More news from nowhere

For Szabek Mezei

And I see this guy
He must be about one hundred foot tall
And he only has one eye
He asks me for my autograph
I write nobody and then
I wrap myself up in my wooly coat
And I blind him with my pen

Cause someone must have stuck
something in my drink
Everything’s getting strange lookin’
Half the people have turned into squealing pigs
The other half are cooking
Well let me out of here I cried
And I went pushing past

Our online collection of ancient works of art grows mostly as a result of everyday activities – we get our ideas when we’re browsing the news, shopping for clothes or reading poetry. We are also happy to follow up on tips from our readers: it is always a thrill to find inspiration directly in our mailbox. This time we received a musical postcard and were excited to add a new song to the Palladion Playlist.

Nick Cave’s epic More news from nowhere builds on episodes from the Odyssey. Cave, as the protagonist, entertains the (Phaeacian) audience with a story of how a one-eyed giant once asked for his autograph: “Nobody” he signs, then wraps himself in his wooly coat and blinds him with his pen. It doesn’t take much cunning to find Odysseus’ encounter with Polyphemus between the lines.

Anyone familiar with the Homeric epic and its numerous post-antique adaptations can easily recognise in this black-figure wine jug the sequence of events that Cave evokes: the Cyclops sits on the right, and Odysseus is fleeing on the left. He clings to the fleece of the ram, while the blinded Polyphemus struggles in vain to find “Nobody”. If you look closely (in the featured image above or enlarged on the British Museum website), you can see the delicate lines that the vase painter used to show the giant’s injured, pupilless eye.

This episode is also depicted on a kylix of the Boston Polyphemus Painter, but in a different version: it shows the giant and Odysseus struggling in the centre, the latter supported by the goddess Athena. They are approached from the left by Odysseus’ companions carrying a large wineskin. The quantity of alcohol is scarcely on a human scale: the drunken giant falls asleep and his eye is pierced with a massive beam.

Cave himself is worried that someone has tampered with his drink: both his lyrics and the other side of the Boston kylix evoke Odysseus’ adventure with Circe. In the centre of the scene, the sorceress is concocting a special potion that turns Odysseus’ companions into various animals – Cave keeps to the epic and merely envisions pigs on this trip.

For more news from nowhere, it’s worth listening to the song again and again – but only when you are safely strapped to the mast!

Featured image: Athenian black-figure oinochoe, Vatican G 49 Painter, 500–490 BC © The Trustees of the British Museum
Below: Athenian black-figure kylix, Boston Polyphemus Painter, 550–525 BC © Boston, Museum of Fine Arts

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