Transcript: Anthony Harrison on Mythic Heroes and Modern Comics | Jun 15, 2003

Anthony Harrison stands on a dark stage behind a wooden lectern that reads "Theatre and Rom" giving a lecture. He’s in his forties, with light brown hair, sideburns and clean-shaven. He’s wearing a black suit, a black shirt and a mustard tie.

Anthony says WE ARE GOING TO BE
INVESTIGATING THE CONTEMPORARY
COMIC BOOK HERO AS HE, SHE
AND SOMETIMES IT, RELATES
TO CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY.
LET'S FIRST LOOK AT AN
EXAMPLE, AND I'LL STATE AT THE
OUTSET THAT MOST OF THE IMAGES
WE ARE GOING TO BE SEEING
HERE ARE FROM THE COLLECTIONS
OF THE ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM,
DEPARTMENT OF WESTERN
ART AND CULTURE.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Anthony Harrison. Illustrator."

He continues AND THE FIRST EXAMPLE
WE'RE GOING TO LOOK AT IS
VENUS THE MOTHER.
HERE SHE IS.

He runs a PowerPoint presentation. A slide shows a classical sculpture.

The caption changes to "Mythic Heroes, Modern Comics. Recorded April 25, 2003."

He continues SHE'S NOT CURRENTLY ON
DISPLAY, BUT SHE ADORNED THE
ENTREE TO THE SECOND FLOOR,
GREEK AND ETRUSCAN, GREEK AND
ROMAN GALLERIES BACK PRE
THE FIRST RENOVATION.
WE'RE GOING TO EXPLORE
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
CONTEMPORARY FICTIONAL HEROES
AND THE HEROES FROM GREEK MYTH.
A GOOD BAROMETER OF POPULAR
CULTURE IS THE POPULAR FILM.
THE MOST POPULAR FILM IN THE
WORLD LAST YEAR WAS SAM RAMIS'
SPIDER-MAN.
AND WE'LL HAVE A LOOK
HERE AT SPIDER-MAN.
AND IN TERMS OF WORLDWIDE
SALES AND DVD RENTALS,
SPIDER-MAN
GROSSED OVER 1
BILLION DOLLARS WORLDWIDE, WHICH IS
A HANDY LITTLE SUM.
IT SAYS A LOT ABOUT THE DEGREE
OF POPULARITY OF THIS FIGURE.
AND HOW HE'S GROWN FROM BEING
A COMIC BOOK CHARACTER TO
BECOMING PART OF OUR
SENSE OF OURSELVES.
I'LL SAY A LITTLE
BIT MORE ABOUT THAT.
LET'S LOOK, NOW, AND CONSIDER
DOES THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
HAVE ANY LINK TO GREEK
MYTHOLOGY, OR HOW ABOUT,
LET'S SEE SOMEONE ELSE, SOMEONE
ELSE AGAIN IS CULTURALLY
PART OF OUR REFERENCE.

The Superman comic book appears.

He continues THINK IN TERMS OF THE MUSIC
THAT WE HEARD ON THE WAY IN,
AND HOW FAMILIAR
THAT IS TO US.
HOW ABOUT SOMEONE
LIKE THE X-MEN.
SLIGHTLY MORE RECENT ENTREE.
THIS IS FROM 1963.
THEIR VERY FIRST COMIC
THEY WERE INVOLVED IN.
NOW THAT'S A VERY
POPULAR FILM SERIES, TOO.
X-MEN II
IS COMING
OUT NEXT WEEK.
HOW ABOUT SOMEONE LIKE THE
INCREDIBLE HULK, SOON ALSO TO
BE A MAJOR FILM RELEASE
DONE BY THE DIRECTOR OF
CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN
DRAGON, ANG LEE.
THAT'S COMING OUT
IN THE SUMMER.
OR MAYBE EVEN SOMEONE, DARE
I SAY, CAPTAIN AMERICA,
SEEN HERE WITH HIS
AVENGER COMPEERS.
TONIGHT WE'LL TRACE THE
ORIGINS OF THESE POPULAR
HEROES BACK TO THEIR CULTURAL
MYTHOLOGICAL ROOTS IN THE
CLASSICAL WORLD
OF ANCIENT GREECE.
AND WE'LL ALSO ASK THE
QUESTION, WHY HAVE THESE MYTHS
ENDURED AND INSPIRED CREATORS
AND AUDIENCES IN OUR ERA?
AND WE'LL ANSWER THAT
THROUGH THE COLLECTIONS OF,
OF COURSE, THE ROYAL ONTARIO
MUSEUM, AND MY OWN
COMIC BOOK COLLECTION.
THROUGHOUT OUR TALK, I
WILL BE PRIMARILY REFERRING
TO THE FIGURES FROM
CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY
BY THEIR GREEK NAMES.
ONE EXAMPLE WOULD BE HERACLES.
AND WE'LL SEE HIM, HERE HE'S
IN BATTLE WITH A NEMEAN LION
FROM AN AMPHORA.
HERACLES IS THE HALF-MORTAL
HERO WHO WE KNOW MAINLY AS
HERCULES, WHICH
IS HIS ROMAN NAME.
THE CLASSICAL ERA THAT
HERACLES AND HIS FELLOW GODS
AND HEROES CAME FROM IS A
BROAD PERIOD OF HISTORY.
DATES BACK TO 3000 B.C.
WITH THE MINOANS, ALL THE
WAY UP TO WHERE THE GRECIAN
EMPIRE, THE HELLENISTIC WORLD
WAS ASSIMILATED INTO THE
ROMAN EMPIRE IN 146 B.C.
THE MATERIAL THAT WE'VE BEEN
LOOKING AT, OF COURSE, IS
MAINLY FROM THE ROYAL ONTARIO
MUSEUM AND A FEW OTHER
SELECT SLIDES.
IN OUR INVESTIGATION OF
CLASSICAL ORIGINS OF THE
MODERN SUPERHERO, WE SHOULD
FIRST LOOK AT THE ORIGIN OF
THE WORD 'HERO'.
NOW, THE WORD HERO IS ACTUALLY
DERIVED FROM THE GREEK
GODDESS HERA.
AND WE SEE HERA RIGHT HERE
IN THE CENTRE OF THIS GROUP.
Using a pointer, he continues ZEUS IS OVER HERE,
AND THIS IS HERA.
HADES IS OVER HERE.
THE LORD OF THE UNDERWORLD.
SO HERA, WE'LL HAVE
ANOTHER LOOK AT HER.
HERA WAS CONSIDERED TO BE
THE MOTHER, THE PROTECTOR
OF THE GODS.
THEREFORE, A HERO IS SOMEONE
WHO IS A PROTECTOR FIGURE.
HERACLES, WHO WE JUST
MENTIONED, HIS NAME MEANS,
LITERALLY, LITTLE HERA.
SO HE, IN FACT, IS THE LITTLE,
DIMINUTIVE PROTECTOR,
AND HERE HE IS FROM OUR
OWN COLLECTION, HERACLES.

