Gods and the Genesis of Art

Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (Art and Neurosis):

The Philoctetes story, which has so established itself among us as explaining the source of the artist’s power, is not really an explanatory myth at all; it is a moral myth having reference to our proper behavior in the circumstances of the universal accident. In its juxtaposition of the wound and the bow, it tells us that we must be aware that weakness does not preclude strength nor strength weakness. It is therefore not irrelevant to the artist, but when we use it we will do well to keep in mind the other myths of the arts, recalling what Pan and Dionysius suggest of the relation of art to physiology and superabundance, remembering that to Apollo were attributed the bow and the lyre, two strengths together, and that he was given the lyre by its inventor, the baby Hermes — that miraculous infant who, the day he was born, left his cradle to do mischief: and the first thing he met with was a tortoise, which he greeted politely before scooping it from its shell, and, thought and deed being one with him, he contrived the instrument to which he sang “the glorious tale of his own begetting.” These were gods, and very early ones, but their myths tell us something about the nature and source of it even in our grim, late human present.

Why We (Should) Read Trilling | Columbia Magazine

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