Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Pop Classics 1: Noah and the Whale, Jocasta

First in a new series, in which I post modern songs based on Classical mythology or history. This is one of my favourites, and is quite well acquainted with the source material. Noah and the Whale's first stanza is sung in the first person by Jocasta, Oedipus' mother, seemingly justifying to herself her decision to expose the baby:
Oh, its flesh keeps them alive,
Oh, as death helps life survive,
Oh, the world can be kind in its own way.
Of course, the real reason is the fear of Laius' death, which has been prophesied to occur at the hands of the baby. It is his life that will survive as a result of the death; but Jocasta couches it in terms of helping the wolves survive, giving them their food. That way, her atrocity is spun as being natural, in keeping with the natural order.  In Oedipus Tyrannos (720-722), Jocasta does a similar thing, disavowing the act by saying that Apollo did it:
Κἀνταῦθ' Ἀπόλλων οὔτ' ἐκεῖνον ἤνυσεν
φονέα γενέσθαι πατρός, οὔτε Λάϊον,
τὸ δεινὸν οὑφοβεῖτο, πρὸς παιδὸς θανεῖν.
And then Apollo did not let that
Murder of his father happen, nor Laius -
The terror which he feared - be killed by his son.
The second verse seems to be by someone talking to Jocasta (the Chorus, perhaps), explaining the futility of her attempts to subvert the strictures of fate.  When it refers to "her husband" for whom she has grieved, there is a wonderful (Sophoclean?) ambiguity as to whether this refers to the murdered Laius, whose murder she sought to prevent by her exposure of her son, or in fact her eventual husband, Oedipus, who wasn't dead but whose death she was prepared to cause.  In seeking to save her husband, she killed (as far as she knew) her child - in fact, the child survived and the husband died, but the child (for whom she grieved) became her husband.

All in all, quite a sensitive song, with lyrics that seem to understand the subject matter and shed light on a previously under-explored area of the myth, namely Jocasta's feelings about the exposure of her son, and the irony of which of her husbands dies and how.

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