Matisse and Me

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Disclaimer: this picture is not very high quality, and some color may be misrepresented. In person, the mountains in the back are a lighter shade than the trees in front, and the red is not actually a gradient.

 

This is a painting I made in my art class in 2010-11. When we learned about Matisse’s piece The Red Studio, it reminded me of my own work because as you can see, this painting is also mainly red. Matisse used the ubiquity of the bold red to flatten his canvas and destroy the illusion of three-dimensional space that had been so sought after in previous artworks. He wanted to play around with the viewer’s perception of the depth of the image, and so he contrasted the solid background with the objects in the foreground–except that he also reversed the figure-ground relationship by painting using reserve lines. He painted red until only the white lines remained, rather than paint white over red.

In my painting shown here, I did not use reserve lines like Matisse. I painted the background red and then added the silhouettes of the trees, mountains, and islands in black over that. The effect is therefore different. However, the use of a single solid color with little exception is similar to Matisse; only the sun and its reflection in the water break the two-toned look of the scene.  This method lessens the effect of depth created by the faded look of the mountains (which the brain interprets as being due to atmospheric interference, and therefore means they are further away).

Just as Matisse did in his studio, I left out a line that would define the space. Matisse’s wall is missing an edge over the painting on the left, and my scene lacks a horizon line on the right. Both paintings assume that the viewer’s brain will automatically extend the line suggested by the rest of the painting and fill in the gap. In this case, the bottom of the mountains defines the horizon without my needing to draw a line between the sky and the water. In fact, were it not for the sun’s reflection, it would be difficult if not impossible to tell that the lower half of the scene is water. Matisse’s studio’s missing line means that it is tricky to explain where one wall ends and the next begins. The corner lacks definition, deliberately. Both his and my works experiment with depth perception and the ability to see lines where there are none.

The Red Studio was an oil painting, and this is acrylic, but both were made on canvas. Matisse created his painting to make a statement about the change in art forms, but seven years ago I was not interested in such a grand scope: I just thought this contrast looked pretty cool.

-Chaya, team Venus

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Are You Getting Tired of My On-Campus Posts Yet?

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I was at the Brooklyn College library recently and I happened to notice a certain sign that contained a very familiar symbol… That’s right, there is a fasces in the picture! The woman in the seal of Kings County, NY bears a fasces because it represents power and authority, and both of those connotations are desirable to align oneself with, especially when it comes to the symbol of a place. Everyone wants to believe that their hometown is powerful and strong, and the fasces present in the image representative of the place hints that this is the case.

This seal can be found in the BC library, near the help desk. It’s funny how many connections to class can be found right in front of us if we look closely. How many of us have walked past this very plaque without noticing she is carrying something dating back to imperial Roman statements of power?

-Chaya, team Venus

Please Ponder This Promotion Puzzle Properly

Galanes, Philip. “She Didn’t Get a Promotion. Should She Stay or Quit?” Social Q’s, The New York Times. 1 Sept 2016.

Dear Erly,

The premise of your letter contains a fundamental flaw in reasoning. The response you received would have you believe that gaining the promotion is indeed a goal worth striving for, and on these grounds the author coaches you through a strategy to reach this goal. Yet, if one considers Juvenal’s work, it becomes clear that no good would come of such a thing.

Why would you want a promotion at work? There are several reasons you could offer. The first is the promise of better pay. But look at what Juvenal has to say about wealth:

Prayer no. 1, so very familiar in all the temples, is usually for money: “Let my wealth grow!” “Let my treasure chest be the biggest in the whole forum!” But you won’t drink poison from earthenware. That you only need fear when you are handed a goblet studded with jewels… (Juvenal, Satire 10, lines 23-27)

There is no reason to hope and pray for money; with wealth comes danger and envy, from which only poverty can protect you. Why would you want a better salary when it could lead to enemies who would wish you harm?

The second reason to wish for a promotion is the allure of power. You think that if you have a better job, a higher placement in the company, then you will be more influential and respected. Your word will carry more weight and you will be more powerful than you are now. But again, Juvenal tells us to beware such a situation:

Some people are toppled by their power, object of great envy, some are sunk by their long and glorious roll of honours… [The people] are followers of Fortune, as always, and hate those who are condemned. (Juvenal, Satire 10, lines 56- 70)

If you were to gain power and fame, you would be subject to the whims of the mob, who are fickle and throw support to whoever seems to be their best bet at that moment. As you advance through the ranks of the company, you are not gaining in influence but losing it, because you become more ruled by the people’s will and less by your own.

