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A guide to Lamia for a new AS Level student

PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2009 6:53 pm
by chrisgate
I have loved the work by Keats that I've studied before, but we've come to start reading Lamia and I am struggling to take every last part of it in - I'm not used to reading poetry this long. I have a rough idea of the plot, but if anyone could briefly run through the key themes and perhaps some alternate interpretations for me it would be much much appreciated.

Re: A guide to Lamia for a new AS Level student

PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2009 2:02 am
by Sid13
Typically, a reading of Lamia sees it as a dualistic allegory, pitting love/dream/illusion against reality/reductive reasoning. Lamia's beauty is false, her love is a trap, but Lycius needs that illusion. When Apollonius wakes him from his dream, Lycius dies.

A biographical note: Keats was deliberately cynical about love in the summer of 1819, when he wrote Lamia. He was trying to wean himself from Fanny Brawne, to entirely concentrate on poetry. (One critic even interpreted the poem as a symbolic autobiography, Lycius equals Keats, Lamia equals Fanny, and Apollonius equals Charles Brown. Not that I'm endorsing that interpretation....)

However...if one reads the poem closely, things aren't as simple as that. The poem assumes there are two realities, the reality of the gods, which is dream, and the reality of mortals. The ambiguous problem here is Lamia. In the beginning of the poem, in her serpent form, she inhabits the mythical world of gods and nymphs, but then as a woman, she lives among the humans in Corinth, but she is still separated from them by her sorcery. In fact, for a while, she and Lycius live a dream, as the gods do. It is only when Lycius attempts to mix this dream world with the human world that the disaster occurs.

Keats never tells us Lamia's backstory. She tells Hermes that she was a woman before she became a snake. If that is true, then Apollonius, whom most readers assume represents truth (objective reality), when he identifies her as a serpent has at best achieved a partial truth about her.

I hope that helps, or at least doesn't leave you more confused than you were before. :)

Re: A guide to Lamia for a new AS Level student

PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2009 10:47 am
by chrisgate
Thank you, much appreciated!!