3. The Golden Thread of Fate
Let’s talk about one of the most beautiful songs ever written by Swift, invisible string. At the folklore Long Pond Studio Sessions, she explains that the inspiration for folklore’s track 11 (1 + 1 = 1——1) was the concept of destiny. She says that every step you take takes you exactly where you should be- no matter the obstacles and difficulties along the way. It is impossible not to associate this turbulent journey with a labyrinth– full of demons, dead ends, wrong arms, and endless paths. Coincidentally, there is a Greek myth that talks about just that: Ariadne’s thread.
The Myths of Theseus
As a punishment for the prince’s murder in Athens, King Minos of Crete made a demand. They chose seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls once every seven years. They were to be sent to Crete to the Labyrinth which was the home of a half-man, half-bull monster named Minotaur.
Theseus, a brave man from Athens, volunteered to go in place of one of the seven boys. Upon his arrival in Crete, the king’s daughter Ariadne fell in love with him. She gave him a clew of gold thread that he could use to find his way out of the maze.
One end of the string stayed with Ariadne at the entrance. Meanwhile, Theseus carried the rest of the skein through the maze. He would only need to follow the thread to return to his beloved. He had promised to marry her if he made it out alive. Unarmed, he went to the heart of the maze and found the beast. After a great fight, he strangled the Minotaur to death. Theseus followed the one single thread of gold that tied him to Ariadne. He escaped Crete with her and all the Athenians, never to have innocent children sent to their deaths again.
Even today, the myth of Ariadne’s thread is used as a metaphor to symbolize logic, the correct path, and the rational through the labyrinth of life. After having traversed a long maze full of enemies and betrayals, Taylor has found complete happiness in someone she trusts and loves.
Read about Taylor’s journey through love here
4. The Witch Lands of Willow
In the very first scene of the willow music video, Swift is holding a golden thread. It is a direct callback at her song invisible string and The Golden Thread of Ariadne. She once again opens up the piano (think Pandora‘s box) and follows the thread into an unknown magical, mystical land. She admires the reflection in the lake that shows her beside her lover. Moments later, she jumps in.
The Greek legend of Narcissus tells a similar but more tragic version than the music video. Narcissus was a beautiful young man who was never able to recognize his reflection. After rejecting the nymph Echo, the gods punished him for his petulance. The curse made him fall in love with his reflection in the water. Seeing his beautiful face reflected in the lake, he jumped towards the one he loved. But he jumped to his death.
The next scene in the video depicts a Taylor younger than the one who jumped into the lake. It may suggest that her passion for her beloved is strong and surpasses a single lifetime. Swift herself confirmed that the song portrays the strong desire for someone and how complex that desire can be.
Read about the complexities of Taylor Swift’s RED here.
The Greatest Greek Love Story
The song lyrics read, “head on the pillow, I could feel you sneaking in as if you were a mythical thing.” This little passage alludes to one of the most beautiful Greek myths: Eros and Psyche. It is a conflicting allegory between Love and the Rational Mind.
Psyche was a young woman of beauty comparable only to that of Aphrodite. But the goddess of love and beauty was offended by such a comparison with an ordinary mortal. She cursed Psyche, never to be able to find a lover. Furthermore, Aphrodite ordered her son, Eros, to go to Psyche and make her fall in love with a terrible monster. Eros, the Cupid, went to her to fulfill the wishes of his mother. Entranced by her beauty, he accidentally wounded himself with the arrow of love, falling for the young mortal.
Psyche went to the oracle of Apollo, who had determined her destiny. She told her that she was destined to marry a monster, irresistible to mortal and divine eyes. So she was sent to live alone on a mountaintop to wait for the said monster. One day, Zephyr, the west wind, carried her from the mountain down to a beautiful valley of flowers. Here she stumbled upon an enchanted palace where she found every luxury known to man and god.
Finding And Searching
The monster visited her in the dead of night so that she wouldn’t see him. He asked her never to look upon his face or ask for his identity. But taken by curiosity, Psyche ended up discovering who the supposed monster was. It was Eros himself. Burnt accidentally, he flew away in anger, leaving her alone.
Thus began one of the most epic journeys in finding love. Psyche’s journey took her above and beyond the realms before her reunion with Eros. She faced the wrath of Aphrodite along every step. Getting into the entire story is not the intention of this text. However, it is interesting to see Swift refer to it. It is the greek classic about the quest for love. It talks about the fight and reconciliation between the Mind and the Heart.