In short, why bother trying to be promoted? Make good with the position you hold currently, and be content to hover somewhere in the middle range rather than trying to fly above your place only to crash down again later. Money and fame cannot bring you long-term pleasure in this world, so forget the promotion and concentrate on the real priority: “A sound mind in a sound body.”

-Claudia, team Venus

Library Exercise: Chaya Ovits and Hinda Honikman

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Alexander the Great had a vast empire and showed signs of power and intelligence from a young age, when he tamed the fierce Bucephalus whom no one else could ride simply by turning the horse away from its shadow. He was a great military leader and was highly respected. After his death, his empire was fought over by several people.

Another Unit, Another Synagogue

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This synagogue can be found along Ocean Avenue, between Avenues K and L. It caught my eye because it really encapsulates a lot of formal elements we’ve covered in class. You can see the arcade of arches at the top of the stairs, with emphasized keystones, as well as arched windows framed by column/pilaster motifs with Corinthian capitals. The center of the building has a row of large Corinthian columns beneath a frieze that goes across the entire façade. Above that on either side are structures that appear similar to miniature temples, with a row of Tuscan columns supporting another arcade. On the roof, visible from the ground when standing across the street like I was, is a pair of giant green domes.

Certain details also reminded me of particular examples of Baroque architecture. For example, the Tuscan colonnade at the top was reminiscent of the piazza of St. Peter’s, although admittedly a lot smaller.

It’s not necessarily clear what the building here is made of, but it could be marble, like the works of old. The motifs mentioned could have been chosen in order to embellish the face of the building with architectural forms that are established as distinguished. Everything about this picture shows the grandeur of the place. The picture is not perfect because there was a car in front of me when I took the picture, so the base level is a little cut off, but you can see a set of doors next to the tree that give you a sense of the scale of this building. That’s what seems Baroque about this architecture: the size and flair. It’s elaborate and decorative, and very BIG – all very Baroque traits. The Baroque period is marked by drama, and this synagogue certainly has that. The building has a presence that demands attention; it’s impossible to walk past it without giving it a second look.

-Chaya, team Venus

 

July and How Its Name Is Narcissistic

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July: the seventh month of the year. We use its name at least 31 days a year, but do we ever stop to think about its origins? Have you ever wondered why SEPTember, OCTOber, NOVember, and DECember are not the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months like their prefixes would suggest?

Originally, September through December were numbered the way you would expect, but then Julius Caesar and his nephew Augustus had the calendar rearranged to create new months so that they could have the summer (the best months, in their opinion) as their own. This was done to create an association between them and the most pleasant part of the year and. Thus these months are named July after Julius, and August after Augustus.

In the readings assigned for homework, Julius Caesar is characterized as haughty and obsessed with displays of power, as seen below:

…most men suspected him of being inflated with pride and hated him for his haughtiness (Cassius Dio, Book 44.9)

Augustus followed with a very small escort, along roads held by the enemy, after a shipwreck, too, and in a state of semi-convalescence from a serious illness. This energetic action delighted Caesar, who soon formed a high estimate of Augustus’s character (Suetonius, Life of Augustus, 8)

Julius Caesar is shown to be the kind of person to give off the impression that he is overly proud, and to be fond of someone for displaying similar traits like brash military actions. This characterization is exactly in line with the profile of someone who would fit the entire calendar to his own personal desires. He would probably love to know that we still use this system today.

-Chaya, team Venus

Yet Another Post About Art1010 On BC Campus…

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This is a painting I found in the staircase of the Brooklyn College Student Center. It perfectly represents the use of the system of linear perspective to create the illusion of a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. Below is a copy of the above image with the orthogonals traced in green and then the main lines extended to demonstrate the vanishing point.

The orthogonals are the lines that would be parallel were you actually to stand in that scene and measure them. Instead, when seen from a certain angle, they seem to converge on a single point. As you can see, this technique is very effective at tricking the eye and mind into thinking there is depth to the image.

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The painting was set on the wall against the staircase so that as you descend the stairs, the vanishing point becomes eye level for you. This is how linear perspective works best, like we discussed regarding how Massacio’s painting of the Trinity was set at eye level for maximum effort.

