'Puss-in-Boots' was a French fairytale written in the late 17th Century by Charles Perrault. The youngest son of a miller receives the cat as inheritance from his father; rather disgruntled at first, he nonetheless gives Puss the pair of boots that he requests. Immediately loyal, the cat begins catching game in the forest and leaves it as a gift for the king, claiming that his master is a Marquis. A little while later, he pursuades the young man to take a swim in a river, only to immediately hide his clothes. When the king and his daughter pass by in their coach, Puss calls for their attention, saying that the generous young Marquis has been robbed. They come to his aid, and the princess falls in love with him. Puss then scampers off ahead, warning people he meets to go along with the story; he then comes across a castle which is occupied by an ogre. Through his cunning, the cat convinces the ogre to turn himself into a mouse. He does so, and Puss kills him. When the king arrives at the castle, he believes it to belong to the miller's son, and gives permission for him to marry the princess. Puss-in-Boots is made a lord. Whilst there were some concerns at the time about the lack of morality in this tale - dishonesty and deviousness do afterall win the day - it has also been viewed as a story which celebrates the loyalty of domestic pets and the bond between humans and animals.
This is taken from the aria 'Largo al Factotum', sung by Figaro, the titular character of Rossini's opera 'The Barber of Seville'. Figaro sings it when he first appears onstage, and it is also very appropiate for Puss to announce himself with; its confident exhuberance suits him to a T. It also mirrors his own adventure; in the opera, Figaro helps a Count win the heart of a beautiful woman named Rosina. The aria is very well known within popular culture, making it another piece that most people will be familiar with.
Bergamo is a town in Italy, located around 25 miles northeast of Milan. During the Renaissance, it became part of the Venetian Republic, and became part of the Austrian Empire for a time in the 19th Century. There are two main parts of the city; the Medieval half being on higher ground. In the 17th Century the Venetians built stone walls around the area, but some of the buildings inside date back to the 1100s. Even modifications made to the buildings are now several hundred years old, so altogether there is a plethora of beauty for visitors to enjoy. The lower part of the city is far more industrialiased and developed more recently.
Aside from showing some lovely sights of the city, this video below is also delightfully Italian in its enthusiasm.
The Double Tour en L'Air is a dance movement in ballet. It involves the dancer quickly jumping into the air (usually from the fifth position) and quickly turning twice before their feet touch back on the ground. It is most commonly performed by male dancers, and requires a great deal of poise and strength. It can take years to perfect the technique; this article gives helpful support and advice. Why not have a go at one in your front room, if only to see how difficult it is? Move the furniture out of the way first…
Possibly first coined by Shakespeare in Hamlet, the phrase 'Lady Luck' is thought to have the Roman goddess of Fortuna as its origin. She represented the random nature of luck, and was a daughter of Jupiter. Her Greek equivalent was the goddess Tyche. She also influenced the concept of The Wheel of Fortune, which was a Medieval idea relating to Fate; Fortuna was said to be the one who turned the wheel. It later appeared as one of the Major Arcana cards in the Tarot. The phrase 'Lady Luck' is most commonly used in relation to gambling, where success is more up to chance than skill.
This recalls Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's 'Macbeth', where Lady Macbeth sleepwalks in her madness and laments the blood she believes is on her hands. She cries that "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand". The scene from the 1971 Roman Polanski adaptation of the play can be seen below, with Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth.
Perfume is believed to have been used in Arabic and Persian cultures as far back as the 6th Century AD. The abundance of spices, flowers, herbs, oils and musks available led them to become pioneers in the manufacture of scent, which they began to trade in Europe in the 14th Century.
Onan was a Biblical figure from the Book of Genesis. According to the custom of the time, he was obliged to sleep with his brother's widow, Tamar, and provide her with offspring. Any child conceived, however, would not be his legal heir; for this reason, he deliberately withdrew from Tamar before climaxing. This meant his semen was 'wasted', which angered God so much that he killed him. Poor Onan would no doubt be delighted to know that his name has since been lent to that popular seed-spilling exercise of Onanism - or masturbation.
cuckoldry, whereby a man would be publicly ridiculed if his wife had been unfaithful to him. The word 'cuckold' comes from an old French word for 'cuckoo', just as we have the expression 'a cuckoo in the nest'. Legend has it that the deceived husband would be forced to parade around the town wearing a pair of antlers, to demonstrate the idea that everybody else could see something obvious, aside from him.
Best known from that lovely English nursery rhyme, 'Sing a Song of Sixpence', a counting house was a designated room or small building where a man of means would attend to his financial and business affairs; the 'counting' refers to money.
