by Chloe Thurlow ©2014

The erotic bond between sex and death is deeply-rooted in the human psyche and has been played out in the allegory Death and the Maiden since the beginning of time. The story always follows the same theme: a pretty young girl is seduced by death.

The erotic bond between sex and death is deeply-rooted in the human psyche and has been played out in the allegory Death and the Maiden since the beginning of time. The story always follows the same theme: a pretty young girl is seduced by death. The girl represents purity and fertility. Death is depicted as a horny old man with his last carnal desires.

The first known version of Death and the Maiden appears in The Myth of Hades and Persephone. Persephone, the daughter of Zeus, performs a dance while gathering flowers in a lush garden. She reveals her white breasts as she bends to pick a narcissus. At that moment, the ground opens beneath her feet and she falls into the arms of Hades, who carries her down to the underworld.

Before the Christian era, man and his morals were less tightly bound. Gory death in gladiatorial combat and, for the rich, wine-soaked orgies were the staff of life. Campfire stories of virgins and crucifixions travelled the silk routes from India and Mesopotamia. When the gospel writers came to tell parables of Jesus, Mary and the Holy Ghost, they would have drawn on classical legends to create an account that was both fresh and familiar, the formula designed to woo the pagans into the new church.

During the Middle Ages, the maiden transforms into a virgin and the union between sex and death grows stronger. The iconography changes from the girl dancing with death to the girl having sex with death, the images ever more erotic, the basic premise the same: that young girls should be plucked when ripe like an apple from a tree. The earliest painting of Death and the Maiden is a 1517 work by Niklaus Manuel Deutsch. It shows death as a rotting corpse, its hand brushing the maiden’s sex. As death presses against the girl, she does not resist, but yields to its kiss.

When Schubert in 1824 wrote his String Quartet No.14, I am not sure if he was reminiscing over all the young women he had bedded, or would like to have bedded, but the work became known as Death and the Maiden and has become one of the most popular pieces of music of all time. The Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman used Schubert’s composition for his production of Death and the Maiden in 1990, the play turned into a movie by Roman Polanski.

The story is set during a violent dictatorship. Political prisoner Paulina Salas is raped by a sadistic doctor whose face she never sees. Years pass and the regime falls. Paulina now lives in a country house with her husband, who returns home one night with a stranger named Dr Miranda. Paulina recognizes the voice of her warder. She takes him prisoner, reversing their roles, and makes audiences feel uncomfortable as they witness her own sexual desires stirred by this messenger of death.

Gabriel García Márquez in his last novel, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, 2005, relates the tale of a man who decides to pay for a final night of love with a virgin on his ninetieth birthday – a new slant in the new world, but still we can picture the white breasts of Persephone as Hades reaches out from the underworld.

Death and the Maiden reminds us in each revival that the sand is racing through the hourglass, youth is fleeting, and death comes for us all. Eat, drink and make love now, this instant, before it is too late. Not bad advice, but the retelling of the story has always been taken up by men who pay scant regard to beauty as a product of character, or love as a mysterious fusion. Their pens are stiffened by visions of the virgin falling for their own mirror image, a foul-smelling old bloke sliding towards the grave.

New times warrant a twist on the theme, Death and the Maiden as Death and the Adonis, perhaps, the slim young deity (played by Justine Bieber?) falling for the Gorgon Medusa with her fearful features and snakes for hair. Now, who shall we cast in that role?

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Chloe Thurlow is an exciting writer and blogger with many erotic books to her credit. They are all available at in print or e-book.



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