Category Archives: Ancient To Modern

Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (7)

Zeus

In the Greek pantheon he is the king of the gods, the god of the sky, the heavens, and thunder and lightning. When compared to the Norse pantheon, he might be considered a combination of some of the attributes of Odin and Thor.  His name in the Roman pantheon is Jupiter.

Jupiter of Smyrna (discovered in Smyrna in 1680).
Jupiter of Smyrna (discovered in Smyrna in 1680).

In the painting below, Jupiter is shown appearing to Semele, one of his many lovers, as per her request. This, of course, kills her since she is a mere mortal. The account is from The Metamorphoses by Ovid.

Jupiter and Semele (1640 or earlier) by Peter Paul Rubens.
Jupiter and Semele (1640 or earlier) by Peter Paul Rubens.

I am reminded of God’s admonition to Moses in Exodus 33:20: “No one may see me and live.” This biblical account, by the way, is much older.

Hera is the wife of Zeus and is also one of his (gasp) sisters. Not only did he carry on with mortal women, but also with nymphs and other goddesses. Oh, what has become of our pagan idols?

Zeus and Thetis on Mount Olympus (1811) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
Zeus and Thetis on Mount Olympus (1811) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Zeus also appears in (guess what) Marvel Comics…

zeus5.

… and DC Comics.

zeus4

I’ll skip the more adolescent, “mean world” representations of later issues.

He  is also portrayed in more movies than I care to list. Furthermore, so much of the Greco-Roman pantheon has been appropriated by Marvel Comics and DC Comics that I grow tired of this sport.

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Next week, I will change topics and begin a series of posts on mythological beasts and spirits.

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Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (6)

Poseidon

In Greek mythology, he is the god of the sea. His name in Roman mythology is Neptune. Here are some representations in painting and sculpture from various centuries:

Shown on a Corinthian plaque (550-525 B. C.).
Shown on a Corinthian plaque (550-525 B. C.).
Poseidon from Milos, 2nd Century B. C. (National Archaeological Museum of Athens).
Poseidon from Milos, 2nd Century B. C. (National Archaeological Museum of Athens).
Andrea Doria as Neptune by Angelo Bronzino.
Andrea Doria as Neptune by Angelo Bronzino.
Neptune and Amphitrite by Jacob Gheyn II.
Neptune and Amphitrite by Jacob Gheyn II.

He has been borrowed and modified for inclusion in the Marvel Universe where he interacts with Namor, the Submariner…

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics (Personally, I'm cheering for the Hulk.)
Credit: Marvel Comics (Personally, I’m cheering for the Hulk.)

… as well as the DC universe. Of the images I examined, I didn’t like the mean-spirited tone of most of them (Poseidon going rogue, hitting Wonder Woman, bloody noses, bloody mouths, etc.), so I included only one for this post. This is the best I found for my purposes, and it shows an angry Poseidon battling an angry Aquaman.

Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

DC characters are so angry so much of the time. It strikes me as rather one-dimensional. This is definitely not the DC comics of my childhood.

More examples of shameless borrowing continue next week.

Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (5)

Heimdall

This is an interesting god conceptually. He is the watchman of the gods in Norse mythology, and he serves as the keeper of the Bifrost (rainbow bridge) at the entrance to Asgard.

Heimdall brings forth the gift of the gods to mankind (1907) by Nils Asplund.
Heimdall brings forth the gift of the gods to mankind (1907) by Nils Asplund.
1895 illustration by Lorenz Frolich showing Heimdall blowing Gjallarhorn.
1895 illustration by Lorenz Frolich showing Heimdall blowing Gjallarhorn.

Here is a somewhat older rendering from Marvel Comics …

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

… and a more recent one.

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

I have lauded the Disney Marvel universe in my series, The Modern Pantheon (see black strip at left), and I mentioned then that I am intrigued to see how they develop his character further (perhaps in Thor: Ragnarok?). He is interpreted interestingly by Idris Elba, as can be seen in Thor, Thor: The Dark World, and (briefly) Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Heimdall5

Disney Marvel's Thor: The Dark World Heimdall (Idris Elba) Ph: Film Frame © 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
Disney Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World
Heimdall (Idris Elba)
Ph: Film Frame
© 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Next week: back to Olympus (and beyond).

Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (4)

Loki

In Norse mythology, Loki is a shape-shifter (hence, a trickster) who is ascribed various powers in different versions or accounts. He is sometimes described as helping the other members of the Norse Pantheon and sometimes as working against them. This diversity makes him nuanced and interesting. In the original myths, he is completely unrelated to Odin, Freya, and Thor.