Read the full story here
Myths of Python Delphyne
We all remember the snakes from the reputation era. Well, now Swift has left that dark and vengeful phase. She makes it a point to reference this moment of her career as something comical– a circus attraction, The Python. Delphyne The Python was a terrible gigantic serpent who presided over the oracle of Delphi. The sun god Apollo eventually killed it and took the temple for himself.
Sounds familiar? Swift has claimed to have written Daylight, the closing track of Lover, in response to the reputation era. She sees it as a symbol of the sunlight that dispels the darkness and the fears of the night. Just as Apollo killed the Python, the Lover era came to destroy the pains and sorrows Swift felt after the cyberbullying.
Read about the myths of Delphyne here.
To finish the list of references for the willow music video, let us go to the most majestic of all. Who would have ever thought that we would see a Sabbath celebration in a Taylor Swift video?! While folklore represented spring and summer, she already explained that evermore completed the cycle by representing autumn and winter. The scene we’ll talk about, in fact, takes place amid winter snow.
Read about how seasons were formed here
Performing rituals that celebrated the passing of seasons was the way for ancient peoples to connect with nature. One of the most beautiful festivals was Yule, the winter solstice in the calendar of the Celtic peoples. In the northern hemisphere, this date occurs around December 21. It marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. It is when, despite the typical winter darkness, the light triumphs and starts to grow. Thus it signifies bringing warmth and life to the land.
The parallel between this Celtic celebration and the life of Taylor Swift is undeniable. It was during the reputation era that she got to know Joe Alwyn, her current boyfriend. It marked the beginning of the end of her dark times, which she has compared to daylight in her album Lover. She also sings about it in Begin Again in Red.
5. Hades’ Punishments: Myths of the Underworld
Taylor frequently and mindedly distorts the meaning of words and the plot of famous legends in her music. Sometimes, this ends in a happy twist. I call this Swiftonance. Think Love Story, based on Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet. The bard was himself inspired by the Greek legend of Pyramus and Thisbe. In the song, she gives the star-crossed lovers a happy ending. Conversely, she also sometimes adds a painful twist to otherwise merry things. Think peace and happiness.
Well, she just might have done the utmost sad twist with track nine from evermore. She turns a joyous amusement park into a place of despair and discomfort. Together with track nine from folklore, it makes a powerful reference to the Greek underworld and its punishments to those who dared to defy the gods. Let’s take a journey back to Hades to understand why.
Go to the first page to read more about Hades.
The Torment of Tantalus
The Greek Inferno was where sinful people would be sent to suffer, forever caught in a hell loop. It was a world full of regret, sorrow, and ruin, rendered so by the countless souls reliving their sins endlessly. They would reflect upon what their crimes meant, much like the speakers in Coney Island. The entire song is a compilation of regret and neglect, peaking at its bridge.
In Hades, those who defied the gods would find capriciously designed eternal punishments. One such miserable was King Tantalus, the mortal son of Zeus. Legend has it, once he prepared a feast for welcoming the gods to his palace, but only to test their “godly” intelligence. Tantalus killed his own son Pelops, diced him, cooked him up, and served him at his feast. This cruelty outraged the gods. (Think Arya Stark in Game of Thrones)
Zeus put Pelops back together and sent Tantalus to Tartarus. It was the darkest pit of the Underworld, where Hades devised a punishment especially for him. Consumed with hunger and thirst, he would be surrounded by water, with a tree of low-hanging fruit over his head. However, every time he tried to reach for the fruit, a wind would blow it away from him. Every time he bent down to drink the water, it would slip away from his hands. The story has been referenced in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince as well. In the Inferi cave, Harry fails to fill his cup when he reaches for the water in the basin.
Myths and Swift’s
Now, link his punishment to his crime of serving forbidden food to the gods. He was condemned to suffer from thirst and hunger forever, even with water and food tantalizingly within reach, pretty much like the first verse of Coney Island. “Break my soul in two, looking for you, but you’re right here,” Swift sings. Similarly, in August, she sings about something slipping away from the narrator’s hands.