-Chaya Ovits, team Venus

The Gates of Paradise, Roman Imagery, and A Synagogue: What These Three Things Have In Common Will Shock You!

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This picture shows the doors to a synagogue on West End Avenue of Manhattan Beach. It immediately seemed to me like a much simpler version of the baptistery doors called the “Gates of Paradise,” by Ghiberti.

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As you can see, the baptistery doors are decorated with scenes from the life of the Biblical figure Isaac, using linear perspective to add depth to the nearly-flat backgrounds cast in bronze.

The doors in my original picture, however, are much plainer and bear only three repeated images: a wolf, an axe with wheat and other grains, and a menorah. Considering their context, these likely represent objects of cultural significance. The wolf is often a symbol of Joseph (Isaac’s grandson), and the menorah is a religious artifact with hundreds of years of history attached. The axe and grains are a little more vague, but they could be standing in for the strength and beauty (respectively) of Israel and/or its inhabitants. There are no backgrounds portrayed at all, yet the overall effect is strikingly familiar to those acquainted with Ghiberti’s gates.

Both pictures show a set of dark doors embellished with a series of lighter metal images that have relevance to Biblical figures or scenes, organized into rows. Each set of decoration serves the basic purpose of making the doors more aesthetically pleasing, although one (Ghiberti’s) looks like it took much more time and effort because it is so much more intricate. Ghiberti’s doors are much taller and more imposing, whereas the synagogue’s doors are the usual height and just enhanced by the pictures. Also, it is unclear whether the first picture’s images are actually made of bronze, but it does not appear to be the same material as Ghiberti’s doors.

The pictures on my doors could easily apply to Roman culture too, although the context of their placement makes this extremely unlikely as its original purpose. The wolf has long been a symbol of Rome, because of the legend of the founders Remus and Romulus being raised by a she-wolf Lupa. When other powers rebelled against Rome (like the slave revolts Rome claimed were the “reconquering” of Sicily), a coin was made depicting a boar (the symbol of the Italic peninsula) trampling a wolf. The axe could be seen as referring to the axe of the fasces, a bundle of rods symbolizing imperial power, and the grain to the latifundia, a system of plantation farming that kept the Roman economy afloat. The menorah is a traditionally Jewish symbol, but the arch of Titus (pictured below) depicts a menorah because it shows the conquering of Jerusalem and the aftermath of the destruction of the second Temple (which stood on the hill that now holds the Dome of the Rock). Therefore even the menorah could in theory be a reminder of Roman triumphs.

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The doors I took a picture of are similar to Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise and reminiscent of Roman imagery and symbolism. Their purpose is a little more simplistic than the works of antiquity, but overall they are made for the same reason: to look nice.

-Chaya Ovits, team Venus

Triumphal Synagogue

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This is a picture of the front of a synagogue located on Ave K at the corner of East 29th Street. As you can see, the double doors are framed by arches and there is a column motif between and around them. This reminded me of the Arch of Constantine, with its multiple arches. Constantine’s arch was erected to celebrate victory in battle, and it had three arches for aesthetic reasons (ie., to look impressive and thereby be a better monument representing glory and power). These arches are also decorative, but it’s likely that the multiple doors are because of the separate seating inside. It’s interesting to note that in ancient architecture the arches were always open, while nowadays we fill them with doors for practicality. Certain elements have a similar purpose to the ancient work it resembles, but overall the design is intended for an entirely different function.

It’s difficult to see in the picture, but at the top of the arches (between the doorframe and the arch’s curve) there are also painted friezes like those we studied in art and architecture from the early Christian/late Roman period. Their presence brightens the décor by adding color and filling the space that would otherwise be a blank gap, like the paintings in antiquity were meant to do in the temples, churches, or mosques we looked at. Both these paintings and their ancient counterparts add interest to the architecture, although the modern paintings are much more durable and less likely to fade or chip, because of technological advances (new kinds of paint, etc.) since the ancient paintings were created.

-Chaya Ovits, team Venus

How to Create A Strong Country In Only Fifty-Three Years: A Guide

“II: Political Thinkers and Ideas/Penseurs et Idées Politiques.” International Political Science Abstracts, 10 May 2012, Vol.62(2), pp.160-164.

This article gives abstracts of political science articles, including:

Eidujiene, Dalia. “Polibijus: apie valstybes kilme ir dinami ka jos formu morfologija (Polybius on the origin of the state and the dynamic morphology of its forms).” Filosofija. Sociologija 22(3), 2011 : 272-277.

