Friday, February 02, 2007

Weird Bird Friday!

Picture Credit and Shakespeare illustrations site: The spirit Ariel disguised as a harpy in Shakespeare's The Tempest. More illustrations at Shakespeare's World.

Picture credit: King Phineas of Thrace tormented by harpies

Here is a Greek vase that depicts the mythological harpies. The harpies ("snatchers," literally "whirlwinds") were winged spirits who stole all the food from King Phineas of Thrace.

King Phineas, who had prophetic powers, was punished by Zeus for revealing the gods' secrets. Zeus put Phineas on an island with a buffet of food, but the harpies snatched his food away every time he tried to eat. In some versions of the legend, the harpies eat Phineas' liver every day.

In Act III scene iii of Shakespeare's play The Tempest, the spirit Ariel plays the role of a harpy in order to drive several noblemen who have been shipwrecked on an island mad and awaken guilt in their consciences. The Elizabethans believed that mental illness was the result of a guilty conscience.

Like Zeus, Ariel sets a banquet before the shipwrecked men and then snatches it away. Calling himself an agent of fate, Ariel confronts the men, who had tried to drown the rightful Duke of Milan and his young daughter Mirada, with a terrifying vision of an unforgiving, merciless, pagan damnation:

You are three men of sin, whom Destiny,

That hath to instrument this lower world

And what is in 't, the never-surfeited sea

Hath caused to belch up you—and on this island

Where man doth not inhabit, you 'mongst men

Being most unfit to live. I have made you mad,

And even with suchlike valor men hang and drown

Their proper selves. (some of the courtiers draw their swords)

You fools, I and my fellows

Are ministers of fate. The elements

Of whom your swords are tempered may as well

Wound the loud winds or with bemocked-at stabs

Kill the still-closing waters as diminish

One dowl that's in my plume. My fellow ministers

Are like invulnerable. If you could hurt,

Your swords are now too massy for your strengths

And will not be uplifted. But remember—

For that's my business to you—that you three

From Milan did supplant good Prospero,

Exposed unto the sea, which hath requit it,

Him and his innocent child. For which foul deed

The powers—delaying, not forgetting—have

Incensed the seas and shores, yea, all the creatures,

Against your peace...[Full text]

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