below are 13 images of things and 13 images of places.  Whoever is first to identify these images most correctly will win the prize–an original, unopened mint-condition box of “Safarimorphs” mix-and-match animal toys which I made when I was a foolish young person who believed that success could be had in America without selling out to a huge monopolistic corporation an entrepreneur.   Zoomorphs the company died a hideous death…but not because the toys lacked quality.  Even to this day, strangers still hunt me down on the internet trying to find if there are any toys left.  [Sean Connery voice] This is one of the very last boxes in existence so think carefully about your answers!

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Unfortunately there are some problems with web contests, like Google’s search-by-means-of-image feature (which is for losers, but will probably work).  Worst of all, I can’t imagine where to put the answers (my email sometimes plays havoc with unknown incoming messages) so we are going to have to put them in the comments below.  If you don’t see your answers at first, don’t worry, I will approve them in the order they come in (assuming you don’t cuss TOO much), but it does mean that other contestants can see your answers too, so consider carefully before posting!  Also, there could be multiple right answers–a featureless arid plain could be “The silk road”, or “Kazakhstan” or “a desert” or “The Northern Hemisphere” all of which are right, but some of which are more right. Our highly qualified and morally unimpeachable judges will determine the MOST right answers by means of secret deliberation to which there is no appeal.

The contest ends next Tuesday when I will announce the winner and give my own answers.  The number refers to the image immediately below it. Good luck and thank you for playing (and thank you even more for reading).  Speaking of reading, there are some hints for a lot of these in Ferrebeekeeper…somewhere in those 2000 posts before last week, so maybe you should browse the archives. OK! Here are the images:

THINGS:

1.

1

2.

two

3.

3

4.

4

5.

5

6.

6

7.

7

8.

8

9.

9

10.

10

11.

11

12.

12

13.

13

PLACES:

1.

ONE

2.2

3.

Three

4.

four

5.

five

6.

Six

7.

seven

8.eight

9.nine

10.

ten

11.

eleven

12.

dozen

13.

t

 

You probably know them all already…but at least the images look quite strange and impressive with this white box gallery format.  Post you answers below and good luck! Let me know if you have questions and thank you so much for everything.

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Do you know the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal?  It is in the Bible in the First Book of Kings Chapter 18.  Israel was then ruled by King Ahab who was unduly influenced by his fancy Phoenician wife, Jezebel, (a Baal worshiper!).  Because of the royal couple’s idolatry and persecution of God’s chosen prophets, the land suffered three years of drought and was turning into a desert.  The great prophet Elijah had been in hiding during this time, but, as the drought changed the political climate (in addition to the real climate), he revealed himself for a dramatic supernatural face-off with the 450 prophets of Baal atop Mount Carmel.

The terms of the contest were thus: the prophets of Baal and Elijah would each sacrifice a bull and cut it to pieces and lay it on their respective altar (repairing the neglected altar of Yahweh is a big part of this story…but I will leave the altar-repair instructions out).  Neither camp would light the burnt offerings themselves:  instead they would pray to the respective deities for fire.

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The prophets of Baal went first (which sounds optimal, but think of how this always goes in the Olympics).  They prayed all day–indeed Elijah mocks them at noon suggesting their god must be busy thinking or important doing divine things or just couldn’t hear them.  At the end of the day, at sacrifice time, their bull was unconsumed by divine fire.

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Elijah then sacrificed his bull and laid it out upon the altar.  He then soaked the sacrifice with four barrels of water, which filled up a shallow trench he had dug around the altar. When these preparations were complete, Elijah called upon the God of Israel as described in the Bible

36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.

37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.38 Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.40 And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.41 And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees…

So why am I telling this story? Is it a parable about wicked leaders and their foreign consorts? Is this a story about divine wrath concerning a king’s corruption and God’s complete control of the weather?  Is this about how even the most revered religious traditions sometimes need to be tested by evidence-based criteria? Am I perhaps somehow suggesting that our own land has been given over metaphorically (or maybe literally) to Baal and his charlatan acolytes?

