Metamorphosis

TCS Talk | Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines | January 31st 2020

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-19:00 (roughly)
Friday 31st January

Antonio Tempesta, pl. 75 from the series Ovid’s Metamorphoses, 17th century. Courtesy: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

As January rolls towards its end, the Traditional Cosmology Society returns from the winter break with a new, and already rich season of talks. First to the dances is James Parkhouse, an Oxford postgraduate student who, on Friday 31th, will deliver a lecture, excellently titled Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, to TCS members as well as members of the general public:

Mr Parkhouse is a a fourth-year doctoral student in the English Faculty at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research project is provisionally entitled ‘Preliterary Classical Influences on Early Germanic Heroic Legends’. He completed his undergraduate degree in Classics at Oxford in 2015, before ‘going medieval’. His wider research interests focus on Old Norse mythological and heroic poetry; the nature of Old Norse oral traditions and performance contexts; and the extent of Classical learning in medieval north-western Europe.

In his talk, Mr Parkhouse will take into account the myth of the revenge and escape of the master smith Wayland, attested in medieval literature and iconography from England, Scandinavia and Germany. The myth has been noted for its striking resemblance to the Graeco-Roman myth of Daedalus, the architect of the Cretan Labyrinth, who, like Wayland, escapes from captivity by building a set of mechanical wings. Indeed, the similarity was not lost on medieval Icelanders, who translated the term ‘labyrinth’ as Vǫlundarhús (House of Wayland) in vernacular adaptations of Classical texts.

The question of a genealogical relationship between the two stories has been hotly debated, and details of the date and means of horizontal transmission remain elusive. Mr Parkhouse, however, proposes to sidestep the issue of genealogy, to focus instead on how the two myths may be read against each other, from an historicist and culturalist perspective. In his talk to the Society, therefore, he will focus on the presentation of the respective myths in the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses VIII (c. 8 CE) and the Old Norse Eddic poem Vǫlundarkviða (c. 900 CE), situating each text in its own broader cultural context before considering the theme of dynastic collapse which is common to both traditions.

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TCS Talk | The Case of the Water-Woman | November 29th 2019

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-19:00 (roughly)
Friday 29th November

Louise_MILNEFor our third talk of the season, the Traditional Cosmology Society presents a lecture by our own Louise Shona Milne, entitled Metamorphosis, Myth, Dream-cultures and Desire: The case of the Water-woman.

In addition to her current position as President of the Traditional Cosmology Society, Dr Milne is Lecturer in Visual Culture at the Edinburgh School Art and Associate Professor of Film at Edinburgh Napier University. She is also a writer, critic, film-maker and visual anthropologist, and a leading scholar in the history of dreams and nightmares. She is currently working on an experimental film trilogy shot on Super 8 film, as well as on a number of documentary projects including, most recently, Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev: A Journey (2018).

In her TCS lecture, Dr Milne will address the imagery and mythos of the water-woman, a dense figure in dream-culture across different traditions, and one marked by the transformative power of desire (love, lust, fear, grief, hatred, vengeance). The basic image of a female spirit attached to a place of water has endured for millennia in Western literature, legend and the visual arts, but this image can and has taken an enormous variety of forms, from ideal female nudes to monstrous hybrids. Supernatural water-women in myth and folk culture –the mermaids, nymphs and nereids of river, spring and cave –are marked as daimonic by their double nature: they shift from one form to another. Mortal women in extremity may also undergo transformation into watery forms, as punishment or reward; when their situation matches certain conditions, metamorphosis is the mythic substitute for death.

Dr Milne argues that traditions concerning metamorphic water-women are mobilized, historically, to express changing cultural protocols about how desire works and how it should be harnessed. As the latter are redrawn and over time –notably under pressure from Christian authorities –people can be seen to adapt and alter water nymph visualization, as well as visualization of desire-driven metamorphosis in general: a process which we can follow in dreams, texts and art. The inexhaustible potential of the water-woman for every kind of metamorphosis propels an evolving repertoire of forms in art and literature. Arguably, moments of concentrated collective attention to this figure (e.g. in the permanent artistic media) signal that changes in the protocols of desire are underway.

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