Loki shown in an 18th Century Icelandic manuscript.
Loki shown in an 18th Century Icelandic manuscript.
The punishment of Loki by Louis Huard (1813-1874).
The punishment of Loki by Louis Huard (1813-1874).
Loki and Sigyn (1863) by Marten Eskil Winge.
Loki and Sigyn (1863) by Marten Eskil Winge.

This Norse god has been skillfully re-written in Marvel Comics. In their version, he is the adopted son of Odin and Frigga (Freya) and the envious stepbrother of Thor.

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

This unavoidably sets him at odds with the Avengers (get a load of the old Iron Man).

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

The imagery for this character has been  effectively re-invented in the comics. Below is a later version.

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Disney Marvel also got Loki’s imagery right, and Tom Hiddleston excellently portrays him in the movies. In my opinion, he has become one of the best villains in cinematic history.

From The Avengers (2012), directed by Joss Whedon.
From The Avengers (2012), directed by Joss Whedon.
From Thor: The Dark World (
“Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World” (2013, directed by Alan Taylor)
Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
Ph: Film Frame
© 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

We’ll look at one more Norse god next week and then move back to the Greek pantheon.

 

Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (3)

Thor

He is the god of thunder, lightning, and strength, etc. Odin and Freya are his parents. His attributes make for some impressive imagery. As examples, consider the following paintings.

Thor's Battle Against the Jotnar (1872) by Marten Eskil Winge
Thor’s Battle Against the Jotnar (1872) by Marten Eskil Winge
Thor and the Midgard Serpent (1905) by Emil Doepler
Thor and the Midgard Serpent (1905) by Emil Doepler

Thor is only one of the Norse gods which Marvel Comics has borrowed. He first landed in August of 1962.

Jim083

As is often the case, the artwork grew more sophisticated over the years. I must confess, however, that I have developed a real appreciation and enjoyment of the artwork of the Silver Age of Comics. It is the style I grew up with.

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

How can I resist showing this representation by Alex Ross?

thor_alex_ross

The Disney Marvel franchise has produced some interesting refinements for application to the big screen. In so doing, they have produced some truly iconic imagery for their characters, including Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth). Some fans have complained that the movies have changed the way that these characters are drawn and described in the comics. One additional thing that I like about the Thor movies I have seen is how they mix Norse mythology with science fiction.

Picture credit: Disney Marvel
Picture credit: Disney Marvel

One of my favorite visual sequences was of Thor summoning lightning from atop the Chrysler Building in New York during the great battle with alien invaders in the first Avengers movie. That’s all for now. Next time, another week, another god.

Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (2)

Continuing on in our series, let’s take a look at…

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Freya

Actually, this goddess has a number of appellations and spellings as can be seen in some of my image captions. Also called Frigga in the Marvel Universe, she is the goddess of love, sex, fertility, beauty, war, death, etc. As you can see, their is some redundancy of function between the members of the Norse pantheon. Freya is the wife of Odin and the mother of Thor. Below is a depiction of her flyting with the god Loki. Flyting would have been called “playing the dozens” in the not too distant past of the American inner city. In the 1970s, my friends and I called it “firing” on each other when we were in high school. As this picture suggests, this is a fairly widespread sport throughout history.

Freya and Loki flyte (exchange insults) in this illustration by Lorenz Frolich (1895).
Freya and Loki flyte (exchange insults) in this illustration by Lorenz Frolich (1895).

Here is another representation by John Bauer.

Freja by John Bauer (1882-1918).
Freja by John Bauer (1882-1918).

Moving on to the comics, a prominent expression of modern mythology…

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

… we finally arrive at the movies of the Disney Marvel Franchise, where Freya is played by Renee Russo.

Freya (Renee Russo) from Thor (2011), directed by Kenneth Branaugh
Freya (Renee Russo) from Thor (2011), directed by Kenneth Branaugh
From Thor: The Dark World (2013), directed by Alan Taylor.
From Thor: The Dark World (2013), directed by Alan Taylor.

(to be continued)

Ancient To Modern: Borrowed Gods (1)

Characters from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branaugh (left to right: Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins)
Characters from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branaugh (left to right: Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins)
Disney Marvel's Thor: The Dark World Heimdall (Idris Elba) Ph: Film Frame © 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
Disney Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World
Heimdall (Idris Elba)
Ph: Film Frame
© 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
Freya (Renee Russo) from Thor (2011), directed by Kenneth Branaugh
Freya (Renee Russo) from Thor (2011), directed by Kenneth Branaugh

Odin, Freya, Thor, Loki, and Heimdall were borrowed from the Norse pantheon and re-imagined by Marvel Comics. These characters were also used effectively in a number of movies by the Disney Marvel franchise. Keeping in mind that this series is all about eye candy through various media, let us begin with…

Odin

He was highly regarded as the god of royalty, death, healing, poetry, and battle, etc. He is the husband of the goddess Freya and the father of Thor. He has many representations in art, both ancient and modern.

