men_in_full: (Nine of Cups)
Earlier, I wrote about "Fat Men as Nine of Cups in the Tarot". Personally, I don't use tarot cards for divination, but rather as visual inspirations for my creative thought processes. The "characters" in the tarot point to ancient and common human experiences with many different types of people and situations. Pretty much everyone experiences authority figures, extremes of masculinity and femininity, power, disappointment, love, death, etc. To me, the tarot cards can serve as lenses which focus all these experiences, and can even make them intelligible (or more bearable, perhaps) while we are going through them.

The Nine of Cups is often represented as a large or even fat man, sitting at ease and seeming to welcome us into his space, which often is a banquet hall, or inn, or some kind of club or resort (in the more modern Osho-Wasser Zen tarot below.) Someone in a comment thread below brought up the subject of being a fat man and having confidence, or not as much as one would like. That's one marked characteristic of the Nine of Cups man - his confidence and ease. Many of the tarot cards contain qualities worthy of emulation, such as Justice, Temperance, Strength in the "major trumps," for instance. We could probably all benefit from incorporating some of the sober responsible authority of the Emperor or the patient wisdom of the Priestess. The "minor trumps" (of the which the Nine of Cups is one) impart their lessons too, and confident geniality is one of those qualities which this card points out to us - and the one pointing is a genial fat man.

Nine of Cups, six SFW images )

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I've been reading about Yule the past few days - that ancient pre-Christian European celebration around the time of the winter solstice. Pretty much everyone in the Northern Hemisphere had some kind of "festival of light" at this time, although the ancient European traditions of Yule speak most loudly to me. The more I read about Yule, the happier I feel, because I realize that all along I've been in touch with something quite ancient. When we put up greenery and pine cones, roast meat, make wassail and give toasts, light candles, decorate a fresh evergreen, bake cookies in the shape of little men, we honor the spirit of Yule.

But what are the roots of Yule? [ profile] abearius made a good point about one fundamental "reason for the season:"
Before there was Christ, or marketing departments, or even Yule, there were three months of dark, cold weather that not everybody could live through. And that's where "it" all began. Helping people live through something completely uncontrollable--weather that takes lives--is the real reason for the season of charity and compassion. Jesus came later ...
I think that you don't make a difference by spitting into the cold winter winds; you make a difference by giving people wood, or coal, or food, or hope.

More green men of winter, SFW )

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In Greek mythology, Ganymede was in Homer "the loveliest born to the race of mortals." Love-smitten Zeus either transformed himself into an eagle, or sent his eagle to steal the young Phrygian shepherd from his father and brothers, conveyed him to Olympus, and gave Ganymede eternal youth and life. The young man came to serve as cupbearer to the gods, mixing the nectar with water. Legend has it that Zeus's wife Hera always withdrew her hand in anger, and out of jealousy would not drink.

Euripedes called Ganymede "the dear delight of Zeus's bed" in Iphignia at Aulis. The youth's Latin name, Ganymede Catamitus, gave us the old phrase "catamite" for a young man who has a sexual relationship with an older one. Another name given to him is "Himeros," or "desire."

While the Greeks portrayed Ganymede as a slim youth of the kouros type, later depictions showed him as fuller-bodied.

Ganymede gallery )

I'm not sure why some of the Roman and later Western images showed Ganymede as plump. Perhaps slimness was associated with youth in Greece, but not in Rome or Christian Western Europe. It might be that Ganymede's plumpness was a subtle allusion to his status as Zeus's lover, as a way to "feminize" him somehow, as if Zeus's attraction "required" some explanation.

(Ganymede lore from
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Fat men often find their way into modern "Bacchic" renditions. Click the thumbnail for the full image.

I don't know the title or artist for this photograph on the right. If anyone does, please let me know, so I can give credit. The subject seems pretty "bacchic," and not just because of the grapes. Yes, it's his distinctively heavy body, but also the wicked and "satyric" expression which he fixes upon the viewer. This image has just the sort of earthiness for a "bacchic" one.

More, and image-heavy... )

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The god of wine, revelry, and fertility known as Dionysus (Bacchus) wasn't usually described as fat in classical sources. Instead, he was often shown as a beautiful but effeminate man of unremarkable build, with long, flowing hair. Fat Bacchus was seen more in Renaissance and Baroque interpretations, although not as often as the predominant classical-bodied figure.

Some interesting variations, image-heavy )
men_in_full: (opera goers)
I have no idea who the figure is in the painting. He doesn't look like the typical representation of the "holy fat man" Ho-Tei (mistakenly called "the laughing Buddha.") Since the caption calls him "The Fat God," I'll take its word for it. It's a charming image, though, and the patter looks lucky indeed.

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Within the Tarot deck, one of the cards for which I have a deep affinity is the Nine of Cups. I don't pretend to be any sort of expert, but from what I know, the Nine of Cups is one of the most positive and unifying cards of the deck. It signifies (among other things) sensual delight, pleasure, fulfillment of one's heart's desires, and even love-making. It's so closely tied to fulfillment that sometimes it is called "The Wish Card." Interestingly, the Nine of Cups in some decks is represented by a larger or even fat man.

