Thursday, September 15, 2016

Evoking a love memory from the Iliad while listening to Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey often makes reference that she studied philosophy and considered becoming a poet, which is something that reflects on her lyrics from the very first albums. Her song “Off to the races” quotes a cute line from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, “Light of my life, fire of my loins”. Another song “Body Electric” is an obvious allusion to the Walt Whitman’s poem.

However, for me the most special poetic moment is how Lana evokes a bit of Homer in her song “Videogames”. I say evoke instead of quote, since I do not think there is any intention of quoting the Greek bard. Rather, I would say it is my interpretation and emotional feeling of those lines that reminds me of a similar theme in the Iliad. Obviously, Lana has already stated that Videogames is a happy song about living with a boyfriend that was focused on games.

In my favorite line Lana sings “They say that the world was built for two, Only worth living if somebody is loving you”. This line evokes in me a scene when Achilles watches Patroclus leave for battle. Achilles reminds his friend not to put himself in danger for he values him above all else: “Once you push the Trojans from the ships, come back. (…) Make sure you come back here again, once your saving light has reached our ships. Let others keep on fighting”. Achilles then prays that rather everyone else would die if only he and Patroclus would live: “Oh, Father Zeus, Athena, and Apollo— if only no single Trojan or Achaean could escape death, and just we two alone were not destroyed, so that by ourselves we could take Troy's sacred battlements.”

While the words used to express this feeling are way different from Lana’s, I would say both reflect a relationship that is felt so strongly that it overcomes everything else! In “Videogames” the line is just a metaphor for the desire to be special and loved in a way that the world feels warmer just for you. In the Iliad – which curiously refers to War Games – Achilles expresses to Patroclus that their bond is stronger than their ties to other men and without him he cares little for this world. That is why later on the death of Patroclus seals Achilles fate, for he knows that joining the war again will lead him to an early death. The death of Patroclus is Achilles’ death sentence because it deprived him of the joy of life. Later when Achilles is weeping over his friend’s dead body, he confesses his friend was dearer to him than his own father and he rather hoped for his own death than his friend’s loss: “But now thou liest here mangled, and my heart will have naught of meat and drink, though they be here at hand, through yearning for thee. Naught more grievous than this could I suffer, not though I should hear of the death of mine own father (…) For until now the heart in my breast had hope that I alone should perish far from horse-pasturing Argos, here in the land of Troy, but that thou shouldest return to Phthia, that so thou mightest take my child in thy swift, black ship from Scyrus, and show him all things”.

Recently, a friend quoted on Facebook the famous line by Star Trek’s character Spock “The Needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. I immediately replied “Not so. Sometimes one can love one thing or one person so strongly that the whole world matters less. In the Iliad Achilles says that he would rather wish all the Greeks died if only Patroclus would live. That is how much he loved him!” And now I ask you my friends/readers, who do you resemble the most – Spock or Achilles? Lana Del Rey sounds like an Achilles type of person.

The photo above shows Achilles mourning the dead Patroclus”, a scene from the front panel of a Roman sarcophagus that is currently at the museum of Berlin.

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