Taylor’s twist in Coney Island turns a place of cheer and delight into a barren land of desolation and sadness. Though Tantalus had been surrounded by beauty and bounty, he would be thirsty and hungry forever. Similarly, the Swift’s speakers long for reconnection with one another in Coney Island. Having screwed up, they are left physically close but emotionally far away.
Read about the intricacies in Taylor’s music here
Sisyphus: The Cheater of Death
“I had the shiniest wheels now they’re rusting,” Taylor Swift sings on track nine of folklore. Now, that is a phrase worthy of a king who has lost everything. This Is Me Trying is a song about the pain of always trying and never succeeding. Indeed, it fits perfectly in the narrative of Tantalus’ punishment. However, let us look at another myth that relates to this song: the chastisement of Sisyphus.
Sisyphus was a super clever mortal in ancient Greece. He was so intelligent that when Death came to take him, he managed to chain her. As a result, this stopped not only him but anyone from dying for a while. The god Ares had to come in person to unbind Death to prevent a major catastrophe on Earth.
Meanwhile, Sisyphus tricked his wife into not performing his burying rituals upon his imminent death. Upon reaching the Underworld, he complained to Hades that his wife had not observed proper burial rites. So, Hades sent him back to the mortal world to punish his wife. However, all of that was but his plan to come back to life. So Sisyphus lived a long second life until he reached a ripe old age and died again. When he finally came face to face with Hades, he was sentenced to roll a huge stone uphill until it eventually rolled back down. Sisyphus was condemned to this perpetually futile labor for eternity, over and over.
Read more about the complexity of time in Taylor Swift’s work here.
Sisyphus’ eternal punishment again relates to his sin: trying to avoid the unavoidable. Hades sentenced him to carry out this exhausting, vain act of rolling the rock uphill forever. Similar to this symbolic emblem, Swift sings about people with addiction and their constant struggle to overcome it, often to no fruition. The song this is me trying hits hard. Like Sisyphus’ punishments, some of our straining tasks often end up not working out the way we hope. And that is life. The very idea of perpetually failing at something is everybody’s hell.
6. Beauty And The Beast, But Myths of The Greek
Swift approaches the subject of infidelity from various angles. In the folklore love triangle, she explores this theme with the naivete of a bunch of teenagers. Save for Cardigan, of course. But in the songs illicit affairs and ivy, she discusses infidelity more maturely. In fact, in the song illicit affairs, conflict does not necessarily stem from marital betrayal. It can refer to a socially unacceptable relationship. As expected, this theme also appears frequently in mythological literature.
The Mythical Love Triangle
The Greek god of fire and the forge, Hephaestus, was in love with Aphrodite. But being ugly and lame, he knew he could never win over the goddess of beauty. So he, treacherous as fire, set a ruse to have Aphrodite presented to him by her father, Zeus. He imprisoned his wife, Hera, the goddess of marriage and birth. Then he demanded Aphrodite’s hand in marriage in exchange for her release. Zeus also saw this as a political solution to end any rivalry over his daughter amongst men and gods.
And so, Aphrodite became his wife against her will. Naturally, the goddess was unhappy with the new nuptials. She was captivated by the handsome god of war, Ares, with who she had a passionate but secret affair. (Read more about their love story here) As in the songs illicit affairs and ivy, the two always met while Hephaestus was away working at the forge.
“He’s in the room, (…), he wants what’s only yours,” sings Taylor on ivy. The narrator of the song falls for someone outside of her marriage, much like Aphrodite. A secret romance takes shape, as the lovers live in fear of getting found out. Consequently, it is what happens.
What Would He Do If He Found Us Out?
When Helios, the sun god, told Hephaestus about his wife’s betrayal, he was furious. He prepared a magical trap to ensnare the two lovers in the middle of their illicit lovemaking. He imprisoned them with his enchanted web in the bed and invited the gods to witness their humiliation.
“And that’s the thing about illicit affairs / And clandestine meetings and longing stares / It’s born from just one single glance / But it dies and it dies and it dies / A million little times.” Taylor Swift sings these words signaling toward the impending doom that awaits an illicit affair.
“I’d live and die for moments that we stole on begged and borrowed time,” says Taylor Swift as the narrator. Although forbidden to meet again, Aphrodite and Ares never stopped loving each other in secret. Perhaps the affair between the two gods is a portrait of the sordid association between love and war. Swift alludes to the tale in ivy when she says, “it’s a war, it’s a goddamn fight of my life.”
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