Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Myths and mysteries

Past postings on The Filthy Pen have pondered on graffiti's history and origins - postings such as this one and that one, should you feel like looking them up. From these, we have learned that graffiti has its roots at the very dawn of mankind, and was a favoured form of free expression in the days of the mighty Roman Empire.

Today's graffiti can be seen on a sea wall along the waterfront at Portobello, a quaint town on the edge of the Scottish capital known as 'Edinburgh's seaside'. A large-scale work, this daubing seems to offer a reverential nod towards another colourful era of history - the ancient Greeks. Come on, look at that image; surely there's a connection here?

Greek mythology is littered with powerful gods and goddesses, legendary heroes and heroines, terrifying and fabulous creatures, gifted figures and tortured souls. If we look hard enough, perhaps we'll find what we're searching for.

Consider Atlas. He was condemned by Zeus to carry the impossible weight of all the heavens on his mighty back. What a punishment. Echo, a nymph who fell foul of Hera, was punished too. Hera was Queen of Olympus and wife of Zeus, and she put a curse on poor Echo so she could only repeat the words of others, and never speak for herself again.

What about Dionysus? The Greek god of wine, Dionysus was an inveterate lover of the sauce of the grape. It was he who granted Midas his wish to turn whatever he touched into gold. Midas first found his newly-acquired ability a gift, but it turned out to be a tragic curse. He could not eat or drink, and when he touched his daughter, she too turned to gold. Disaster.

Then of course there's Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and flocks. Half-man, half-goat, Pan is said to have had the power to put into the hearts of men a feeling of sudden fear - the gift of panic. He was lecherous old goat too. He had Echo torn to pieces when she spurned him. Ouch.

Such gripping tales and potted biographies are all very entertaining, but they're not much help to us in our quest. But what about Pegasus? The offspring of Medusa and Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, Pegasus was no ordinary old nag - he had the gift of flight. Is our graffiti's author making a cryptic claim to be hung like a winged horse? It's a possibility. Either way, it seems our trail is getting warmer.

Now we get to Hermes. A messenger of the gods, Hermes was a psychopomp - someone responsible for guiding the souls of the dead to the underworld. To help him in his task, he had winged sandals and a winged helmet - the sort worn on the head, that is. Could our artist be hinting that Hermes sported wings elsewhere too? Libraries were visited, dusty books were pulled from dustier shelves and fragile pages were carefully turned, but no documentary evidence to support such a bold theory came to light. What a pity.

So there you have it; another unanswered riddle. The Winged Penis of Portobello remains a mystery. And we came so close to cracking it, didn't we.

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