Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Hell and the Lamia
I saw Drag me to Hell recently, directed by Sam Rami, the guiding hand behind the Spider Man movies and, still earlier, The Evil Dead. I loved this movie, I love Rami's black sense of humour but then I love the whole horror movie genre. I also love discovering something new. Rami’s movie introduced me to the Lamia, who appears as a devil-like demon in the movie. I looked into this, discovering that the Lamia has deep mythological roots…and that she is female, one with a tragic history, a plaything of the selfish passions of the gods.
In Classical mythology Lamia was a Queen of Libya. Beloved by Zeus, she incurred the wrath of Hera, who, in an act of revenge, killed her children. Either cursed by the jealous goddess, or consumed by grief, Lamia turned a monster. Taking on the partial shape of a serpent, she began to devour other people’s children in furious envy. In Greek folklore Lamia has the same basic form-and purpose- as the witch Baba Yaga in that of Russia, a monster who combines a taste for human flesh with the gift of prophecy; a monster who serves as a warning. Philostratus, in The Life of Apollonius, says that she took on the shape of a beautiful woman at will to entice young men prior to devouring them. Something of the tragedy of Lamia was later captured in a romantic form by John Keats, who describes her thus;
She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr'd;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv'd, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries-
So rainbow-sided, touch'd with miseries,
She seem'd, at once, some penanced lady elf,
Some demon's mistress, or the demon's self.
Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire
Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne's tiar:
Her head was serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet!
She had a woman's mouth with all its pearls complete:
And for her eyes: what could such eyes do there
But weep, and weep, that they were born so fair?
As far as the movie is concerned I thought that Christine’s fate was rather hard. If anyone deserved to be dragged to hell it was the board of directors of the bank she worked for, not a lowly employee. The old gypsy’s curse was misdirected; we can all understand that much!