The Prototype Psychopath and the Tattoo…

ckise up

 

I came across this Greek vase while doing research for an essay about the Roman book The Aeneid. Prior to reading Virgil I had no idea that the Romans had co-opted the mythical Trojans as their ancestors, but having read both The Iliad and The Odyssey earlier in the semester, this addition to the legend was placed in perfect context.

Once I had seen the case, the scene it depicted was so shocking to me that it became more important than the original purpose. The essay was about The Aeneid though, not the scene, so I could not change the purpose of the essay and make the vase the central theme.

I have looked at this image many, many times now. It has a horribly gruesome attraction that keeps the eyes affixed in fascination. Just the notion of the scene, that someone would use the body of a dead child as a club with which to bludgeon the grandfather of that child, is unspeakably disturbing. That someone either dreamed up the idea in the first place, or that the legend is based on some ancient truth does not make things any better.  But the idea that someone chose to commemorate such a sick, vile assault on an amphora is just beyond belief!

The ‘Bucci Painter’ appears to be the creator of this amphora, who operated in Vulci, which happens to be in….Italy. Contrary to some of the thoughts in the essay, it seems the slaying of the noble Trojans by the unscrupulous Greeks has been an Italian obsession since before they were Italian!

My fascination with this depiction stemmed from the idea that in no way could this act be depicted nowadays, in any form. It is impossible to imagine any TV or film producers taking a swing at it, not even the big. paradigm shifting giants at HBO and such like. Maybe in the shlock-horror, video nasty era of the Eighties and Nineties it could have been gotten away with, but using the limp corpse of an infant to beat another human around the head just seems implausible in 2017.

All of which made me consider the original again. In our supposedly ultra violent age, when many cultures have apparently become so desensitised to violence that nothing could shock us any more, it was reassuring to find an image that does shock. The general reaction to seeing this gruesome act has been disbelief, so we have plenty of sensitivity left. The juxtaposition to that is how bleak it makes life in the ancient world seem. If they were so desentised to despicable violence that they could pour olive oil from a vase adorned with this kind of death, then our modern world is a relative Little House on the Prairie. Imagine serving a cocktail pitcher to your friends on a pleasant summer’s day in the garden, with a faithful depiction of Charles Manson’s most appalling act decorating the thing…cheers!

The Essay:

As of 2017 I am an English Major at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Every year the Droste Awards are given for outstanding work in their category:

 

https://hilo.hawaii.edu/depts/english/awards.php

 

Ok, so it’s not the Booker or Pulitzer prize, but it is a prize nonetheless, and I am extremely grateful to the Droste’s, as well as the English Dept Faculty for organising these awards. For me personally they are an inspiration and motivation, and it is a privilege to be among those whose work has been selected for praise.

 

This paper was written for a class by Dr Jennifer Wheat. For any prospective students in Hilo, I cannot recommend her classes highly enough. As learned as an oracle yet as enthusiastic as an adolescent, Dr Wheat is the example by which all teachers should be measured, but very few will ever get close to emulating.

 

I was going to rewrite the essay (formatted for content as it says on airplane movies) but instead have left it as per the original.

 

“Tell him about my vicious work, how Neoptolemus degrades his father’s name – don’t you forget.

Now – die!’

That said, he drags the old man straight to the altar, quaking, slithering on through slicks of his son’s blood, and twisting Priam’s hair in his left hand, his right hand sweeping forth his sword – a flash of steel – he buries it hilt deep in the king’s flank.”

(Virgil, The Aeneid, Book II, lines 678-685.)

