Blake seeks to provide the Golden String which can lead us through the labyrinth of our experience or his own poetry.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Damon says of Blake on page 397 of A Blake Dictionary that 'as was his custom, he helped himself to whatever he wished and transformed it into his own.' He is referring here to the influence on Blake of his friend Thomas Taylor, who helped to introduce Blake to Plato and the Neo-Platonists. Blake continued to demonstrate the influence of classical ideas and images even after he turned decidedly toward Christianity.

Homer's tale of the incident that led to the Trojan War is depicted in this painting called Judgment of Paris, which Blake produced for his friend and patron Thomas Butts. To reacquaint yourself with the tale read this file from the web site Living Myths, Greek Myth, or here is an excerpt:

"The contest which Eris initiates sets the three goddesses against each other. In myth, goddesses frequently appear in threes, representing aspects of a single deity. Thus, although Hera, Athene and Aphrodite represent quite different forces, the competition may reflect a time when they were less divided. Paris has a difficult choice. Hera, wife of Zeus, is the goddess of marriage and the home, and as such is always smarting from her husband’s sexual adventures. Athene is a virgin goddess of war and wisdom. Aphrodite is the goddess of sexual love, also associated with physical beauty in all its forms. Yet her affairs with the war god Ares, and her engineering of the Trojan War (as well as lesser conflicts), suggest the close relationship between sexual love and conflict.
The apple thrown by Eris is perhaps related to Eve’s apple, representing a Fall from unity to disunity."

I have been given permission by the British Museum to publish this image to the Blake blog. Link to British Museum

Judgment of Paris, (click on picture to enlarge)Blake has covered the whole scene and added a bit of his own myth perhaps. Discord, Fall, Temptation, Jealousy, Troublesome Females, Dog at the Wintry Door, Shepherd -
these include a lot of Blake's themes. Perhaps Blake thought of Ahania, Vala and Enitharmon, instead of Athena, Aphrodite and Hera as he painted the three lovely ladies. Eris takes the role of Satan. If we look for Blake's fourfold, his Zoas, we might find Urizen in Eris, Tharmas in the shepherd, Los in Hermes, and Luvah in Cupid.

Kathleen Raine in Blake and Antiquity points out that Thomas Taylor "quotes a long passage from On the Gods and the World [by Sallust, a fourth century Latin writer] on the four kinds of meaning found in myth." Raine adds "Sallust uses as an illustration the story of the Judgment of Paris; and it may be more than coincidence that Blake painted the subject, introducing the figure of Eris, whom Sallust describes, but who does not commonly appear in paintings of this theme."

From Sallust:

"The mixed kind of myth may be seen in many instances: for example they say that in a banquet of the Gods Discord threw down a golden apple; the Goddesses contended for it, and were sent by Zeus to Paris to be judged. Paris saw Aphrodite to be beautiful and gave her the apple. Here the banquet signifies the hypercosmic powers of the Gods; that is why they are all together. The golden apple is the world, which being formed out of opposites, is naturally said to be 'thrown by Discord'. The different Gods bestow different gifts upon the world, and are thus said to 'contend for the apple'. And the soul which lives according to sense -- for that is what Paris is -- not seeing the other powers in the world but only beauty, declares that the apple belongs to Aphrodite."

Eclectic is a good word to describe Blake's source material and the way he used it.

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