|Lamia, 1909 by John Waterhouse. Observe the snake skin lying on her lap.|
The original Greek version of Lamia is about this Queen of Libya, Lamia who was Zeus' lover. But Zeus' wife Hera found out about their affair and killed Lamia's children, turning Lamia into a half-snake, half-woman. Lamia went berserk, killing children out of jealousy that she had none living. Another version says she lured men and killed them. Aristophanes' version says that Lamia enticed a philosophy student, Mennipus and they were going to get married until Menippus' tutor Apollonius came to the wedding and announced that Lamia is a snake. She changes form and admits that she was planning to kill her husband and suck out his soul. Burton described this myth in his Anatomy of Melancholy, but didn't mention the part where Lamia confesses her murderous intent. This omission is important, because Keats' poem is derived from Burton's tale, as he couldn't understand Greek. In Keats' version Lamia is a more ambiguous and sympathetic character.
Lamia is a beautiful snake who encounters Hermes, who is chasing after a nymph. She promises Hermes to direct him to the nymph if he will change her into a woman, because she wants to attract Lycius, a handsome youth and philosophy student. He agrees, and she transforms.
Left to herself, the serpent now began To change; her elfin blood in madness ran, Her mouth foam’d, and the grass, therewith besprent, Wither’d at dew so sweet and virulent; Her eyes in torture fix’d, and anguish drear, 150 Hot, glaz’d, and wide, with lid-lashes all sear, Flash’d phosphor and sharp sparks, without one cooling tear. The colours all inflam’d throughout her train, She writh’d about, convuls’d with scarlet pain: A deep volcanian yellow took the place 155 Of all her milder-mooned body’s grace; And, as the lava ravishes the mead, Spoilt all her silver mail, and golden brede; Made gloom of all her frecklings, streaks and bars, Eclips’d her crescents, and lick’d up her stars: 160 So that, in moments few, she was undrest Of all her sapphires, greens, and amethyst, And rubious-argent: of all these bereft, Nothing but pain and ugliness were left. Still shone her crown; that vanish’d, also she 165 Melted and disappear’d as suddenly; And in the air, her new voice luting soft, Cried, “Lycius! gentle Lycius!”—Borne aloft With the bright mists about the mountains hoar These words dissolv’d: Crete’s forests heard no more.
|By Herbert Draper|
As Lamia transforms, her serpentine beauty is gone, though she is still beautiful enough to attract Lycius, it is still nothing compared to her snake form. The process is painful. This is disturbingly reminiscent of Breaking Dawn, where Bella Swan is transformed into a vampire by Edward Cullen to prevent her from dying. From being a human (and therefore a different species) she is now his equal. The childbirth scene is similarly painful and grotesque: like Lamia, Bella must endure pain to be transformed, because Edward wouldn't transform her until she was dying. It's what Bella has always hoped for, because she didn't want to be older than her perpetually youthful boyfriend. Admittedly, while Lamia's beauty decreases, Bella becomes even more perfect to the eye. But this is of course SMeyer's lurid fantasy.
Oh, Bella, how true this is.
Ah, happy Lycius!—for she was a maid 185 More beautiful than ever twisted braid, Or sigh’d, or blush’d, or on spring-flowered lea Spread a green kirtle to the minstrelsy: A virgin purest lipp’d, yet in the lore Of love deep learned to the red heart’s core:
Anyway Lamia falls in love with Lycius' handsome face (Did I mention he is very much like Edward?) Lycius is not only like a Greek God but he is a philosophy student devoted to reason. Edward is a top student who wins a place to Harvard. But after Lamia entices him, he sees her beauty and is immediately smitten. Just like Edward, who can't read Bella's mind and thinks she is beautiful. Despite SMeyer's insistence that Bella is no beauty she is. Oh yes she is. Don't you dare deny it.
|Lamia, 1905, by Waterhouse. Don't know how the knight got here, but as the poem is related to LBDSM which features a knight, Waterhouse may have drawn on LBDSM.|
Lamia agrees to stay provided she doesn't have to roam the lands with Lycius and they can spend their hours in her palace.
“Thou canst not ask me with thee here to roam “Over these hills and vales, where no joy is,— “Empty of immortality and bliss! “Thou art a scholar, Lycius, and must know “That finer spirits cannot breathe below 280 “In human climes, and live: Alas! poor youth, “What taste of purer air hast thou to soothe “My essence? What serener palaces, “Where I may all my many senses please, “And by mysterious sleights a hundred thirsts appease? 285 “It cannot be—Adieu!”
I don't know whether you have observed that on falling in love with Edward Bella loses her little contact with the world, to Charlie's anger, when before she was popular in school. Now this is Lycius' experience, but SMeyer obviously inversed the gender roles here. After all, Edward is a mythical creature like Lamia, and Bella is human like Lycius. And because everyone else finds the Cullens weird, being with them isolates Bella further into a fantasy dreamland of a large house with expensive cars and hot vampires, which are dangerous as Lamia's deception. Or from Edward's point of view, he loses his reason because he can't read Bella's mind though he can read others'. This makes her a mythical creature to him, to be worshipped. As Lamia tempts Lycius to withdraw into a world of fantasy and solitude (which is bad and selfish) Bella, though well-intentioned at heart, draws into Edward's world, alienating her father and going depressed when Edward leaves her, which is selfish too and akin to villainy, and making Edward upset too as his world now does revolve around her. And their love is an unsteady fantasy like Lamia's, full of doubt and longing.