A marble bust of a young man with curly hair appears.

He continues IF WE ADD TO THE WORD HERO,
THE LATIN WORD FOR ABOVE,
BEING SUPRA, WE HAVE THE
MODERN TERM FOR SUPERHERO.
THE FIRST SUPERHERO
WAS, OF COURSE,
THE AFOREMENTIONED SUPERMAN.
AND SUPERMAN WAS CREATED BY
TORONTO ARTIST JOE SHUSTER,
WITH HIS PARTNER
JERRY SIEGEL IN 1938.
METROPOLIS, THE CITY IN WHICH
HE WORKED AND LIVED WAS BASED
ON METROPOLITAN TORONTO.
SO, YOU SEE, WE WERE ALREADY PUT
ON THE MAP IN CULTURAL TERMS
MANY YEARS AGO.
AND THE
DAILY PLANET
WAS BASED
ON THE
TORONTO DAILY STAR.
IN SUPERMAN NUMBER ONE, WHICH
THIS IS A COVER OF, IN SUPERMAN
NUMBER ONE, THE PAPER IS
ACTUALLY CALLED
THE DAILY STAR.
SUPERMAN IS GENERALLY KNOWN
AS THE FIRST COMIC BOOK HERO,
BUT THAT DISTINCTION ACTUALLY
GOES TO AN ADVENTURE
CHARACTER CALLED THE PHANTOM.
OTHER COMIC STRIP CHARACTERS
OF SIMILAR VEIN, SUCH AS FLASH
GORDON AND BUCK ROGERS, WERE
SCIENCE FICTION-BASED,
BUT THEY WEREN'T SUPERHUMAN.
THEY WERE MERELY MEN IN
EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES.
SUPERMAN BROKE THE MOULD FROM
ALL THESE ADVENTURE FIGURES
BECAUSE SIEGEL AND SHUSTER
DIPPED INTO GREEK MYTHOLOGY
AND BORROWED THOSE CONCEPTS
OF SUPERHUMAN STRENGTH.
AND WITH THE SUCCESS OF THIS
CHARACTER, THE SUPERHERO GENRE
AS WE KNOW IT WAS BORN.
BY THE WAY, SUPERMAN'S
ORIGINAL POWERS OF FLIGHT AND
X-RAY VISION THAT WE CONSIDER
AS AXIOMATIC WITH HIM,
WE DIDN'T ACTUALLY HAVE.
HE ONLY HAD
SUPERHUMAN STRENGTH.
SO, LITERALLY, WHEN YOU HEAR
THAT PHRASE IN THE THEME SONG
OF HIM LEAPING BUILDINGS
IN A SINGLE BOUND, THAT IS
LITERALLY WHAT HE DID.
HE LEAPT AROUND.
WHICH IS AN INTERESTING
WAY TO TRAVEL,
ESPECIALLY TRANSATLANTICALLY.
THE TREMENDOUS RESPONSE TO
SUPERMAN CAUSED THE BIRTH OF
A POPULAR INDUSTRY, AND THE
INTRODUCTION OF A VAST
SUCCESSION OF
SIMILARLY SUPERBEINGS.
CHIEF AMONG THESE WERE
BATMAN, CREATED IN 1942.
AND WE'RE GOING TO LOOK AT
SOMEONE ELSE BY THE NAME OF
THE FLASH.
THE FLASH WAS CREATED IN 1940,
BY GARDNER FOX AND
HARRY LAMPERT.
AND HE'S BASED UPON THE GREEK
GOD WHO WAS THE MESSENGER OF
THE GOD, THE FLEETIST OF THE
GODS, BY THE NAME OF HERMES.
