Kanye's Greek Tragedy

I’ve been doing a lot of research into Kanye’s live shows recently (new video essay on the way soon) and I realized that Kanye never did a tour for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy… That’s actually kind of crazy when you think about it. The best that we got from him was that Coachella performance. I remember where I was, in college watching it when I should’ve been studying. The thing I remembered the most about it was the giant background that stood behind him. A giant relief sculpture that was a replica of A small part of the east frieze of the Pergamon Altar. The real Pergamon Altar was built during the reign of Freek King Emends II in the 2nd century BC. It’s located in the acropolis of the ancient Greek City of Pergamon in Asia Minor… Yes, I just wikipedia’d it’s location, but in case you wanna go globe trotting for it, thank me later. 

The interesting aspect of the sculpture is the narrative. According to Max Kunze “Der Pergamonaltar. Seine Geschichte Entdeckung und Reconstruction:”  Athena, the city goddess of Pergamon, breaks the Giant Alkyoneus’ contact to the earth, from which the mother of the Giants, Gaia, emerges. According to legend, Alkyoneus was immortal only as long as he touched the ground, where the power of his mother could flow through him. The eastern frieze concludes with Ares, the god of war, who goes into battle with a chariot and pair of horses. His horses rear up in front of a winged Giant.

The parallel here to Kanye’s life is most interesting is the fact that in the story Alkyoneus was only immortal as long as he touched the ground, because it was from the ground where the power of his mother could flow within him. Complex stated it was likely Kanye honoring his mother Donda. What makes this so great to me though is that all of this went without explanation from the man himself. If nobody watching the show knew anything about Ancient Greek art, people would probably assume that the man was just trying to be artistic for its own sake.

The album was about magnitude and ego, and here was an art piece that definitely projected that feeling, but with a much more tender subtext. Here was a man who saw himself as a god amongst men but still receiving his strength from his mother’s love. In the mythology Gaia is the very personification of the earth and the mother of all life and the who also gave birth to the Titans who themselves were the parents of many Olympian gods. It’s touching to see an artist still speak to the goodness of his mother in such subtle, yet fascinating ways.