Virgil’s portrayal of the death of Priam at the hands of Neoptolemus is a scene that, once read, cannot be easily forgotten. Recreated on Greek pottery centuries before the author’s time, this gruesome murder has inspired artists for three thousand years, and even continues to be debated today. As a pivotal passage in one of antiquity’s most celebrated and influential texts, the death of Priam informs the reader of a number of important subjects, including the use of propaganda, the importance of patriarchy, the depiction of graphic violence in previous times, and perhaps the first known portrayal of psychopathy. It is such a shocking image that, even in this era of gratuitous violence in both real and fictional life, some of the ancient depictions of this story would be deemed so extreme by today’s standards that they would risk being left on the editing suite floor by censor-wary editors. Virgil adds a layer of detail that cannot be conveyed on a vase, and forges a connection to his predecessor, Homer.

615px-Amphora_death_Priam_Louvre_F222

(Fig. 1)

The ‘daddy issues’ embedded in this scene are so virulent that they go a long way to explaining the grisly outcome. Priam is the father of Hector, who killed Neoptolemus’ own father, Achilles. Several recreations of Priam’s death, such as the stunning, 6th century BC vase above (figure 1), depict Achilles’ offspring beating Priam to death with his own grandson, Astyanax, son of Hector. It is hard to believe that any portrayal of this act would be palatable to censors in the modern world, and even in two dimensions it is incredibly disturbing. Virgil spares us from this extreme, but still adds his own layer of gore and familial bloodletting. Immediately prior to seizing the King of Troy, Neoptolemus fatally wounds Polites, another of Priam’s sons, killing him ‘as Polites reached his parents and collapsed, vomiting out his life blood before their eyes’ (Virgil 999). This is not the regular kind of violence seen in war; although this takes place at the very culmination of the Trojan War, Neoptolemus is seeking, achieving and revelling in bloody vengeance. It is his psychological state during this murderous, orgiastic rampage that is still being debated today.

Caroline Lawrence is most well known as the author of a series of children’s novels set in ancient Rome. She also writes for thehistory-girls.blogspot.com, and on one blog asks the question, ‘Was the son of Achilles a psychopath?’ (Lawrence.) While describing several attributes our antagonist shares with your average death row dwelling serial killer, her most interesting point is ‘that Homer and Virgil both show Neoptolemus as cruel and unfeeling.’ Lawrence then explains that in The Odyssey, Odysseus tells the ghost of Achilles that his son was the only soldier inside the wooden horse that wasn’t trembling and that in battle ‘Neoptolemus was fearless and always advanced far in the lead’ (Lawrence). Regardless of the other depictions of him, or even his other acts in The Aeneid, it is obvious from the few lines at the start of this essay that the son of Achilles is severely troubled. Instead of taking the instant gratification of killing his foe where he finds him, he drags Priam through pools of his own son’s blood to an altar, an altar that Priam’s wife Hecuba was sheltering by in the belief that the Gods would preserve their lives. Neoptolemus pays no regard to divinity though, and manhandles Priam by the hair before finishing him off. At first glance, moving Priam may seem like a small detail, but by applying such control and focus in the midst of such rage is exactly the type of action that distinguishes a psychopathic killer from a run of the mill sociopathic killer. The horrible, ignominious death of the King of Troy is in stark contrast to Priam’s interactions with Neoptolemus’ father at the end of The Iliad, and his brutal fate in The Aeneid serves as a good example of the political intentions of Virgil’s masterpiece.

