Lechery and War..Rape and Violence is the theme Shakespeare extracted from
the Greek legend of Helen and the destruction of Troy. Helen is the
argument. But Thersites says "All the argument is a cuckold and a whore"
for whom both Greeks and Trojans died. Helen becomes a symbol of prostituted patriotism that sanctions rape and violence and force. "Force",
Ulysses says, is like a "universal wolf that eats up himself". Agamemnon
warns that vainglorious pride also eats up itself, and Thersites comment on
grisly diets is that " lechery eats up itself". All of which emphasize the
self-consumptive nature of society's continued practice of destructive violence.
In the painting, set at the bottom of a cess-pool, is the "universal wolf" having just committed rape on humanity, in the act of carnivorous self-consumption. He has already devoured the flesh of his left arm and is voraciously ravaging the other as he eyes his prostrate victim with insatiable bloody eyes.
To the left is Helen, the 'whore', an emaciated hag adorned in lavish gold. Her right hand is gloved and holds a mask, a gaudy, bawdy invitation and fraudulent incentive.
When they are forced to part, it is a glove that Cressida gives Troilus as a token of her love and fidelity, which she later betrays. Troilus tells her:
"Be thou trueHelen herself is well practiced in deception and infidelity. In the brief fraternization during the truce, Hector intimates this to her husband Menelaus
"Your quondum wife swears still by Venus' glove"She is perched atop her conquests, a pile of somber, anonymous coffins draped in blue bunting which cascades down across the violated Humanity, scattering medals on the desecrated form:
"..the rich advantage of a promised glory".Behind her is a pale shaft of light which leads to the circular opening of the iniquitous pit, through which can be seen the sun and moon.. day and night..Time.
"Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his backAnd such is the lesson of war, which every generation and age so soon forgets. Yet:
"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin...If this be so, we can agree with Hector who proclaims:
"The obligation of our blood forbidsFIN