Light, Paul C. “Federalist No. 1: How Would Publius Define Good Government Today?” Public Administration Review 71, Suppl. 1, Dec. 2011 : 7-14.

The article that came up when I searched for the terms “Polybius” and “Thomas Jefferson” was intended to help political-science students find the appropriate article, but the Eidujiene article explains Polybius’ attempt to explain the political circumstances that allowed Rome to grow so strong so quickly, and the Light article is about the Federalist Papers (written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, under the pseudonym Publius, to defend the new United States Constitution) and how the Founding Fathers (including Hamilton and Jefferson) built the framework for the country we live in today.

Since this article was meant to aid with location of sources, it doesn’t really draw connections between these other articles, but their relation is clear. Polybius spoke about how the Roman empire grew in power, and the founders of America wanted to build a country that could become its own independent power. Both of these articles therefore discuss how best to set up and strengthen a political entity like a country or empire.

Light’s abstract demonstrates the desire to make a strong country by saying:

 [The first of the Federalist Papers] contains an implied definition of “good government” that occupied the founders as they built a stronger national government.

The class reading by Polybius says in the very beginning,

…the best and most valuable result I aim at is that readers of my work may gain a knowledge how it was […] that in less than fifty-three years nearly the whole world was overcome and fell under the single dominion of Rome…

Polybius wanted to teach people how Rome became so powerful in such a relatively short time. The Founding Fathers likely drew upon sources like this when deciding how to draw up the United States constitution, since they relied heavily on European philosophy and history to guide them.

-Chaya Ovits, team Venus

Federal Hall Fasces

The fasces under George Washington’s outstretched arm at Federal Hall is meant to represent his authority and power as he is inaugurated. Washington was a well-known military leader before he became president, and so his strength is symbolized by a sign of Roman sovereignty that was often used in military contexts.

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What’s Your Name, Man? Alexander… the Great

I asked three people what they knew of Alexander the Great and where they learned that information. Their responses were as follows.

Zack Ovits (brother, 15, at home): He was great. He was like… a king. He conquered most of the world. I think he built that library place. [Note: he was referring to the Library of Alexandria, a place named after Alexander the Great.] I learned this in school, I don’t know what grade.

Adina Weiss (friend, 18, by text): He had an empire, one of the biggest. That’s all I know from school.

Dasi Chafetz (friend, 17, by phone): He was great. He tried to conquer the world or something? And then he met a Jewish guy in Jerusalem but I forgot his name, and he got off his donkey and bowed to him. I probably learned this at school, maybe some at home from my dad.

All three of these people were vague about what they knew and had all learned the same basic information from school. Two of them made the same bad joke (guys, you’re not funny) and everyone agreed he had a large empire. Even the title of the reading for class contains as much information as that which I gathered from my interviewees: “A History of the Great World Conqueror, Alexander of Macedon.” I must admit I was disappointed in those I asked for not being able to give me more detail.

Yet however lacking, the information I did receive is supported by the class reading. Before Alexander is born, his mother is said to be expecting a

boy child who shall… be your avenger and become world conquering king of the whole civilized universe. (13)

Then, during his delivery, his mother is told that

if you give birth now, o Queen, the one you bear is a world conqueror. (26)

As stated above, Alexander the Great grew up to conquer pretty much everyone at the time. His empire spanned from Egypt to Thrace and all the way to India. Nowadays anyone who’s heard of Alexander of Macedonia knows he was an incredibly powerful emperor intent on conquering as much as possible, even if they know almost nothing else about him. His title of “the Great” was earned solely by expanding his reach to control the entire Mediterranean area and beyond, and everyone knows him by it: there is only one “Alexander the Great,” no matter how many people were named Alexander before or after. (In fact, it was a popular name for young boys during and after his reign, in the hope that the child would live up to the name of the emperor.) His legacy survives as having created one of the greatest empires of all time.

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This is a picture of the wall in the lobby of my dentist’s office building. The heads are those of soldiers, men wearing helmets similar to those worn in Alexander’s day. They look almost like statues made of Alexander himself. Alexander, as a famous conqueror, has a strong connection to symbols of war and fighting, like the soldiers on this wall. Beneath the images of people are designs meant to resemble columns. The overall effect is an association with the time period we are learning about.