Virgil’s Rome was a volatile, unstable place, having endured multiple civil wars and coups in the years prior to Octavian’s ascension. The self-retitled Augustus was keen to establish both his legitimacy and legacy, and with an unusually broad perspective, used indirect propaganda as one of his tools to achieve his goals. By rewriting, or perhaps committing to posterity, the origins of the Roman link to Troy, Augustus was laying the foundations of his own divine genealogy. The story of the sacking of Troy was not Virgil’s creation, as these earlier Greek depictions of the same scene confirm, but the implications of the Roman version are clear. Wartime propaganda makes a virtue of the same acts that the other side are being criticised for, and recorded history is largely an exercise in reading the victor’s point of view, but with The Aeneid Virgil has the opportunity to state the case for the vanquished. In the episode discussed here, Virgil is able to heap on the pathos for the succumbing Trojans, excusing their mistakes and making heroes of the defeated, while amplifying this impression further by depicting the Greeks unfavourably. Like the Arthurian legends painting ancient Britons as being noble and virtuous, rather than the bog standard Celtic warlords they probably were, Virgil applies heroism, courage and valour to the Roman mythology, which by extension proffers it to his own supreme leader, Augustus. His treatment of Carthage, as well as the allusion to Augustus’ rival Antony (and Cleopatra), are other themes that expose his propagandist purposes. There is, however, a weighty counterpoint to this perceived, nationalistic sabre-rattling; if Virgil’s portrayal of the Trojans is self-serving, why are Greek portrayals of Priam’s death even more horrific? Virgil only has Priam killed, but as mentioned, several Greek depictions show a murdered child being used as a club to beat him around the head with. Why does Homer also choose to give Hector the dramatic pre-eminence of a Hollywood lead, and the Greeks the image of squabbling children? It might be easy to cite The Aeneid as just another example of an Empire’s many weapons, but in the context of other depictions perhaps it is closer to a historical document than pure fantasy.

In this scene, the bloody denouement of the sacking of Troy is capped by an unspeakably vile act. With the background of familial drama on a scale that would have seemed outlandish for the Ewings of Dallas, Virgil delivers extreme violence using images and descriptions that illustrate this chilling murder with such clarity that we also understand the mental state of the perpetrator. As deeply disturbing as the act is, the dramatic qualities Virgil brings to it are worth the unsettling emotions, and the audience is given a fascinating portrayal of the kind of antagonist not often seen in ancient drama. Even though this kind of perpetrator has now been reduced to tired cliché, Neoptolemus must still be considered one of fiction’s most detestable villains.

Advertisements

Want to Get Amazing Tattoos at Insane Prices? Here is How.

Do you harbour dreams of having the kind of tattoo you can be proud of for the rest of your life? Whether you prefer portraits, tribal designs or something strange and unique, are your finances holding you back?

Guess what? That kind of tattoo is not out of reach for you, not at all!

Next time you are planning a vacation, consider my suggestion and for a fraction of the normal price you too can have that piece you’ve always dreamed of, and a hell of a holiday too!

Like many people, until recently my tattoo collection was not the carefully curated collection of personally resonant images we all hope for, and was the same grubby reflection of good intentions spoiled by lack of investment that many of us end up saddled with. But that all changed when I visited Cebu, Philippines, and discovered how skillful some of the artists are there. Even more importantly, I discovered just how affordable such a high level of artistry can be, and with that revelation, my previously monochrome tattoo world became technicolour.

In my younger days tattoos were snatched when a few spare coins allowed, often an exercise in finding a balance between what your budget was and the kind of tired clichés the prison-trained vendor had in his portfolio at that range. Only the wealthy could afford to design pieces based on original thoughts and ideas, and only those who were both wealthy and fortunate could have said designs rendered with miraculous precision by an artist who also happened to know how to tattoo.

Over the last ten or fifteen years I have looked on in awe as the quality of both ink and inker improved beyond recognition from my first foray at the turn of the nineties. Regardless of these advances though, I was never able to justify the huge investment a piece worth investing in necessitates. So with my sad, faded portfolio of mistakes I looked on enviously, knowing that real artists with vision, passion and incredible skill had lifted the tattoo business to a level beyond anything our wildest childhood imaginations could ever have believed.

That was until I visited the Philippines, specifically Cebu, in May 2017. Located in Central Visaya, just an hour’s flight from the capital Manila, Cebu was the original capital city and has a wealth of history to match its primary place in the story of the country. Known as the Queen of the South, there is so much fun to be had around the area that there is no need to acclimate in Manila first, just get the first plane to Mactan International Airport and begin your adventure!