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No! Of course not! Our very own evangelical leaders have assured us from their private jets and mega-churches that our national leadership is exactly as it should be. This post is just an excuse to show some crazy art concerning prophetic contests!  Look at these wild pictures!  I particularly like the Baal worshipers–it is a shame what happened to them, but, after all, this is only a story. I, for one, certainly don’t believe in Biblical literalism.

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(Speaking of pictures, WordPress has made it impossible for me to properly label images without causing them to go off-center such that they are half obscured, but this last picture is by Lucas Cranach, about whom I have written much).

 

 

August is almost over…and we have yet to present the August eclogue of Shepheardes Calender.  Mercifully, the situation for the 8th (and fairest) month doesn’t require too much explanation: two shepherds sing a song while the third shepherd, the redoubtable Cuddy, judges who sings better.  Cuddy refuses to truly choose and instead recites an exceedingly sad poem of unrequited love.  The meter throughout this eclogue is more songlike and the meanings more straightforward than in previous months. Also Cuddy’s sad poem is truly plaintive and beautifully evokes classical Greco-Roman poetry.  The whole August eclogue is strong and fair, and prefigures the complexity and elegance of Shakespeare, who must surely have looked to this as an example (and whose songs echo the songs of the shepherds).  But judge for yourself…and enjoy the remainder of August!

 

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Shepheardes Calender VIII: August.

WILLY. PERIGOT. CUDDY.

Tell me, Perigot, what shall be the Game,
Wherefore with mine thou dare thy Musick match?
Or been thy Bagpipes ren far out of frame?
Or hath the Cramp thy Joints benumb’d with ach?

PERIGOT.
Ah Willy, when the Heart is ill assay’d,
How can Bagpipe or Joints be well apay’d?

WILLY.
What the foul Evil hath thee so bestad?
Whylom thou west peregal to the best,
And wont to make the jolly Shepherds glad,
With piping and dancing did past the rest.

PERIGOT.
Ah, Willy, now I have learn’d a new Dance;
My old Musick marr’d by a new Mischance.

WILLY.
Mischief mought to that Mischance befall,
That so hath raft us of our Meriment:
But read me, What pain doth thee so appall?
Or lovest thou, or been thy Yonglings miswent?

PERIGOT.
Love hath misled both my Yonglings and me:
I pine for pain, and they my plaint to see.

WILLY.
Perdy and weal away! ill may they thrive;
Never knew I Lovers Sheep in good plight:
But and if Rimes with me thou dare strive,
Such fond Fantasies shall soon be put to flight.

PERIGOT.
That shall I do, though mouchel worse I far’d:
Never shall be said that Perigot was dar’d.

WILLY.
Then lo, Perigot, the pledge which I plight,
A Mazer ywrought of the Maple Ware;
Wherein is enchased many a fair sight,
Of Bears and Tygers, that maken fierce War:
And over them spred a goodly wild Vine,
Entrail’d with a wanton Ivy Twine.

Thereby is a Lamb in the Wolve’s Jaws:
But see, how fast renneth the Shepherd’s Swain,
To save the Innocent from the Beast’s Paws;
And here with his Sheep-hook hath him slain.
Tell me, such a Cup hast thou ever seen?
Well mought it beseem any harvest Queen.

PERIGOT.
Thereto will I pawn yonder spotted Lamb,
Of all my Flock there nis sike another;
For I brought him up without the Damb:
But Colin Clout raft me of his Brother,
That he purchast of me in the plain Field:
Sore against my Will was I forst to yield.

WILLY.
Siker make like account of his Brother:
But who shall judg the Wager won or lost?

PERIGOT.
That shall yonder Herd-groom, and none other,
Which over the Pousse hitherward doth post.

WILLY.
But for the Sun-beam so fore doth us beat,
Were not better, to shun the scorching Heat?

PERIGOT.
Well agreed Willy: then sit thee down Swain;
Sike a Song never heardest thou, but Colin sing.