-Chaya Ovits, team Venus

Greek/Roman Architecture On Campus

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our very own Ingersoll

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Roosevelt

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library (side)

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library tower

I was walking around campus and thinking about this assignment when I noticed that pretty much every building on Brooklyn College’s campus has elements of Greek and/or Roman architectural design. In the 4 pictures above, you can see an arcade of arches (Ingersoll), arches with column designs between them and a pediment above (Roosevelt), an arch-shaped window and columns setting off the windows (library), and arches supporting a structure topped by a dome (library tower).

Greek temples used columns very often, since they relied on post-lintel architecture. The Romans began using arches (and, by extension, domes) because they allowed more stability and more open indoor space. Modern day architecture doesn’t need to rely on domes or columns to hold up our ceilings, but we still use elements like this in specific contexts.

Classical architecture is very popular for inspiration when it comes to buildings that need to have a certain gravitas. The structure of columns and arches lends that kind of weight, a way of hinting that this too is old and respectable. College campuses and governmental facilities often have similar features to the temples of old because it subtly implies importance. The design elements are no longer strictly functional; we use them because we like how they look and what they mean. By recreating these ideas in brick instead of marble or concrete, we prove that we don’t need them but choose to include them for the aesthetic benefits.

-Chaya Ovits, team Venus

Plato in the Gym?

Mark Edmundson’s article “Should We Teach Plato in Gym Class?” tackles the complex question of whether athletes need more education about the ethics of sport. The article draws on Plato’s “The Republic” to make a point about the education of student athletes. Edmundson agrees with Plato’s stance, saying that often athletes can get too involved with the “spiritedness” that Plato calls thymus, forgetting the other, perhaps deeper aspects of their humanity. The following is a quote from the article:

The spirited part of the soul can take control and turn what would have been an admirable man or woman into a beast. At one point in ”The Republic,” Plato imagines a state in which the ruling value is spiritedness. He calls it a timocracy, and he is fully alert to its dangers: constant battles for first place and ongoing war.

Edmundson believes that Plato had the right approach to thymus. Athletes need awareness of the benefits and the downsides of such spiritedness. There’s nothing inherently bad or wrong about active behavior, but it cannot be the only thing in a person’s life. One has to know the place it has and keep the more animalistic tendencies in check. In Homer’s story of Achilles, Achilles says he is so enraged he could eat someone’s flesh, yet he is portrayed as the hero of the story.

Plato sought to displace Homer and correct the Homeric values. If a person is only driven by the urge to seek glory and power, with nothing more holding him back, that person is like a beast, with no higher functions. A society ruled by people who love and chase honor is a timocracy, and though it is “praised by the many” as the Cretan constitution, it will likely eventually become an oligarchy.

Plato has the character of Socrates announce,

“When ruling is something fought over, such civil and domestic war destroys these men and the rest of the city as well.”

Competition is all very well in its proper place, but without boundaries and a greater understanding, it is capable of consuming its progenitors. Athletes therefore, according to this article, should be taught more about sportsmanship and the role competition and spiritedness play in the game, so as to avoid being overtaken by thoughts of victory at any cost.

-Chaya, team Venus

Edmundson, Mark. “Should We Teach Plato in Gym Class?” The New York Times, 17 Aug  2014. Web.

http://bit.ly/2x8HZs8

Aphrodite for Children

IMG_20170911_154838I found this book at the Strand bookstore in Manhattan. It’s part of a children’s series called Goddess Girls, retelling classic Greek mythology with the gods and goddesses as teenage students attending Mount Olympus Academy. The cover shows Aphrodite (center) displeased with Ares’ sister Eris (left) for ruining the birthday party that Aphrodite threw for Ares (right).

The image on the cover has Aphrodite surrounded by a subtle golden glow to demonstrate her divinity and beauty. This reminded me of how both the Song of Demodocus and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite call her “golden Aphrodite,” multiple times each.

“…how would you like to bed the golden Aphrodite?” Song of Demodocus, line 380

“…I’d love to bed that golden Aphrodite!” Song of Demodocus, line 384

“”Muse, tell me the things done by golden Aphrodite…” Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (Nagy translation), line 1

“For she [Athena] takes no pleasure in the things done by golden Aphrodite.” Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (Nagy translation), line 9

“Hail, my Lady, you who come here to this home, whichever of the blessed ones you are, Artemis or Leto or golden Aphrodite…” Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (Nagy translation), line 91-94

This image and these quotations show how Aphrodite was thought to be so beautiful that she could only be compared to something incredibly valuable and aesthetically pleasing, like gold.