(You can fly from Manila to Cebu for as little as $20, more information to follow:)

Screenshot (7).png

The seed of the idea to get a tattoo was planted while chatting with Filipino friends about the tattoos they had, when it became clear that the prices are incredibly affordable from a western perspective. The other two factors of the tattoo triumvirate are skill and hygiene. Cleanliness could be presumed from reviews from customers, but would still have to be evaluated on site anyway – a situation no different to anywhere else in the world, so not a deal breaker. For that crucial element of skill level, preferred styles and real examples, I found a fantastic website:

https://tattoo.heyplaces.ph/Cebu_City/

Screenshot (2)

This fantastic resource allows you to view the studios by map, has them ranked, and includes links to their online portfolios, so apart from pricing info, everything you need to hone down your choice is here. Thanks Heyplace folks!

There are many tattooists in Cebu, and in May I dipped a toe after more than fifteen years out of the pool, getting an old Celtic knot recoloured. Not an easy job, but PHP4000 ($80) was acceptable to me for over four hours of work.

I was satisfied with all aspects of the business there, from the hygiene to the professionalism, even the passion of the guys for their art; talking to them and listening to them discuss potential future pieces was fun, interesting, educational, even inspirational. I left that night with very basic ideas for having the face of one of Cebu’s most bizarre and beautiful sights, the Temple of Leah, inked on my arm, and returned to the States.

(The Temple of Leah – one of the most awe inspiring, strange, breathtaking and lovely things you will ever see. Will add the travelogue section in the future.)

S0410170.JPG

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to return to Cebu again in August, just a couple of months later. Bolstered by my happiness at the success of the recolouring, I changed my plan for the next tattoo, and aimed for something a little more ambitious and original. I tentatively approached the studio for their thoughts on a tattoo based on this image:

615px-Amphora_death_Priam_Louvre_F222

(Click Here for Source)

(The story behind the image on this vase is incredible. For more information, and the original essay that prompted the tattoo in the first place….click here.)

At that time I was thinking maybe we could do the warrior, maybe all three characters, I wasn’t sure. I had an idea what I wanted to spend, and how many hours it might take. Unfortunately, the studio’s estimate and my budget were a long way from each other. I felt that their estimate was way too high anyway, so I contacted several other studios in the area to see what they thought. Reassuringly every other estimate came in at the same rate, PHP10-15,000 ($2-300). I had a couple of places I favoured and began talking with them over FB Messenger, exploring their ideas for what I wanted, what they thought was possible and so on. All the guys I spoke to were incredibly humble, dedicated to their art, and eager to work on something so unusual and original. All were in agreement that the idea was a great one, but that pulling it off correctly would require skill and high talent.

Slide1

One night, while taking another look at portfolios with the aim of finalising who I wanted to commit to, I found this image adorned with the legend:

‘When Judy’s Bored, Judy Draws! ;-):’

20170803_132830

#DecisionMade!

I sent Judy a message, telling him I wanted to commit to doing the work with him and over the next few weeks I kept in touch. We had a good, long discussion about the image, including some of the details you could only see on close-up, as well what would be included, location of the piece, other concerns, problems and so on.

Slide2

Communication was always easy, and even with the 18 hour time difference, he was often very quick to reply. As a result, I arrived in Cebu full of confidence that I had picked the right person to work with, and eager to meet him to discuss finishing touches such as location and size. Now all I had to do was find the studio, and arrive with the coffee I had promised my new compadre!

Screenshot (1)

That first morning a friend and I ate wonderful Pungko Pungko for breakfast near Fuente Pension House, then called for coffee, as promised. One of the most famous landmarks in Cebu is Fuente Osmena Circle, a huge roundabout in the middle of the city. Judy had provided me with a map, and finding him from there was easy; just walk down the road until you see the sign (it’s not a big sign, but if you are looking, their door is next to the 7-11)

map

For those of you with Google eyes, here is the google maps view, and beneath it the street view, with a big arrow showing the doorway you need to go in…

Screenshot (4)Screenshot (3)_LI

After making our acquaintances and handing over the caffeine, we spent an unhurried time talking about the specifics. With templates already prepared, he played around with a few ideas, but there really was only one good way to place the piece and it was reassuringly painstaking to watch him centre, balance and finalise the location so that it looked straight and even from all perspectives.

judy screen.png

Slide5

I left that meeting more convinced than ever that I was working with a professional, and that feeling would only become even more certain over the next two days. In need of some pampering and some Lechon, the rest of the day was spent enjoying some of Cebu’s other miraculously priced treats.