CUDDY.
‘Gin, when ye list, ye jolly Shepherds twain:
Sike a Judg, as Cuddy, were for a King.

PER. It fell upon a holy Eve,
WILL. Hey ho Holiday!
PER. When holy Fathers wont to shrive:
WILL. Now ‘ginneth this Roundelay.
PER. Sitting upon a Hill so high,
WILL. Hey ho the high Hill!
PER. The while my Flock did feed thereby,
WILL. The while the Shepherd self did spill:
PER. I saw the bouncing Bellibone;
WILL. Hey ho Bonnibel!
PER. Tripping over the Dale alone,
WILL. She can trip it very well.
PER. Well decked in a Frock of grey,
WILL. Hey ho grey is greet!
PER. And in a Kirtle of green Say,
WILL. The green is for Maidens meet.
PER. A Chaplet on her Mead she wore,
WILL. Hey ho Chapelet!
PER. Of sweet Violets therein was store,
WILL. She sweeter than the Violet.
PER. My Sheep did leave their wonted Food,
WILL. Hey ho seely Sheep!
PER. And gaz’d on her, as thy were wood;
WILL. Wood as he, that did them keep.
PER. As the bony Lass passed by,
WILL. Hey ho bony Lass!
PER. She rov’d at me with glauncing Eye,
WILL. As clear as the crystal Glass:
PER. All as the sunny Beam so bright,
WILL. Hey ho the Sun-beam!
PER. Glanceth from Phoebus’ Face forthright,
WILL. So Love into thy Heart did stream;
PER. Or as the Thunder cleaves the Clouds,
WILL. Hey ho the Thunder!
PER. Wherein the lightsom Levin shrouds,
WILL. So cleaves thy Soul asunder:
PER. Or as Dame Cynthia’s silver Ray,
WILL. Hey ho the Moon-light!
PER. Upon the glittering Wave doth play;
WILL. Such play is a piteous Plight.
PER. The Glance into my Heart did glide,
WILL. Hey ho the Glider!
PER. Therewith my Soul was sharply gride,
WILL. Such Wounds soon wexen wider.
PER. Hasting to raunch the Arrow out,
WILL. Hey ho Perigot!
PER. I left the Head in my Heart-root:
WILL. It was a desperate shot.
PER. There it rancleth aye more and more,
WILL. Hey ho the Arrow!
PER. Ne can I find Salve for my Sore:
WILL. Love is a careless Sorrow.
PER. And though my Bale with Death I bought,
WILL. Hey ho heavy Chear!
PER. Yet should thilk Lass not from my thought:
WILL. So you may buy Gold too dear.
PER. But whether in painful Love I pine,
WILL. Hey ho pinching Pain!
PER. Or thrive in Wealth, she shall be mine,
WILL. But if thou can her obtain.
PER. And if for graceless Grief I die,
WILL. Hey ho graceless Grief!
PER. Witness, she slew me with her Eye,
WILL. Let thy folly be the prief.
PER. And you that saw it, simple Sheep,
WILL. Hey ho the fair Flock!
PER. For prief thereof, my Death shall weep,
WILL. And mone with many a Mock.
PER. So learn’d I love on a holy Eve,
WILL. Hey ho Holy-day!
PER. That ever since my Heart did grieve,
WILL. Now endeth our Roundelay.

CUDDY.
Siker, sike a Roundle never heard I none,
Little lacketh Perigot of the best,
And Willy is not greatly over-gone,
So weren his under-songs well addrest.

WILLY.
Herd-groom, I fear me, thou have a squint Eye;
Areed uprightly who has the Victory.

CUDDY.
Faith of my Soul, I deem each have gained;
For-thy, let the Lamb be Willy his own:
And for Perigot so well hath him pained,
To him be the wroughten Mazer alone.

PERIGOT.
Perigot is well pleased with the Doom:
Ne can Willy wite the witless Herd-groom.

WILLY.
Never dempt more right of Beauty, I ween,
The Shepherd of Ida, that judg’d Beauty’s Queen.