NOW WE'RE GOING TO COME TO
ANOTHER CHARACTER WHO IS BASED
ON HERMES, BUT WE'LL GIVE A
PREAMBLE TO THAT AND SAY THE
FLASH, SUPERMAN AND BATMAN
WERE ALL PRODUCTS OF NATIONAL
PUBLICATIONS WHICH IS
NOW KNOWN AS DC COMICS.
THERE WERE MANY OTHER COMIC
BOOK COMPANIES IN THE '40s.
ONE OF THESE RIVAL COMPANIES
NAMED TIMELY WOULD EVENTUALLY
BECOME THE MARVEL COMICS
GROUPS IN THE '60s.
MARVEL PRODUCED ITS OWN
REINCARNATION OF HERMES,
A CHARACTER NAMED
QUICK SILVER.
AND QUICK SILVER IS THIS
FIGURE, APTLY NAMED, WHO IS
DASHING OUT AT US ON THE RIGHT
HAND SIDE OF THE PICTURE PLANE.
NOW, HE CAME BY HIS
POWERS NATURALLY.
THERE WAS NO
ACCIDENTS INVOLVED.
HE WAS A VARIANT OF A HUMAN
BEING CALLED A MUTANT.
WE WERE LOOKING AT
THE X-MEN EARLIER.
HE, LIKE THE X-MEN,
WAS A MUTANT.
AND WAS ONE OF A BATTERY OF
CHARACTERS THAT JACK KIRBY,
A NAME WE'LL BE USING A LOT
TONIGHT, AND STAN LEE, CREATED.
BEFORE WE LOOK MORE CLOSELY AT
THOSE '60's MARVEL CHARACTERS,
WE'LL RETURN TO THE '40s TO
A CHARACTER WHO EMBODIED
ALL OF THE PROPERTIES
OF THE GREEK HERO,
AND THAT IS WONDER WOMAN.
HERE SHE IS IN ALL HER GLORY.
AND WONDER WOMAN WAS CREATED
BY WILLIAM MOULTON MARSTON.
WHICH IS QUITE A MOUTHFUL
IN AND OF ITSELF.
THAT'S PROBABLY WHERE HE GOT
THE IDEA OF HAVING WONDER WOMAN.
IT HAS A KIND OF CADENCE.
WONDER WOMAN WAS, TO QUOTE
WILLIAM MOULTON MARSTON,
BEAUTIFUL AS APHRODITE, WISE
AS ATHENA, SWIFTER THAN
MERCURY, AND STRONGER
THAN HERCULES.
WHICH IS REALLY
QUITE A RESUME.
[laughter]
IT COULD BE A GREAT
PERSONAL AD, TOO.
TO ADD TO WONDER WOMAN'S
CLASSICAL FLAVOUR, SHE WAS THE
QUEEN OF THE AMAZONS, WHO WERE
A MYTHIC ALL-FEMALE SOCIETY
FROM GREEK MYTHOLOGY, OF
COURSE, AND HER ALTER EGO WAS
DIANA PRINCE.
THAT WAS HER NAMESAKE.
THE SAME WAY WE HAD
BRUCE WAYNE FOR BATMAN,
AND CLARK KENT FOR SUPERMAN.
AND, OF COURSE, DIANA WAS THE
ROMAN GODDESS OF THE HUNT.
SO THERE WAS A LOT OF
EXTRA LOADED IN HERE.
SO THIS IS DIANA, THE
GREEKS KNEW HER AS ARTEMIS.
THIS IS FROM A 5th CENTURY
A.D. BYZANTINE MOSAIC
THAT'S IN PART OF THE ROYAL
ONTARIO MUSEUM COLLECTION.

Slides continue to show the characters and gods mentioned.

