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At first glance, the shapely Greek vases in Herakles and the Eurystheusian Twelve-Step Program suggest that more scholarly interpretations of Athenian symposia may await us. The clever title might be our first clue that all is not as it might seem. Peggy Gotthold and Lawrence G. Van Velzer have repackaged the myth of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, here identified by the Greek version of his name, Herakles, as a Twelve-Step Program, thereby telling the ancient story in modern dialogue.

In the same tongue-in-cheek spirit, the sprightly drawing on the vases hints that these Greek vessels are not to be treated as sacrosanct objects. A closer look reveals simple line drawings that are both sinuous and loosely sketchy, an unexpected mélange of Henri Matisse and Jules Ffeifer.

Each of the pages depicts a scene from the Twelve Labors. Although both the Twelve Labors and the Twelve Steps involve making amends for past errors, the differences are conspicuous. The Twelve-Step Program, for instance, requires a “searching and fearless moral inventory,” while among the Twelve Labors was the more active imperative to “slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.”

The playfulness of the imagery is matched by the hilarity of the text. And, when the pages are fully fanned out, the book displays an impressive array of Greek vases, giving this ingenious artwork its coup de grâce.

Herakles and the Eurystheusian Twelve-Step Program
Peggy Gotthold and Lawrence G. Van Velzer

The format alone of Art Hazelwood’s Requiem for Dionysos signals that this is going to be a colossal story. The book is made up of five panels, each measuring 24” by 18” making the total size when fully extended a commanding 90-inch expanse.

Within each panel are powerfully rendered hyper-dramatic figures playing out a convoluted story. Is it a Greek tragedy or a metaphor for some contemporary predicament?

Fighter jets, a television set and stiletto heels indicate a modern interpretation of Euripides’ play, The Bacchae, featuring Dionysos in a tragic tale of punishment and destruction. The “actors” in this drama are enclosed in tightly compacted spaces, an effect reinforced by the artist’s use of linocut and woodcut. The figures’ exaggerated postures and expressionistic gestures increase the emotional intensity of the enigmatic tableaus.

In the panels shown here three bound men struggle while they point to the sky – at some unseen divine being, or at military aircraft? Either seems to portend danger. Next to them, a violinist plays – from the title, we know it’s a requiem – amid a half circle of busts, who may be a Greek Chorus or prompters from the land of the dead.

Hazelwood created his book as U.S. troops were starting the invasion of Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11. In the play, there is rampant havoc in the kingdom. Misguided efforts to contain it result in massive suffering. In the artist’s own words, “…the hubris and inability to understand that irrational forces cannot be controlled by force struck me…as a great analogy to the Global War on Terror.” The tragic themes of Euripides still hover behind these commentaries on urgent contemporary issues.

Requiem for Dionysos
Art Hazelwoo

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