Leda and the Swan

A sudden blow; the great wings beating still

Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed

By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,

He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

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How can those terrified vague fingers push

The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?

And how can body, laid in that white rush,

But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

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A shudder in the loins engenders there

The broken wall, the burning roof and tower

And Agamemnon dead.

                                   Being so caught up,

So mastered by the brute blood of the air,

Did she put on his knowledge with his power

Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

W B Yeats

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So there is this theory that one can deduce from almost all the classical religions of the world : Once in a few thousand years, there is this momentary encounter , a point of contact between divinity and humanity which alters the destiny of entire mankind for the coming centuries. It plants the seeds for rise or fall of empires, civilizations or religions. One such pivotal point in the history (or mythological history) is rape of Leda by Zeus in the form of a swan.

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Classical paintings depict the incident as an act of seduction assuming Leda has given consent to Zeus. But Yeats chose to depict a different version. He opens with the line:

A sudden blow;

An act of assault, already begun. He puts the readers right in the middle of the scene where rape has already begun.

He also ended with this dramatic sentence:

Before the indifferent beak could let her drop

Having accomplished what he wanted, Zeus indifferently drops Leda as if she were a toy.

Was Zeus’s lust just a shallow attraction towards beauty mixed with arrogance of gods or did he knew he was planting the seeds of Greece’s destruction. If so, is the rape justified? Does the fact that rape happened in ancient times make it less violent ? Does the fact that Leda is a mythological character, make her rape less painful or more acceptable to us?

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Thanks for reading.! 🙂

And the great swan, with its terrible look,
Coming at me, like a castle, from the top of the river.
There is a snake in swans.

Silvia Plath

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