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John Keats’ canonical Romantic poem “Lamia” emphasizes natural malevolence despite intention. Within “Lamia,” the reader is told of the titular character Lamia’s desire to have Lycius love her. Although her way to human form is not necessarily achieved through the noblest of intentions, she still does it out of love so that she can be with Lycius.
In light of these clear intentions, the audience can sympathize with Lamia’s well-meant stratagem for attaining her Lycius, but we are also wary from the get-go. Furthermore, Lamia calls to Lycius asking him for pity as he passed on the path where she had waited for him because she had stalked him prior. The speaker of the poem then claims that Lycius did look back at Lamia as “Orpheus-like at an Eurydice,” (Keats, 248). Interestingly the corresponding genders to this allusion are correct, but within the context of the poem themselves, the Eurydice becomes the charming muse whereas the Orpheus is felled by a serpent, which is reverse to the legend. The audience becomes concerned by the allusions to failed romance, as well as Lamia’s questionable actions, but the positive intentions of both characters hold off an immediate condemnation of their relationship. In this Keats complicates the roles of the temptress female and the vacuous/gullible male. Although Lamia is a serpent, and is inclined to act questionably to achieve her goal, the audience’s knowledge that her goal is love keeps the label of “serpentine seductress” off of her back, and compels the audience to take a chance on the lovers’ relationship. When Apollonius causes the breakdown of their relationship then, he becomes the villain. He is the patriarchal figure that influences Lycius, and thus conforms Lycius to his ideology, undermining Lamia. Therefore, the poem functions to show how external patriarchy will always affect marriage, and that equal partnership cannot provide external equality to the female because her voice or identity must first find the approval of the patriarch. By assigning the only aspect of the Orpheus which is seen as fundamentally feminine (his musical ability) to the Eurydice, the narrative labels Lycius as what is essentially a trophy husband.
Lycius’ desire to be with Lamia stems from his love of her beauty and song, so Keats establishes that internally Lamia is volatile and incapable of being perceived in the same way Lycius perceives her externally. She fears Apollonius because of his ability to perceive truth, but is it true that Apollonius is right to perceive Lamia as purely manipulative in that she is controlling Lycius for all of the wrong reasons? Apollonius is intervening with a relationship in which he has no stake, he is making an assumption that Lamia is a serpent, and that serpents are fundamentally evil, and this would without his revelation of Lamia be of no consequence to Lycius had he just let Lamia and Lycius be. Lamia can wholeheartedly devote herself to Lycius because she has no other allegiance, but Lycius feels obligated to Apollonius and thus does not exit him from the wedding.
Apollonius’s attachment to Lycius puts him in a position in which he must intervene because he perceives a problem where there may not be one. In this situation Apollonius perceives a snake, but in reality his intrusion disallows the rightful upward mobility of a well-meaning entity, regardless of her inherent identity. In the realm of Romanticism we cannot trust Apollonius’s deduction of Lamia’s being; she may be a serpent, but she is also sentient and caring. Keats ensures that Apollonius is seen as the extreme opposite of Lycius’s tendency to trust, but this is not to distance Apollonius from Lycius rather, it is to locate Lamia somewhere in the middle in which she understands how vulnerable she is and cannot idealize her relationship as one that defies all boundaries. Furthermore she cannot be a woman of harsh deduction because she is filled with love. Lamia is in a position in which her relationship can and will be damaged internally or externally based on Apollonius, to directly challenge him would reveal what would be assumed of her, and to avoid him would be to wait for him to bring them (Lamia and Lycius) their demise.
Keats is critical of both abstract fantasy and of concrete reasoning, in that Apollonius’s disallowance of idealism in Lycius’ blind love is both rewarded with correctness and punished with death. It is the absolute realism that condemns the dreamer like Lycius, he cannot live without the reality in which Apollonius shattered. Furthermore the fantasy itself ceases to be when brought attention to. Lamia no longer exists because the reality in which her presumed personality is chosen for her, she ceases to exist in the manner in which she desires to. The fundamental fact of her being is that she is a serpent and thus less than, but she looks and speaks like a beautiful woman. That is a reality in which may be maintained with two willing and happy participants, but it is also false to the onlooker, and thus Apollonius feels entitled to interfere by crashing Lycius and Lamia’s wedding. He (Apollonius) met within the murmurous vestibule His young disciple. “Tis no common rule, “Lycius,” said he, “for uninvited guest “To force himself upon you, and infest “With an unbidden presence the bright throng” “Of younger friends; yet must I do this wrong, “And you forgive me.” (163-169). Apollonius intrudes, and says “yet must I do this wrong,” amongst Lycius’ many friends with full knowledge that Lamia means the world to Lycius. So like a vegan at McDonald’s, Apollonius understands that he has entered a situation in which he has no place or authority, to condemn a person he has not met, and to save a person who is not unhappy. Keats uses Apollonius’ intrusiveness to establish that a woman’s identity is always defined by a singular action or pretense rather than on an evolving situation.
