Classics, Religion, University

Good Apollo: The Final Cut

My course in Greek Mythology this term had quite a bit of discussion about heroes.  Heroes from all mythologies, both ancient and modern, tend to have remarkable similarities in their stories — in their origins, their lives and their deaths.  It happened for the ancient Greek heroes, it happened in legends, it happens in modern films, and it happens for superheroes in comic books.  These are the heroic motifs.

As the professor went through the list of motifs, I couldn’t help but think of The Amory Wars.

I’m a big Coheed and Cambria fan.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this band, their four albums (and upcoming fifth) are all part of a story called The Amory Wars, which is, essentially, a science-fiction story about a teenage boy, Claudio Kilgannon, who becomes messianic figure meant to bring about the apocalyptic end to his solar system.

In addition to being filled with philosophically interesting situations, The Amory Wars (and the related Good Apollo albums and graphic novel) are filled with heroic motifs. When our final exam presented us with an essay option to compare heroic motifs in ancient and modern sources, I couldn’t help but to develop that idea.

Consider a few examples:

  1. Heroes often begin their journey with a prophecy. Perseus’ grandfather was warned that Perseus would kill him. Oedipus’ father, Laius, is told that his son would kill him and marry his wife. The Amory Wars has the prophecy of The Crowing, the messianic figure who young Claudio must become, but also has a distorted prophecy given to his parents, Coheed and Cambria Kilgannon, that their children would bring a more negative destruction to their world.
  2. Heroes often narrowly escape death because of that prophecy. Perseus’ grandfather tries to prevent his birth, and when he is born, attempts to rid himself of the problem by sending Perseus and his mother out to sea in a wooden box.  Similarly, the infant Oedipus has his feet pinned together and is left on a mountainside to die by exposure.  And Coheed and Cambria, misled into believing their children were a threat, killed three of them.  Only Claudio escaped.
  3. Heroes are usually aided in their quest.  The Greek heroes were usually aided by gods or goddesses, by demi-gods, other humans or lesser heroes.  Claudio is aided both by his “uncle” Jesse, and by Ambellina — a member of an angel-like race known as the Prise, who is meant to guide Claudio towards his role as the Crowing.  (“Dear Ambellina, the Prise wishes you to watch over me” – The Crowing, on In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3)
  4. Heroes of prophecy usually try to avoid their prophecies – especially if they are tragic in some way.  Oedipus tries very hard to avoid killing his father and marrying his mother — fleeing his adoptive parents, believing that he was escaping the prophecy.  Claudio is skeptical when Ambellina tells him that he’s the Crowing, and consistently seems to struggle with the whole idea.  Claudio also begins to fall in love with Ambellina, which isn’t exactly making him want to do the whole destroy-the-world thing.
  5. …but in the end are forced to fulfill them. Oedipus feels confident when he learns of the death of his adoptive parents, but does not realize that he has already killed his birth father, and married his birth mother.  Claudio receives a more direct intervention from his ‘God’.  The Writer, who is actually penning the Amory Wars story, (after being persuaded by a hallucination – his talking bicycle) actually writes himself into the story.  He appears before Claudio, kills Ambellina, and tells him that he must fulfill his role as Crowing.  “Your time has come. Crowing. You’re burning Star IV.”  (Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV,Volume 1: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness)

There are more — The Amory Wars is a very complex story, and it’s not done yet — but you get the idea.  I was a bit concerned when I wrote my exam, because I was choosing a story that the professor was probably unfamiliar with, but I got an A+ on the exam, and in the course, so I guess it was the right decision.  My paper mainly compared Oedipus and Claudio Kilgannon as heroes of prophecy.

I might be the only person in the class, or maybe the school, to use a rock album as a source in a paper for a Classical Studies course.

That’s probably the assignment I’ve had the most fun with so far.  I have a less exciting, but still interesting, paper to finish writing on animal rights for another exam.  After that, one more exam to write at the school and first year is done.  Only three more years to go… for my BA, at least.  I’m considering more, but it’s early.

Religion

My classical studies course on ancient Greek civilization has inspired me to do some more research on Greek myths for my Ancient Mythology website.  I’m working on expanding the Greek section, which at the moment has basic descriptions of the major gods, goddesses and heroes in Greek legend (along with the full texts of the Homeric poems and Oedipus Rex).


The Flaying of Marsyas (by Titian, c. 1570-1576) depicts a scene in which Apollo cuts the skin off of the satyr Marsyas, who had the arrogance to challenge him to a musical competition.

I’m always amazed by the stories of the Greeks.  In modern, monotheist religions, the beauty and elegance of the world is usually represented by a supreme being.  God is normally considered to represent the highest moral authority, one that is meant to inspire positive qualities among humankind.  This is probably due to our relatively stable society, and our relative wealth.

But Greek stories are different.  The gods seem largely uninterested in the affairs of human kind, and when they do appear to humans it’s rarely in a benevolent state.  The gods often represent the worst qualities of humankind–they’re lying, stealing, adulturous beings who breed monsters and deliver plagues.  They are constantly killing and punishing each other in escalating feuds.

Take Apollo, whose article I’m still sorting out.  He’s a part of several of these disputes, some of which involved his son, Asclepius.  He had his sister kill Asclepius’ mother when he learned that she had been having an affair.  In retribution, Asclepius’ maternal grandfather burned down one of Apollo’s temples, so Apollo killed him, too.  But Ascelpius later displeased Zeus, so Zeus killed him with one of his iconic thunderbolts — and in return Apollo killed the Cyclops, who had created Zeus’ bolts in the first place.

While some modern religions do describe a sometimes vengeful God, it’s not in the tenacious, unforgiving light that the Greeks saw their dieties.  Even the Vikings, whose mythology saw the deaths of their gods, painted them as heroic figures.

Why do you think the ancient Greeks imagined such gods?  Did they see these qualities in themselves, and assume that they were created, in every respect, in their gods’ eyes?  Or more likely, perhaps, they saw a less forgiving world than modern society.  Greek religion and myths arose out of stone age cultures, where life would have been more difficult–leading them to blame the gods for their suffering and fear the worst from them.

Then again, maybe it was just good storytelling.