This post will be dedicated to Scylla and Charybdis. You know, that six-headed monster and that maelström opposite one another in a strait's bottleneck in classical epic (Odyssey, Argonauts, Aeneid). In the latter epic, it is furthermore codified that Charybdis is on the left shore and Scylla on the right.
By rule of symbolism, they may be interpreted as:
- "deadly opposites" (DO)
- "a rock and a hard place" (R&HP)
- "from bad to worse" (B2W)
In this post, I will use the acronyms DO, R&HP, and B2W to examine how S&C (get it?) are interpreted by the media adaptations.
- Jean de la Fontaine, in "The Crone and her Two Maidservants" (Fable 6 of Book V), coined the French winged word "tomber de Charybde en Scylla", meaning "from bad to worse" (B2W).
- James Joyce, Ulysses: Episode Nine discusses Anne Hathaway-Shakespeare's alleged love affair (supporters of this theory claim that it may have inspired her spouse to write about the concept of adultery, whether in comedies like Much Ado or tragedies like Hamlet and Othello), literature, Plato vs. Aristotle... against the backdrop of the Irish National Library. In Joyce's novel, "Scylla" refers to a down-to-earth, materialistic worldview (Aristotle, Locke+Berkeley+Hume); and "Charybdis", to a more idealistic, spiritual one (Plato, Hegel). (DO)
- Christopher Booker, in The Seven Basic Plots, interprets Scylla and Charybdis as the posterghouls for the commonplace of "deadly opposites" (DO):
A third familar type of ordeal is the need for the companions to travel an exact and perilous path between two great opposing dangers. For the Argonauts these are the mighty 'clashing rocks', the Symplegades, between which they have to sail at exactly the right moment to avoid being crushed to death. For Odysseus the 'deadly opposites' are the great whirlpool Charybdis and the six-headed monster, the Scylla, which stand on each side of a narrow gulf. To avoid the first Odysseus steers his ship too near Scylla, who seizes six of his men; later he returns on his own and this time has a 'thrilling escape' from Charybdis. For Christian, the 'straight and narrow way' he has to follow is emphasised like this on several occasions, as when he has to pass between two fierce lions, or tread a delicate path through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, avoiding a deep ditch on one side and a treacherous bog on the other. Lancelot, in the Grail Quest, also has to pass between two lions. For the Jews, the journey between the 'opposites' is represented by the occasion when the Red Sea rolls back like a great 'wall unto them, on their right hand and on their left', leaving a dry passage for them to cross over safely; while, when the armies of the Pharaoh pursue them, the 'opposites' show their deadly nature by rushing together again, like the Symplegades, engulfing 'the chariots and the horsemen and all the host'. And there is no moment more hazardous for Allan Quatermain and his little party as that when, foodless and almost freezing to death, they have to cross the narrow, snowy pass exactly between two great symmetrical mountains, the Breasts of Sheba, which is the only way through from the desert to the lost land of Solomon which is their goal.
In John Latouche's 1954 musical The Golden Apple, that retells both Homeric epics in the Edwardian Era (more specifically, in Act 2 Scene Five), Scylla and Charybdis are portrayed as shrewd businessmen, associated with each other, who represent the pitfalls of the capitalistic system:
HECTOR LEAPS UP ONTO THE COUNTER AS SCYLLA ENTERS AND ALSO LEAPS ONTO THE COUNTER. MR. SCYLLA IS MENELAUS. HE IS DRESSED IN AN EXTRAVAGANTLY VAUDEVILLE VERSION OF WHAT THE WELL-DRESSED STOCK BROKER WEARS. HE IS RAUCOUSLY JOLLY AND THE MELODY ECHOES THIS MOOD.
