More than Kin and Less than Kind
Hamlet Act 1, scene 2, 64-67
"I think that we humans are the animals that are in more need of saving than other animals. No other species is as committed to a path of such self-destruction (taking many other species down with it) as we are."
Lee Spark Jones, Kinship with Animals, 2004
The books in this case illustrate some of the most intricate, tortuous, and horrific (but sometimes amusing) relations among kin. Here, in a display of the classical authors of high tragedy, we begin with Seneca's Thyestes. Thyestes seduced his brother's wife and stole his golden fleece, the emblem of kingdom's prosperity. In turn his brother Atreus killed his two sons and served them as a dinner to their father. Later Thyestes raped his own daughter Pelopia, who gave birth to Aegisthus, the future murderer of his cousin Agamemnon.
Moving down the chronological line of one branching-out, hair-raising myth, we continue with Aeschylus's Oresteia: Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, avenges his father's death by killing his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. His own sister Electra, who saved his life when he was a boy, was an accomplice in this murder. We follow with the hilarious Lysistrata by Aristophanes; and conclude with the giants of later epochs: Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Wilde, and Thomas Mann.
To complement the theme of complex kinship interlacements, we put on display several books on humans turning into animals and vice versa (as in werewolf = wer [man in Anglo-Saxon] + wulf, wolf). You'll find here traditional tales such as Beauty and the Beast; modern masterpieces including H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), Kafka's Metamorphosis (1915), and Mikhail Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog (1925).
In classical mythology, transforming mortals not only into animals but also into plants is common. We remember that Krokus, Narcissus, and Hyacinth were mortal men turned by the gods into flowers. Thus Ovid's Metamorphoses, a beautiful sixteenth-century manuscript of the famous first-century poem, illustrates this type of transformation.
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