Sculpture Saturday *6

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Apollo and Hyacinth by Stefano Ricci

Hyacinthus was a beautiful Spartan youth, beloved by the god Apollo.  As the good Spartan he was, Hyacinthus loved athletics, and one day the two decided to practice throwing the discus.  Apollo went first, sending the disc flying up to “scatter the clouds” as Ovid says.  Hyacinthus ran laughing after it, thinking to catch the disc, but instead it hit him in the head, killing him.  Ovid has a beautiful passage about Apollo holding the dying youth, desperately trying to use his skill with medicine to keep him alive.  But even the mighty god of healing could not save the one he loved.

In honour of his lover, Apollo makes a flower spring up from Hyacinthus’ blood.  Confusingly, this flower isn’t actually what we today call a hyacinth.  Most sources agree that it was most likely an iris or a larkspur, since the myth tells us that Apollo writes on the flower the sound of his grief (Ai, Ai).

The Death of Hyacinthos by Jean Broc

In a second variant of the myth, Hyacinthus’ death is actually a murderous crime of passion.  Turns out that not only was Apollo in love with Hyacinthus, but so was Zephyrus, the west wind.  Seeing how attached Apollo and Hyacinthus were, he grew jealous, and in an old-fashioned twist on “If I can’t have him no one can” he deliberately blows the discus into Hyacinthus’ path, killing him.  This version emphasises the terrifying pettiness of the gods, and the dangers of mixing with them, even if–especially if–they love you.  Like nearly all ancient love affairs between mortals and divinities, it ends in tragedy for the mortal.

Text by Madeline Miller

Call me by your Name

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Call me by your Name is a sensual tale of first love, based on the novel by André Aciman. It’s the summer of 1983 in Italy, and Elio, a precocious 17-year-old American-Italian boy, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia. Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father, an eminent professor specialising in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella, a translator, who favour him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights.

While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver, a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendour of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.

Guadagnino’s telling of the development of this romance, which changes both parties, is like the feeling of getting gently drunk. It’s smooth but a little dizzying. He fills every scene with life. Trees are heavy with fruit; people are always eating; the chirping of crickets a constant soundtrack. He thrusts life at you and wills his characters to live theirs. Long summer days drift away in a gentle routine of swimming, cycling and nothing, but each day that passes with feelings unvoiced is a day lost — they will never have it back.

The screenplay, written by James Ivory, is elegant and full of small surprises. The level of attention given to even the smallest of characters means so many of them have an impact even with minimal screen time — Elio’s brief girlfriend breaks your heart with a handful of lines. What few vocal emotional outpourings are present are earned — a paternal monologue by Stuhlbarg in the final minutes is as verbose as the film gets and, good lord, it makes it count (bring tissues). But much is conveyed in the many silences which are entrusted to an excellent cast.

Chalamet is the centre and he gives the kind of performance that immediately sends you to Google to find out where the hell this kid came from (he may be familiar from Interstellar or Homeland). All Elio’s teenage emotions are raw on Chalamet’s skin. He plays him as a person still forming, not scared by his feelings but surprised. In a film in which every performance is terrific, Chalamet makes the rest look like they’re acting. He alone would make the film worth watching, but he’s just one of countless reasons.

 

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Priapus, son of Dionysus & Aphrodite. Tripod with young ithyphallic Satyrs as legs. Bronze. 1st century CE. From the sacrarium of the complex of Julia Felix in Pompeii. Found June 15, 1755. Shown in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

 

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