Well known through the art of mime, Pierrot is a stock character with origins in the Commedia dell'arte. A group of Italian actors called the 'Comédie-Italienne' are thought to have developed the character in Paris. He epitomises the idea of the 'sad clown'; trusting, naive, foolish and always heartbroken, with unrequited love for a soubrette named Columbine. He was traditionally portrayed with a whitened face and loose white clothing to emphasise his innocent nature. What is fascinating about poor Pierrot is the way different groups and cultural movements have taken ownership of him over the centuries. The Symbolists, for example, claimed kinship with his suffering and sensitivity; the Romantics and Modernists also expressed empathy. For this reason, he can be thought of as one of the few male muses; his white apparel truly makes him a blank canvas.
Venus appears in the night sky, she is called the Evening Star. Venus was the Roman goddess of Love; it is common for a beloved woman to be compared to her, as though nobody more beautiful could be imagined.
A caryatid is a sculpted female figure used as an alternative to a column or pillar in architecture. They were developed by the Ancient Greeks with known examples at Delphi going back to the 6th Century BC. The best known caryatids are found at the Acropolis in Athens, on the porch of the Erechtheion. Replicas have been positioned on the actual site, but five of the originals are in the adjacent museum. One of them is in the British Museum, as part of the Elgin Marble collection. The word 'caryatid' comes from the Greek 'Karyatides' and means 'Maidens of Karyai'. Karyai was a town in Laconia in the Peloponnese, where there was a temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis Caryatis, an aspect of the goddess Artemis.
Doric columns were another architectural invention of the Ancient Greeks. They were the plainest of the three styles making up the Classical Order, the other two being Ionic and Corinthian. They can be seen on the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens. As with so many features of Classical civilisations, they were highly sophisticated; part of their design allowed rainwater to be drained away from above. Made of marble, they were used to support the sides of temples and create visual harmony.
'Horse of a different colour' is an expression meaning that an idea or plan has to change, because of new information or developments. It is believed that the phrase originated in horseracing, where the colour of the winning horse may be different from the horse one had backed to win. It has appeared regularly in literature throughout the centuries; at one point in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night', Maria says "My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that colour". Within popular culture, it is well known for its quite literal appearance in 'The Wizard of Oz'.
Harlequin is another stock character with its basis in the 16th Century Commedia dell'arte. He can fulfill a number of functions depending on the story, but is always both agile and somewhat foolish. He generally acts as a gentleman's valet, and often becomes embroiled in amorous difficulties. Despite being foolhardy, he can be wily enough to escape trouble. His original costume consisted of long trousers and a loose shirt covered with brightly coloured patches; this evolved into a tighter outfit decorated with triangles and diamond shapes. He lent his name to the form of pantomime called Harlequinade, which developed in the 18th Century, and was more based around slapstick.
A mandolin is a smallish, stringed musical instrument related to the lute. They had developed in Italy by the 17th Century and became popular throughout Europe. Their size made them extremely portable, so they are often associated with travelling musicians and troupes of actors. They versatility has meant that they are used in a considerable number of musical styles, for example Celtic Folk and American Bluegrass, as well as early music such as Baroque and Renaissance. The instrument is thought to have been brought over to North America by Italian immigrants in the 19th Century.
Friar's Balsam is an antiseptic and expectorant, also known as Tincture of benzoin. It is thought to have been in use for 600 years. Blended from the liquid extracts of plants, some of its ingredients include Aloe leaf, Myrrh tears and Angelica root, along with the resin of both benzoin and storax. Useful for cuts and minor abrasions, it should be applied to clean skin and then covered with gauze; it may sting a little at first. To ease a cough, up to 30 drops should be mixed with water, and perhaps a little honey, and taken two or three times a day.
Eros was the ancient Greek god of sexual love and beauty; his Roman equivalent was Cupid. He is usually considered to be the child of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and Ares, god of war. Worship of him was fervent and widespread, and included a fertility cult in Eros Thespiae. He is well known for the story of 'Eros and Psyche'; Aphrodite is jealous of Psyche's beauty, so commands her son curse her to fall in love with the ugliest creature imaginable. Eros falls in love with her himself, and secretly takes her to his home. He leaves her, however, when her jealous sisters interfere and she betrays his trust. She is then cursed to be forever searching for him.