CUDDY.
But tell me, Shepherds, should it not yshend
Your Roundels fresh, to hear a doleful Verse
Of Rosalind (who knows not Rosalind?)
That Colin made? ylke can I you rehearse.

PERIGOT.
Now say it, Cuddy, as thou art a Lad;
With merry thing it’s good to meddle sad.

WILLY.
Faith of my Soul, thou shalt ycrowned be
In Colin’s steed, if thou this Song areed:
For never thing on Earth so pleaseth me,
As him to hear, or matter of his Deed.

CUDDY.
Then listen each unto my heavy Lay,
And tune your Pipes as ruthful as ye may.

Ye wastful Woods bear witness of my Woe,
Wherein my Plaints did oftentimes resound;
Ye careless Birds are privy to my Cryes,
Which in your Songs were wont to make a part:
Thou pleasant Spring hast lull’d me oft asleep,
Whose streams my trickling rears did oft augment.

Resort of People doth my Grief augment,
The walled Towns do work my greater Woe:
The Forest wide is fitter to resound
The hollow Eccho of my careful Cryes;
I hate the House, since thence my Love did part,
Whose wailful Want debars mine Eyes of sleep.

Let Streams of Tears supply the place of Sleep:
Let all that sweet is, void; and all that may augment
My Dole, draw near. More meet to wail my Woe,
Been the wild Woods, my Sorrows to resound,
Than Bed, nor Bower, both which I fill with Cryes,
When I them see so waste, and find no part

Of pleasure past. Here will I dwell apart
In gastful Grove therefore, till my last Sleep
Do close mine Eyes: so shall I not augment
With sight of such as change my restless Woe.
Help me, ye baneful Birds, whose shrieking sound
Is sign of dreery Death, my deadly Cryes

Most ruthfully to tune. And as my Cryes
(Which of my Woe cannot bewray least part)
You hear all Night, when Nature craveth Sleep,
Increase, so let your yrksome Yelles augment.
Thus all the Night in Plaints, the Day in Woe,
I vowed have to waste, till safe and sound

She home return, whose Voice’s silver Sound
To chearful Songs can change my chearless Cryes.
Hence, with the Nightingale will I take part,
That blessed Bird, that spends her time of sleep
In Songs and plaintive Pleas, the more t’ augment
The memory of his Misdeed, that bred her Woe.

And you that feel no Woe, when as the Sound
Of these my nightly Cryes ye hear apart,
Let break your sounder Sleep, and Pity augment.

PERIGOT.
O Colin, Colin, the Shepherd’s Joy,
How I admire each turning of the Verse:
And Cuddy, fresh Cuddy, the liefest Boy,
How dolefully his Dole thou didst rehearse!

CUDDY.
Then blow Your Pipes, Shepherds, till yon be at home:
The Night hieth fast, it’s time to be gone.

PERIGOT’S EMBLEM.
Vicenti gloria victi.

WILLY’S EMBLEM.
Vinto non vitto.

CUDDY’S EMBLEM.
Felice chi puo.

The competition between Marsyas and Apollo on a Roman sarcophagus (290–300) marble

The competition between Marsyas and Apollo on a Roman sarcophagus (290–300) marble

The aulos was a woodwind instrument of classical antiquity.  The word is sometimes mis-translated as “double flute” but the instrument was not a flute, instead it had reeds–like an oboe or a clarinet.  In classical mythology, the aulos was invented by Athena, the glorious goddess of wisdom and favorite child of Zeus.  The first aulos made beautiful music, but it caused the goddess’ cheeks to puff out–which was at odds with her dignified self-image and caused the other gods to laugh.  In disgust she hurled the instrument down into the mortal world where it was found by the satyr Marsyas who picked it up and began to play melodies never heard before.   Marsyas became the first great aulos master.  He wandered through forests and fields on his two hooves playing the pipes in celebration of the pastoral and sylvan beauty he observed.
Apollo and Marsyas (John Melhuish Strudwick, 1879, oil on canvas)

Apollo and Marsyas (John Melhuish Strudwick, 1879, oil on canvas)

