The artist, Douris, has picked a key moment – a ‘pregnant moment’ as Gombrich put it though I don’t have the quotation to hand and to be honest I’ve been afraid until now of using the phase since I quoted it in a draft of a thesis chapter for my supervisor back in the mid 90s as a way of describing imagery of erotic pursuit on Greek vases and he thought that I was making a pun in view of what is shown as impeding on the depictions, namely the capture, defloration and impregnation of the young woman by the god chasing her. Vase painters, like the Athenian tragedians, would pick a moment from the iceberg of material at their disposal, packed into unities of time and place. But precisely what that moment is on the vase is elusive, which is another reason why I picked this particular example – it draws attention also to how much escapes us about classical mythology: of how much remains a mystery for all our mythological handbooks of and for those written in antiquity as well, above all Apollodoros’ which I intend to draw upon as a mine of information and suggestions of possibilities beyond the canonical. The mystery for us – not the intended audience at least I assume not – is in what is happening between Jason and the monster, who seems to be regurgitating him, or maybe is in the process of swallowing him. Literary versions do not include this occurrence. There is more as well: Athena’s assistance-giving is at odds with literary accounts that we possess where Medea is the helper-maiden.
What I have been trying to explore so far in this posting is myth’s mixture of familiarity and an otherness that keeps it frustrating – though it is this very frustration that keeps us engaged with its stories that we know and yet never really know. Neither did the ancients, however, have some canonical version of a myth as recent work on the topic is stressing, for example Morales’ Classical Mythology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2007) and Woodard (ed)’s collection of work on myth that repeatedly stresses its fluidity (Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology, also 2007). What I might be able to bring to dramatherapy is this duality of mythology – the reassurance of a familiar story combined with the possibilities for imaginative reflection that is part of what myth was doing for the ancients and that it can also do for us today. The ‘handbook’ approach to classical mythology has an appeal for presenting manageable, accessible versions of stories. The approach that looks at the gaps may be what is needed further to engage clients because there is a connection to be made with some of the fundament goals of dramatherapy as Phil Jones introduces them in his The Arts Therapies (details in previous posting) of ‘to free the imagination and to increase spontaneity’ (4).
When I started reading Jones’ book, as mentioned in my first blog posting, I could immediately see a connection with my interests in Athenian drama. The mythmaking of ancient drama involved selecting material that drew upon the underside of myth, something Buxton stresses for example in his chapter in Woodard ed (166ff). Tragedy created a mythic environment that explored what is troubling, problematic, antisocial... between the individual and society, between family members, e.g. siblings of same or opposite genders, mother and daughter, mother and son, father and son, father and daughter. Ancient drama goes to the heart of dramatherapy as it is described by Jones (41) as ‘forming the meeting point between psychology and drama’. The Aristotelian concept of catharsis is applicable to what dramatherapy does as it provides a framework for interpreting how Greek drama explores undersides but in a way that leaves its audience feeling purged.
Some pointers where I could go from here:
- Aristotle’s theory: does it stand up? Not for all drama, perhaps as I shall consider, but for Greek drama and for dramatherapy it is applicable in ways that might provide starting point for thinking of uses of Greek drama within dramatherapy--linked with this, I should look into how far Greek drama is already used in dramatherapy.
- An analysis of some myths as they are presented in tragedy to present a problem but also as a means of problem solving. Obvious starting points are Herakles and Medea although any tragic material will be useable; however Euripidean tragedy’s foregrouding of the underside ought to make for an ideal route in: in fact the Medea example is Euripidean as is Herakles, though Sophocles too reflects interestingly on his character.
- Think about other ancient genres as drawing upon a key moment – notably art, building on the thoughts at start of this posting; also Pindar comes to mind as does Sappho’s take on Helen, and Apollodoros too for his narratives that have a potential each to be expanded to tragic proportions
- I am tempted to think about Perseus story as a guide not least in view of its use in Anderson-Warren and Grainger’s Practical Approaches to Dramatherapy, subtitled The Shield of Perseus (Jessica Kingsley 2000) whose take on mythology I want to discuss, possibly in my next posting. Perseus does not figure in extant tragedies although there is much packed into his appearance in a Pindaric ode as well as in vase painting and in Apollodoros’ account that opens up possibilities for dramatic exploitation.
- As a final aside, might vase paintings be useful in art therapy – perhaps they already are being used – owing to the simplicity of the drawings, combined with their with imaginative freedom within certain boundaries?