17 September 2004 | toddcon
Olympus, New Jersey
The Sopranos mythology is as close an analogue to Greek mythology we'll ever get in modern life. It's all there. The archetypes of Zeus, long-suffering Hera, oracles, sibyls, the virginal Persephone, Zeus' seduction of mere mortal women (who can be destroyed by it), the messengers and functionaries of Zeus, the wandering eye of the Most High himself, on and on it goes. AND there are the deep emotions and passions that go with it.
Greek and Roman mythology has become so quaint to us we "teach" it to sixth graders and sent them to see Disney productions of Hercules as an example. (Disney doesn't tell you the one about when Hercules batters one of his wives kills her and slaughters his children--I think that's the way it goes.) The schools don't "teach" about the mother who chops up her own children (whom she loves) to bake in a pie to feed to the husband she hates.
They don't "teach" the crazed women who mutilate the man who scorns them. Or the girl who arranges to sleep with her own father. What passes as the Greek myths in schools is really just kind of bullshit. Or...isn't there one where Zeus makes love to a mortal woman who wants to see him in his "true form"? She burns up or something. Tony does that too, to the car saleswoman. What about the dancer at Bada Bing? I haven't got to the end of the art gallery girl yet.
But The Sopranos really approaches the bloodthirst of the Gods, their cruelty, their indifference to mere mortals...and their so, so human traits mixed in with their almost unbearable inhumanity. But don't forget they sometimes show great wisdom and kindness too. The Gods and the Sopranos mingle with us mere mortals, but we say a little prayer of thanks when they pass us by. They know things we don't.
Personally speaking, when I think about "the mob," they seem to have the sort of reality to me (or your average Joe) of being sort of "out there", just like a forces of nature, and I don't ever want to get them mad at me. I know I just might brush past them every once in a while, I'm sure, but I would hardly know it. If a mobster came to me in disguise, just as the Greek Gods were used to doing with mere mortals, I hope I would treat him in a way so as not to invoke his wrath in consequence. As a child, I felt about the Greek Gods with the same sense of mystery and heightened imagination, believing they were "out there" and about somewhere, but one just never really got to see them up-close.
Now, I'm pretty sure this analogy to the Gods in The Sopranos is not done purposefully by the David Chase...he might have an awareness, sure, he's incredibly smart, but he's NOT making allusions to specifics...it's not an algorithm. Or (gods help us) an homage. He's just being true to the subject material in the best way he knows how--and it's absolute dynamite. It's no surprise the Sopranos reaches directly back to the Greeks. This kind of gradiosity and passion BELONG to the Sicilian and Italian culture (Sicily was an outpost of Ancient Greece) and have done for thousands of years. For Chase NOT to "go there" with the violence and sexuality would not be possible.
The greatness of the Greco-ROMAN myths lies precisely in their depth of presenting vividly, exhaustively, splendidly, the all-too human capacity for evil (among other things). The myths are the extremes we are all capable of if pushed into passion. David Chase's genius is that he has crystalized our cultural fascination of gangsters into a mythology worthy of the Greeks. I think his take on the mob is BETTER than Puzo or Scorsese. He somehow (consciously or unconsciously, I don't know) recognized the archetypes involved, intimately, and ran with them.
For anyone who thinks The Sopranos glorifies violence (as one dude posting here felt), that person needs to take a survey of literature or something. God, read Shakespeare. Take a course in history. Hell, look to Iraq. We live in a violent world. Learn how to digest story and context. Constantly, the show presents the REALITY but then, always the consequences.
The pleasure of watching this show is that the barrier of the TV screen protects us. I think the writers are constantly reminding us of the moral dimension involved. The Sopranos is at the bottom of it, deeply moral. It's about actions, and codes. If you get hung up on the violence, you probably had better watch something else and leave it at that. Go drink some Kool Aid and chill.
Here's a suggestion to deepen the Soprano experience. Get out the tragedies and original sources (not Edith Hamilton!) and read them, thinking of the Sopranos. And conversely, if you know the myths already and want to see them truly brought to life, think of them when you are watching The Sopranos. You'll see Zeus. You'll see Hera. You'll see all kinds of Gods.
(Look again at his mother who wanted figuratively to eat him, just like the Titans tried to eat Olympians.) The parallels are absolutely chilling.
If they wanted to pack the opera houses these days, they should get all the conductors and opera directors to watch The Sopranos en masse. That might revive opera overnight. Opera houses should just go back to the beginning and revive some of those very old operas and learn a few things from the Sopranos. Opera actually began in Italy as a movement to recreate and revive the grandeur of Greek tragedy. Interesting, hm? Look what it's come to. Sad.
Pavarotti would sing a HELL of a Tony Soprano...as a Tenor of course.
It's too bad some people don't 'get it.' They don't see, at bottom, The Sopranos is really about moral choices and consequences; it's BEYOND entertaining (it fascinates) because it parades all the deep and dark things most of us never ever have to take resposibility for.
It's truly Great Drama.