451 - A Map of Four Well-Travelled Tales


(click on the map to view it without the annoying sidebar)
Great stories are rarely isolates. Even though Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are founding epics of ancient Greece, and we tend to think of Shakespeare’s work as the culmination of Elizabethan culture, both bards were inspired by older texts, and inspirational to later artists.
This map charts the geographical (and historical) progression of four such powerful tales through the arts. Curiously, the four stories chosen for this map all follow a roughly similar trajectory – originating on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, gaining artistic traction in Europe in literature, painting, music and dance, crossing over to America, and cinematography.
The four stories are neatly synopsised as:
  • A man falls in love with his female creation (Pygmalion);
  • A king unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother (Oedipus);
  • A man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power and knowledge (Faust);
  • A mythical sea monster terrorizes the deep (Leviathan).
  • Remarkably, in their original stages, (c) and (d) are almost neighbours – if we are willling to overlook the intervention of almost two whole millennia. The four stories later rub shoulders in the great cultural centres of Europe: London, Paris, Rome, and (the politically more fragmented) Germany.
    In America, the two main receptacles for these tales from the Eastern Mediterranean are New York and Los Angeles. Some more eccentric destinations are Uttar Pradesh, Tokyo and Pittsfield, Mass.
    Many thanks to Rick Thomas for pointing me to this map, found here in Lapham’s Quarterly, a magazine of history and ideas, dedicated to finding historical threads in big issues like war, money, nature and education (which might explain the genesis of the above map).
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