Shall pierce you with a sudden painful joy

I’m always fascinated by the glimpses we get of local variant traditions in Italy, such as this Etruscan mirror:

ariadne-esia

Nancy de Grummond in Mirrors, Marriage and Mystery explains the scene thusly:

Another specimen, of a Praenestine pear-shaped type but with Etruscan inscription, has the theme of the fate of Esia, a name unknown in Greco-Roman myth. E. H. Richardson argued that she was the equivalent of Ariadne, in a story of the latter’s death as caused by Artemis, and many have accepted her suggestion. She is held wrapped up like a dead soul by Artumes, who displays the arrows with which the goddess is accustomed to end the lives of young girls. Next to her stand Fufluns, the Etruscan Dionysos, a bearded male with a drinking cup, and a winged Menrva. Below, coming up from the ground, appears an oracular head. We do not know its message, but most likely it relates to the fate of Esia. It may be that Fufluns will receive her and bestow immortality upon her. Whatever the message, Fufluns and Menrva seem to react strongly: Menrva throws up both hands in a gesture of surprise (or dismay?) and Fufluns also raises one hand. We shall observe these gestures again in other scenes of individuals who are receiving a prophecy.

I’d love to know more details of this story, as it has some direct bearing on the relationship between Ariadne and Arachne, a subject of no little importance within the Starry Bull tradition.

Speaking of which, I received a bit of external corroboration a while back from no less than the Bard, good old Willy Shakespeare himself.

I’ll let Elizabeth Freund tell the tale:

In Book VI of The Metamorphoses Ovid tells the story of Arachne, a subtle weaver of Lydia, too skillful for her own good. She dares to rival Pallas Athene with her superior artistry at the loom. Mortal and goddess engaged in a competition in which each wove splendid scene into her tapestry. Athene represented the Immortals (including herself) as all-powerful figures of authority, while Arachne chose to weave tales of divine erotica into her web. When the work was done not even Athene’s envy could deny the superior quality of Arachne’s art. In her jealous rage the goddess struck through Arachne’s loom and tore the tapestry. The girl, ashamed and humiliated, hung herself, but the goddess restored her to life as a spider.

Arachne makes a single, abbreviated appearance in the Shakespearean canon, and even then her provenance is doubtful. Her tale of ill-fated rivalry with divine artistic power is curtailed to a rather obscure simile in V.ii of Troilus and Cressida.

Troilus: Within my soul there doth conduce a fight
Of this strange nature that a thing inseparate
Divides more wider than the sky and earth;
And yet the spacious breadth of this division
Admits no orifex for a point as subtle
As Ariachne’s broken woof to enter.
(V.ii 146-51)

By what devious detours of the imagination does this apocryphal “Ariachne” find her way into the texture of Troilus and Cressida? How subtle is “a point as subtle as Ariachne’s broken woof?” What are we to make of this pointed figure, sharp enough to penetrate the impenetrable, yet obscured by breakage and division? How Ariadne, who provided Theseus with the clue of a thread to guide him out of the Cretan maze, came to be enmeshed in Arachne’s web, whether by a printer’s carelessness or in an author’s slip of the pen or daring of the imagination, is probably beyond conclusive recovery. “Ariachne” may be an “original,” a felicitous neologism spun spider-fashion out of the creator’s own gut; or she may be no more than the accidental issue of a typesetter’s clumsy fingers. In either event she is a new creation who also carries incontestable traces of prior origins.

The conflation or confusion of this marginal figure of “Ariachne,” who is and is not Arachne, is and is not Ariadne, points the way into the major labyrinth of citation and the travesty of citation which is the “stuff” out of which Troilus and Cressida “makes paradoxes” (I. iii. 184). Yet this fragmentary clue proves also the very obstacle which thwarts the expectation of a safe conduct through the maze.

And while you’re pondering all of that, listen to Ariadna en su Laberinto (Ariadne in Her Labyrinth) – a traditional Sephardic romance by Osvaldo Golijov, from his song-cycle Ayre.

Here are the lyrics:

Why do you cry fair child?
Why do you cry, white flower?
I cry because you leave me.


One comment

  1. It is possible. It seems unlikely as many related divinities were adopted into the Etruscan pantheon and myths that it is odd that I had not seen mention of Ariadne whereas you do see Atunis (Adonis) who appears on a mirror embraced by a larger Turan often mislabeled as Dionysos and Ariadne online. So I can well see the case you make here.

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