By strange coincidence, I was listening to Anais Mitchell’s ‘Hadestown’ on YouTube and the track ‘Our Lady of the Underground’ began playing as I settled down to start today’s drawing which is of Persephone. Persephone (or Prosperina as she was to the Romans) was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Zeus’ sister. As the daughter of the goddess of the harvest, Persephone’s myth is unsurprisingly connected to the cycle of the seasons.
The story goes that Persephone was out gathering flowers one day when Hades burst out of the ground and abducted her, dragging her off to the Underworld. Demeter, in her despair and anguish, neglected her agricultural duties so that – while she searched the earth for her daughter – nothing grew and people started to grow hungry. It was only at that point that Zeus intervened and told Hades, his brother, to return Persephone. Hades agreed but not before tricking Persephone into eating a pomegranate. Because she had done so, poor Persephone was forced to spend six months of the year in the Underworld and six months of year above ground. In such a way, the division of the seasons into growth and death is explained.
There was a time when, like Persephone, I found pomegranates to be hard to resist. If In my early teens, if I had some spare change after school, I would wander home via the greengrocer and treat myself to a pomegranate. Then one day as I was tearing into the outer flesh to release all those little seeds of tastiness, two earwigs crawled out of the stalk bit from their nest in the centre of the pomegranate. That ruined them for me for years and years. While I have started eating them again, they are not even in my top ten of fruit any longer. My heart belongs to raspberries and passion fruits. But I digress …..
If my drawing of Persephone looks strangely familiar to you, that is because I was heavily influenced in my drawing by the famous painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I have been trying very hard with this drawing challenge to not go in the direction of established imagery (except when I very deliberately did so with Oedipus) and to do my own thing. However, as the challenge draws towards an end, I guess the creative bit of my brain is getting a little lazy. The composition of the arm, with the hand curled around the pomegranate, the green clothing and the dark hair are all, therefore, directly inspired by the Rossetti painting. Let’s call this an homage. I was intending on opting for a colour other than green but as the complementary colour it works so well to make the red of the pomegranate seeds and her mouth pop that I couldn’t resist it. Rossetti knew what he was doing, you see.
Charon was the ferryman who brought the undead across the River Styx and the River Acheron into the Underworld. He was the son of Nyx and Erebus, Night and Darkness, so it appears he was somewhat predestined by dint of birth to undertake his sombre and dreary job. I think he worked for minimum wage too since all he collected were the obols (coins) placed in the mouth of the dead by way of their fare into the Underworld.
My first challenge in drawing Charon was factoring in drawing the boat. I think I have seen classical images of the boat depicting it as being a rather shallow skiff. My attempts to sketch a gondola type boat, however, ended up looking like skinny bananas. Had I more time, I am sure I could have gotten it looking right enough but I didn’t so I had to problem solve and my solution was to place the boat face on so I only had to draw the prow. Much easier. This also meant I could draw Charon front on rather than in profile. I decided to make Charon cadaverous in order to strengthen the association between him and his role as courier of the dead so I made him angular and stooped and gave him a skull mask to conceal most of his human face. His look was completed with the Grim Reaper cloak.
Orpheus was a revered musician in Greek mythology. He was given the golden lyre by Apollo who also taught him how to play it. He was said to be so gifted that he could charm even non-living things with his lute playing and singing.
As a hero, Orpheus travelled with the Argonauts on their quest to obtain the Golden Fleece. He saved his fellow crew members from the sirens by playing music that drowned out their deadly singing. The most famous story about Orpheus, however, concerns his descent into the Underworld. His wife, Eurydice, was killed by a snake on their wedding day. Orpheus, bereft, travelled to the Underworld and used his musical talent to charm Hades and Persephone into promising to return Eurydice to the land of the living. The catch was that he was to ascend in front of her and not look back. Unfortunately, anxiety, impatience and impulsiveness got the better of Orpheus and he turned around upon reaching the surface forgetting that both he and his beloved had to have reached the world of the living. Eurydice was instantly returned to the Underworld. Orpheus’ own death was rather unpleasant. A gang of zealous female followers of Dionysus tried to beat him to death with stones and sticks but the inanimate objects refused to strike him because of the beauty of his music. Still enraged, the women set about ripping Orpheus to pieces using their bare hands.