SCYLLA I say there, Charybdis HECTOR Oh yes, good friend Scylla? SCYLLA Did you corner the hemp market in Manila? HECTOR I did corner it, old sport But I had to sell it short SCYLLA Positively, Mister Charybdis? HECTOR Absolutely, Mister Scylla. A4R. SCYLLA COMES DOWN OFF THE COUNTER AND GOES OVER TO THE BOYS. HECTOR (CHARYBDIS) REMAINS ON THE COUNTER ATTENDING TO THE BUYING AND SELLING. SCYLLA He pretends he sold hemp short So as not to let the rest in If you are the clever sort Hemp's the thing you will invest in. THE CROWD Hurry Hurry Buy it Sell it Hurry Buy it Sell it Now! THE BOYS We would like to buy some shares But we lack the dough to cash in AJAX l£ we pool our railroad fares And those bets we won we'll cash in! THE CROWD Hurry Hurry Buy it Sell it Hurry Buy it Sell it Now! ULYSSES and the boys, making a rowing gesture If we lose our railroad fares Gettin home will be a nuisance AJAX If we win we're millionaires By investing just a few cents! THE CROWD Hurry Hurry Buy it Sell it Hurry Buy it Sell it Now! AJAX SNATCHES THEIR MONEY FROM THEM AND RUNS UP TO THE COUNTER. HE COMES BACK WITH A FISTFUL OF SHARES. ULYSSES and the boys One-quarter Half Three-quarters Wow! We think you ought To sell it now! AJAX Rising hemp will turn the trick And here is where we get rich quick! SCYLLA JUMPS BACK UP ON THE COUNTER AND HE AND HECIOR GO BACK INTO THEIR ROUTINE. SCYLLA Oh Mister Charybdis HECTOR Oh yes. Mister Scylla? SCYLLA How'd your big-game hunting go? HECTOR Got one gorilla. SCYLLA Bought a vineyard up in Maine That makes passable champagne HECTOR Though his ulcers keep him down to sarsparilla. SCYLLA Excuse me, Charybdis HECTOR Oh yes, good friend Scylla? SCYLLA Speaking of Manila hemp HECTOR You mean vanilla? I just swept the market clean Of that sweet vanilla bean SCYLLA Hemp's a bust then, Mr. Charybdis ? HECTOR It's a wash out, Mr. Scylla! MR. SCYLLA SMILES, SHRUGS, POPS A CIGAR IN AJAX'S MOUTH AND TROTS OFF. THE CROWD VANISHES. AJAX CLAPS HIS HAND OVER HIS FOREHEAD IN DESPAIR. HECTOR INDICATES THE WIN- DOW WITH A GALLANT GESTURE. AJAX TAKES A RUNNING JUMP AND CRASHES THROUGH IT. HECTOR DISCREETLY PULLS DOWN THE SHADE AS THE BOYS RUSH FORWARD. HE PLACES HIS HAT OVER HIS HEART AND LOWERS HIS EYES. ULYSSES and the boys Poor Ajax! THE STOCK EXCHANGE FADES. HECTOR AGAIN PASSES HIS FLASK AROUND. CAPT, MARS GETS ILL AND STAGGERS OFF, BUT NO ONE NOTICES.
- Mission Odyssey, Germany, 2008. Episode 2, "Poseidon's Second Trick". Scylla and Charybdis are realistically depicted (DO+R&HP).
- Arthur, USA, 1999. Episode 6 of Season 4, "D.W. Tale Spins". Scylla is portrayed as the class "queen bee" and WASP Muffy Crosswire with six heads, while Charybdis is a maelstrom shaped like the face of Arthur Read, the heroine's nerdy older brother. Unlike Ulysses, D.W. crashes into Charybdis while trying to avoid Scylla (DO+B2W).
- Ulysses 31, France+Japan, 19. Episode 11, "Charybdis and Scylla". In this sci-fi retelling of The Odyssey, Charybdis is a lava planet and Scylla is an ice planet, both of which, of equal size, orbit around a vortex in an infinity-sign (oo) shaped loop (DO+R&HP).
In the Ringstetten Saga (Arc 1, Times of Religion and War), Tilly and Wallenstein are compared to Scylla and Charybdis, respectively (DO+B2W). The former being a decent traditionalist and the latter a sinister liberal also helps a lot (supporting the canon from the Aeneid that Scylla is on the right and Charybdis is on the left shore of the strait).