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Greek Mythology in Death in Venice by Thomas Mann Essay

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In this paper I will look to discuss Greek myths and how they are significant to Death in Venice and how these myths are used as metaphors within the novella. Myths and legends act as a form of moral regulation within society (Morford et al. 2013). They pose an extreme situation followed by what is deemed the “wrong choice” that is followed by extreme consequences to the character’s choice. Within Mann’s Death in Venice there are several instances of Greek mythology being used as metaphors that foreshadow various aspects in the book, such as Aschenbach’s impending death. The novella also makes comparisons between prominent Greek Gods and Myths, the Greek ideal to characters and situations in the novella.
The first myth we encounter is the allusion to Charon the ferryman. In Greek mythology Charon was the son of the Gods, Nox who was the goddess of night and Erebus who was one of the gods of the underworld (Morford et al. 2013). Charon was in charge of transporting the spirits of the dead over the river sticks to the Elysian Fields, or the underworld (Morford et al. 2013). Greek tradition stated that two coins be placed on the eyes of the deceased, so that they could pay the toll across the river or “pay the ferryman” (Morford et al. 2013). In Death in Venice, Mann does not outright say that the Gondolier was Charon, but he does drop some hints, for example on page 36, Aschenbach describes the gondola as:
“…so distinctly black, black as only coffins can be-it conjures up hush-hush criminal adventures in the rippling night and, even more, death itself: the bier, the obscure obsequies, the final, silent journey.”(Mann 2004 pp. 36)

This description fits well with the myth of Charon as he was in charge of the “final journey”. ...


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...e environment, such as with Eos and Poseidon, or to foreshadow events like Aschenbach’s death, with Charon or Narcissus. Myths create an extreme situation followed by extreme repercussions for ones choices in these situations, that aim to educate or inform the reader of the “what can happen”, and what is deemed proper behaviour to avoid these horrible outcomes. In the case of Narcissus, don’t love yourself too much or you will end up killing yourself, if you love someone truly and completely, such as Semele did for Zeus you will eventually be rewarded. In conclusion, the myths placed throughout this novella guide the reader through all of Aschenbach’s deepest thoughts and feelings and eventually lead us to his final end. They demonstrate in a variety of ways the range of emotions that one can feel for a person, and the integration of old beliefs into modern works.



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