One day, Marsyas saw the radiant god Apollo playing his lyre (which, in Greco-Roman society, was the instrument of the aristocracy).  Lord Apollo was clad in the costliest raiment and equipped with the finest gold trappings.  He was inhumanly beautiful…dangerously beautiful.  Marsyas was overwhelmed: he was a crude goat-man, and Apollo was the god of music (and sunshine, and medicine, and prophecy).  At this juncture, Marsyas made a fateful choice–he decided to challenge glorious Apollo to a musical contest. The winner would be able to “do whatever he wanted” with the loser. Marsyas, a satyr (synonymous, in the classical world, with lust) thus imagined that he would “win” or “be won” no matter which way the the competition worked out.

Apollo and Marsyas (Pietro Perugino, late 15th century)

Apollo and Marsyas (Pietro Perugino, late 15th century)

Apollo grew oddly enflamed by the challenge and agreed readily–with one stipulation of his own.  The muses, the goddesesses of art, would judge the event.  Now the muses were daughters of Apollo, both figuratively and literally. To a disinterested observer the arrangement might smack dangerously of favoritism, but Marsyas was blinded by longing and besotted by hist art.

Apollo and Marsyas (Hans Thoma, 1888, oil on canvas)

Apollo and Marsyas (Hans Thoma, 1888, oil on canvas)

The two musicians set up beside a river and began to play.  Apollo played a complicated piece about laws and lords and kings.  It sparkled like sunshine.  It grew oppressively magnificent like the great gods of high Olympus.  It ended like glittering starlight in the cold heavens.  Next Marsyas played and his music was completely different–it spoke to the longing of the weary herdsman coming home at sundown.  It was about the mist rising from furrowed farmlands, about fruit trees budding in the orchard, and about the soft places where the meadows run out into the rivers.

Contest of Apollo and Marsyas, 350-320 BC from Mantineia. Part of the Base of a Sculpture,

Contest of Apollo and Marsyas, 350-320 BC from Mantineia. Part of the Base of a Sculpture,

The muses listened closely to the music and made their choice. “These pieces are played by opposite beings on dissimilar instruments.  The works have completely different subjects, but both pieces are perfect.  Neither is clearly “better” than the other.”  Sublime music had won the contest!

The Contest between Apollo and Marsyas (Tintoretto, About 1545 Oil on canvas)

The Contest between Apollo and Marsyas (Tintoretto, About 1545
Oil on canvas)

But Apollo was not satisfied.  There are two versions of the story: in one he turned his lyre upside down and played it as well as ever (Marsyas, of course, could not do the same with the aulos).  In the other version, Apollo played the lyre and sang (also impossible with the aulos).  “I have two arts, whereas Marsyas has only one!” he proclaimed.   The muses halfheartedly assented: Apollo had officially won the contest.

Apollo flaying Marsyas (Luca Giordano, 17th century, oil on canvas))

Apollo flaying Marsyas (Luca Giordano, 17th century, oil on canvas))

This was the moment Marsyas had planned for.  He was shaking with excitement as Apollo took hold of his unresisting form and shackled him to a tree.   Then Apollo picked up a skinning knife and started flaying the saty’s skin off.  Marsyas screamed and bleated in horror and pain, but Apollo kept cutting and peeling until he had removed the satyr’s entire hide.  Then the lord of music sat and watched while Marsyas bled to death, before hanging up the horrible dripping pelt in the tree and departing.  Vergil avers that the blood of Marsyas stained the river everlastingly red–indeed the waterway was thereafter named the Marsyas.

bartolomeo_manfredi_-_apollo_and_marsyas

Apollo and Marsyas (Bartolomeo Manfredi, ca. 1615-1620, oil on canvas)

The artistic thing to do, would be to leave the story as it stands–to let readers mull the troubling tale on their own. However I have been thinking about it a great deal…Every artist thinks about it a great deal.  Museums are filled with interpretations of the story by history’s greatest painters and sculptors.  There was a version of Apollo and Marsyas painted on the ceiling of the Queen of France (in that version, the skinning is done by underlings as Apollo languidly points out how he wants things done).  Since I have seen plenty of museum-goers blanch when looking at pictures of Marsyas and hastily turn away, I will provide some ready made meta-interpretations to start the conversation.

