"In time, the king had to wage war in a far-off kingdom, and he asked his mother to care for his young queen, for he loved her with all his heart. “If she gives birth to a child, send me a message right away.” The young queen gave birth to a happy babe and the king's mother sent a messenger to the king telling him the good news. But on the way to the king the messenger tired, and coming to a river, felt sleepier and sleepier and finally fell entirely asleep by the river’s edge.
The lad who ran with the message again came to the river, and feeling heavy as though he had eaten a feast, soon fell asleep by the side of the water."
"But the messenger, weary with the long distance,
rested by a brook
and was in fact so tired
that he fell asleep."
The messenger seems normal enough, but as he nears a stream of water, he becomes more and more sleepy, falls asleep, [···] This is a clue that tells us there will again be a challenge to the psyche during its next labor in the underworld.
In the story, the messenger, stream, and the sleep that causes forgetfulness reveal that the old religion is right underneath the story line, just the next layer down.
In Greek mythos, in the underworld there is a river called Lethe, and to drink of its waters causes one to forget all things said and done. Psychologically this means to fall asleep to one’s actual life. The runner who is supposed to enable communication between these two main components of the new psyche cannot yet hold its own against the destructive/seductive force in the psyche. The communicating function of the psyche becomes sleepy, lies down, falls asleep, and forgets. In the story, the messenger, stream, and the sleep that causes forgetfulness reveal that the old religion is right underneath the storyline, just the next layer down.This has been the archetypal pattern of descent since the beginning of time, and we too follow this timeless system. Likewise, we have a history of terrible chores behind us. We have seen Death’s steamy breath. We have braved the clutching forests, the marching trees, the roots that trip, the fog that blinds. We are psychic heroines with a valise full of medals. And who can blame us now? We want to rest. We deserve to rest for we have been through a lot. And so we lie down. Next to a lovely stream. The sacred process is not forgotten, just ... just ... well, we would like to take a break, just for a while you know, just going to close our eyes for a minute...
And because we are near Lethe, we snore on.
So Estés connects this episode to the myth of Lethe, fittingly enough. Which brings me to remember how it was put into pentameter in Paradise Lost:
|Far off from these, a slow and silent stream,|
|Lethe, the river of oblivion, rolls|
|Her watery labyrinth, whereof who drinks|
|Forthwith his former state and being forgets—||585|
|Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain.|
There I happen to have noticed something the motif has with the downfall of the characters deceived by Iago in Othello: it's all about lowering one's guard. And about entitlement, the feeling that one deserves something, that what one wishes for is one's by right. These conditions are oh, so human. The archetypal pattern of descent. To fall asleep to one’s actual life. To lower one's guard; to think that what one desires is one's by right, that it is not only desired but also deserved.
You may never understand
how the stranger is inspired,
but he isn't always evil
and he isn't always wrong...
Though you drown in good intentions,
you will never quench the fire:
You'll give in to your desire
when the stranger comes along.
Iago is the Stranger. The catalyst, the disruptor. Satan, Loki, Eris, the Lord of Misrule. Every paradise has at least one discontented enfant terrible within. Not evil, but unable to care for what is right or wrong, knowing the distinction between left and right yet not paying heed to it.
The Stranger also lives within us. It's the little voice that whispers into our left ear or throbs within our hearts whenever we are inclined to lower our guard. Like the messenger in Handless Maiden tales; like Roderigo, Cassio, and even Othello; like many a character in A Song of Ice and Fire; we do feel the same as when the messenger stops for a rest.
Contrast all of the Constanze Saga examples with a Snoilsky poem, "Stenbock's Messenger," which is one of the author's best known. In it, Lieutenant Henrik Hammarberg rides all the way from the war front outside Helsingborg to the royal court at Drottningholm Palace, a short distance west of Stockholm. Right across the southern half of Sweden. And, though his spirits waver, though his strength fails, though weary with the long distance, though his steeds die one by one of exhaustion, he does not stop at all. Not for a drink, not for a rest. He literally spends nearly 555 km on the move, on horseback, without resting or feeding at all, feeling so compelled to his duty that he never lowers his guard. His duty comes first and foremost. And, of course, when he finally arrives at the royals' presence, he is carried in with a guard on each arm, one on the left and the other on the right, supporting him as human crutches as he difficultly staggers, with lead-heavy feet, into the throne room, where, before he can speak... he collapses, exhausted.