(For more information about Lechon – the greatest Pork in the world – click here.)

Confirming the Position – Even the Template Looks Good Here!

If there is one person you need to make a friend of, the one that’s about to stab you with the needle full of ink should be high up that list, so with more coffee in hand I returned the next morning (PHP120 Starbucks because it was close by…if I had known we all preferred the PHP5 Kopiko I could have saved a lot of cash!). We committed the templates to skin, but because of the nature of the design, getting the bands perfect took four hands and eyes, as well as a ton of patience (his cousin and apprentice Roque Mata aka RM, a man of immense skill himself, helped complete this task). It was a relief when finally, after all the build-up and anticipation, he asked me to lay down so we could begin.

Conor McGregor, as drawn by the damn apprentice!

(The highly talented RM, Mr Roque Mata)

20170803_132827

Getting to work on the early stuff.

The biggest task was always going to be the large figures that dominate the image. Even though they were primarily black they still had some incredible detail, and both of us were keen to recreate it as faithfully and meticulously as possible. Some of the fine detail really made the images pop, such as the white lines within the black figures, so they were essential to the piece…

Here is a close up of Neoptolemus and Astyanax, highlighting the detail we wanted to emphasise. Even at this stage, the work is already a success; his recreation is so accurate and precise.

We stopped for lunch mid-afternoon, and some of the boys popped out to get liempo (pork belly) and manok (chicken). There might be some bbq havens in the States, but Bisaya grilled meats are just as tasty, and definitely much cheaper. 5 or 6 of us ate a decent lunch for less than $20, then cleaned down and sterilised our impromptu picnic table so I could resume the position for the next stint.

In the end it took all the estimated time for the whole piece just to create the three figures. This wasn’t down to slowness or a lack of skill, it was because of Judy’s unwavering commitment to perfection. Having studied and familiarised himself with the depiction, he knew exactly what made it such a compelling piece, and there was no way his own version would be compromised in any way. It was possible to tell, even face down and six feet away from the needle, that his care and attention was laser focused on getting those intricate, fine lines perfect.

Slide3

Day one was hard for both of us, a long, demanding shift, but rewarding and satisfying.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

End Of day one.

It would already have been a great success if we stopped here, the work was so clean and sharp. But the bands were too tempting, and adding those and the colour would take it from an interesting tattoo to a full piece worthy of the investment. The walk to the ATM at the end of the session (it was next door!) was agony. My leg muscles would just contract and totally lock up, making movement of that leg impossible, and then after a couple of hobbled / hopped steps the muscle would loosen and walking would be fine. We cleaned and wrapped the tattoo for the night, and agreed to start a little later the next day.

As with most new tattoos, there was some overnight seepage, which in this case caused most of the two band templates to disappear or stick to the plastic wrap. When I first looked at my leg the next day the top band was half way around the warrior’s neck! A couple of panicked messages to Judy later, and we decided to reconvene earlier, rather than wait until the afternoon. That would prove to be a wise call when we did eventually finish another 10 hours later. Because of his careful forethought, the templates were on his computer anyway, so instead of having to redraw from scratch, all he had to do was position them and make the connections seamless. A mammoth task in and of itself, the grace and care he showed when finalising the merging of the bands was a pleasure to watch, and made me eager to crack on with the day’s action.

This being my first major tattoo though, I was not prepared for the pain day two involved. I had withstood a lot of pain on day one, and knew the area would be tender, but had no measure for the kind of pain I would feel every time he had to work near an already tenderised piece of leg meat.

