"Dream Maker and Heart Breaker" - Engendering Epic in Kings and Queens

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Contribution to Book

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Arnaud Desplechin’s 2004 Kings and Queen tells the story of two former lovers, Nora and Ismael, as they remember their past and start new lives. Alternating between a first-person confessional perspective and a more impersonal style, the story line combines tragedy and comedy. The two perspectives meet, intertwine, and collide with one another much as the relationship between Nora and Ismael evolves through time. While ostensibly about ordinary people facing everyday joys and disappointments, the film begins with an arpeggio played on a harp and a voiceover describing how Zeus loved the beautiful Leda and came to her as a swan, an opening gesture that places the narrative firmly in the realm of epic. Like Yeats, author of the famous poem “Leda and the Swan,” Desplechin sees myth as a source of inspiration and self-understanding. Critics have noted the important place given to modern poetry and psychoanalysis in Desplechin’s film, but it is Greek myth that is at the core of and provides a key to understanding Kings and Queen. In the following pages, I trace the visual and poetic motifs that link Kings and Queen to Greek myth in general, and more particularly to the Odyssey, and show how Desplechin uses the classical tradition to "engender"—to use Yeats' word—a modern epic of homecoming that transforms and transcends its ancient models.


This article was part of a book compiled as "A virtual birthday gift presented to Gregory Nagy," on the occasion of his "turning seventy by his students, colleagues, and friends".


Victor Bers, David F. Elmer, Douglas Frame, & Leonard Muellner


Center for Hellenic Studies


Washington, DC

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Donum Natalicium Digitaliter: Confectum Gregorio Nagy Septuagenario: A Discipulis Collegis Familiaribus Oblatum