Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail


Since I keep quoting from this every time I mention the Trojan Horse, I thought I should give it its own post.
This is one of my favourite scenes from my favourite Monty Python film, in which Sir Bedevere's plan to outwit the taunting French castle guards ('Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!') goes a little bit wrong...

BEDEVERE: Sir! I have a plan, sir.

[later] [wind] [saw saw saw saw saw saw saw saw saw saw saw saw saw saw saw saw] [clunk] [bang] [rewr!] [squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak] [rrrr rrrr rrrr] [drilllll] [sawwwww] [clunk] [crash] [clang] [squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak...] [creak]

FRENCH GUARDS: [whispering] C'est un lapin, lapin de bois. Quoi? Un cadeau. What? A present. Oh, un cadeau. Oui, oui. Allons-y! What? Let's go. Oh. On y va. Bon magne. Over here... [squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak...] [clllank]

ARTHUR: What happens now?

BEDEVERE: Well, now, uh, Lancelot, Galahad, and I, uh, wait until nightfall, and then leap out of the rabbit, taking the French, uh, by surprise. Not only by surprise, but totally unarmed!

ARTHUR: Who leaps out?

BEDEVERE: U-- u-- uh, Lancelot, Galahad, and I. Uh, leap out of the rabbit, uh, and uh...

ARTHUR: Ohh.

BEDEVERE: Oh. Um, l-- look, i-- i-- if we built this large wooden badger-- [clank] [twong]
ARTHUR: Run away!

KNIGHTS: Run away! Run away! Run away! Run away! Run away! Run away! Run away!

[CRASH]

FRENCH GUARDS: Oh, haw haw haw haw! Haw! Haw haw heh...

There are so many reasons I love this scene. The Fronglais is brilliant and I love the way the French soldiers don't actually speak French. I'm not sure whether this counts as breaking the fourth wall (because the English actors can't speak French) or if its just Python madness, but it's very funny. My favourite bit of Fronglais occurs just before this section, when one French guard orders another to 'Fetchez la vache!' - a perfect blend of French grammar and English vocab.

Bedevere's incompetance is also hilarious - he's thought the whole thing through so carefully, but missed one vital element of the plan...

Finally, this scene is funny because, once again, it demonstrates how supremely silly the story of the Trojan Horse is. The idea of sneaking a few soldiers in to take the city by surprise is perfectly sensible, but the idea of doing so using a giant wooden horse is less so, and the image of a giant wooden rabbit (and Bedevere's plan to use a badger next) shows just how silly it is. There are all sorts of theories about why this imagery is used, some of them focused around the idea that the story has Indo-European origins (the Wikipedia link here seems decent, but caution is advised - although the links between Indo-European languages have been well established and are pretty much universally accepted, there is pretty much no proof of any of the theories concerning myth, and so a lot of rubbish gets spouted on this subject. And bear in mind that several Indo-European motifs do not appear in Greek myth). For example, one theory says that the Indian aśvamedha ritual consisted of the sacrifice of a horse and may have been linked with the consolidation of a ruler, so the Trojan Horse might represent a horse sacrifice to achieve victory, resulting in the destruction of the enemy ruler. But all of this must be taken with a huge pinch of salt - there just isn't enough evidence to make any theory convincing.

And it all ends with Python's classic battle cry, beloved of all those of a practical bent - 'Run away! Run away!'


For anyone who's interested - my lecture on the historicity of the Trojan War


13 comments:

  1. I'm sure a couple of the Pythons must speak at least some French. After all, they were all at university. They also seem to have had at least one passable German speaker among them, too.

    One of the things I like best about the rabbit is that it is so badly made. Even on a not very large TV screen, you can practically see right through it.

    As for the original, most of the alternate theories I've heard have problems. The siege engine fails to explain why we don't see another for almost 1000 years. The earthquake theory is OK, but wouldn't the story then be that Poseidon tore down the walls? He certainly had ample reason. My own theory is that the horse contained not men, but arms. The walls of Troy leaked like a sieve. Odysseus went into the city on 2 or 3 separate occasions by climbing over the wall (at the west side?). So, fill the horse with armor and weapons, sneak a handful of men into the city to hide or pose as slaves, once the Trojans are incapacitated sneak eveything out of the horse, and proceed as described.

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  2. I'm sure the Pythons do speak French - in fact, I know Palin does because he does so in his TV series 'Sahara' - I just meant they might be making a joke based on the fact English actors (and viewers) don't always speak French.

    As I mentioned in the older Red Dwarf post, I don't believe that the Trojan War actually happened, not in the way the story has come down to us anyway. Will have to see if I can post the powerpoint from my lecture on the subject somewhere

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  3. I fall more into the "some basis in reality" camp, at least in the sense that a bunch of Mycenaean Greek probably repeatedly raided and eventually sacked a rather wealthy city sitting on a major trade route. Specific events or personalities, probably not so much. But there are so many things that appear to predate Homer by so much and things that fit with the archaeological record (and the various Hittite letters) for there not to be something there.

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  4. I agree - and have managed to get a link to the powerpoint working I think!

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  5. Would be interested in seeing that ppt! Have you tried Slideshare? I've posted a few for my students to access and it works fine! You can embed it in Blogger as well...

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  6. Ooh, I didn't know about Slideshare, I will have to look into it. Is the link working?

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  7. The link doesn't work, alas. It took me to a GoogleDocs page asking me to log in. I did so, but was informed that I don't have the necessary permissions to view the file.

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  8. Have asked my much more computer savvy friend for help - will get the slideshow up as soon as I've worked out how!

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  9. Hopefully the slideshow is working now

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  10. Props for having the picture of Frau Schliemann. It is my favourite photgraph in archaeology, which is no small matter as I'm sure you'll agree. She couldn't look crosser if he'd forced her to wear the Agamemnon death mask.

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  11. There is actually one thing that argues in favor of "Homeric society" preceding Homer: all that bronze. Except for a couple of lines that are probably later interpolations involving prizes at Patroklos' funeral games, it's all bronze. Bronze weapons, bronze armor, bronze shields, bronze tripods. Homer himself (however you interpret him) is firmly Iron Age, but he is clearly passing on Bronze Age material in the Iliad.

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  12. There are various Mycenean 'survivals' in the poems - bronze stuff, shields etc - but some confusion about how they are used, especially the war chariots. The physical artefacts have been remembered and are included to give the poems a period setting, but the action belongs to a later period. Which was covered in the lecture but not on the slides - I have to leave something off the slides or no one would turn up to the lectures! (we put them online for students afterwards)

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  13. Many thanks for sharing your Troy talk with us.

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