In the history of the Venetian carnival, there are three origin stories:
The most romantic version is that it’s a festive celebration in honor of liberating the women from the captivity of pirates. The most banal one, is a victory of the people over a greedy patriarch of Venice, while the most common origin story, is that of a harvest festival; a good rest after hard work.
That’s all well and good, but where then did the masks come from? Who is hiding from whom and why: slaves from owners, owners from slaves, pirates from the people or people from the patriarch? Maybe they were all hiding from the God Saturn, the patron of the people.
Perhaps, but I think there is something more to it. Just beware that it’s a really sad story. No, not like Romeo and Juliet, but a much sadder one, because it’s a story about a stalker and his victim, the unknown tale of Apollo and Daphne.
Let me tell you how it really went down.
Once upon a time, there lived a mighty God Saturn and his wife Cybele. In that age, there also lived a beautiful nymph Daphne and a young shepherd Attis. Of course God Apollo also lived in those distant times. There can’t well be a story without Apollo, that golden-haired playboy of the antiquity, can there?
So it happened that the beautiful Daphne fell in love with the mortal Attis, while the no less lovely Cybele, though a goddess, also fell in love with him. God Apollo, who could not miss a single skirt had began scheming as soon he laid his eyes on the exquisite Daphne. Attis in the meantime decided to kill two birds with one stone and had affairs with both Daphne and Cybele simultaneously. Only Saturn was wise enough to stay out of this love polygon.
“Do what you like” he said, while presumably shaking his head and rolling his eyes, and then went drinking with his buddy Zeus. The mighty Zeus had long wanted to hang out on Mount Olympus with a bottle of brandy.
Predictably, things got messy, as many love stories do. Apollo chased after Daphne, Daphne chased after Attis, who in turn chased Cybele.
Cybele choked with jealousy; Apollo burned with desire; Daphne was dying of love, while Attis was high-fiving everyone and congratulating himself on seducing two beautiful women. All suffered here except Saturn, who was on Olympus enjoying another glass of whiskey. I mean brandy.
But who could resist Apollo? Perhaps only Zeus himself. So Daphne had to flee from him across different lands, until she got to the glorious city of Venice. Alas, it was all in vain: lovesick Apollo followed her everywhere like a bloodhound with a scent, pursuing her anywhere she ran. Doomed, Daphne appealed to all the residents of Venice, asking for their help. The good people felt sorry for her, but no one dared to openly defy the will of Apollo. That is, until someone suggested a clever solution of disguising the entire city in masks to hide them from Apollo. The people liked the idea of outwitting a God, and the next morning everyone was wearing disguises, rejoicing, dancing and celebrating from morning till night for two whole weeks, while a flabbergasted yet determined Apollo stalked the narrow streets of Venice in a relentless search for his prey. He felt entitled to possess Daphne. She belonged to him even if she didn’t accept it.
But then came Lent, and people had to stop the festivities and remove their masks. That’s when Apollo had finally discovered Daphne. Furious that she not only rejected him – a God, but actually preferred some simple mortal shepherd instead, he turned her into a Laurel tree. He broke off a branch, made it into a wreath and placed it on his golden curls as a trophy. He also gave the tree immortality, so that he could possess Daphne in any form he could, for all eternity. What a sociopath.
Cybele, in turn, drove Attis crazy, unfortunately in a very literal sense, because he opened up his veins and died. As for Saturn, he got a huge hangover. And he also fought with Zeus. Turns out that Zeus was an angry drunk. As for people of Venice, they took to the idea of hiding their faces under different masks and celebrating life and love in all their transient glory.
And that’s how began the tradition of the Venetian masquerade: with the myth of Apollo and Daphne – a stalker and his victim. And whether I’m wrong or right, is for you to decide.
Sterling silver mask with 38 fresh water pearls, 9 Swarovski crystals, satin flowers; Hooded cape with sequin and bead embroidery; Ceramic engraving on porcelain; Ball-jointed, porcelain, china paint, magnetic silk fiber wig, industrial springs, leather.
14 ¼” (37cm) standing.