I also found it interesting to note that this version of Aphrodite is depicted as younger than usual, like it says she appeared to Anchises:

“She stood before him, the daughter of Zeus, Aphrodite, looking like an unwed maiden in size and length and appearance.” Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (Nagy translation), line 82

As the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite is imagined as young, beautiful, and desirable. The image on the cover of this book shows her with the usual default of Western beauty ideals: curly blonde hair, big blue eyes, and a tiny waist. Compare her for a moment to the other female character on the cover. Eris, the antagonist for this novel, is the exact opposite of these marks of Aphrodite’s beauty. She has straight dark hair, dark eyes, and definitely no golden glow; instead, she lurks in the corners and the shadows. Even their outfits are designed to show Aphrodite’s typical femininity; her chiton is pink and flowing softly, compared to Eris’ darker outfit with its jagged folds. This teenaged Aphrodite is portrayed as the cliché of a “girly-girl.” Although this is by no means the definitive image of beauty, it is often associated with feminine attraction and vulnerability.

But Aphrodite is not only a passive good-looking onlooker. In the Homeric hymn’s narrative, Aphrodite initiates the story by making Zeus love mortal women. His response to her behavior sets off the chain of events told in the hymn. The first step was Aphrodite’s.

Aphrodite fills a double role as both seductress and victim to Zeus’ plot in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, and as adulteress and laughingstock in the Song of Demodocus. She’s both sides of the coin of womanhood, guilty and innocent, blamed and accuser. Even as she is portrayed with the “girls wear pink” mentality, she is the main character of her own story and her actions determine the plot, without having her hide behind Ares or some other male hero figure.

Chaya, team Venus

Supergirl and Xenophobia

Xenophobia is a problem that has been around for many years. It is the fear of outsiders, of something unknown and unlike yourself. It’s closely related to racism, because fear of difference can lead to treatment of said outsiders in a negative way. This issue has been tackled by many people from different angles.

The CW show “Supergirl” aired an episode (2×03, “Welcome to Earth”) in which Mon-el, an alien from Krypton’s twin planet Daxam, has arrived on Earth. Supergirl is suspicious of his motives, saying that if he is from Daxam then he cannot be good; she thinks he is colluding with her enemies. She tells the DEO (Department of Extra-Normal Operations) that Kryptonians have a saying about Daxamites: “May tex kolor Daxam,” which Supergirl refuses to translate, implying it is highly derogatory. The following exchange takes place between Supergirl and Mon-el; he is in a holding cell and she questions his recent actions.

Supergirl: …Your entire race thinks nothing but themselves.

Mon-El: And you would know all about my race, Kryptonian? Judging by that self-righteous glyph on your chest. Hey, so shouldn’t you already have all the answers?

Supergirl: What’s that supposed to mean?

Mon-El: Well, I know how your people feel about us. High-and-mighty, “enlightened” Krypton. Looking down on us lowly peasants ever since you attacked us with no provocation. […] You’ve already made up your mind about me. So, it seems kind of pointless to keep talking to you.

More of this scene can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Se35j9PKRE

Mon-el demonstrates his awareness of her attitude toward his people. He knows that Supergirl has condemned Mon-el simply because he is not from her planet. She stereotyped his race and jumped to conclusions about his actions. He resents her judgment but thinks he is powerless against it. This is a perfect example of how xenophobia/racism works, and the parallel to modern society is obvious. It’s clear the show intended the episode as commentary on today’s America.

Nowadays there is rampant xenophobia in the United States. Under the Trump administration, racists are proud of their misguided beliefs. All the fear of immigrants and/or terrorists is xenophobia at its extreme. A lot of right-wing Americans are afraid of the newcomers having a negative impact on their own lives, like taking their jobs or attacking them, even when there is little reason to expect such a situation. The modern political climate in America is very xenophobic.

But it’s not just nowadays that people have had this attitude. In Euripides’ “Medea,” Jason and Medea are both exiles from their respective lands, taking refuge in Corinth. The king of Corinth doesn’t trust Medea around his daughter, and although this is because she is the psychopathic ex-wife whom nobody in their right mind would trust, it’s possible it was also impacted by Creon’s subconscious mind telling him to beware this outsider. Also, in some translations, Medea asks Jason, “Whither can I fly, since all Greece hates the barbarian?” She, as an outsider, will not be welcomed anywhere, even if she leaves the place from which she has been banished.

