Gustave Moreau

Oedipus and the Sphinx | The Apparition

Intermezzo 11: Pavlina

̶  Well, I don’t know how mad you were when you wrote Self-Portrait with Sphinx…

The fervour of her mouth, the lushness of her lips: Bocca basciata non perde ventura, anzi rinnuova come fa la luna.

̶  …all I know is that I love it! Especially the Winged Fiend! Where does it come from, your view of the Sphinx?
̶  The Greeks. The Egyptian Sphinx is masculine. He’s a figure of the sun god, an emblem of royal power. The Greek Sphinx is far more interesting, simply because she’s feminine. In Hesiod’s Theogany she’s the child of a woman-serpent and her son, a dog with two heads.
̶  Charming!
̶  On ancient Greek vases she’s an incubus—lion’s body, woman’s head, eagle’s wings and serpent’s tail.
̶  Like on the cover of the album?
̶  Yes. And what do you see in it?
̶  In Moreau’s painting?
̶  Yes.
̶  Well, it’s very erotic. You feel the attraction.

The syncopation of her speech, the accent of her English: Is it only because we’ve just made love that I find her voice hovers between music and language?

̶  Yes. And that’s far more interesting than the fight between hero and monster.
̶  Because of the enigma?
̶  Yes. The enigma substitutes for the fight. And the fight, of course, is already a substitute for fucking.
̶  And the second enigma?
̶  Who are the two sisters who bring each other into being?
̶  The night and the day! Where does that come from?
̶  It’s not in Sophocles. It’s a later addition.
̶  You use it brilliantly, that sun and moon motif.
̶  Masculine-feminine. Everything derives from that.

Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864

Gustave Moreau, The Apparition, 1876-77

Part Three Chapter 8

And then I told you of La chambre secrète, Robbe-Grillet’s instantané that, at Film School, Fernando had asked Ariane to read. She did. And when he asked her if she’d play the woman in it, she said she would. A few weeks later there she was, naked on her back on velvet cushions, chains stretched from her ankles and wrists and blood dripping from her breast: You could have heard a pin drop in the screening room. Fernando had brilliantly captured the mystery in Moreau’s painting, the allure of Robbe-Grillet’s narration. Out of the play between curling smoke plumes and shadowy colonnades, Oriental tapestries and a brilliant blood stain, Ariane’s body distilled an intense eroticism: I knew that body, and I felt proud. But more than pride, I felt gratitude, for it was Ariane who’d shown me that sex in the bedroom need not be the shadow of sex in the head: It can be its enactment.