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Interpretation of “Mirror” by Alkinoos Ioannidis

What follows is my translation of a song by Alkinoos Ioannidis (Αλκίνοος Ιωαννίδης) titled “Καθρέφτης” (Kathreftis means “Mirror”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FpEtur24uI.

First I share the original lyrics, followed by my translation, and then my commentary:

Καθρέφτης

Μια μέρα ήρθε στο χωριό γυναίκα ταραντούλα
κι όλοι τρέξαν να τη δουν
άλλος της πέταξε ψωμί
κι άλλοι της ρίξαν πέτρα
απ’ την ασχήμια να σωθούν

Κι ένα παιδί της χάρισε ένα κόκκινο λουλούδι
ένα παιδί
ένα παιδί της ζήτησε να πει ένα τραγούδι
ένα παιδί

Κι είπε ποτέ σου μην τους πεις
τι άσχημοι που μοιάζουν
αυτοί που σε σιχαίνονται
μα στέκουν και κοιτάζουν

Κι είπε ποτέ σου μην κοιτάς
τον άλλον μες τα μάτια
γιατί καθρέφτης γίνεσαι
κι όλοι σε σπαν’ κομμάτια

Μια μέρα ήρθε στο χωριό άγγελος πληγωμένος
τον φέρανε σε ένα κλουβί
κι έκοβε εισιτήριο ο κόσμος αγριεμένος
την ομορφιά του για να δει

Κι ένα παιδί σαν δάκρυ ωραίο αγγελούδι
ένα παιδί
ένα παιδί του ζήτησε να πει ένα τραγούδι
ένα παιδί

Κι είπε αν θέλεις να σωθείς
από την ομορφιά σου
πάρε τσεκούρι και σπαθί
και κόψε τα φτερά σου

Κι είπε ποτέ σου μην κοιτάς
τον άλλο μες τα μάτια
γιατί καθρέφτης γίνεσαι
κι όλοι σε σπαν’ κομμάτια
Kathreftis (Mirror)

One day came by the village a woman tarantula
and all ran to behold her
one threw her bread
and others threw her a stone
to save themselves from the ugliness

And a child offered her a red flower
a child
a child asked her to sing a song
a child

And she said never tell them
how ugly they look
those who loath you
yet stand watching you

And she said never stare
the other in the eyes
for you turn into a mirror
and all shatter you into pieces

One day came by the village a wounded angel
they brought him in a cage
and people were ragingly buying tickets
to behold his beauty

And a child like a good tear, a little angel,
a child
a child asked him to sing a song
a child

And he said if you want to save yourself
from your beauty
pick an axe and a sword
and chop off your wings

And he said never stare
the other in the eyes
for you turn into a mirror
and all shatter you into pieces

Alkinoos draws two contrasting images which share a common thread. In the first, we have a spider, an insect that people tend to find disgusting; a being worthy only of contempt. In the second is an angel who, albeit wounded, remains strikingly beautiful and admirable.

Starting with the spider. What do we think of bugs, really? Even in as something as technical as programming, we find people participate in “bug squashing parties”. Sure, it is not literal. But even the choice of metaphor says a lot about our underlying values. Humanity has a hard time appreciating those forms of life. Instead, we judge them on the basis of their looks. We deal only with superficialities to make ourselves feel more special. Such is our vanity and self-valorisation. Our prejudice prevents us from discerning in the tarantula anything other than a loathsome creature.

Whereas the child, the lad not yet indoctrinated in social norms, sees things without a filter, without anthropocentric pretenses to worthiness. The child recognises that this insect can sing a song and can, in fact, teach us a lesson. It offers a red flower to show its respect.

The tarantula tells us how ugly, how profoundly insecure about themselves, are those who loath you. The reason they judge you is to boost their own confidence: to affirm to their own person and their peers that “I am not that ugly, therefore, I am better”. Those who are insecure cannot stand the truth: their modus vivendi consists in the hypocrisy of being someone else, of concealing their true self out of a misplaced fear of who they are in actuality. Those who pretend to be another person need to put up an act at all times, a performance for the public eye, a charade they themselves must believe in, to deny or wish away that which is real about them. The hypocrite dreads being exposed.

When you are pure, like the tarantula in our story, and stare a hypocrite in the eyes you create a juxtaposition in their mind between your truthfulness and their falsehood. This is why you become a mirror: they see in you the liar hidden beneath their mask. Those whose life depends on a heap of lies can only hate the truth: it ruins what they so laboriously set up. Thus they will shatter any “mirror” that exposes them.

We then have the angel. Why would a being of peerless beauty ever entertain the notion of saving oneself from one’s looks (“if you want to save yourself from your beauty”)? Isn’t it good to be beautiful? Don’t practically all benefits come from this attribute? We live in an overly sexualised and superficial society that commodifies certain standards. Apply this lotion to develop silky smooth skin. Buy this other chemical to have bright, healthy hair. Spend inordinate amounts of money on this and that gimmick that your prospective sexual partners ought to find attractive (the “ought to” is where brainwashing comes in). In short: play by the rules of the game and you might win big time, else you will get the tarantula treatment.

The angel wants to save himself from his beauty because it too engenders superficial and misleading judgements. People like the angel not because of his personhood but due to his appearance, which reduces him to an object of admiration. “Admiration”, yes, but an object nonetheless.

Here too the charlatans are not interested in the truth. Their sole concern is to reaffirm their standards and, by extension, do their best to fit in with their social group. This is akin to the deeply phobic man who feels the need to praise the “ideal of the alpha male” in order to conceal his underlying reality; a reality from which he is running away; a reality he is ashamed of because he is the victim of social expectations that he has mistakenly internalised as indisputable truths.

Read commentary: Thoughts on masculinity.

Relevant presentations:

The angel shall emancipate himself from the superficialities by ritually chopping off the markers of his undeniable beaty: his wings. In so doing, he becomes “normal”. We must now appreciate him for who he is, not assess his worthiness on the basis of his score on an inane metric.

Those who are honest, like the child, recognise the wisdom in the angel’s song. In a world of hypocrites, in a world that objectifies the subject, a world in which people hate themselves despite their litanies to the contrary, being a mirror, reminding them of who they are, is dangerous.

Alkinoos sings about the contrasting figures of a spider and an angel to prompt us to look past the appearances and to appreciate others for who they are, not how we compare to them.

Observe people’s behaviour towards those whom they consider their inferiors and superiors, respectively. Search for differences. If there are any, you will understand who you are dealing with. Such is the rule of thumb I have developed through my experiences. Do you loath the spider for her ugliness and admire the angel for his beauty? This tells us a lot about you.