At the time it was written, “Medea” was intended as a social commentary on Athens’ treatment of foreigners, and the Athenian belief of the superiority of native Athenians. Athenian imperial propaganda perpetuated the myth of autochthony, pretending Attica had always been populated by the same people, in much the same way Americans forget that no one has “always lived here” because life didn’t originate on this continent. “Newcomers” are simply newer than you are; at some point, your ancestors were newcomers too. Xenophobia is unfair to the victims of its warped perception because it hinges on the belief that you belong here and they do not. Really, no one “belongs” any more than anyone else.

It’s just a matter of who got there first, really. If Mon-el had landed on Earth before Supergirl, would she have been protective of Earth from him? Probably not. She would be the outsider stepping into an unfamiliar setup. Supergirl’s mistrust and suspicion stemmed from her prior integration into Earth culture. When American citizens are concerned about newcomers, they forget that their family was once in the same position, coming off the boat or plane into a country filled with people who already had their lives set in place. Would they dare say those other people don’t belong here?

Xenophobia is an issue, deeply rooted in flawed perception of yourself and others, that has unfortunately been around for thousands of years.

Chaya, team Venus

Aphrodite’s Backstory; or, Her Complicated Relation to Zeus

This is a book about Greek mythology I found in the Brooklyn College library on the “for sale” shelf. (For the record, although it is a CliffNotes book, I did not read it to find the following information. This is prior knowledge, because I happen to like Greek mythology.)

Aphrodite is the goddess of love and beauty in Greek mythology. The man on the cover is most likely Zeus, king of the gods and father to quite a few of them, usually depicted bearded and scowling as pictured. He’s related to Aphrodite in a complicated way…

The Greeks believed that way back in the very beginning of everything, there was Chaos. Then there was Gaea, their (vaguely psychopathic) version of Mother Earth, and then Ouranos (or Uranus, as the Romans spelled it) as the Sky. Gaea and Ouranos had children called the Titans, including Kronos (sometimes spelled Cronus; the Romans called him Saturn). Kronos decided, with the urging of Gaea and the help of his brother Titans, to kill Ouranos and take over. Kronos cut Ouranos into pieces with his scythe, and one of the pieces fell into the sea and the foam formed Aphrodite. It’s a weird origin story. So where does Zeus come in?

Kronos married his sister Rhea (gross, but there wasn’t anyone else around yet). But Kronos had heard a prophecy (from another of his sisters, the Titan of prophecy) that his child would overthrow him and cut him up, just like he’d done to Ouranos. So when Rhea gave birth to a daughter (Hestia, later to be known as goddess of the hearth and home), he saw how threatening these kids would be. They weren’t Titans; they were gods: way more powerful. He got worried about the prophecy, and ate Hestia whole. He continued eating his children as Rhea handed them to him, one at a time: Demeter (goddess of agriculture), Hera (goddess of marriage), Hades (god of death), and Poseidon (god of the sea). Francisco Goya painted Saturn eating his children, as mentioned in Art1010.

Finally Rhea had had enough of her husband eating their children, so she gave birth to the sixth child, Zeus, on an island away from Kronos and secretly swapped the baby with a rock. She left Zeus to be raised by nymphs and a magical goat. (Also a weird origin story. I’m not making this up.) Kronos was evidently not the brightest, as he ate the rock and believed it to be Zeus. Zeus grew up and came back to rescue his siblings, gaining Kronos’ trust and then feeding him mustard wine to make him regurgitate the swallowed gods and goddesses, who then went on to overthrow the Titans and become the Olympians. Zeus cut up Kronos with his own scythe, just as prophesied, and threw him into Tartarus (AKA a big scary pit in the Underworld).

Essentially, therefore, Aphrodite is the eldest of the gods, and Zeus’ aunt. She doesn’t really have parents, so it’s hard to make claims like that, but Ouranos gave her life and he is Zeus’ grandfather. So “aunt” it is. Imagine the family reunions!

We’ve been learning about different viewpoints about Aphrodite, including the story of her affair with Aeneas. This was brought about because Zeus was annoyed that Aphrodite kept making him love mortals, so he made her love a mortal to give her a taste of her own medicine. Aphrodite and Zeus have always had a complicated relationship, both in the sense of family trees and of interactions.

Chaya Ovits, team Venus

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