Anna's Work

Fan Fiction
Unmasking the Truth About Masks - College freshman mask paper concerning Erik and mythology. Got me an A, as I recall ;)

The Crow and the Owl - In several parts. Unfinished. Dark serious fic mixing poetry, prose, and everyone's favorite Goblin King with Eric Draven, murdered rock star returned to life, who has 13 hours to solve the Labyrinth before Sarah William's baby brother becomes a goblin forever...sound familiar? Labyrinth with an Dravenesque twist. ...Enjoy!

All material on this page is copyright Anna C. unless stated otherwise.

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Anna C.

May 12, 2000

Dr. Bakewell

Classical Greek Drama 

RESPONSE PAPER #2: Unmasking the Truth About Masks 

“Who was that shape in the shadows? Whose is the face in the mask?”

  • Act I, Scene VI from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera

As far back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated with masks. I am enthralled and spellbound with their shapes, their furtive nature, their air of anonymity and obscurity, their promise of mysteries discovered, secrets brought to light, enigmas unriddled. True and false are mixed and matched with masks, with no way of knowing which is which. What dark secret will the mask reveal? What is it used for, and why? Is there some dark truth, some hidden secret that can only be protected and preserved with a mask?

My love and awe for masks naturally drew me to an article entitled Features of the Mask in Ancient Greece by Jean-Pierre Vernant and Françoise Frontisi-Ducroux. When I think of masks, my mind automatically and almost instinctively jumps to three ideas: Erik, the Phantom of the Opera in Gaston Leroux’s masterpiece, the Capulet feast scene in the Franco Zepherelli version of Romeo and Juliet, and the ballroom scene in the movie Labyrinth. This paper links aspects of all these ideas to this article.

The article introduces three significant divine powers “for whose presentation the mask continued to be used, retaining all its symbolic potency . . . The first is a power who is nothing but a mask, and who operates in and through it: Gorgo, the gorgon. The second is a goddess who is never herself represented by a mask but in whose cult masks and disguises are particularly important: Artemis. The third is the deity whose relationship with the mask is so close that in the Greek pantheon he is known as the god of the mask: Dionysus.” (Vernant, p. 190.)

Gorgo, the first of these otherworldly forces, is a “female figure with a monstrous visage.” (Vernant, p. 190.) Erik, the phantom of the Opera, is a male figure with a monstrous visage. Their first connection is obviously the mask. It says in the article, “first and foremost, Gorgo is a mask . . .” I was initially drawn to Erik because of the immense power of this feature of his; the first thing that comes to mind when I think of him is his mask. As the article says, both operate “in and through” the mask. Another strong bond is the abhorrèd visages of Gorgo and Erik. They are man and beast combined. Gorgo “evokes a leonine mask; her hair is rendered either as a mane or, more often, a seething mass of snakes . . . . The skull-like grin slashed across her face reveals the pointed teeth of a wild beast or the tusks of a wild boar.” (Vernant, p. 192.) Erik is the same way. His golden, glowing eyes that “can be seen only in darkness” (Leroux, p. 137.) are like those of a wolf. His skin, which is “tight as a drum . . . not white, but an ugly yellow” (Leroux, p. 8.) is like the pelt of a lion. The “teeth in his lipless mouth” (Leroux, p. 137.) are like those of a wild beast. The third link is the power of their stare. One cannot look at either Gorgo or Erik without shivering in fear and awe and horror. “Gorgo is a power whom human beings cannot approach without falling beneath her gaze . . . . Thus exposed to the Gorgon’s gaze, man faces the powers of the beyond in their most radically alien form, that of death, night nothingness.” (Vernant, pgs. 191-192.) Erik’s stare is just as potent: “Looking through the holes in his mask, his eyes never left me and I felt the weight of their motionless pupils on me . . . . He’s terrifying . . . he took off his mask and fire came from his golden eyes!” (Leroux, p. 129 and 251) 