A medieval depiction of Odin (Late Middle Ages), Royal Library, Copenhagen
A medieval depiction of Odin (Late Middle Ages), Royal Library, Copenhagen
Godan (Odin) and Frea as illustrated by Emile Doepler (1905)
Godan (Odin) and Frea as illustrated by Emile Doepler (1905)

 

Relief of Odin on a modern coin.
Relief of Odin on a modern coin.

As I have already mentioned, he has been re-imagined as a character by Marvel Comics.

MarveComics
MarveComics
Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

And, of course, there are his appearances (played by the formidable Sir Anthony Hopkins)  in the Thor series of movies by the Disney Marvel franchise.

Image credit: Disney Marvel (actor: Anthony Hopkins)
Image credit: Disney Marvel (actor: Anthony Hopkins)

(to be continued)

Ancient To Modern: The Strong Man (3)

These next three characters have their origins in science fiction rather than mythology. One thing they all have in common is inhuman strength.

Superman

An alien refugee from the destroyed planet Krypton, Kal-El does really well in earth’s atmosphere and under earth’s sun. His secret identity in which he masquerades as an earthling is that of Clark Kent. He is so familiar that I need not list all of his powers. Instead of discussing the evolution of this character from DC Comics, I’ll cut straight to these images by Alex Ross, my favorite artist in the superhero genre.

superman1

superman2

There is no more iconic character in the history of comics.

The Hulk

I appreciate this character from Marvel Comics because he is a metaphor for what lurks in all of us. As the result of a gamma ray explosion, there is a link between his physical and emotional states.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

Most notably, stress and rage transform slight, mild Robert Bruce Banner into a huge, green monster. The more upset he gets, the stronger he gets.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

Have you ever taken a good look at yourself when you’re mad? Probably not, because you probably can’t. You feel like you’re in control when you’re not, and you typically regret your actions later. This gets back to my view of the Hulk as a metaphor for the human condition. We all consider ourselves to be better people than we are. I wonder how often the difference between us and those we think of as evil can be attributed to whether or not opportunity, trauma, and a host of other circumstances has pushed us to extremes that unleash the beast. Weigh in if you wish, I deliberately just dropped a bomb. If you agree with me, you may metaphorically add your signature to the illustration below.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

Oh, and I really like the way he is portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the Disney Marvel Universe.

Credit: Disney Marvel
Credit: Disney Marvel

The Thing

Benjamin Jacob Grimm was transformed into the Thing when an inadequately-shield vessel was bombarded with cosmic radiation during a space flight.  Other members of his crew became the rest of the Fantastic Four in the same incident.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

Unlike Banner, his condition doesn’t depend on his emotions.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

That’s enough said. Here is one more piece of eye candy from Alex Ross since he’s making this post look so good. His visuals transform any story, and that’s his superpower.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

I’ll call it here. The strong man has been a cultural icon throughout history in various parts of the globe. Perhaps this is because of our desire to be able to protect ourselves, to take matters into our own hands. I think often of this in relation to Christianity and its doctrine which stresses the need for internal control from the hand of a higher source. In that light, I wonder if the trend of making female superheroes stronger and angrier might not be hiding other approaches which have escaped consideration because of all the cultural noise. After all, I don’t think rage and swagger look good on anybody.

Ancient To Modern: The Strong Man (2)

I originally intended to cover this subject in one post, but I discovered some images and a story line from the comics which incited me to mount my high horse. In the interest of relative brevity, I had to cut myself off. So here goes, and let’s see if I can honestly get the rest done this week. As you may remember, I wrote about Heracles last week.

Samson

Contrary to popular belief, the strength of this Old Testament character from the book of Judges was not in his hair. His birth was the result of a promise made by God to a man named Manoah and his barren wife. Included were instructions for raising the boy. He was to be a Nazirite, and part of his vow included not cutting his hair.

Samson’s strength is described as coming from God, whose Spirit would come over him in time of need as a result of his Nazirite vow. Notice the similarity of this painting of one of his feats with a painting of Heracles from last week’s post.

Samson's youth (1891) by Leon Bonnat.
Samson’s youth (1891) by Leon Bonnat.