Since the cups are often arranged behind him, as if on a shelf, some describe him as the archetypal welcoming innkeeper (think of Barliman Butterbur in Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring.) But while Butterbur was forgetful, foolish, and a bit of a coward, the Innkeeper of the cards is none of these. He offers to nourish us with food, drink, companionship, bonhomie, and the life of the flesh as well.

Welcome, bliss, contentment, generosity ... )
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What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence?

-- The White Witch, from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

In the Chronicles of Narnia, The White Witch of Narnia made it "always winter and never Christmas." She was crafted by CS Lewis to represent the 17th century Puritan revolutionary Oliver Cromwell, who outlawed Christmas in England for the very reasons the White Witch spouts above. Our own US Surgeon General seems to be stepping into her Cromwellian white robes when he complains that Santa is too fat.

I thought this was just a British and Australian obsession, but I guess not.

Because the SG wants to use Santa for propaganda purposes, it's a red herring for the article to bring up the putative "health risks" to the men who dress up in Santa costumes. Nor do I think the SG would accept thinner men in padding or fat suits. What seems to bug him is that the *iconic* Santa, the Santa of imagination, is himself is fat.

However, archetypes have a life of their own, and the shape they take says important things about their nature. Santa is fat because fatness is iconic for generosity and plenty. Never mind that there are very generous thin people, and miserly, selfish fat ones. The point of Santa's fatness is to remind us that whatever plenitude we experience is a gift to us, and one that's to be shared. That's why Dickens showed the Ghost of Christmas Present as a traditional "Father Christmas" dressed in Yule green.

Most of our Christmas symbols come from the old pre-Christian European cultures: the phallic pine cones and red candles; the fertility of the mistletoe; the life-giving symbols of nuts and berries; the glow of warm sweet wine; the burning log which is like a spark of life itself.

In John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, the two lost, homeless men (as much in need of a manger as any wandering Holy Family) repeat the beautiful phrase to themselves like a mantra, the sum of their hopes and ultimately dashed dreams - "The fat o' the land. We're gonna live off the fat o' the land."

Santa represents the "fat of the land" in a vivid and visual way. While Santa has not always been represented as fat, it's the fat Santa image which has cultural "stickiness." It doesn't matter if the modern representation came from Thomas Nast's Victorian illustrations, the 1920s White Rock seltzer ads, or Haddon Sundblom's luminescent Coca Cola representations. They all descend from an archetypal image from deep in our past.

Not only that, fat Santa is a statement that intrinsic qualities matter. Not everything is deconstructable, interchangeable, replaceable. Icons may evolve over time, but tweaking them for propaganda purposes can destroy their fundamental meanings.

So here are some fat Santas to enjoy. )

Next time: the king of Santa painters, Haddon Sundblom, and his Coca Cola pictures.

Happy St. Nicholas's feast day, everyone!
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The Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) left us with the term "rubenesque" to refer to the large figure. It's almost always applied to women, though, as his paintings of women are more familiar. However, as [ profile] jennie_jay points out in the comments from a few days ago, Rubens did paint larger men as well.

One striking example is his "Bacchus," below. (Click for larger view.)

Rubens paints this fat male figure with a somewhat dozy face, slight edema of the lower legs, dimples, and cellulite. You can almost see his upper arms shake. But Ruben's Bacchus, as impressive as he is, doesn't project the same hand-over-flesh sensuousness as my Flemish favorite, Cornelius De Vos's Triumph of Bacchus.

First, there's Ruben's Bacchus's rather staged pose. He looks blankly off into the distance. The other figures seem preoccupied with either drinking it in or peeing it out, as the case may be. They look away from the viewer; one satyr even has his back turned. No one seems particularly happy, except maybe the urinating child. Bacchus's rich body dominates the visual field, but the action pulls us away from him, and while the colors are warm, the emotional tone is cool, distant, maybe even a little bored.

It may be that Rubens was trying to make a moralistic point ("Drink enough and this is what you look like," perhaps?)

Personally, I happen to like De Vos's Bacchus better, even if he isn't as artfully painted. He appeals more because he's engaged with those around him. He embraces the girl and is in turn caressed by her. The satyr on the right has helped himself to a handful of love handle, and we wonder what the other hand is doing. The little one chomps on the grapes Bacchus holds. While De Vos's god's eyes drift as they do in Rubens' painting, he langourously submits to the attention, and we who watch can feel him feel it. It's hard for a visual image to convey the sense of touch, yet De Vos does. Also, the two figures on either side of Bacchus look directly at us. They draw us in, offer to share. There's enough to go around, they seem to say.


Mar. 31st, 2007 09:54 pm
men_in_full: (Default)
According to Camille Paglia in Sexual Personae, the Greeks adopted the long, sleek lines of the ideal Egyptian form and made it their own. Thus the gods became "beautiful" in the modern, Western sense - economical of form, lightly muscled, well-defined.

But because Greek religion was an amalgam of older folk beliefs mixed with the more recent Olympian pantheon, they never quite lost the more "prehistoric" gods. The older gods and goddesses, instead of being children of Zeus, were children of the Earth herself. Such a one was Seilenos (in the Latin, Silenus): "Shaggyhaired Seilenos, who himself sprang up out of mother Gaia (Earth) unbegotten and self-delivered." (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 29.243)

Silenus )


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September 2013



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