 The cult of Artemis has links with my other ideas; Zepherelli’s Romeo and Juliet and Labyrinth. Romeo and his friends sneak into the Capulet feast. The whole of Romeo’s group is masked, and this is where the connection comes in: Romeo’s mask resembles that of a wild animal; a bear, a wolf, a tiger, a savage beast. Could this mask be representative of his rite of passage into adulthood? This might be so, for the article says, “As for the boys, before graduating to citizenship they had to acquire the physical . . . qualities essential to a soldier-citizen . . . attaining the extreme limits of the warrior bent on victory at all costs . . . his face assuming the frightful mask of the Gorgo: here, hyper-virility, swinging over to animality, the savagery of the wild beast.” (Vernant, pgs. 198-199.) In addition, as I watch Romeo move in and out of the Capulet crowd, his eyes fixed on Juliet, he reminded me of a tiger or a lion, watching and waiting. In Labyrinth, during the masked ball, all the glittering assemblage is masked – masks with sharp horns and long noses and big leery eyes; masks of goblins and demons and beasts and hags, giving the company a slightly sinister appearance. The bond between this scene and the article came about as I read the description of the masks found in the excavations of the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, as well as the description of their use: “They are ex-voto, terra cotta masks . . . . Some represent old, wrinkled, toothless women who put one in mind of the Graiae . . . . Then there are grimacing satyrs, large numbers of representations of Gorgo, grotesque faces, more or less bestial . . . . All this suggests that during these masquerades and ritual games, the young Spartans were expected to mime out the most diverse and contrary of attitudes with . . . the use of disguises and masks: feminine reserve and animal ferocity, modesty and obscenity, the degradation of old age and the vigor of the young warrior, successively exploring every aspect of marginality and strangeness . . .” (Vernant, pgs. 199-200.)

Dionysus, “the god of the mask,” is, to my mind, akin to Erik. Firstly, they are both foreigners. Dionysus is “the “stranger,” “other,” the one perpetually arriving . . .” (Vernant, p. 201.) It is the same with Erik. “I asked him what his nationality was . . . . He answered that he had neither a name nor a country . . . .” (Leroux, p. 135.) A second connection between this Greek god and this Parisian phantom is wine. This liquid fire is significant in all of the Dionysion rituals when the priests serve it as part of the ceremony: “Beneath the gaze of the god . . . they serve out the dangerous beverage that is harmful if not consumed in accordance with the ritual precautions. For Dionysus has taught human beings how to use wine properly, the way to dilute and tame the fierce liquid that can drive a man out of his mind.” (Vernant, p. 203.) Wine is also important in M. Leroux’s epic: “The stage resounded with joyous singing. Intoxication in music. The triumph of the goblet. Red or white liquor,/Coarse or fine,/What can it matter,/So we have wine! Lighthearted students, burghers, soldiers, young women, and matrons were whirling in front of a tavern with the god Bacchus on its sign.” (Leroux, p. 78.) The strongest link between Dionysus and Erik is the force of their gaze. Dionysus is always seen full face. “Like Gorgo, Dionysus is a god with whom man can only make contact face to face: It is impossible to look at him without falling beneath the fascination of his gaze, a gaze that drives a man out of his mind.” (Vernant, p. 202.) Erik’s gaze is just as compelling: “Raoul . . . raised himself on one elbow and cold sweat trickled down his temples. Two eyes, glowing like hot coals, had just appeared at the foot of his bed. They stared at him menacingly in the darkness. Brave though he was, Raoul was trembling.” (Leroux, p. 147.)

With these three examples, the Greeks wanted to confront various forms of “otherness,” death, terror, radical, ecstatic, even joy. “In all three cases, hilarity is associated with the use of the mask and relieves these tensions: laughter liberates man from terror and death . . . laughter frees human beings from their heavy social constraints.” (Vernant, p. 206.) Laughter helps recover from perilous situations, as Victor Hugo so elegantly describes it in Les Misérables: “When in danger the porcupine bristles, the beetle feigns death, the Old Guard forms a square; this man began to laugh.” (Hugo, p. 442.)

I have always been fascinated with masks. As the Vernant article so eloquently describes, I am entranced by their power to “express tensions between contrary terms, the terrifying and the grotesque, wild nature and culture, reality and illusion.” (Vernant, p. 206.) Masks, to me, create, distinguish, conceal and sometimes penetrate that fine line between truth and fiction, reality and illusion. Masks are mysterious, terrifying, awe-inspiring. It is sometimes difficult to tell whether their purpose is dark or joyful. Who can tell just by looking? Is the hideous a symbol of Gorgo, Dionysus, or andreia? Who can tell? Perhaps this is what King Duncan meant in Macbeth when he said, “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.”  

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