Myth Mondays: Behind the Scenes with Andi in Chains by Fulani
Please welcome Fulani to Myth Mondays for his post on Andi in Chains, which is featured in Seducing the Myth. Take it away, Fulani….
Andromeda is a Greek myth, a story of a young woman who was sacrificed to a sea monster but saved by a warrior. It first appeared in written form in Ovid’s collection Metamorphoses, around 8AD, but is probably far, far older. Ovid was a Roman poet and Metamorphoses is a collection of mythical and semi-mythical stories in the form of a long narrative poem that describes the history of the world from its creation through to the reign of Julius Ceasar. It was an instant success and remained one of the most popular literary works for centuries. The story remained well-known, possibly because every schoolboy who has to learn Latin would have been introduced to the text. There are many paintings of Andromeda chained to a rock – for example those by Titian (1553-59), Vasari (1570), Rembrandt (1630), Chasseriau (1840), Dore (1869) and Poynter (also 1869).
There is some historical background to the legend. Andromeda’s parents, Cephus and Cassiopeia were the kind and queen of Ethiopia – not necessarily the same place as the modern-day country, because in Greek times the word was used to refer both to an area that extended south from modern-day Aswan, in Egypt, and from the east of the Nile into what we now call the Middle East. Tradition has it that the rock to which Andromeda was chained as a sacrifice is located by the harbour of Jaffa, Israel.
The story has a lot of detail and quite a few characters.
In addition to Andromeda’s parents, King Cephus and Queen Cassiopeia, the dramatis personae include Phineus, the brother of Cephus, to whom Andomeda was to have been married. Then there were the Nereids, daughters of the sea god Nereus. The story really started with Cassiopeia boasting Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids, and they were offended. They complained to their father in a ‘What are you going to do about this insult?’ way. He talked to Poseidon about it. Nereus was the eldest son of the Titans Pontus and Gaia, making him a powerful deity in his own right, though it’s unclear what his relationship with Poseidon was – Poseidon was specifically a god of the seas with the Mediterranean as his sphere of influence. Some sources suggest they’re different aspects of the same deity, so the conversation between them may have been a little strange.
In any event, Poseideon sent Cetus, a sea monster, to ravage the coastline of Ethiopia.
Amid the storms and floods that followed, Cephus consulted the Oracle of Apollo which told him to sacrifice his daughter to Cetus to save his kingdom. Hence, Andromeda chained naked to a rock on the shoreline awaiting her fate.
What about Perseus? Well, he has quite a backstory. He was Mycenean. His mother was the daughter of the King of Argos, a powerful city state that’s now part of Greece and one of the oldest continuously-inhabited places in the world. The king had, however, received an omen that he’d be killed by a male grandchild – hence he kept his daughter in a bronze prison, where she was impregnated by Zeus. Unwilling to actually kill his daughter or grandson, the king set them adrift on the seas in a wooden chest.
They pitched up on the Greek island of Serifos and were taken in by a fisherman (who happened to be the brother of the local king). In time, the King of Serifos, Polydectes, proposed to marry Perseus’ mother. To protect her from Polydectes – and this is again a long and involved story – Perseus promised to undertake a quest, which turned out to be finding and killing the Gorgon Medusa. He had to ‘borrow’ – well, strong-arm the use of – various magical implements to do this. And it was on his way back from that quest that he came across Andromeda, rescued her and married her.
What follows is even more complicated. Perseus has a stand-off with Phineus (remember him? Andromeda had been promised to him in marriage). He would up killing Phineus by showing him the head of Medusa – handily hacked from her body and carried in Perseus’ knapsack. Well, it was the proof that he’d finished the quest. The sight of the head turned Phineus to stone. Perseus then returned home, killing Polydectes the same way and rescuing his mother (who remained there as consort of the fisherman who’d rescued them both, and who was installed as the new king).
He had to trek around the area returning magical items he’d ‘borrowed’ for his quest to kill Medusa. After that he went to the Olympic Games then under way in Larissa, where versions of the story differ. He may have accidentally killed his grandfather with a rogue quoit hit or discus throw, or his father may have been living in exile by that time. In any event, rather than return to Argos and claim the throne, Perseus became king of Tyrins, another Mycenean city state close by.
Andromeda joined him there, they lived happily ever after and had seven sons and two daughters – a busy sex life, then, and there was no contraception in those days…
I originally came to the story through art – I particularly like the Chasseriau, Dore and Poynter paintings of the myth, all of which I’ve known for a while. But having decided to take Andromeda as the starting point for the story, I wanted to do a contemporary re-telling. Who could take the role of the various kings? Who would be prepared to settle scores with murder, imprison others on the basis of susperstition, chain their own daughter to a rock as a sacrifice? Well… I guess I could have set the re-telling in some tiny backwater state with a powerful dictator, or in the context of unscrupulous multinational companies. But the idea of the kings as gangsters and drug dealers, ruling their own mini-territories around the docks of an old industrial city, appealed.
So who was Perseus? These days, the nearest we have to a warrior of his personality type is probably a mercenary of some sort, used to pulling off operations with a mixture of high-tech equipment and low-tech violence.
And the thing about chains… Perseus freed Andromeda from her chains and they went on to have a lifelong, loving relationship. But a ‘what if’ thought struck me. What if she actually liked the whole experience of being chained up? What if that had been the secret fantasy keeping her warm on long dark nights? You don’t have to read much to discover that empirically, fantasies of bondage, rescue, and the rescuer not releasing the captive but taking advantage of them are quite common among women (and among some men, actually).
So that gave me the plot outline.
One question left – who was telling the story? Well, it needed to be someone who was there. I imagined it as story told maybe in a bar, by someone who knew the background, and told to a journalist who’d heard about the whole episode and wanted to write it up in a sensational and hard-boiled way.
Find out more about Fulani on his blog, http://fulanismut.blogspot.com/.
Find out how to bag your copy of Seducing the Myth here.