|Let the mad poets say whate’er they please|
|Of the sweets of Fairies, Peris, Goddesses,|
|There is not such a treat among them all,||330|
|Haunters of cavern, lake, and waterfall,|
|As a real woman, lineal indeed|
|From Pyrrha’s pebbles or old Adam’s seed.|
|Thus gentle Lamia judg’d, and judg’d aright,|
|That Lycius could not love in half a fright,||335|
|So threw the goddess off, and won his heart|
|More pleasantly by playing woman’s part,|
Lamia lowers herself down to Lycius' level to make him love her more. Now feminists I am sure will agree with me here. Because of love Bella loses her reason, lowering herself beneath Edward, who is a
sentimental result of a wet dream clever fellow. Not that she had much sense in the first place, but SMeyer wanted a loser girl to be the heroine. Alternately, because there is so much gender-swapping, Edward lowers himself (which is even more likely) to Bella's level because Bella is a suicidal fool archetypal Gothic heroine. We hear so much of his cleverness but see few traces of it. Which leads me to conclude that he is lowering himself to be with a loser, (she thinks so badly of herself she would die if he was so great) and by an extension of that, to be the orgasmic fantasies ideal future husband of 13-year-old readers. Personally if Edward were more like, for example, Darwin or Keats I would find him more attractive, but hey, everyone else has different standards. And don't accuse me of necrophilia, all Edward lovers are in love with a 108-year-old vampire. If Edward were not such an unconvincingly romantic swooner he wouldn't garner so much attention from underage girls. And if SMeyer made him discuss Selfish Gene Theory disappointed females would call him a nerd, and promptly shut their books and return to their husbands.
We also see a description of Lamia's sumptuous palace.
LOVE in a hut, with water and a crust, Is—Love, forgive us!—cinders, ashes, dust; Love in a palace is perhaps at last More grievous torment than a hermit’s fast:— That is a doubtful tale from faery land, 5 Hard for the non-elect to understand. Had Lycius liv’d to hand his story down, He might have given the moral a fresh frown, Or clench’d it quite: but too short was their bliss To breed distrust and hate, that make the soft voice hiss. 10 Besides, there, nightly, with terrific glare, Love, jealous grown of so complete a pair, Hover’d and buzz’d his wings, with fearful roar, Above the lintel of their chamber door, And down the passage cast a glow upon the floor.
Keats puts in a philosophical word here: Love in solitude comes to nothing, like fire burnt to embers, and so is love in a palace, because it is unrealistic and distancing yourself from reality. SMeyer should have taken heed here and made Bella's and Edward's life a perpetual misery, instead of the celluloid perfection she wants us to believe in. Lamia selfishly keeps Lycius to herself, and will not let him yearn for the outside world he once had. Yes, Edward, keeping Bella to your vampiric coven is depriving her of a normal life. Lycius has the instincts of an ordinary social man, and wants to make his trophy public matter - he wants to marry her. Here he is tyrannical, and you feel sorry for Lamia, who surrenders to her new master. Bella once worshipped by Edward becomes his besotted slave, and you see the connection where he will only marry her if she wishes to consummate their relationship. Abusive relationship, anyone?
Perverse, with stronger fancy to reclaim 70 Her wild and timid nature to his aim: Besides, for all his love, in self despite, Against his better self, he took delight Luxurious in her sorrows, soft and new. His passion, cruel grown, took on a hue 75 Fierce and sanguineous as ’twas possible In one whose brow had no dark veins to swell. Fine was the mitigated fury, like Apollo’s presence when in act to strike The serpent—Ha, the serpent! certes, she 80 Was none. She burnt, she lov’d the tyranny,
But I'm thinking of Jacob now, so Lycius is both Edward and Jacob. After all Jacob doesn't want Bella to stay in her fantasy dreamland of Edward, and wishes to pursue a relationship with her. Jacob in many ways is more abusive that Edward who is only passive-abusive. Jacob forces himself upon Bella who doesn't love him and forces her to face reality. And she actually feels happier a while with Jacob who offers some realistic part of friendship. It makes sense really, beacuse SMeyer said Bella loves both men but Edward more. So Loving one Lycius=Loving Edward+Jacob.
Also, the playing the woman's part instead of a goddess could be seen as a snark reference to pop culture. Let's just imagine SMeyer is playing a joke on us by having her Mary Sue characters do stupid things compatible with the most idiotic intelligence to attract the love of more fans. A genuinely intellectual story of godlike proportions wouldn't have such a huge following - it's meant for ordinary women, not goddesses, just like the poem says.
On the wedding Lamia informs Lycius that she has no friends or family. Bella certainly acts in that manner. She has alienated her normal school friends for a vampire, and her concerned father that he might as well be dead. Besides his presence doesn't seem to have much effect on her instability. As for her mum .... *facepalm* Lamia tells Lycius not to invite his tutor Apollonius because Apollonius knows her true form.
At the wedding the uninvited Apollonius shows up and looks at Lamia sharply. Poor Lamia faints to Lycius' anger and alarm. He scolds Apollonius for scaring his bride, going to the extent of villifying him, but then Apollonius reveals that Lamia is a snake and tells Lycius he has saved his life from her. Lamia transforms and vanishes, and Lycius falls dead. The palace and the servants all vanish as they are mere illusions to nothingness.
I think it ironic, however, that while Lamia changes from snake (mythological creature) to woman, Bella changes from woman to vampire. It's like a reverse transformation. Lamia tries to be normal to get her man, Bella tries to be weird to get hers. I think Keats is the more realistic, ludicrous though the plot is. At least he acknowledges the fact that reality wins in the end. Gold turns to dust. Unlike the oh-so-boring happy ending of the Twilight series (it is not a saga, check this post for details. And this one.)
A tragic ending.