March 17th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances

Of Swans and Songs I sing

Are swans considered a symbol of masculinity? Is there any tradition of it, particularly in classical or medieval times?

Today, along with a few other people, I read a poem by Horace in which he describes himself as a swan, conquering envy by becoming a white-plumed swan which flies to all corners of Europe and Persia, and is known throughout. His fame will endure.

Upon further thought, most of the older swan stories I know involve very male swans. Leda was seduced by Jove in the form of a swan, a subject near and dear to Renaissance artists. In the Carmina Burana, the song of a dying song is a male solo number (well, at least the way Carl Orff set it to music). I know it's refered to as the "Ballad of the Roasted Swan", but still, it's in a male voice. Even The Ugly Duckling was male.

I realize that Swan Lake is all about a group of women transformed into swans, but the story is quite late compared to Leda, Horace, and the Carmina Burana, as least to the best of my limited knowledge on the subject. My earliest association with swans was when I was three years old - at my nursery school, my belongings were represented by a swan on a light pink background. An extremely bit of superficial research on the subject tells me that the swan represents both male and female, and thus potentially hermaphroditism. This analysis, however, is not historically grounded.