Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Did Achilles have Asperger's? And what's Marilyn Monroe got to do with it?

There is a simile in the Aeneid, in Book I, where the busy Carthaginians are seen by our hero (conveniently clad in a cloud spun by his mother Venus) building their new city. They rush here and there, laying out walls, marking out houses, all intent upon their business. Virgil compares them to bees, something I have always found slightly sinister - bees are, after all, relatively mindless. But that is how I have felt, over the last week or so: rather like a bee, perhaps not filling its cell with honey, but at least attempting to do so.

As I have buzzed through the city, I have had the discordant pleasure of my iPod throwing up first Ted Hughes' Prometheus, followed by 'Eurodisco', a song by the little known and much reviled band Bis. From the sublime to the ridiculous, and then to the fall and beyond: I saw Arthur Miller's play, 'After the Fall', a thinly disguised account of his life with Marilyn Monroe, a brittle, heroic, doomed character. In it Pandora McCormick particularly shone as Marilyn, or rather the Marilyn character, clothed in red and pouting on a bed. It is a hard play to pull off, but I think the Oxford Drama School did it well, with strong performances from all.

I've also been reading (after a marvellous review in the New Yorker by Daniel Mendelsohn, I was sent straight back to the source material) the Iliad, and a couple of things struck me: first, what was the actual shape of the Trojan horse? It can't have been anything more than a barrel, really, or perhaps an upturned skiff on a couple of logs. I would like to know more about this: if anyone can point me in the right direction, please do. And the second thing was, perhaps Achilles (another brittle, heroic, doomed character: the Marilyn of his day?) was suffering from some variant of Asperger's syndrome: selfish, ritualistic, and unable to see the views of anyone apart from himself. I wonder if this explains the wrath (menin) of Achilles: Sing, Muse, of the Autistic Spectrum Disorder of Achilles.

Which brings me, in a round-about way, to a film I saw recently advertised: 'Agora'! Now there's a name for a film. 'Meeting-place!' It is, apparently, about the mathematician Hypatia, who as far as I remember was ripped apart by an angry mob using seashells, for one reason or another, I think for attempting to explain calculus or some such. It stars Rachel Weisz. I know nothing more of this film. What next? 'Pythagoras!' We can but live in hope.

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