And he should have died if the Queen Grandmother had not offered him her throne to sit upon and a drink of Riesling to restore his spirits. Only then does he rest. Even though, like in the Fourth Story of The Snow Queen, the haughty and class-conscious courtiers at first look down upon the weary and worn subaltern officer, and frown to themselves as Hedwig Eleanor rises from her throne to let the lieutenant, a younger man of the landed gentry and the subaltern officer class... way below royalty on the social ladder... finally have a rest and a drink of the finest Rhenish in Sweden from one of the royal household's best silver tankards.
Here is my translation of the poem:
By Count Carl Snoilsky
From the Swedish by Sandra Dermark.
August MMXVII - Stora Höga
Within the royal castle
that rises on the isle,
by the lakeside, round towers
on which springtime won't smile,
the aged royal matriarch,
Queen Hedwig Eleanor,
three Charleses' firm supporter,
is anxious evermore.
How many nights of waking
has she spent in her life?
Her spouse fighting in Warsaw,
only son in Lund's strife!
Her grandson at Poltava...
like thunder, 't struck her ear...
Is this the fall of Sweden?
Thus does the news appear.
She sits there in the throne room,
the queen so good and old;
her granddaughter Ulrica
on her left, pale and cold...
Through her lips, no words stealing;
same King Fritz, on the right...
only the clock's tick-tocking
rouses this courtly sight.
But what's up on the staircase?
Door opens after door...
Through powdered wigs, a whisper
spreads lightning-fast for sure!
"A messenger from Stenbock!"
Victory or defeat?
At the page's announcement,
a few steps all retreat.
Two royal guards support, though,
this half-fainted young man;
on leaden feet he staggers --
they no more bear him can.
Each footstep Swedish soil leaves
on the floor -- he's so weak!
He stands before the royals --
he swoons, he cannot speak.
As pale as snow or marble,
yet remaining serene,
from her crowned throne arises
the old Dowager Queen.
"Please take a seat, Lieutenant!"
The courtiers stare in fright:
unusually, he sits there
and she's standing upright!
She waves, and a cupbearer
arrives, flagon in hand:
'tis a fine silver tankard
with scenes of war's command,
full of the finest Rhenish
within the royal store:
to the youth she has reached it,
her grip still strong and sure.
"As a dutiful soldier,
you've fulfilled your command:
thankful are not we only,
but all of Sweden's land.
Remember this good kindness:
thus, drink your thirst away,
and then, let us all listen
to what you have to say!"
No sooner have his parched lips
kissed the golden grape's blood
that through his limbs and soft face
streams anew life's warm flood.
He stands up at attention:
let all of Sweden hear
the young warrior speaking,
for sorrow or good cheer:
"Twenty-eighth of February:
At Helsingborg, the Dane
vanquished in open battle
was, with much toil and pain.
We've got thousands of captives,
and foemens' banners, too:
our bold general's written
the whole account here, true."
The mother of the Charleses
dissolves herself in tears:
"Now I shall die in peace, thus
bereft of any fears!
Amidst cheers of elation,
Ulrica's face shines bright:
she resembles her brother...
Everything's full of light!
Thanks to his strength of willpower, Hammarberg receives a rest and a drink fit for royalty, and he is hailed as a national hero. It comes as no surprise that Swedish children and adolescents have studied this poem for decades. While the messenger in Handless Maiden tales is portrayed as weak-willed, and only earns his redemption by telling the crowned husband the truth about his dereliction of duty (just like Cassio), Hammarberg's cross-country ride is definitely portrayed as a feat of derring-do, something that takes its toll upon his system and nearly kills him, yet, for Crown and Country, consecrated to his duty, he gradually uses up every single reserve of strength he cannot replenish until his mission is accomplished. And this reward feels far more gratifying than that of the messenger in Handless Maiden tales... yet Cassio, for me, gets a reward as worthy as Henrik's. While the messenger in Constanze tales is nothing more than an episodic character, Shakespeare's lieutenant is a far more complex character. We see more of a backbone in him, something in between the folktale messenger and Hammarberg. At first, Cassio declines Iago's invitation to have a strong drink before being on duty, and it takes a little coaxing to make him waver, and, finally, give in. And, once the first sip goes down, the lieutenant has been shoved down the slippery slope... until he cannot tell his left from his right. Then, we feel terribly sorry. Like the messenger in the Handless Maiden cycle, a third party falling asleep to his actual life, lowering his guard, causes an idyllic married couple to fall apart. However, unlike the maiden and her husband, Othello and Desdemona do not reunite in life. And, even more ironically, he kills the one he has loved the most with the self-same warrior's strength he should have used to protect her. Unlike the messenger in folktale, Cassio is forgiven with a far heavier weight on his conscience. The deaths of his childhood friend and commanding officer, through uxoricide and suicide respectively. That, I think, weighs more than the fact that Othello, before stabbing himself to die upon a kiss, has forgiven the young lieutenant. Or than the loss of his left leg, which has put an end to his military career. The surviving lead character is already broken within, dead in life, at the end of the day. Surely guiltridden, since it was his own weakness, taken advantage of by others, what wrought the whole tragedy.
