Proudly presented from www.writerssecrets.com Book Series
Excerpts from ” Treasures From The Lant Collection” Vol. 1
“They caw their lamentations in the eerie trees”. A pair of Russian ormolu and patinated-bronze twin branch candelabra circa 1810.
I asked the Christie’s representative when I saw these items in London, to tell me just what figures appeared on these startlingly bold candelabra.
Now remember, representatives of the auction houses are not history
specialists. Their knowledge is usually skin deep, or not even that. Thus, I was not at all surprised by the feeble answer I received. “Umm, Dr. Lant, it’s some kind of a winged creature.” This, of course, wasn’t any help whatsoever, since I could see that for myself.
I wanted to test my hypothesis that the winged creatures in question were some of my favorite creatures of all, Harpies. Now you may be of the generation that calls your mother-in-law an old Harpy, but even then you probably had no idea what they were, or what you had shouted at your little loved relation, for whom any insult was sufficient.
But in fact, some of the most frightening of classical creatures fall under the rubric of Harpies, and I for one was ecstatic to find their pernicious aspect on a pair of graceful Russian candelabra.
First, a word on Harpies
Harpies appear in Greek and Roman mythology, having cameo spots in Homer and Hesiod, who, however, do not agree in their conclusions. Homer says they were the most repellant of creatures, vicious, cruel, and violent, the personification of the destructive nature of wind. Hesiod carried a torch for them, thinking them “lovely haired”. Chacun a son gout.
Most classical writers insisted there were just two Harpies, sisters. Their names were “Storm Swift” and “the Swift Wing”. Roman writer Virgil added a third Harpy, called “the Dark”. Homer said that there was at least one more, and so the classicists argued and argued, and never agreed; typical of academics.
To begin at the beginning, almost everyone agreed, except Hesiod, that Harpies were female monsters in the form of a predatory bird with a human face. Their daily occupations consisted of killing evil-doers, particularly those who had killed their families, and shredding various victims limb from limb, enjoying the flesh of their bones as a delicacy few besides Harpies have ever tasted.
Of course Hesiod, often contrary, does not agree. He called them “lovely haired” creatures. Thus, to the confusion of today’s puzzled classicists, there is no general agreement on whether Harpies were lovely or not, grim menacing predators or not, but where would classical scholars be without such topics for their Ph.D. dissertations?
I, for one, have no qualms whatsoever in telling you they were stern visaged, frightening of face and feature, altogether a creature you wouldn’t want to invite home for dinner, especially if your guests requested their favorite dish, the flesh of suicides. Oh, my, that must have been an acquired taste.
Perhaps the most famous story about Harpies was that concerning King Phineus of Thrace. He had been given the gift of prophecy by Zeus, though if that is true, one wonders why he didn’t use it on his own behalf when the need arose. In any event, Zeus became angry with him when Phineus blabbed that he had received this special power, and was now one of the beloved of Zeus, a position often filled, but never for very long.
Zeus was angry, a situation in which he often found himself, for his was a most imperial temperament. Irritated, he blinded King Phineus, and put him on an offshore island known to none but illegal gamblers. There, his minions set a table of such magnificence that even a vegan would be tempted.
He plucked a morsel from the heap of delicacies, and just before it hit his lips, the Harpies flew in with such precision flying as the Navy’s Blue Angels, perhaps even better. In short, Phineus was in perpetual despair. Something must be done, or what’s the point of being a King anyway?
In this, as in so many other classical tales, a handsome young man appears with the solution, as he so often does throughout the classics. “Harpies,” he said, “What the hell is going on here?” Then, Phineus pointed to the black sockets where his eyes had once been, and the fact that he never had a single morsel to eat, though the repast was sumptuous, not to mention, bird feathers everywhere.
Now, you will know of course that nothing fazed Jason, a man who went off with his Argonauts to fight a dragon wearing a cute outfit from Brooks Brothers Athens division that left nothing to the imagination. But more than cute legs, he had craft.
Thus, he inflicted upon the Harpies a withering defeat. It reminds me of when a bat flew into my condominium, and I was forced to open the front door and go after it with a butterfly net, wearing nothing but a smile. I looked cute, too, as my neighbors informed me. So did the candelabra in question.
To achieve a noteworthy and eye-catching collection, you must know everything, know everyone, have gone everywhere, and listened, listened, listened, to every kind of expert on every kind of subject. There is no such thing as an expiration date on learning.
In this case, I knew at once that this particular design was rare or quite possibly unique. I had never before seen Harpies pictured on any piece of neo-classical furniture or any objet d’art of the period. Yes, they were very likely unique.
The bare facts are these:
They are designed in the manner of Friedrich Bergenfeldt (1768-1822). Each with two candle-sockets on winged masks issuing from a winged sphinx on a tapering plinth with classical mounts.
Friedrich Bergenfeldt was the celebrated bronzier who worked in St. Petersburg in the late 1790’s. His work was influenced by the designs executed by Andrei Voronikhin. Together, both gentlemen particularly liked designs featuring winged dragons, tritons, and other fanciful features, and perhaps, a Harpy or two. Such work always excites my interest.
Thus, I was front and center for the actual auction, where the low estimate was a shade over $10,000 dollars, but, as I was not surprised to see, sold for nearly $15,000 dollars, the high estimate. As usual, I sent them on after acquisition to Roddy McVittie in Kent, England, to be brought up to date and to have the annoying holes for electricity filled in and returned to their original condition. I will not drill any of my works for electricity, and certainly not these beauties.
Now they reside on dark green marble columns supporting the arch leading to my Red Drawing Room, where I recite Dante’s “Inferno”, X111. For this, I assume an Attic disposition. I point to the Harpies ready for their day’s flight of destructiveness, and recite Dante as if I were Florentine; the way Pietro Pezzati, the painter of my portrait, taught me how to do.
“Here the repellant Harpies make their nests…
They have broad wings with razor sharp talons and
a human neck and face,
Clawed feet, and swollen feathered bellies; they caw
Their lamentations in the eerie trees.”
They are condemned to reside in the seventh ring of Hell, where their punishment is grim and eternal, not at all what they’re used to in the Red Drawing Room.
To accompany this article, I have selected the theme music from the 1963 film “Jason and the Argonauts”. It is, admittedly, a cheesy production, some of it downright embarrassing.
Curiously enough, the section dealing with the Harpies is one of the best aspects of the whole film, for the Harpies are made to measure, squawking, screeching, shredding vulnerable flesh with invulnerable talons. Oh, yes, they make quite a good show as they grab the food right out of King Phineus’ mouth. And there’s nothing quite so disgusting as a Harpy’s sharp talon in your mouth, not that I know
personally, of course.
Nonetheless, the music is chipper and upbeat, the kind of thing heroes would appreciate, particularly when Jason, that comely lad, is near at hand. You can find it in any search engine where it’s ready for your deeds of derring–do.
Make sure you run it in tandem with this article. Here’s the link:
Before signing off, please be sure to join my Monarchy & Royalty Forum. King Phineus did, and he is enjoying himself amongst his royal peers and relations, having at last got a good meal.
About the Author
Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four university degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities and is quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 30 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com
His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” has garnered eight literary prizes that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” A good read by this man of so many letters. Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of becoming a successful writer. Be sure to sign up now at www.writerssecrets.co
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