IMG-20170803-WA0001

The pain factor varied wildly, from a zero right through to almost maximum. I thank Judy sincerely for his touch, which was as light as a butterfly tied to a balloon, and I am sure his deftness helped to lessen the pain from a 9.9 to no worse than a 9.85! The pain was so bad that after we completed the bands I gave serious thought to calling it quits. I think the photos show that the piece would have been just fine as it was. But pain is temporary, tattoos are not, and now was no time to pussy out on ambition and artistry, so it was time for the colour.

I had been in discussion with several of the tattooists about the background of the image from the beginning. As it was an ancient Greek vase, the medium was earthenware. For authenticity, and to make the black images shine, I wanted the orange background to also feature. In order to make the piece affordable or less time consuming, most of the artists tried to steer me away from that idea, but Judy was one of those who didn’t even think twice. Yes, the orange is vital for the image. Yes, it will look fine without, but it will look so much better with. Yes, the idea of only having bands and orange at the front is a little silly, but I get the concept. He even had his own ideas about how best to colour it; I had already learned that his craftsman eyes saw colour in a way I never could, and told him more than once that everything related to colour was his call entirely. I had no choice but to defer to the superior eye and was delighted to do so. In my naivete I thought / hoped that colouring large sections free hand would somehow be less demanding than the intricate work we had done yesterday, but even as I vocalised the thought it sounded ridiculous. No, just another 4 or 5 hours and we would be done…and we were already more than 10 hours into an expected 8 hour piece.

The decision to stick with the background proved to be the correct one beyond any doubt. It took the whole design to another level. By that point my concern with the piece as a tattoo had long since been taken over by my pride at having a permanent piece of genuine Judy work on my body. I knew he was as excited as I was at what we were doing here, and the response from colleagues, other customers and friends who dropped in was phenomenal, even before we finished. The response on his social media to the photos of day one was amazing! Those last few hours were an average of 9.84 on the pain meter, and if I was not so in love with what he was achieving back there, I would have been sorely tempted to stop. I always knew though, that the pain would go away, and I would get to keep all the goodness.

Slide4

Eventually, even when we were finished, we weren’t finished. We had to let the piece settle down a little before we could clean it, photograph it, video it, and post it to social media already! Trying to organise a 360 degree turn with an exhausted guy, while asking him to put his weight on the same leg he has just spent 2 days having repeatedly stabbed, was not the best plan. We got there in the end though, using all the spare hands, office chairs, movable lighting, phones and cameras we could muster.

The final product was simply incredible.

full piece

Beer was necessary, as this was a landmark achievement. The work was fantastic, the pain tolerance was remarkable (both my nervous system and his back, arm and fingers) and the achievement was beyond anything anyone had expected. Those were some fine, cold beers, thank you San Miguel!

I didn’t write this piece to show off my tattoo, although I am incredibly proud of it. I wrote this piece because many people will continue to find themselves in the position I was in in the introduction – caught between budget and ambition. Having a $1,000 idea and a $100 budget is too big a chasm to overcome…but turning a $1,000 idea into a $300 reality is not too big at all. If you are in Europe, North America, Australasia, the Far East or elsewhere in the developed world, but don’t want to pay the prices, come to the Philippines, where you can benefit from high class artisans with bargain basement rates. They are business people first, so approach and discuss with respect, and you will find that both of you can benefit from your arrangement. Don’t be afraid to ask for several quotes from different studios in different cities (accepting for the inflation if you look in Manila) and you can be contented that you are getting an acceptable price for your piece.

Then once you’ve finished flirting with guys in Davao or Angeles, come to Cebu anyway, visit Judy and the boys, and have expert level work done by an artist and dedicated master of his craft. I assure you they will not let you down, and that working with Judy is a lesson in precision and passion.

Long may you be inking sir, I will see you again soon.