The subtle sublimeness of Moneta

One of the strongest impressions that stuck with me after visiting the Nashville Parthenon was the level of decay on some of the Elgin Marbles. As sad as I was for their apparent deterioration, even more striking was the idea, “What might these have looked like at the peak of their aesthetic lives?” Surely, I thought, Keats would address this; while these statues are still wonderful, it is hard not to mourn the beauty that has been lost:


However, I never saw Keats address this. At least, not at first. After closely reading his encounter with Moneta in Hyperion, I think Keats may have been just as mournful as I was, and simply could not bring himself to discuss the ruination directly.

Towards the beginning of Moneta’s dialog with Keats, she says, “What bliss even in hope is there for thee? / What haven? Every creature hath its home; / Every sole man hath days of joy and pain, / Whether his labours be sublime or low” (170-173). On a first read, this does not seem to be discussing the Marbles at all. However, I think Keats was using Moneta in order to address the melancholy beauty of these worn statues, as he could not do it himself. The contrasts between “joy and pain” and “sublime or low” fits very well with these statues, which are simultaneously forms of beauty and decay. When asking “What bliss…” Keats is actually asking himself how he can hope his writing remains over time without facing this same decay; he can only hope that the beauty remains despite what seems to be inevitable ruination.

It is even possible Keats is addressing this in a subconscious manner. He is the one writing all of Hyperion; there is no actual statue of a goddess speaking to him, except in his perception. But this statue, this avatar of Moneta, could be Keats’ method of processing the immensity of standing in the Parthenon. And in that processing, more emotion flows out than he can handle, and bleeds through in his discourse with the goddess.


~ by atrevelyan on October 23, 2012.

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