He continues AND ALONG WITH THE NAMESAKE,
WONDER WOMAN WOULD, IN THE
MIDST OF BATTLE, TOSS OFF
STOCK PHRASES SUCH AS GREAT
HERA, AND THANK APHRODITE,
AND MY PERSONAL FAVOURITE,
SUFFERING SAPPHO.
[laughter]
WHICH IS, OF COURSE, A
REFERENCE TO THE GREEK POETESS
FROM THE ISLAND OF LESBOS KNOWN
FOR HER ROMANTIC EROTICISM.
SO WE ARE LOOKING
NOW AT ATHENA.
AND ATHENA WAS KNOWN BY THE
NAME OF MINERVA BY THE ROMANS,
AND SHE WAS THE GODDESS
OF WISDOM AND OF CRAFT
AND ALSO OF JUST WAR.
SHE WAS THE PATRON OF ITS
LEADING CITY STATE, ATHENS.
AND HERE IS AN ABSOLUTELY
REMARKABLE MODEL OF ATHENS
THAT WE HAVE ON DISPLAY UP IN
THE GREEK AND ETRUSCAN GALLERY.
AND YOU CAN SEE AT THE APEX,
THIS IS THE ACROPOLIS PORTION
OF ATHENS, AND THIS IS THE
PARTHENON AS IT WOULD HAVE
BEEN IN 5th CENTURY
B.C. ATHENS.
UNFORTUNATELY, IT DID NOT
SURVIVE INTACT TO THIS
MODERN AGE DUE TO A MISHAP.
SOMEBODY WAS STORING GUN
POWDER IN IT, WHICH IS
GENERALLY NOT A GOOD IDEA FOR
TEMPLES AND THEIR LONGEVITY.
SO LET'S HAVE A LOOK AT
A CLOSER VERSION OF THE
CURRENT PARTHENON.
AND THIS, OF COURSE, WAS
THE TEMPLE TO ATHENA.
AND IF WE LOOK AT THE INTERIOR
OF THE PARTHENON, WHAT WE
FIND IS, AGAIN, THIS IS FROM
THE ROM'S OWN COLLECTION.
UP IN THE GALLERY YOU
CAN SEE RIGHT NOW.
THIS IS A RECONSTRUCTION OF
THE STATUE TO ATHENA THAT
WOULD HAVE BEEN IN EXISTENCE
INSIDE THE PARTHENON,
AND WE'LL PAY PARTICULAR
ATTENTION TO THE SCALE.
THIS IS THE SCALE OF WHAT A
NORMAL-SIZED HUMAN BEING WOULD
HAVE BEEN TO THE STATUE.
YOU CAN JUST IMAGINE HOW
MAGNIFICENT THIS PIECE
WOULD HAVE BEEN.
THIS WOULD HAVE
BEEN ALL GOLD LEAF.
SO AN ABSOLUTELY
STUNNING PIECE.
THE WESTERN TRADITION OF A
FIGURE PERSONIFYING A STATE IS
THUS ESTABLISHED WITH
ATHENA REPRESENTING ATHENS.
AND IS CARRIED ON THROUGH
THE ROMAN EMPIRE
WITH THE GODDESS ROMA.
AND ALSO, OF COURSE, THE
ROMANS HAD A HABIT OF DEIFYING
THEIR EMPERORS, WHICH WAS GOOD
FOR AUGUSTUS, OCTAVIUS, ETC.,
SOMEONE LIKE MARCUS AURELIUS.
DIDN'T GO OVER AS WELL WHEN
YOU HAD PEOPLE LIKE NERO.
NOT A GOOD GOD TO MAKE THERE.
OF ALL THE GREEK GODS, THE ONE
WHO MOST CLEARLY REPRESENTED
THE CLASSICAL IDEAS OF
MODERATION AND GRACE WAS APOLLO.
AND HERE HE IS.
THIS IS THE APOLLO BELVEDERE.
NOTICE, THIS IS WHAT WE
CALL CONTRAPPOSTO IN GREEK.
IT'S A FIGURATIVE STANCE.
IT'S A SCULPTURAL AT EASE
RELAXED POSE THAT THE
GREEKS ESTABLISHED.
AND APOLLO WAS THE GOD THEY
MOST OFTEN DEMONSTRATED
IN THAT POSE.

A slide shows the statue of a naked man raising his arm holding a cape.

He continues AND THE GRACE AND
ELAN THAT HE HAS.
HE WAS THE GOD OF ART
AND CULTURE AND MUSIC.
TO COMPLEMENT THE CAST
OF CLASSICALLY-ORIENTED
CHARACTERS, STAN LEE CREATED,
ALONG WITH JOHN BUSCEMA THIS
CHARACTER, NAMED THE VISION.
AND NOTE THE SAME AUSTERE
STANCE, AND THE WAY HE'S
GRIPPING HIS CLOAK THAT MIMICS
THE KIND OF DRAPERY WE SAW
WITH THE APOLLO BELVEDERE.

A comic book cover shows a red robot pointing forward.