Lamia’s origin gives the reader the perspective to understand her more so as a woman with desires as opposed to a trickster with a master plan in which she benefits and all beneath her suffer. “Lamia” is a story of bypassing circumstance rather than tricking one into believing false intentions. Lamia’s intentions were consistent, and in all truth Lycius was obtaining from her everything he perceived. It is only when she is defined by an external patriarchal force that Lamia ceases to exist in any context. She is defined as what she is and not what she intends to maintain and thus is denied social progression or a voice. Lamia cannot sustain a functioning and externally active relationship with Lycius because she is afraid of others recognizing the truth of her reality, and thus she is functionally bound to the house and the machinations of her magic. Lycius exists in two fundamental states, the social and the internal marital. While Lycius’ life involves more external interaction he is by no means brighter or better, Lamia is powerful, beautiful, and cunning; yet Lamia has no social interaction. She cannot be seen as his equal. Apollonius shouts “shall I see thee made a serpents prey?” to Lycius, as if he is being acted on by a malevolent force incapable of compassion, but somehow lesser. She is perceived as feigning to be greater than her actuality, yet in all of her magical ability and beauty she has chosen to deceive and love a human of little consequence.
Professor Paul Endo says that “Lamia exemplifies the way predispositions inform both romance and reality. The utopian ethos of romance highlights and exaggerates the processes by which belief is shaped and reality comes to be recognized as reality,” and the poem ensures that the reality that is perceived as true is also the one with the most detriment to those involved in the fantasy; Apollonius’ student is killed, Lycius has his reality consumed by fact, and Lamia is destroyed or suppressed. Lycius was more than content with Lamia as his equal, and thus equality can only exist in this manner because there are no external patriarchs. It is similar to Danny’s behavior towards Sandy in “Grease,” as he is initially perceived as a genuine and caring individual when left with his own intentions rather than conventional predispositions of what the patriarch of a fraternal society expects of him.
Furthermore Lycius’ influence from Apollonius is paternal, and thus the predisposition to that role has the opportunity to be one of respect or one of progression. The disparity between the two possible perspectives is that the respect of one’s teacher is inherent of one that is a sheep to societal standards without question. The true philosopher’s perspective is to question Apollonius’ perspective of Lamia, and to ask what societal role Lamia plays in the cold non-fiction of Apollonius’ reality. Lamia could be a rags-to-riches archetype that gets to marry up the social ladder because of her good looks, or a whore turned social-climber. What Keats shows us is a harsh but true opposition to Romantic fantasy in which a woman is defined by her birth, and a man can be a sportsman, husband, or philosopher. A nymph cannot remain invisible to a patriarch like Hermes, she must be made available, even in the alluded to myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus loses Eurydice because of his inability to trust that she will remain behind him as he leaves Hades.
Keats exemplifies that the patriarchy disallows Lamia and Lycius’ happy conclusion by having Apollonius as the lone objector amidst a throng of supportive and festive friends of Lycius all of which were happy to celebrate their union. By having the other guests be youthful, Apollonius appears as one whose opinion on social matters has been progressed upon enough to where what little things Apollonius disapproves of are shallow and overlookable by the youth. Furthermore they are enthralled by the many blissful things that Lamia can create. Lamia is a source of happiness achieved through power; Keats presents a fixture in the life of a Romantic, and then reveals it as a falsehood as a demonstration that a woman cannot ascertain that kind of power in a world defined by scholarly questioning. If all things even love and poetry are defined by fact in the manner of Apollonius’ harsh and strict judgement, then the predisposition towards Lamia is that in the words of Dr. Irina Strout “she cannot exist in the mortal world of cold rationalism” (Strout). Lamia is a woman that wants and has the ability to achieve her wants. Apollonius is one who is past his prime and is a part of the system that oppresses. Lycius is the one with the power to decide if Lamia’s fantasy can be real, but ultimately becomes subdued by the idea of patriarchal supremacy and ultimately cannot desire a woman that is his lesser. Fundamentally “Lamia” admits the male desire to be challenged, as Hermes is aroused by the chase, and Lycius loves someone far more beautiful than himself. Unlike Hermes human desire fades, and thus Apollonius grew cold, rational, and conservative.
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