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Book Title: Thésée|
The author of the book: André Gide
Date of issue: September 2011
Loaded: 2933 times
Reader ratings: 7.5
ISBN 13: 9782070373345
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 6.26 MB
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I am back in the labyrinth, chasing a much-loved Nobel Laureate!
I don't think the two stories of Theseus and the Minotaur that I have read recently could differ more in their interpretation of the well-known myth. Pelevin's The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur moved the labyrinth into a futuristic online community, where Ariadne's thread led the characters to face their individual versions of the Minotaur. The myth turned into a philosophical reflection in a virtual chat room, and focused on the volatile character of reality instead of on the old heroic adventure.
André Gide stays closer to the Greek story line, but completely demystifies the hero, and disposes of the idealistic version of the perfect leader and brave man. There is no place for supernatural or philosophical reflections in this Theseus. He is simply not smart enough. Cunning, yes. Strong, yes. Ready to take a chance, yes. Smart, no.
At the very beginning, he admits to deliberately forgetting to change sails on the way back from Crete, thus causing his father Aegeus to jump from the cliffs:
"On ne saurait penser à tout. Mais à vrai dire, et si je m'interroge, ce que je ne fais jamais volontiers, je ne puis jurer que ce fût vraiment un oubli."
He tricks Minos, and then acts abominably towards Ariadne, conspiring to elope with her sister Phaedra from the beginning, simply because he can't be bothered with a woman who loves him sincerely:
"Je n'avais rien promis du tout et surtout tiens à rester libre. C'est à moi-même que je me dois."
His first encounter with erudition and wit takes place when he meets Daedalus, the master builder of the labyrinth - sculptor, engineer and architect in one person. He is capable of showing Theseus the outline of his destiny and make him understand at least part of his role:
"Car sache que, dans les Enfers, il n'est pas d'autre châtiment que de recommencer toujours le geste inachevé de sa vie."
In the voice of Daedalus, André Gide gets close to Sartre's and Camus' understanding of punishment, relating to human beings' own personal lives rather than to supernatural laws that encompass all people under all circumstances. Camus' Sisiphos rolling his boulder up the hill, or the eternal triangle drama of Huis clos, suivi de Les mouches illustrate the same idea.
However, when Theseus takes over the main dialogue again, there is no time for reflection. He has to kill the Minotaur. And here he encounters an unusual problem. He catches the beast sleeping, and should take advantage of the situation, but for once he is hesitant and taken by surprise. The monster is beautiful! This is an interesting twist in the story, and Theseus can only make up his mind to kill the beast when it opens an eye and reveals that it is stupid. Beauty has to come with intelligence, otherwise it does not appeal. A lesson to be learned regarding superficial values!
Theseus, self-confident and full of action, goes on to marry Phaedra and to found Athens. This, in his eyes, is what makes him superior to other heroes, the prolongation of his career after the phase of womanising and monster killing. It makes you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronald Reagan, and in a way, Gide's Theseus has a lot in common with the straightforward opportunists of the 20th century, grabbing every chance they get without qualms.
In the end, the one person he trusts is the one who fails him: Phaedra brings his perfect life to a halt, and he resigns himself to old age and loneliness. In a dialogue with Oedipus, he sums up his take on life. As opposed to his conversation partner, he is only concerned with worldly action and personal achievements. Founding Athens is his chef-d'oeuvre, and he is happy with the result. No regrets:
Gide's Theseus is a masterful study of the active man, pushing forwards and living life fully, without bothering with worries, regrets or conscience, very much at home in the 20th century, just like Pelevin's The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is a product of the 21st century. Both stories, however, show the lasting impact of myth in a world of opportunism and virtual realities. The powers may have shifted from fate and gods to more modern tools, but the myth itself lives on, forever asking the human questions.
Gide's Thésée is a fantastic reinterpretation of the story by a master storyteller as well as a mirror held up in front of an audience that still worships stupid men of action despite falling victim to them most of the time.
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Read information about the authorAndré Paul Guillaume Gide was a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947. Gide's career ranged from its beginnings in the symbolist movement, to the advent of anticolonialism between the two World Wars.
Known for his fiction as well as his autobiographical works, Gide exposes to public view the conflict and eventual reconciliation between the two sides of his personality, split apart by a straight-laced education and a narrow social moralism. Gide's work can be seen as an investigation of freedom and empowerment in the face of moralistic and puritan constraints, and gravitates around his continuous effort to achieve intellectual honesty. His self-exploratory texts reflect his search of how to be fully oneself, even to the point of owning one's sexual nature, without at the same time betraying one's values. His political activity is informed by the same ethos, as suggested by his repudiation of communism after his 1936 voyage to the USSR.
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