This film was made with the support of a research grant from Royal Holloway University's department of Classics with a view to investigating the benefits of artist/academic collaboration.
This film tells the story of Harmonia, the wife of Cadmus, the founding hero of Thebes. When new cultures joined the Roman Empire, one of the ways that the tales and traditions of the culture were shared with their new citizens was through wordless performances. It seems right to present these new interpretations of old stories in a similar fashion.
An English version of the story is below.
Performer: Charlotte Arrowsmith
Camera: Georgia Newman
Creator: Howard Hardiman
Consultant: Dr. Liz Gloyn
With thanks to Lisa Traxler and Linc Miles for the use of their radar bunker as a filming location.
© Howard Hardiman 2017, All rights reserved
Please contact me if you would like to use this film or text.
In exile, we wait. Our city torn into the dance of Dionysus, our crowns both cast down.
You lift a pin from my hair. We do not speak. Another comes away. In the bronze of my mirror, I unwind my freed braids. I see you grip the pins in your fist until it pricks.
I know your words before they come. I know not to help. I know to wait. I know you.
“We are damned,” you say.
You taste the blood as its threads meet at the mound above your wrist.
I breathe and you mistake my pain for resignation.
The words that follow fall fast.
“I am so sorry. I have failed you at every turn. You were my prize for the death of a dragon, the wife I made my queen.
“Yet now I stand a broken thing, a man hollowed of kingdom with a dynasty only of catastrophe and death.
“Ino threw herself from a cliff, Semele burned in Zeus’ white fire. Agave slew her son, our grandson and our heir Actaeon glimpsed beauty that mortals cannot witness, wound in the woods, torn by his own dogs. Shaken in their teeth like the rags of the dreams I promised to fulfil.”
My finger hooks in the snag of a snapped thread. I turn and hold your bloodied hand in my own. Against the catalogue of disasters, I cannot speak.
Breaths taste and escape.
You step back.
“Why are you still here?” You ask.
I cannot answer, and only this comes forward: “I am your wife. A queen of no earth, a matriarch to an empty hall. I am your wife.
“And there is no more owed to me than that.”
Your knees find the floor. You are the boy I met once more.
“I deserve nothing and I hold far too much in your hands. Would that the Ares Serpent had triumphed or fear had been a greater teacher than pride. Perhaps I would have found my lost sister and returned her to our father’s land. Perhaps then I would have given you the freedom of another life. I deserve nothing and it pains me to bring this on us both.”
“None of us deserve anything before the gods, but we must take comfort where love is found.” I try to smile.
“I have been a poison to a woman too great for my wounds. I beg that I could be taken, that you be saved from me and that the serpent be restored.”
I reach, too late, to catch the words before they fly to the gods.
“Kadmus, you must not – you cannot – the gods are fools and will answer you.”
And they do.
Your eyes widen and your hair rolls as scales that fold your body to the coils of a beast. That beast. And yet, as your hands slip from mine and we both collapse to the floor, it is to my breast that you wind as it rises with a cry.
“Gods! I have asked nothing of you. Nothing! I have been all that was asked of me – a wife, mother, philosopher and queen – and no more! I have asked you for nothing but to be out of your sights. For my service you would strip me of my heart, my core?
“It is not enough. A fire burns through me that withstands more wounds than any mortal can be asked to endure. No more!
“I cannot demand that his words be undone, but if his future is to be bound by his heart against the earth then so must mine. I do not beg. I do not ask. I do not implore.”
And the gods obey me. As a serpent cannot sleep, but keep a cold vigil, my eyes open as time slides from the beat of the drum of a human heart. My king and I die as a knot of snakes and as the snake dies, I awaken to the knowledge that I cannot.
The body that was never mine is picked clean by the darkness of the earth I once touched and I am opened up as a fire whose light dims the sky of stars.
Our brief past melts into forever. And now I see it all.
You held my curse as if it were your own; held me as close as the gift around my throat.
I am the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares. I am the heir to lust and blood, but in me they are reconciled. I was the unknowing goddess we lock within.
I am love, peacefully reconciled and there is no more owed to anyone than that.
I am divine.
I am Harmonia.