"Somnium Imago Mortis": Classical Myth in Pre-Raphaelite Painting

By Ana González-Rivas Fernández.

Published by The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review

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Human beings have always been fascinated and inspired by the blurred borders that exist between death and sleep. An example of this interest is its presence in mythology, and particularly in Greek-Roman mythology, where Hypnos and Thanatos were twin brothers. The tension created between sleep and death, influenced by both folklore and popular tradition (tales such as “Sleeping Beauty,” for example), was soon assimilated as a literary theme from Classical literature. Starting from this classical and mythological origin, the border state between death and sleep took on a new significance in the nineteenth century, where it is reformulated in light of Romantic concepts such as sublimity and terror. The myth of Hypnos and Thanatos, therefore, gives rise to the image of the dying woman (aptly defined by Edgar Allan Poe), who, along with the sleeping woman, soon became the protagonist of a large number of masterpieces, from fin-de-siècle literature to Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian painting. The aim of this study is to analyse the interaction between text and image in relation to this motif of mythological origins, now revisited in the context of a new aesthetic sensibility.

Keywords: Death, Sleep, Intermediality, Mythology, Greek-Roman Literature, Romanticism, Nineteenth Century

The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review, Volume 11, pp.35-50. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 803.435KB).

Ana González-Rivas Fernández

Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain

Ana González-Rivas Fernández has a PhD in Philology and degrees in both Classics and English from the Complutense University in Madrid. Her main line of research is Gothic literature and the Classical tradition. She is currently a lecturer in English literature at the Autónoma University of Madrid.