He continues INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, THE
VISION WAS NOT A MAN,
BUT AN ANDROID.
AND FOLLOWING THE GREEK
TRADITION OF BEING VERY
CRITICAL OF CONTEMPORARY MAN,
STAN LEE MADE HIM FAR WISER,
FAR CALMER, FAR MORE LOGICAL
THAN HIS COMPEERS, THE
AVENGERS WHO WE SEE DOWN HERE.
AND, AGAIN, THAT WAS
FOLLOWING THE GREEK TRADITION
OF SOCIAL CRITIQUE.
THIS STATEMENT FOR ALL OUR
WONDERFUL FACULTIES WE HAVE
BEEN DIVINELY BLESSED WITH,
WE ARE LACKING IN SOMETHING.
SO JUST AS APOLLO WAS HELD
AS A MODEL THAT ANCIENT MEN
SHOULD ASPIRE TO BE, THE
VISION WAS THAT FOR US IN
THAT CONTEXT OF THE COMIC
BOOK GENRE CULTURE.
ANOTHER FINE EXAMPLE OF
THIS IS THE SILVER SURFER.
THE SILVER SURFER, LIKE
SUPERMAN, WAS AN ALIEN FIGURE.
HE CAME TO EARTH AS THE HERALD
OF THIS FIGURE, GALACTUS.
GALACTUS IS SOMEWHAT BASED ON
THE CLASSICAL FIGURE CRONUS,
OR AS THE ROMANS KNEW HIM,
SATURN, WHO SWALLOWED
HIS CHILDREN.
WHICH IS GENERALLY FROWNED
ON, EVEN IN THOSE ERA.
GALACTUS IS A FIGURE WHO
ACTUALLY SURVIVES BY CONSUMING
THE ENERGY OF PLANETS.
SO HE HAD COME TO EARTH TO
SWALLOW OUR ENERGY, NOT
KNOWING WE WERE DOING A
GREAT JOB OF THAT OURSELVES.
AND THE SURFER, WHO HAD COME
AS HIS HERALD, AS OSTENSIBLY
HIS HENCHMAN,
FOUGHT AGAINST HIM.
HE WON THE BATTLE, BUT HE WAS
CURSED AND EXILED BY GALACTUS
TO SPEND THE REST OF
HIS DAYS ON EARTH.
AND HE SOON FOUND THAT WAS
NOT VERY MUCH TO HIS LIKING.
OOPS, WE'RE SEEING
THE VISION NOW.
WE DON'T NEED TO
SEE HIM AGAIN.
WE'LL SEE GALACTUS, AND THEN
WE WILL SEE THE SURFER YET
AGAIN, AND HERE HE IS IN
CONFLICT WITH THE HEIR
OF FRANKENSTEIN.
THAT MIGHT SEEM AN ODD CHOICE,
BUT THERE'S A PURPOSE TO THAT.
THE SURFER WAS ACTUALLY BASED
ON THE GREEK CHARACTER OF
PROMETHEUS WHO WAS A TITAN,
WHO DEFIED, HE WAS ACTUALLY
THE FIGURE WHO CREATED IN
MYTHOLOGY, THE HUMAN RACE,
SCULPTED US OUT OF CLAY,
AND FELT A GREAT DEAL OF
SYMPATHY FOR US.
Looking at the slide, he continues AND ZEUS, WHO WAS, OF COURSE,
THE KING OF THE GODS,
DIDN'T LIKE MANKIND.
DIDN'T HOLD OUT A LOT OF
FAITH IN US, AND DIDN'T WANT
PROMETHEUS HELPING
US AND PROMOTING US.
SO PROMETHEUS SNUCK DOWN THE
ABILITY TO CREATE FIRE SO WE
COULD COOK MEALS.
AND ZEUS PUNISHED HIM BY
CHAINING HIM TO A ROCK
AND HAVING AN EAGLE COME
AND PECK OUT HIS LIVER
ON A DAILY BASIS.
THIS IS DEFINITELY ONE OF THOSE
DON'T-TRY-THIS-AT-HOME IMAGES.
EVERY DAY THE LIVER WOULD
REGENERATE, AND EVERY DAY THE
EAGLE WOULD COME
AND PICK IT OUT.
AND THAT WENT ON FOR SOME
30,000 YEARS UNTIL HERACLES
CAME AND RESCUED HIM.
NOW, LET'S GO BACK, WE'LL
HAVE A LOOK AT THE
SILVER SURFER AGAIN.

A new comic book cover shows a silver man throwing a shiny ball of light.

He continues HAS ANYONE READ THE ORIGINAL
MARY SHELLY'S
FRANKENSTEIN?
I CAN SEE THROUGH THE DIM
HAZE, I CAN SEE A FEW HANDS.
WONDERFUL.
DOES ANYONE REMEMBER THE
SUBTITLE TO THAT FIRST
ROMANTIC NOVEL?
MODERN DAY PROMETHEUS.
SO HERE WE HAVE THE CHARACTER
WHO IS BASED ON PROMETHEUS
FIGHTING THE HEIR OF THE
MODERN DAY PROMETHEUS.
SO THIS IS A WITTY PLAY BY
STAN LEE WHO WAS A VERY
CLEVER, CLEVER WRITER.
OKAY.
SURFER IS ALSO BASED IN PART
ON JESUS, NO QUESTION OF IT.
LET'S HAVE A LOOK,
NOW, PROMETHEUS.
MISFORTUNE WAS ALWAYS
A MAJOR COMPONENT OF
CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY.
THE CAPRICIOUSNESS OF THE GODS
WAS AN EXPLANATION FOR HUMAN
DISASTER AND TRANSFORMATION.
IF YOU WERE STRUCK DOWN BY
ILLNESS, IT WAS APOLLO'S DOING.
IF YOU FELL IN LOVE,
CUPID WAS TO BLAME.
IF YOU DID SOMETHING TO VEX
THE GODS, THEN YOU WERE TO
QUOTE THE VERNACULAR, TOAST.
HUBRIS, OVERWEANING PRIDE THAT
IS, WAS ALWAYS GOING TO BE
PUNISHED WITHIN THE
CONTEXT OF A MYTH.
NOW, MEDUSA, WHO
WE SEE HERE,
THIS IS A GORGON.

Another slide appears. It features a scary face carved into a small piece of rock.