"The messenger travels far, is weary, and resting by a brook, falls asleep. [···] Again the messenger falls asleep by the water's edge [···]
The messenger carries his message by way of letter and "sleepy water". If these second waters are the waters of forgetting (Lethe)... Plato's Phaedrus also links the image of the written word and the waters of forgetfulness, for it is said there that letters undermine memory, producing forgetfulness (274e, 275b). The written message borne by the messenger works to reinforce a "forgetting." [···] the demonic ancestral voice of the dark depths that twists and garbles communication to and fro in the messenger who falls asleep along the banks of the brook."
"But, as can happen, the messenger fell asleep on his way...
Yet once again the messenger, overly complacent, fell asleep,..."
Gertrud Müller takes a similar stance in favour of this character: We cannot berate the messenger -- he was hot and tired. He wasn't out to cause trouble. He didn't know what was going on. This messenger, who becomes unconscious at all the crucial moments...
And Henrik Hammarberg, the strong-willed messenger of General Stenbock in the Snoilsky poem? Like Stannis Baratheon, "he'll break ere he bends." This iron-hard resolve not to yield proves both Stannis's and Hammarberg's tragic flaw. Denying himself every chance of rest and refreshment nearly put an end to his short life (we assume that this character, Cassio, and the messenger in the folktales are all three in their twenties). While the messenger in Handless Maiden tales is overly complacent, and Othello's aide-de-camp shows at first some willpower that finally wavers, the titular character in "Stenbock's Messenger" is not complacent or self-indulgent at all. Which nearly kills him.
Stories of the Constanze Saga are definitely universal: the waylaid messenger, whether intoxicated, exhausted, or both, occurs all over the Western world, and even in Japan and Sub-Saharan cultures. But the earliest examples can be traced back to France, Austria, Hungary, the Spanish and Italian realms. Catholic narrators usually highlight the importance of this messenger character: both when his exhaustion and thirst cause him to yield to the spirits of drink and/or to his need to sleep, and when his confession of his dereliction from duty --swearing that he is guilty of no treason, attesting that he never tampered with the letters, and confessing that he was made drunk-- brings him a pardon from the husband (king/count) who otherwise might have put him to death. These aspects reflect a particularly Catholic view of descent, in which: 1) sin is inherent to the human species [original sin], ever since Eve tasted the forbidden fruit, and all humans are born with weakness and predisposition to wrongdoing in the blood; 2) a responsible sinner's confession (the age-old ritual of telling the curate in the confessional, tête-à-tête, one's sins and being forgiven from them) is the key to redemption.
The Swedish national character, post-Reformation, preaches a rather different view: 1) neither deeds nor words can redeem a sinner, but faith alone. Believe in redemption and you shall be redeemed; 2) children are innocent, untouched by original sin, since they cannot tell right from wrong ("their left hand from their right," to quote the LORD in Jonah 4), and become tainted as they come of age and enter adult human society. These two tenets of Protestant redemption can be seen in the character of Hammarberg, predisposed to rather break than bend; he is weak-willed at heart, but repressing his desires all along, even if they are vital to life itself. The portrayal of the Count of Tilly (an aged Catholic!) in Swedish depictions of the 30YW falls along the same lines: having never got drunk or made love, consecrated solely to his duty... yet, after his first defeat, despair drives him to risk it all and finally die an excruciating death. The messenger in the Snoilsky poem does indeed feel light-headed, wavering, faltering, "weary with the long distance," "heavy as though he had eaten a feast," but he shakes all of these urges off. The scene when he reels into the throne room, his limbs as worn as his clothes, a guard on each arm for a crutch, then falls, as if bereft of life, on the costly carpet... proves the result of his lifestyle. It's only then he can earn his much-needed rest and a strong drink to come to his senses. Only when he has fulfilled the command he was given without any wavering, even if there is a price to pay.
