P.S. Eddie Izzard is no stranger to the classics.
P.S. Eddie Izzard is no stranger to the classics.
I have recently started watching the show The Riches because I am out of great shows to watch. Unfortunately this show was canceled after two seasons and so when I get to the end I am sure it will be incomplete and leave me frustrated, but until then I will continue to watch and get sucked into this family’s story. It doesn’t have to be the best show ever to get me hooked; in fact it takes only a small event or connection in my mind to keep me entertained. For The Riches the hook was that I almost immediately connected it to Petronius’ Satyricon.
The Riches is a show depicting a family of “travelers” they are essentially cons, who after a series of strange events assume the lives of an upper class family living in a wealthy gated community. It is a dramatic series with some comic relief which often comes in moments when they make mistakes which “honest” upper class families would not make. They don’t understand the school system and the price of tuition, the husband impersonates a lawyer and doesn’t know such ordinary things as eminent domain, and they heat up boxed cookies in the microwave to make them seem homemade. In comparison there is a chapter of Petronius’ Satyricon in which a freedman attempts to act as though he is an aristocrat and throws a dinner party (Cena Trimalchionis: Trimalchio’s Dinner). While he is in fact wealthy, he is not old money and does not understand the customs of the upper class. He makes multiple mistakes which make it very clear to the reader (at the time of release the only readers would be aristocrats themselves) that he is not from a long line of wealthy men. In the entrance to his home there are scenes of himself instead of the norm which would be to have pictures of his ancestors. All of these paintings depict Trimalchio with a different divine spirit helping his assent to wealth, a sign to the reader, and possibly his visitors, of his questionable past.
The process of providing a social commentary through the lens of a lower class character who finds himself among the upper class is shown through both this ancient work and this show. The Riches modernizes this old commentary showing the seedy underside of the wealthy. Petronius contrasted the meek existence of the illiterate lower class with the ostentatious ways of the upper class. The Riches instead shows that rich people are just poor people with money. There are drug problems and marriage problems among the rich. The high class neighborhood consists mostly of “legal” criminals. In fact the traveler life that this family left is not much different than the life they landed in. Through time the problems seen in the stratification of society change, but there are always problems to be displayed. Whether it be Petronius or Eddie Izzard, it is nice to see that the problems aren’t being ignored. Classicists, I suggest watching this show just to see the connection. For those who are fans of the show, I suggest reading Petronius (at least the Trimalchio chapter).
I recently graduated from a university with a degree in Classics. This is my answer to the persistent question which all classicists know well. “What are you gonna do with that?” I have spent years studying dead languages, ancient history, and ancient cultures. I am constantly asked how my education is relevant and what I was thinking in an economy like this going into a field like that. I answer this with words attributed to Horace, “Eram quod es, eris quod sum.” This translates into English as, “I was what you are, you will be what I am.” These words have been etched into gravestones in many parts of the world in every point in history. Yes, they come from the same author who brought you the ever mistranslated “Carpe Diem” (that is a topic for another day).
What I aim to do in this blog is point out things I notice in my day to day life as classical references. Another writer said to me recently that nothing can be completely original anymore; there is only an original way of looking at it. I agree. The biggest proof is this never ending trend of comic book superhero movies. The world wants remakes and adaptations, but that is not a new trend. Writers have been borrowing from the classics forever. I must write a small disclaimer here before hate mail floods the comments: I am in no way against remaking and adapting anything for a new purpose. I am simply pointing out classical references. No one is stealing, copping out, being a bad artist, or cheating by using classics (sometimes it is not even intentional). I admire it and thus I point it out.
This is not simply about movies, T.V. shows, or music. I will write on any, but not all, references I hear, see, make, etc. My point is not to display every classical reference ever; that would be impossible. I will just jot down the things I notice and write about the ones which I find most interesting. I hope you find a love for the classics and will send along topics about which you want me to write.
This video was brought to my attention by a friend who writes the blog musictomyeyez.tumblr.com. For a cinematic analysis of the video check out that blog, it is very well written; he does make mention of the classical references, but his focus is more on the film aspects. Here, I am just going to look at these references from the classical point of view.
My favorite reference is one that Matt also mentions, the use of a statue which is supposed to look like Bernini’s Rape of Persephone. This statue can be found in the Villa Borghese in Rome, Italy and is something that anyone remotely interested in art or mythology must see. I saw it while I was studying in Rome and it was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. The use of it in this video is great as the story behind the statue has a strong link to the message of the song. The story comes to us from The Homeric Hymn To Demeter. The myth is that Hades took Persephone out of the meadow she was playing in as a little girl and brought her to the underworld to be his queen. There are variations of this stories and varying theories about the willingness of Persephone to go, but it is commonly taken as a message of stealing youth and creating the sadness of Demeter which formed the four season year to which a lot of civilizations are accustomed. The song, to me, is directly about the occupy movement and possibly the struggles in the Middle East and Northern Africa (at least the Jay-z parts are, Matt explains this). The link for me to Persephone, however, is that it is more and more the case that younger generations wish to stay young and protected longer. The occupy movement comprised mostly of recent college graduates is about security and protection in our political and societal system. The link to Persephone suggests that our society is stealing our youth. This is partly my personal bias as I watch kids give up sports, music, theater, and other childhood fun in order to get ahead in their field so they can secure a job in today’s economy.
There are many great uses of Ancient Greek Gods and Goddesses in this video, but I will focus on only a couple more. The use of Nike (goddess of victory) at 2:38 is very tentative as we have just seen an image of a car being flipped over, then a man is hauled down by police and held to the ground, and then back to a car which has been lit on fire by the mob. It is almost as if the question is being posed, “Which is truly victory?” At 3:32 the horses shown very briefly are, in my opinion, the chariots of justice. This is a statue which has been re-purposed all over the world. The video depicts only the horses which could be yet another question, “Who is pulling justice’s chariot?” Later at 4:26 a police officer is kicked off of the same statue which answers this question by saying the people are pulling the chariot and maybe even the people are the chariot of justice. Matt also analyzes the use of Athena so I will not do that here except to add that Athena is often accepted as a goddess of only defensive warfare and therefore she is a better image of this protest because protests are often about maintaining rights not taking them. This image shows that the people are being attacked and simply defending themselves from the brutality of the police. Overall, these references are a great use of Ancient Greek Mythology and Art to convey a modern message. Huzzah for the survival of the Classics.