He continues AND MEDUSA
WAS ONE OF THE GORGONS, WAS A
BEAUTIFUL YOUNG WOMAN, BUT
TAKING HER LOVER TO ONE OF
ATHENA'S TEMPLES FOR SOME LESS
THAN HOLY ACTIVITY WAS A VERY
POOR CHOICE OF LOCATION.
I'M SUPPOSING THEY
DIDN'T HAVE MOTEL 6.
ATHENA PUNISHED HER BY TURNING
HER INTO A HIDEOUS MONSTER
WITH SNAKES FOR HAIR, WHOSE
GAZE WOULD TURN MEN TO STONE.
JACK KIRBY AND STAN LEE TOOK
THIS CHARACTER AND USED THIS
THEME IN A VARIETY OF
THEIR OWN CREATIONS.
FIRST, WE'LL SEE THEIR
VERSION OF MEDUSA.
AND THEIR VERSION OF MEDUSA IS
AGAIN A BEAUTIFUL YOUNG WOMAN.
SHE HAS BECOME A MEMBER OF
A RACE OF BEINGS CALLED THE
INHUMANS, AND SHE HAS LIVING
HAIR WHICH HAS, LIKE HER
MYTHIC NAMESAKE IS SNAKE-LIKE,
PREHENSILE AND POWERFUL.
AND HERE SHE'S TAKING
OVER SPIDER-MAN.
ANOTHER VERSION OF THE MEDUSA
MYTH IS USED TO CREATE
ANOTHER CHARACTER WE SAW
EARLIER, AND THAT IS THE
INCREDIBLE HULK.

The Incredible Hulk comic book appears.

He continues THE INCREDIBLE HULK BEGAN HIS
EXISTENCE AS THIS MAN HERE,
DOCTOR BRUCE BANNER, WHO IN ORDER
TO SAVE RICK JONES, A YOUNG
BOY FROM THE NUCLEAR TEST
THAT WAS GOING ON IN THE
NEW MEXICO DESERT, HE WANDERED
INTO THE RADIOACTIVE FIELD
OF GAMMA RADIATION AND WAS
TRANSFORMED INTO, OF COURSE,
THE HULK.
IN THESE TWO EXAMPLES, WHAT
WE'RE SEEING IS THE POWER OF
DIVINE TRANSFORMATION BEING
ACCREDITED NOW, IN A MODERN
MYTHOLOGICAL
SENSE, TO SCIENCE.
SCIENCE OUT OF CONTROL.
THE SAME RADIO ACTIVE
CONDITIONS ARE INVOLVED IN THE
ORIGIN OF SPIDER-MAN.
JUST LIKE FLASH'S ALTER EGO,
WE'LL HAVE A LOOK AT THE
ORIGINAL SPIDER-MAN.
THIS WAS ACTUALLY
DRAWN BY JACK KIRBY.
ONE OF THE FEW TIMES
KIRBY DID SPIDER-MAN.
JUST LIKE FLASH'S ALTER EGO,
A BRILLIANT SCIENCE STUDENT,
PETER PARKER, IS BITTEN DURING
THE COURSE OF A SCIENTIFIC
EXPEDITION BY A SPIDER
CONTAMINATED BY RADIOACTIVITY.
AGAIN, THAT SENSE OF
SCIENCE OUT OF CONTROL.
HE'S TRANSFORMED INTO A
SPIDER-LIKE MAN WHICH
THEREAFTER HE FINDS AS MUCH
OF A CURSE AS A BLESSING.
AGAIN, THAT SENSE, LIKE
MEDUSA, OF PUNISHMENT.
SAME THING WITH THE HULK.
HE'S NOW REVILED.
IN GREEK MYTH, YOU MIGHT BE
WONDERING, OF COURSE, IS THERE
ANY KIND OF CORRELATION.
IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY, ATHENA,
WHO WE'VE SEEN A FEW TIMES
ALREADY, TRANSFORMED THE
WEAVER ARACHNE, FROM WHICH, OF
COURSE, WE GET ARACHNID, INTO
A SPIDER BECAUSE SHE HAD THE
TEMERITY, AGAIN THAT IDEA OF
HUBRIS, OF OVERWEANING PRIDE.
SHE HAD THE TEMERITY TO
CHALLENGE THE GODDESS TO A
DUEL OF WEAVING SKILLS.
AGAIN, SCIENCE OUT OF CONTROL
HAS REPLACED DIVINE POWER.
VERY, VERY INTERESTING
CONNECTION.
THE PERVASIVENESS OF
RADIOACTIVITY IN THE INDUSTRIAL
WORLD FORMS THE BASIS OF
THE IDEA BEHIND THE X-MEN.
THE X-MEN FEATURES A SERIES
OF CHARACTERS WHO ARE MUTANTS
LIKE QUICK SILVER WHO WE'VE
SEEN A FEW TIMES ALREADY, AND
THEY HAVE CLASSICAL REFERENCES
BUILT INTO THEIR NAMES, AS
WELL AS THEIR PERSONAS.
SO, FOR INSTANCE, THE FIRST
ONE WE'RE GOING TO LOOK AT
IN PARTICULAR IS CYCLOPS.
AND CYCLOPS IS THIS
FIGURE RIGHT HERE.
WE'LL HAVE A
CLOSER LOOK AT HIM.
CYCLOPS.

A new comic book cover shows Cyclops puffing out fire as he fights another male superhero.

