28 (2009)
Gyron and Abscissa



Jan, Feb 76 (digital reworking - April 2009)
Oils on board (digital reworking - 2009)
79.5cm (31.5") x 55cm (21.5")

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The tale of Gyron and Abscissa was one of those considered by Ovid but not used in the Metamorphoses.

Gyron was the nine headed sea-serpent which lived in the immeasurable depths of the great inland sea that lay between the twin cities of Scylla and Charybdis. For the most part Gyron contented himself with large quantities of fish and other sea creatures for food but would occasionally (usually on quarter days) emerge from the murky depths to devour a herd of cattle or a flock of sheep - always in multiples of six animals, for although he had nine heads he had only six stomachs. The owners of these sheep and cattle made numerous pleas to the gods to rid them of this monster but Poseidon had repeatedly advised them to stop complaining and be grateful for the large quantities of exceptionally high quality manure that Gyron left behind
("What are you lot complaining about now? Look at the quality of that; you'd have to go a long way to find better than that! Fair cleans the tubes out, eh?"
and so on in that vein.) - so that was the end of the matter.

Abscissa was the hideously ugly seventh daughter of the seventh daughter of the immensely rich King Nestor of Scylla, so that's alright then. It is said in some sources that while in every other respect she appeared to be a fairly normal, run of the mill princess she possessed instead of a human head the head of a donkey, and instead of hands pigs trotters. Other sources say that while she was certainly repulsive to a remarkable degree, she only looked like a donkey and kept the real donkey's head in a pot of basil in a box room in the highest turret of the north west tower, behind the hyperboreans. What is agreed by all authorities is that she had teeth and jaws of immense strength, and no argument about the trotters. The one positive aspect of Abscissa's ugliness was that the goddess Athene, who was reputedly very beautiful and notoriously unkind towards attractive female mortals saw that Abscissa was no sort of rival and therefore regarded her as one of her favourites.

One day King Nestor called for Abscissa and instructed her to pop across to his brother King Zog of Charybdis and see if he had finished with the two dozen goats he had borrowed the previous weekend to graze the lawn. King Nestor said that rather than going all the way round the great sea Abscissa could use the swan to fly her across, that way she would be back in time for the latest episode of Homer's Odyssey. The swan, who to be fair was often misunderstood due to his love of practical jokes and his astringently dry sense of humour, which he kept to himself, was more used to ferrying turtles so he was more than a bit honoured by this task.

King Nestor's parting words to Abscissa were
"Just remember to keep your mouth closed on the way across."
This referred to the swan's usual method of carrying passengers, namely balancing a stout wooden baton across the tops of his webbed feet with his passenger holding onto the central part of the baton. In Abscissa's case by gripping the baton with her teeth. Although this was Abscissa's first flight all went well until they were halfway across the sea, when the swan's sense of humour and incorrigible lack of responsibility led him to say
"Lovely view from up here, eh, Your Highness?"
knowing that as a polite and well brought up young lass Abscissa was bound to answer, which she did saying
"I don't know; I've got my eyes closed, pal."
In replying she of course lost her grip on the baton and plummeted to the sea below.*

Meanwhile Gyron was pottering about minding his own business - it not being a quarter day - when he became aware of what appeared to be a donkey falling from the sky and never having been one to look a gift horse in the mouth he devoured Abscissa at one gulp of one of his nine heads and then promptly spat out the trotters. All this was witnessed by Athene and in a fury at the cruel death of one of her favourites Athene plucked Gyron from the depths of the sunless sea, turned him to stone and then flung him into the heavens where he was metamorphosed into the hurdy-gurdy player in Goethe's Faust (You remember the main characters in Faust? Faust himself, Margareta, Margareta's friend Brunnhilde, Mephistopheles, Mephistopheles' cat, and the hurdy-gurdy player, Neville, who fed Mephistopheles' cat when Mephistopheles was out at work.), the swan was turned into a lake and the trotters into a pair of sows' purses. So the tale is told in Mabinogion's Scheherazade, and that is the opinion of Master Duns Scotus too.

What that's got to do with this picture I don't know.

* See below?