Apollo and Marsyas from the ceiling of Anne of Austria's summer apartments (Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, ca. mid 17th century, fresco)

Apollo and Marsyas from the ceiling of Anne of Austria’s summer apartments (Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, ca. mid 17th century, fresco)

First, this story is a tale of masters and servants.  The lyre is the instrument of the rich.  It was expensive to own and required tutors to learn.  The aulos was the instrument of shepherds, smallfolk, and slaves.  The tale of exploitation is a very familiar one throughout all of history. It always goes one way: somebody gets fleeced.

The Flaying of Marsyas (Titian, ca.1570-76, oil on canvas)

The Flaying of Marsyas (Titian, ca.1570-76, oil on canvas)

Also this is self-evidently a tale of forbidden sexuality.  It was immensely popular with Renaissance, Baroque, and Victorian artists from the west because of the opressive mores of society.  By presenting this story as a classically varsnished picture, people could represent forbidden ideas about same-gender relationships which society would literally kill them for saying or acting upon.  Indeed the story’s ghastly climax represents exactly that!

Apollo and Marsyas (Giuseppe Cammarano,  19th century, print)

Apollo and Marsyas (Giuseppe Cammarano, 19th century, ink wash)

In a related vein, philosophers and writers interpret the story as “reason chastening lust.”  The former is more powerful than the latter: ultimately the mind subjugates the passions. Perhaps this is why the picture was above the queen’s bed–maybe the king commanded that it be painted there.  Yet the reason of Apollo does not strike me as at all reasonable.  If this is what rationality accomplishes, then reason is monstrous (and it often seems so in the affairs of men). I wish I could sit with Jeremy Bentham and talk about this. Utility and pragmatism oft seem as ruthless as cruel Apollo.

Apollo and Marsyas (Anselmi, 1540, oil on canvas)

Apollo and Marsyas (Anselmi, 1540, oil on canvas)

It is also a tale of artists and their audiences (and their art).  Marsyas does not clearly lose the contest.  His music is as beautiful as that of Apollo–maybe better.  However the game was rigged from the start.  Art is a mountain with infinite facets but the sun of fashion only shines on a few at a time.  The greatest artists are not necessarily appreciated or loved.  I can’t imagine a single artist who painted this story imagined themselves as Apollo. Unless you have personally rigged the game with money and power, it will not benefit you. You must prepare for operatic destruction at the hands of the world.  It is a terrible part of art.  The world’s inability to discern true worth is one of life’s most disappointing aspects.

Marsyas Flayed by the Order of Apollo (Charles André van Loo, 1735, oil on canvas)

Marsyas Flayed by the Order of Apollo (Charles André van Loo, 1735, oil on canvas)

Above all, it is a story of gods and mortals. For daring to step on the field with the divine, mortality is punished with the ultimate penalty–mortality.  I don’t believe in gods or divinity (people who literally believe in such things strike me as dangerous lunatics).  Divinity is a myth–but an important one which informs us concerning humankind’s ultimate purpose and methods.  We have strayed into vasty realms.  I’ll come back to this theme later but for now let’s say that the defeat of Marsyas reveals something.  Would you prefer if he just gave up and groveled before Apollo?  No, there would be no story, no striving, no art. There is a divine seed within his failure–a spark of the celestial fire which animates (or should animate) our lives.

Marsyas Flayed by the Order of Apollo (Charles André van Loo, ca. 1734-1735, oil on canvas)

Marsyas Flayed by the Order of Apollo (Charles André van Loo, ca. 1734-1735, oil on canvas)

Anyway, for putting up with this rather horrible week I have a Halloween treat for you tomorrow.  Remember, I am not just a moral and aesthetic philosopher but a troubled toymaker (and a lost artist) as well.  Happy Halloween!

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