He continues CYCLOPS' VISOR, WHICH IS THERE
TO PROTECT OTHER PEOPLE FROM
THE EYE BEAMS WHICH
EMANATE FROM HIS EYES.
THE VISOR GIVES HIM A ONE-EYED
QUALITY LIKE THE GIANTS
FROM HOMER'S ODYSSEY.
AND, AGAIN, WE HAVE THAT
SENSE OF HIS FATHER HAD BEEN
INTRODUCED TO RADIOACTIVITY,
EXPOSED TO RADIOACTIVITY ON
THE JOB, AND THAT AFFECTED HIS
GENES, WHICH AFFECTED SCOTT
SUMMERS WHO BECAME CYCLOPS.
SO, AGAIN, WE HAVE THAT
CORRELATION OF THE POWER BEING
LIKE A CURSE FOR THIS FIGURE.
NEXT EXAMPLE WE'RE GOING
TO LOOK AT IS THE ANGEL.
AND WE SAW THE ANGEL HERE.
HE'S THIS FIGURE WHO
CYCLOPS HAS IN HIS ARMS.
NOTE THE WINGS.
AND WE'LL HAVE -- OOPS, SHIFT
IN THE TECTONIC PLATES THERE.
HERE IS THE ANGEL.
SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT COSTUME,
SLIGHTLY LATER ON IN THE
SERIES RUN.
IN ANGEL WHO IN SPITE OF
HIS NAME, WITH ITS BIBLICAL
REFERENCE, IS ACTUALLY BASED
MORE TEMPERAMENTALLY ON
APHRODITE'S WINGED SON EROS.
AND WE'LL HAVE A LOOK AT EROS
WHO IS A WINGED CHARACTER.
AND HERE HE IS NOW.
AND THIS IS, AGAIN,
FROM THE ROM'S CHARACTER;
THIS IS A CRATER FROM
THE ROM'S COLLECTION.
AND BOTH THE ANGEL, WE'RE USED
TO ANGELS BEING VERY SERIOUS
IN BIBLICAL TRADITION, THE
ANGEL IN THE X-MEN WAS A
VERY FRIVOLOUS CHARACTER.
LITERALLY, A PLAYBOY.
CONTINUING THE CLASSICAL
THEME, KIRBY USED CLASSICAL
REFERENCES TO CREATE THESE
CHARACTER DESIGN FOR THE
ARCH FOE OF THE X-MEN,
AND THAT IS MAGNETO.
AND THIS IS THE CORINTHIAN
HELMET WE HAVE UP ON DISPLAY
IN THE GALLERY.
AND WE CAN SEE WITH MAGNETO,
HERE HE IS UP HERE, YOU CAN
SEE THERE THE OUTLINES OF
THIS CORINTHIAN-STYLE HELMET.
AND HERE HE IS MANIPULATING
HIS FELLOW MUTANT, QUICK SILVER.
WE CAN SEE THE THEME OF THE
ENEMY IN CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY IS
PLAYED OUT A FEW TIMES
OVER, AND WE'LL HAVE ANOTHER
LOOK AT MAGNETO, AND AGAIN,
THIS IS THE CONTEXT WITH THE
X-MEN, AND THIS FIGURE
HERE WHO WE ONLY SEE AS A
SILHOUETTE IN THIS COVER, HER
NAME IS LORELEI, AND SHE HAS
A POWER, JUST LIKE THE SIRENS
FROM GREEK MYTHOLOGY, TO CHARM
AND POSSESS AND CONTROL MEN
BY THE POWER OF THEIR SONG.
WE'RE ALL FAMILIAR
WITH THE MINOTAUR.
Using a pointer to point at the slide, he continues HERE HE IS BATTLING AGAINST
CAPTAIN AMERICA WHO WE LOOKED
AT EARLIER.
THE MINOTAUR, OF COURSE,
HALF MAN-HALF BULL, AND
THEY PRETTY MUCH LIFTED
HIM STRAIGHT OUT OF
MYTHOLOGICAL CONTEXT.
THIS IS ANOTHER CHARACTER
THE AVENGERS FOUGHT AGAINST,
AND THIS IS TYPHON.
NOW, IN THE ORIGINAL MYTH,
TYPHON WAS A MONSTER.
THEY HAVE PORTRAYED
HIM HERE LIKE A TITAN.
AND, LITERALLY, OF COURSE,
HE'S NAMED HERE AS A TITAN,
TO TAME A TITAN.
HIS AXE IS ABOUT TO BE DROPPED
UPON A COMIC BOOK VERSION
OF HERCULES.
SO HERCULES DID MAKE AN
APPEARANCE IN MARVEL COMICS,
AS WELL.
PRETTY FAITHFUL RENDITION
OF HIM, BUT TYPHON HAS BEEN
CHANGED FROM A MONSTROUS FORM
INTO A HUMAN FORM, WHICH IS
VERY COMMON IN
COMIC BOOK STYLING.
WE'LL HAVE LOOK AT ANOTHER
FIGURE, AND THIS IS ARCHON.
AND ARCHON WAS A FIGURE
IN GREEK POLITICS.
A CIVIC LEADER.
NOW, WE DON'T EXPECT OUR CIVIC
LEADERS TO BEHAVE LIKE THIS,
ALTHOUGH, OF COURSE
SOMETIMES THEY DO.
AND, OF COURSE, SYMBOLICALLY,
OF COURSE, HE'S ATTACKING THE
FIGURE OF LIBERTY, PERSONIFIED
IN CAPTAIN AMERICA, AND
OF COURSE PLACED HIGH ATOP A
BUILDING IN NEW YORK CITY HERE.
ALSO, THE MOTIF, OF COURSE, IS
THE THUNDERBOLT THAT COMES
STRAIGHT FROM ZEUS
THE THUNDERER.
ANOTHER EXAMPLE IS TRITON.
WE'RE GOING TO HAVE A LOOK
AT THE ORIGINAL TRITON.
AND THIS IS FROM AN AMPHORA
IN THE ROM COLLECTION.

