Thursday, September 4, 2008


I had to read Thyestes, by Seneca. The story concerns a brother (Atreus) wreaking revenge against his brother Thyestes. He does so by killing Thyestes' three young sons, then butchering and cooking them into a feast -- which he then feeds to an unknowing Thyestes.

It's probably the sickest, most twisted story I've read in a long time. I loved it.

Some of it reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft's work. Check out Seneca's description of the garden where Atreus kills the boys. It's dark even at midday, and (like everything Lovecraftian) unimaginably hideous. I particularly like the line: Whatever is dreadful but to hear of, there is seen.

(Though the online version has no italics, my printed one does. So, I added it to the above.)

665] A dismal spring starts forth beneath the shadow, and sluggish in a black pool creeps along; such are the ugly waters of dread Styx, on which the gods take oath. ‘Tis said that from this place in the dark night the gods of death make moan; with clanking chains the grove resounds, and the ghosts howl mournfully. Whatever is dreadful but to hear of, there is seen; throngs of the long-since dead come forth from their ancient tombs and walk abroad, and creatures more monstrous than men have known spring from the place; nay more, through all the wood flames go flickering, and the lofty beams glow without the help of fire. Oft-times the grove re-echoes with three-throated bayings; oft-times the house is affrighted with huge, ghostly shapes. Nor is terror allayed by day; the grove is a night unto itself, and the horror of the underworld reigns even at midday. From this spot sure responses are given to those who seek oracles; with thundering noise the fates are uttered from the shrine, and the cavern roars when the god sends forth his voice.

This story just friggin' rocks. Also, the grandfather (and one of the grandsons, also) is Tantalus. Finally, I know the source of "Tantalus V," both in the Star Trek episode "Dagger of the Mind," and the South Park episode that spoofs it. (It's the one with the mind-controlling planetarium.)

He's also the source of the word "tantalize," as his punishment in hell is to have food and water always in front of him -- which retreats just before he can grab it. (In a previous story, Tantalus killed one of his own sons and served him to unknowing gods.)

So, going to school sometimes pays off, in that you suddenly understand the references behind pop culture. (Same for when I wrote a paper on In Memoriam. Not long after, I saw Hellboy 2, in which Abe Sapien and the Elf Princess both read from that. It added something to my appreciation of the film, knowing what they were reading from.)

As for Thyestes, here is a link.


If you read it, remember that there are two Tantalus': the ghostly grandfather, and the grandson. And at the end, where it mentions various gods not working well together, it's because the Sun couldn't stand to look at the horrors beneath it and recoiled, sending the Earth into a dark night without stars. (Which is very Lovecraftian, indeed.)

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