So Samson’s weakness was his love of pagan women. His love of one named Delilah ultimately led to a betrayal of his vow (manifested in the cutting of his hair). He was captured by Phillistine soldiers, blinded, and sentenced to slave labor.

Samson and Delilah by Anthony van Dyck.
Samson and Delilah by Anthony van Dyck.
Samson and Delilah (1630) by Anthony van Dyck.
Samson and Delilah (1630) by Anthony van Dyck.
The Blinded Samson (1912) by Lovis Corinth.
The Blinded Samson (1912) by Lovis Corinth.
Samson in the Treadmill by Carl Heinrich Bloch.
Samson in the Treadmill by Carl Heinrich Bloch.

After a due period of penance and the growth of his hair, he was brought forth for the sport of his captors in the temple of their god, Dagon, and, of course, he brought the house down.

The Death of Samson (possibly 17th Century) by an unknown artist; J. Paul Getty Museum.
The Death of Samson (possibly 17th Century) by an unknown artist; J. Paul Getty Museum.

This is a great character in a great story.

Okay, I give up. I promise I’ll cover three modern characters next week.

Ancient To Modern: The Strong Man (1)

There is a recurring theme in multiple mythologies. It is that of a man endowed with incredible strength. I’m sorry, ladies, but this concept emerged from male-dominated societies. I’m not talking about what should be – just what was. The nature of the strong man is varied. To explain this, let us examine some examples (sorry for the bizarre alliteration…).

Heracles

 This is his name in Greek mythology (Hercules in Roman mythology; you may have gathered by now that the Romans were borrowers). He is a demigod, the son of Zeus and a mortal woman named Alcmene. His prowess is therefore in between that of a god and a man. Below, he is shown as a child strangling a serpent that was sent to kill him.

Roman marble (2nd Century, A. D.)
Roman marble (2nd Century, A. D.)

But he got bigger…

Farnese Hercules (216 A.D.), Roman copy of an original sculpture by Lysippos.
Farnese Hercules (216 A.D.), Roman copy of an original sculpture by Lysippos.

and did stuff…

Hercules fighting the Nemean lion by Peter Paul Rubens.
Hercules fighting the Nemean lion by Peter Paul Rubens.

… sometimes very bad stuff, sometimes heroic stuff, sometimes a bit of both. He has been shamelessly ripped off by Marvel Comics…

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

and by DC Comics.

Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Just when I thought I was researching a fairly safe topic, I found out that things turned ugly in the DC Universe in the 1980s when he was portrayed as subduing and raping Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, the mother of Wonder Woman. In this story, the Amazons in general were drugged and sexually assaulted by his men during a banquet of friendship (an attempt at peacemaking) hosted by the gracious Amazons after they had foiled a first attempt at conquest.

I found this out when I was looking for images to include in this post. I stumbled across a rather offensive and salacious illustration which I decided not to use. Why not? Because it’s my site, and I don’t want to. It was glossed-over, sugar-coated violence against women. Such subject matter began to be covered for purposes of realism, but the imagery and plot are unrealistic treatments. The ugly simply isn’t ugly enough. I have issued this warning before about comics and animation being used in this way. This example underscores the concerns I raised in my post, Graphic Mythology: A False Feminism.

Anyway, I read a synopsis or two of the story and looked into its historical background. It was released during an allegedly feminist period in the development of the Wonder Woman series – ironically, a time when artist and writer George Perez was consulting with Gloria Steinem. The extended story line involves revenge, punishment imposed by the gods, repentance, and forgiveness. That’s supposed to be a good turn of events, right? And then there was this…

heracles7

Hippolyta has a brief romance with her reformed rapist. DC also did this in their critically acclaimed Watchmen in the sequence when Sally Jupiter willingly had a child by the Comedian some time after his unsuccessful attempt at assaulting her. My concern is that the above imagery and plot device (intentionally or not) reinforce the destructive falsehood that women actually like being sexually mistreated by men. Despite their sensationalism and controversy, these are examples of what has become a tired convention. Better stories are out there, waiting to be discovered/imagined.

The DC story I have been picking on from the Wonder Woman series is a very distorted version of the original myth concerning the ninth labor of Heracles in which he was told to take the belt of Hippolyte, which had been given to her by Ares, the god of war. Perhaps this is how the comic version got away with it. If you’ve read much about him, then you also know that Heracles was no Boy Scout.

Though western civilization is derived primarily from a combination of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman influences, the ancient Greeks clearly did not have politically correct morals and ethics when it came to the treatment of women. But I want to emphasize that we are not the ancient Greeks and that we should aspire to something better.

(to be continued…)