In this conversational essay about the medieval painting, Jane and Kimberly delve into new creative territory. Approaching and interpreting the painting like a dream, they identify with its imagery and give voice to the characters for insight into their psyches and a particular cultural archetype – the female animus.
I approach this painting as a dream, identifying with Andromeda and speaking as a beautiful woman who calls upon her animus as an ally in a time of grave danger from her fears of being overwhelmed by desire, her own and that of men who wish to possess her. She must find a way to pierce beneath the scales of a chthonic monster that comes up from the depths of the world beneath the sea to challenge the stunning force of beauty and transform death to life.
Let’s consider the reason Andromeda is chained to the rock in the first place. It is because her own mother has been bragging about her beauty and its superiority, and this monster’s entrance into town is a punishment bestowed by a god, Poseidon, for the mother’s vanity. It brings into the spotlight for me, the idea that a young girl indeed does first meet her animus while self-individuating from the higher influences of childhood that would keep her quelled and subdued, reliant more upon, and prone to utilize, the feminine wiles more than the more masculine traits of independence and secession from the foundational familial bonds. While forced out from under the safety of mother’s shadow, Andromeda meets her liberator.
Yes, and she thinks, “As a young woman dawning into her sexuality, I am more beautiful than I could imagine being. My body glistens like a fragile porcelain vase, sculpted to perfection from marble like an ancient Greek statue of Venus. I am nude, my cape fallen backward from my shoulders, leaving just a wisp of my underslip to cover my thigh and discretely hide my private area, my pudendum. But my cheeks are flushed and I’m looking skyward. A slight cloud reaches from my eyes to a vision of a man riding a winged horse midair. My right wrist is held above my head by a chain as I lean against a tree, elbow akimbo framing my head in an iconic pose of absolute loveliness.
How did I come to this predicament? I remember now. My mother, unable to contain herself and always pandering to public opinion, claimed my beauty as an asset of her own. She boasted that her daughter is more beautiful than any of the daughters of her friends and paraded my beauty for all to see. That was a fateful error.”
Her mother was a woman obviously wounded by her own need for acceptance, such that she would attempt to pimp out her own daughter’s beauty to validate her own self. Yet, when this delivers Andromeda to her chained fate in your interesting twist of viewpoint, Andromeda’s captivity becomes her own freeing experience because it is outside the constraints of her mother.
Yes, Andromeda knows, “I am paying the penalty for my mother’s need for acclaim from a patriarchal society. I am to be fed to a consuming sea monster that eats the beauty of young women who make men weak at the knees. My father stands by helpless, knowing little of these matters of how a young woman’s beauty rouses demons from within as well as from without. I am chained to a tree on the edge of a great sea where I can see the monster hovering like a colorful, almost dancing specter over the water. I can feel him coming for me. He presses near. I am terrified and excited. What will happen to me?”
Oh, I think the father knows, or knew once, of how a young woman’s beauty could “rouse demons from within and without,” but Andromeda’s mother (from what we know of her sourness) has probably emasculated all the knowledge from him. He can’t speak lest he is punished. And why so many women want to emasculate so much of the juiciness from themselves and men compelled only by the natural regret of being past their prime? And why do we give men and women the sense of only two choices: single, wild, lusty and free, or pretending to live in a space absent of these authentic, primal emotions that do not, regardless of societal warped denial, dry up with age?
I was thinking that men/her father had so objectified women that they had no idea anything like sexual awakening and desire for sexual love was happening inside women. The fear of women having their own desires is so laden with taboo, only men could be seen as having the choice of wild and free.
But her parents are far from her mind at this point. She can see that the monster has obviously visited these shores before because there are emptied shells strewn beneath her feet…and a few skulls. The shells are a shiny, smooth pink suggestive of a lost luminous sweetness. She explores the slippery inner softness of an emptied shell with her foot. Beauty has died here. Is this to be her fate? Is she in danger of dying?
Yet, even as she questions her fate there remains the spirit of Andromeda embracing her current situation with a confidence that allows her to toe the vacancies in the shell of other female casualties that have come before her. The way she strokes the shell is curious but also suggestive of a woman unafraid to both understand her expected fate while simultaneously defying it in lieu of another. This willingness to stand in an unnerving place lends her an air of naked defiance, which also reduces the monster to a frolicking pet rather than demon—relieved of his evil duties and allowed to prance. Out from beneath the projections of her mother, Andromeda, even in such dire straits, can flaunt herself true. This act carries with it a sense of innocent insouciance that seems to be contagious unto the dragon. Roles are simultaneously toppled and identities left to reach for their most organic essences in the moment.
Indeed, it is as if she feels like she’s being awakened even as she dreams like she’s being transformed into a larger than life mystical presence, gaining greater power even as her life is threatened.
Then, enters a man, Perseus, riding a flying horse with a sword held above his head ready to strike. He wears a golden helmet and his cape flows up behind him. He is intent upon slaying the monster. The monster is momentarily taken off guard by the riding warrior’s shadow cast on the water. The man has gained an advantage and is coming up on the monster from behind! Andromeda feels herself relax. Perseus will, no doubt, slay the monster. Her fears of being swallowed up by the monster and left an empty shell have subsided.
The presence of the animus grows in equal proportion to the anima that has up to this point dominated within the young girl’s burgeoning soul. It is a necessary integration at this point, evoked by a situation in which survival is first provoked as a goal—when all known points of foundational safety have all but gone. It reminds me of Joan of Arc. A woman who brings in the masculine to balance out her fear, to mesh into an overall completeness that flies above, sees the bigger picture.
Yes, a woman on fire! If a woman felt safe with her fire, we would be in a whole new world. Maybe Perseus can help. Who is this man of flight with tricks of sight in his bag, Andromeda wonders? She wants to know this man. “Who is he who has no fear of my fears, who understands the danger my beauty creates for me and others? How can he fly in the sky? Defy gravity, reason, logic? How did he know to get the advantage by casting a shadow? How has he come to master the skills of flight on a flying horse? He is a man for men to reckon with; I like him by my side. I can feel the rush of energy released by a dynamic interaction of forces in my vision. There’s a grand swirl of land, sea, and city mixed into each other, giving rise to an integrated new vision for new times. I would do well to throw down a shadow of distraction when I am in danger of being swept down and under. “
To repeat you: “I would do well to throw down a shadow of distraction when I am in danger of being swept down and under. “ What a great final lesson. It can be read in so many ways. She may now use the very feminine wiles she’s been punished for in distracting potential danger by learning to take the persecution and turn it into a tool. Or, she might literally bring monsters into their own shadow spaces as a way to manipulate their attention away from the present and into the pleasurable (as she flees!). Or, she may learn not to let her true self reveal too much lest she is taken, head over heels, before knowing if she wants to be taken or not.
Exactly. Buy some time. To feel confident in one’s intuition, insight into the truth of what’s going down or even a felt ambivalence is key. The masculine gives her that confidence, backbone so to speak. He notices danger but dispels fear.