Venus was the Roman name for the goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. Her Greek equivalent was Aphrodite. She was said to have been born from the sea, rising up from the foam which breaks on the surface. There were many temples and cults dedicated to her, and Julius Caesar even claimed to be one of her descendents. She has been a constant muse to artists and sculptors throughout the centuries, in part because for a long time she was one of the only female figures it was permissable to depict nude. This allowed the freedom of meditation on aspects of female beauty and sexuality that otherwise were not granted a space. The philosopher Plato argued that consideration of Venus' physical loveliness could inspire mortals to transcend earthly matters, and comprehend the beauty of spirituality.
Both goddesses are frequently referred to in literature; Shakespeare in particular made many allusions to Classical culture.
Although the story is set later and in London, the reader may very well be reminded here of the Victorian melodrama 'Sweeney Todd'. First published in a Penny Dreadful in 1846, it tells of a serial-killing barber who slits the throats of his customers and disposes of the bodies with his friend, Mrs Lovett, by baking them in pies. If you've ever been curious about how one could possibly come up with such a plan, this song below from the 2007 film adaptation of the musical may enlighten.
The Erl-King is a mythical creature in German folklore, appearing in a number of stories and poems. He is an evil creature who lives in the forest and kills unwary travellers, and is perhaps best known through a poem written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The poem was set to music by Schubert, but a more recent version, called 'Figlio Perduto' adapted Goethe's verse into Spanish and set it to part of Beethoven's 7th Symphony. Sarah Brightman performed it on her 2000 album 'La Luna'.
Red Riding Hood is one of the oldest and best known fairy tales, with some versions dating back to the 14th Century. The best known telling of the story is by the Brothers Grimm, and starts with Red Riding Hood crossing through a forest to visit her grandmother. She is approached by a wolf who asks her where she is going; in her innocence she tells him. He suggests she pick some flowers, and rushes off to the grandmother's house ahead of her. He gobbles up the old lady, then gets into her bed and disguises himself as her. When Red Riding Hood arrives, she does not notice at first; it gradually dawns on as she utters the famous phrases about what big hands, eyes and teeth Granny has. The wolf then eats her too, but luckily a huntsman appears and cuts her and her grandmother out of the sleeping wolf's belly, replacing them with heavy stones. When the wolf awakens, he goes outside to drink from the well; the weight of the stones makes him fall in and he drowns.
There are many variations, of course. In Charles Perrault's story, no huntsman arrives and nobody survives. In older versions, Red Riding Hood escapes through her own wits, rather than with male assistance. The story has been interpreted in a number of ways, from a simple tale of warning about the dangers of predators in the forest, to symbolising the girl's passage into womanhood. Carter uses the tale as the basis for both 'The Werewolf' and 'The Company of Wolves' in this collection.
Chanterelle is a fungus. Coloured orange to yellow, it is found in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Generally, it thrives best in damp, coniferous areas but can also grown successfully in mountainous regions such as the Himalayas. It is edible and considered something of a delicacy.
Toads sometimes have negative associations in folklore, in part because they were believed to be the familars of witches. In many tales, however, they can represent good fortune and protection. When Carter spent some time in Japan, she may have come across the legend of Gama-Sennin; it tells of an old man who wanders through the land with his wise toad companion, who teaches him about the power of herbs. In many cultures, the life cycles of frogs and toads have led to them being symbols of transformation and recreation, and keepers of the secret of life.
This originally comes from an old legend about Christ visiting a baker to buy a loaf of bread. The dough that the mistress put in the oven for him was very large, so her daughter tore half of it off. The dough nonetheless rose to a considerable size; the girl's laughter sounded like hooting, and she was transformed into an owl.
The phrase is most familiar through its use by Ophelia in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'. In Act 4, Scene 5, she has been driven mad by grief and heartbreak, and speaks in riddles. This can be seen in the clip below from Kenneth Branagh's 1996 adaptation, with Kate Winslet as Ophelia.
Judas Iscariot was one of Christ's twelve apostles. He appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and is the one to betray Jesus to the authorites. The High Priest Caiaphas was determined to kill Jesus and persuades Judas to identify him with a kiss, in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. Accounts of Judas' subsequent death differ, but in Western culture he is typically shown as committing suicide by hanging from a tree. In Dante's 'Inferno', he is shown in the ninth and most terrible circle of Hell, reserved for traitors, where his punishment is to be chewed in one of the mouths of Satan for eternity.
The Elder tree grows throughout the world, but thrives especially well in the Northern Hemisphere. Its berries can be eaten when ripened, and it is also the source of elderflower cordial. The belief that Judas used this tree to hang himself originated in the Middle Ages; it has also attracted a number of other superstitions. In some places, it was thought that if you burned elder wood the devil would appear, whereas in other areas people believed that having an Elder tree outside your home gave protection from witches and evil spirits.