The messenger in Nicolas Trivet's Chronicles swallows "an evil drink which takes such a hold of his brain and binds his senses so strongly that he falls down bereft of sensation, as if he were a dead man." Hammarberg collapses for exactly the opposite reason; "sense and speech leave him" because he has not rested or refreshed himself at all until he has reached his destination. The Catholic view of descent is far more pessimistic than the Protestant one, but the latter has also got its sinister side. The alcohol- or exhaustion-induced sleep in Type 706 folktales and the exhaustion/burnout in the Snoilsky poem are two sides of the same coin. One of them has his reason stolen away by self-indulgence; the other, by attrition. In both cases, unconsciousness is a metaphor for the loss of identity.
And Cassio is something in between the Constanze messenger and Stenbock's. A Catholic character created by a Protestant author, the hopeful young lieutenant stands on the same threshold of coming of age, yet his character arc curiously exhibits both Catholic and Protestant views of descent. Like most of his counterparts in Type 706, he is plied with drink, and the state of intoxication leaves him unaware of the truth once he has come to (like the Galysian messenger "knew no guile/treason"); we cannot blame him either, he never meant to cause trouble and didn't know what was going on, yet he becomes unconscious at all the crucial moments. His plight serves as an invitation to temperance, yet it is also the first step in the whole falling action of the story. Like the messenger in the folktales, he is thought to be unreliable until the truth comes to light, and then he is forgiven. And still there are echoes of the Protestant "child-at-heart" within his character, until losing his loved ones and his left leg opens his eyes to the world's malice. To begin with, at first our lieutenant declines Iago's temptations, stressing the importance of his duty and his young head's weakness for strong drink. And he keeps on standing his ground for a while (until Iago finally hits that soft spot that is peer pressure/desire to fit in). Furthermore, once his eyes are glazed and his speech is slurred, he is still slightly unaware that his reason begins to drift away. "There are souls that shall be saved and souls that shall not be saved, but, in this company, I come first: the lieutenant is to be saved before the ensign." Here, he displays knowledge of his status, that he outranks the others, which makes him slightly entitled. This stress on status and privilege, along with intoxication, indicates that he's crossing the threshold into adulthood. However, after another drink, when reassuring the others that he is not intoxicated, Cassio confuses left and right (claiming that his left hand is the right one and vice versa). Here we've got a powerful metaphor for spiritual darkness, helpless ignorance, and existential confusion. Like his claims that he can walk in a straight line and speak perfectly, it sounds ironic, contradictory. And this metaphor for being unable to tell right from wrong also reveals a side of his character that had been repressed: like those thousands of pardoned children in Jonah 4, "who cannot tell their left hand from their right." In that sense (and perchance the Bard was one of King James's biblical translators), it serves as some kind of foreshadowing. Of the fact that his lord will at last forgive him, though at a price to be reckoned with. Thus saith the LORD to Jonah as the prophet broods over the death of the wild vine that had shaded him from the sun: "You have been worried about that vine that you have not raised, that sprung up and withered overnight; and should I not be concerned about thousands of people who cannot tell their left hand from their right?" (people who cannot tell their right hand from their left -- Their ignorance is so great they “cannot tell their right hand from their left.”) The lives of innocent and helpless children who cannot tell the difference between right and wrong, including those standing on the threshold of adulthood, are more precious than that of a wild creeper. Once redeemed, the Shakespearean lieutenant believes and hopes with all his heart that he will be forgiven, and he finally earns not only his general's pardon, but also his succession at the outpost rulership. At the end of the day, suddenly promoted to governor, Cassio has to lean on crutches, his left leg broken, the distinction between left and right now having become painfully clear to him, as clear as the loss of those he loved and that of his military career. A Catholic character created by a Protestant author, the hopeful young lieutenant stands on the same threshold of coming of age, yet his character arc curiously exhibits both Catholic and Protestant views of descent. Perchance this is why his character arc is far more relatable than those of the messenger in Handless Maiden tales or Henrik Hammarberg. Because it is a more human exploration of descent and loss of identity, portraying and highlighting every stage of the process: initial resistance, wavering, downfall, punishment, redress, forgiveness/redemption, and the final consequences, positive and negative, of the sum of all the stages. The discipulus (student/pupil) of Cerimon in the Apollonius saga is a "puer-senex" or child-elder ("a stripling in appearance, yet an aged man in wisdom / of youthful appearance, but mature judgement"), a typically classical and Catholic portrayal of a person in this liminal stage of life, as physically young yet learned and cultured; the young characters created by Protestant authors, and their depictions of their child and adolescent royals (Gustavus Adolphus, Christina...), are the children at heart of Lutheran lore, whose innocence and kindness are unflinching guiding stars; while many of Shakespeare's Italian and French youths, like Cassio, Portia, Beatrice, Audrey and Touchstone, Miranda and Ferdinand... blur the line between these two conceptions, incorporating both.