One of my ambitions in college was to write a paper on the influence of classical mythology (specifically, Ovid) on the songwriting of Peter Gabriel. Alas, no such paper was ever written. But here, courtesy of YouTube, is the Gabriel-era Genesis version of “The Fountain of Salmacis” from Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book 4 (filmed live in Belgium in 1972).
The album version, from Nursery Cryme, can be found here (audio only). The complete lyrics can be found by clicking “more info” at the top of the right sidebar.
Peter Gabriel seems fascinated with stories of metamorphosis and gender ambiguity. Narcissus shows up briefly in “Supper’s Ready,” on the album Foxtrot (“we watch in reverence as Narcissus is turned to a flower”), and in “Cinema Show,” from Selling England by the Pound, the character of Teiresias makes an appearance:
Home from work our Juliet
Clears her morning meal.
She dabs her skin with pretty smells
Concealing to appeal.
I will make my bed,
She said, but turned to go.
Can she be late for her cinema show?
Romeo locks his basement flat,
And scurries up the stair.
With head held high and floral tie,
A weekend millionaire.
I will make my bed
With her tonight, he cries.
Can he fail armed with his chocolate surprise?
Take a little trip back with Father Tiresias,
Listen to the old one speak of all he has lived through.
I have crossed between the poles, for me there’s no mystery.
Once a man, like the sea I raged,
Once a woman, like the earth I gave.
But there is in fact more earth than sea.
This Teiresias (as my graduate school professor S. Georgia Nugent suggested to me) is as much T.S. Eliot’s (from The Waste Land) as Ovid’s:
- At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
- Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
- Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
- I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
- Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
- At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
- Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
- The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
- Her stove, and lays out food in tins.