Thinking of a musician who had immense and boundless charisma, who was incredibly talented, who inspired devotion and fervor among his fans, the inspiration for my drawing was immediately obvious: Elvis. I would not describe myself as a big Elvis fan – though I have been to both his birthplace in Tupelo and to Graceland – though I do enjoy his music. My 7 year old is, however, a massive fan of The King so I knew my drawing would appeal to him. I chose to base my Orpheus drawing on Las Vegas era Elvis because to my mind at least that was the peak of his showmanship. ‘Suspicious Minds’ is my favourite Elvis song so I had that playing in my head as I sketched out my drawing and the white flared jumpsuit with the deep V collar just drew itself. I like that it provided the drawing with a strong graphic shape. I had to raid google images to get a reference for the lyre but at least this time my gold ink was compliant and was easy to work with.
Cerberus was a three-headed hellhound who guarded the entrance to the Underworld. Except sometimes he was not three-headed. Sometimes he was depicted as having a whole bushel of heads and other times as having just one. Apparently – and I did not know this before I embarked on my drawing – he also had a mane composed of snakes, the tail of a serpent and lion’s claws. I bet he was at the pound for a long time before he was rehomed.
Cerberus was another of the monstrous offspring of Echidna and Typhon, making him a sibling to the Chimera and Hydra. The capture of this monstrous beastie was one of the Labours of Heracles. Ultimately the real challenge for Heracles was entering and exiting the Underworld while being very much alive. When it came to capturing Cerberus, all he actually had to do was ask Hades who in turn set him the task of overpowering the dog without recourse to weapons. Heracles, with his legendary strength, found this to be no bother at all. It’s almost as if Hades wanted shot of Cerberus so as to avoid the massive pet food bills ….
As I had done with his siblings, I chose to depict Cerberus as a young’un. I asked myself what a monstrous three-headed puppy would look like. My 7 year old has an obsessive notion for a pet pug. He’s even picked a name out for it: Russell. It’s not happening. However, this meant that I did a rough sketch idea for a pug version of Cerberus. I just could not get the scale to work though: three round heads would not fit on to such a short and stocky body. Trying and failing to resolve that problem then resulted in my brainwave of making Cerberus a dachshund.
In order to maintain some of the monstrosity of Cerberus – as opposed to him being the type of critter my kids would beg to have as a pet – I did add some sharp claws and painted him red. I thought red was the most obvious colour for a hellhound. Though I’ve never been a fan of chartreuse so maybe that would be the colour of hell. The heads, however, don’t have even a modicum of menace in them. They are just dappy, sloppy and sappy, like those of a pet puppy. Clearly Cerberus would have to go to dog training school to learn how to be a ferocious beast who ate raw flesh and protect the gates of the Underworld.
I have always felt some sympathy towards Hades. He had to contend with this upstart little brother in Zeus who gets everything he wants his own way. Then – having assisted baby brother and other brother Poseidon in the defeat of their child-munching father Cronus – the victors draw lots for dominions and he ends up with the Underworld. Ruling the sky and the sea sounds like pretty sweet jobs to me whereas ruling the Underworld is pretty much the minimum wage call centre job of Greek Mythology. And Hades was immortal so he got to manage endless dead folk relentlessly for all eternity. And as if that was not dire enough, managing the Underworld also meant keeping control of the prison population of Tartarus, a group of hard-core ne’er-do-wells guilty of maximum security crimes which included the Titans. Do you think Hades could have been happy in his work?
Of course, my cup of sympathy runs dry when it comes to his tyranny over his employees and his creative and imaginative methods of punishing certain residents of the Underworld. Then there is the whole abduction of Persephone thing.
In my mind’s eye, therefore, Hades was grim-faced and weary, worn down and bitter. This was helpful as it assisted me in avoiding coming under the influence of the depiction of Hades in the Disney movie ‘Hercules’. That might be the most underrated Disney movie ever. I think it is stellar and I actually don’t think James Woods has done anything better in his lengthy career than his vocal performance of Hades, all snarl, snark and sneer. The Gerald Scarfe influenced character design is also sheer perfection, particularly the flaming hair that ignites in anger. Thankfully that brashly confident, speed-talking version of Hades did not conform to the way I wished to represent him so I could produce a sketch that did not look Disney-esque.
I actually found Hades really easy to draw and my sketch version and final version are almost identical. I gave him the hollow cheekbones to suggest someone perhaps moribund having spent too much time among the deceased, heavily lidded eyes and a solid brow to suggest weariness but the sharp nose and pointed beard as signifiers of his harsh qualities. The skull-adorned head gear is supposed to be the Helm of Darkness, though of course it has not rendered the wearer invisible – though that would have been much easier to draw. I added skull and crossbones embellishments to his clothing for good measure. And because I like drawing skulls.
I am sure it is wrong and probably egotistical to have favourites among your drawings but until today Medusa had been my favourite drawing from this 40 Drawings in 40 Days challenge; now, however, I think Medusa has been usurped by Hades in my affections.