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Death in Venice: Timeless Psychoanalysis through Greek Allusions Essay

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With the advent of film and the ability to produce visual representation of fictional (or non-fictional) characters, situations, and settings, one of the natural courses has been to adapt literary works to the new medium. Throughout time we have seen this occur endlessly, with subjectively varying results. Literature has been adapted to forms such as staged plays, live readings, as well as other visual forms, such as painting, sculpture, or photography, and in each adaption to a new medium, aspects of the tangible essence of the fiction are translated to fit its new form of expression. In Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, the struggle of the novels protagonist Gustave Aschenbach reaches back to Greek Mythology via contemplations of emotion versus reason. In the novel, this is done using internal dialogues to vividly express the conflict that resides in humanity between instinctual and conditioned thought regarding beauty in the world, in Aschenbach’s own internal debates. However, in the translation to film, many of the internal dialogues must be represented visually, with different forms of symbolism that, while easily conveyed in text, are more difficult to embody in such an external and demonstrative medium. In this paper, I look to explore the references Thomas Mann made to Greek Mythology and their meanings, and how both are interpreted and in some cases changed in the translation to film.
To begin, we first must start with one of the concepts that often frame Death in Venice, the conflict between reason and emotion expressed in terms of two Greek gods, Apollo and Dionysus. In the novel, these gods are referenced symbolically throughout via the use of first person description, through subtle leads alluding to the mythology of ...


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...ed into returning by eating food within Hades. In Aschenbach’s case, after he had made up his mind to leave earlier, he ran into Tadzio after breakfast (54), causing him to second guess his decision and returning. His drinking of the pomegranate juice later on in the book, after his failed “escape” seems to signify that he is partaking in the food of his own “Hades”, headed to death, tricked by the rules just as Persephone.


Works Cited

Mann, Thomas. Death In Venice. Ed. Naomi Ritter. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998. Print.
Neginsky, Rosina. “Lecture: Thomas Mann”. European Cinema.UIS, N.d. Web. 11 November 2011.
Neginsky, Rosina. “The Origin of Dionysus”. European Cinema.UIS, N.d. Web. 11 November 2011.
Smith, Herbert O. “Prologue to the Great War: Encounters with Apollo and Dionysus in Death in Venice”. Robertgraves.org. Robert Graves, N.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2011.


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