A picture shows an ochre black-figured amphora.

He continues ORIGINALLY, TRITON
WAS A SEA GOD.
AND YOU CAN SEE HE'S
SERPENTINE IN NATURE.
HERACLES IS JUST BEHIND HIM,
AND HE'S CURRENTLY STRANGLING
HIM BECAUSE HE TRIED TO
KILL HIM, WHICH IS SORT OF
A QUID PRO QUO.
TRITON IN THE COMIC BOOK
VERSION BECOMES A FISH-LIKE
MAN WHO BATTLES
NAMOR THE SUBMARINER.

Pointing to a comic book cover, he continues SO THIS IS TRITON HERE,
AND THIS IS NAMOR HERE.
NAMOR IS ABSOLUTELY
CLASSICAL IN ORIENTATION.
HIS VERY NAME, NAMOR, IS
SIMPLY ROMAN SPELLED BACKWARDS.
ANOTHER INTERESTING BIT OF
TRIVIA, IF YOU LOOK AT HIS
FACE, AND WE'LL HAVE A CLOSER
LOOK IN THIS NEXT EXAMPLE,
NAMOR WAS THE BASIS, YOU CAN
SEE WITH THE EYEBROWS AND THE
EARS, THE BASIS OF WHAT
POPULAR TELEVISION CHARACTER?
SPOCK, OF COURSE.
SO YOU SEE CHARACTERS
JUST GET RECYCLED.
THE CHARACTERS
DON'T REALLY DIE.
THE TRIDENT THAT NAMOR IS
BATTLING TIGER SHARK, HIS
UNDERSEA NEMESIS IS
NEPTUNE'S TRIDENT.
SO THE CLASSICISM
GOES ON AND ON.
I THINK THE THING WE NEED TO
ASK OURSELVES IS WITH THE
PLETHORA OF ALL THESE
CHARACTERS, WHY DO WE HAVE
THE SAME NEEDS TO PERPETUATE?
WHY DO WE NEED TO HAVE A
SUPERHUMAN CHARACTERS?
I IMAGINE PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE
HERE PROBABLY SAW THE MOVIE
SPIDER-MAN,
JUST ABOUT.
QUICK SHOW OF HANDS?
GOOD NUMBERS.
HOW MANY PEOPLE READ A
SPIDER-MAN
COMIC BOOK AROUND
THE SAME TIME?
NOT QUITE AS MANY.
MY BELIEF IS THAT THE ANCIENTS
CREATED MYTHS TO EXPLAIN WHAT
FOR THEM WAS THE INEXPLICABLE.
WHY DID YOUR HOUSE JUST
GET HIT BY A THUNDERBOLT?
WHY DID YOUR SHIP GO DOWN?
WHY WAS SOMEONE JUST
STRUCK BY AN ILLNESS?
THESE THINGS NEEDED
TO BE EXPLAINED.
THEY ALSO USED THEM
TO RECORD HISTORY.
THE TROJAN WAR WOULD BE
A GREAT EXAMPLE OF THAT.
FOR US, SCIENCE HAS EXPLAINED
SO MANY OF THESE PHENOMENA,
AND YET, WE LIVE IN AN AGE IN
WHICH NUCLEAR POWER, GENETIC
ENGINEERING,
TELECOMMUNICATIONS, FAR DWARF
OUR PERSONAL ABILITIES TO
MANIPULATE, EVEN CONTROL THEM.
I THINK SUPER HEROES FORM A
COMFORTABLE KIND OF MEANS OF
IDENTIFYING WITH THE ABILITY,
JUST THAT POTENTIAL ABILITY,
EVEN IN A FICTIONAL CONTEXT,
OF BEING ABLE TO CONTROL
THE UNCONTROLLABLE, TO
EXPLAIN THE UNEXPLAINABLE.
AND THAT IS, IN ESSENCE, MY
THEORY ON WHY THESE CHARACTERS
HAVE REMAINED WITH US IN
SIMPLY DIFFERENT PERMUTATIONS.
SO WE'LL END IN THAT NOTE.
I'D LIKE TO SAY THANK YOU
VERY, VERY MUCH FOR HAVING ME
HERE TONIGHT.
AND WISH YOU ALL THE VERY, VERY
BEST IN ALL OF YOUR ENDEAVORS.
Smiling, he concludes AND MAY ZEUS BE WITH YOU.

[applause]

Watch: Anthony Harrison on Mythic Heroes and Modern Comics