The Spanish painter, Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son which depicts the Greek titan Chronos eating one of his children remains possibly one of the scariest pieces of art ever made throughout history. There is the obvious aesthetic intention to evoke unease with the body missing a head while Saturn’s black mouth gnaws at an elbow. But more than that, there is a deeper fear seated in painting in how it reflects a dark part of the human psyche we are often too ashamed to confront.
In the original tale of Chronos and his habit of devouring his children, fearful of a prophecy that said one of his sons will usurp him as he usurped his own father; he was said to eat his children whole when they were only babies. This way when they arrived in his belly, they were still alive. This metaphorical story like many ancient Greek folklores is used to describe how parents often trap their children in an eternal state of infancy because there is a deep-seated fear of displacement when the balance of power swings the other way. I mean, how does one define their self as a parent without any power over the child? You only have to study relationship dynamics with powerful (rich) men and their children to see how difficult it can be for these children to become their own person.
If is not uncommon for powerful fathers to crush their children with the weight of expectation, as it is not uncommon for the children to rebel in protest as they try to carve out their own personhood dissociated from a towering figure that will not let them grow.
When the fear of the eclipsing child is absent, an even more sinister habit of mind takes its place. While masculine energy is often related to competition and aggression, both depicted in the aforementioned painting and myth. Feminine energy on the other hand is linked with communion and manipulation. With the progress of time, the composition of both energies have continually evened out in men and women, hence it is important to note that fathers as well as mothers can be both infantalizing and manipulative.
In African cultures where individualism is still making its entrance from the pre-colonial communal past, it isn’t unheard of that parents try to be involved in what vocation their child will practice and even the life partner their child will choose.
Ultimately, we must understand that the fear that causes the parent to eat the child or the love that causes them to infantalize both come from a natural place. The fear of death ultimately is the fear of one’s existence eclipsed, by the deep void of nothingness or otherwise. And as for love, it can make it hard to let go knowing things might not go as well as they might wish. More than your fulfilment, your parents first want your safety and protection, and for that cause, they will hold your hand to cross the streets until you wrestle free from their taunt grip. Writing this takes me back to when I would come back from boarding school and my mother would still want to bathe me like I wasn’t doing fine on my own through the school term. Oh the fight we had to settle that. The irony, things change only to stay the same. I love my parents, in how they are whole and in how they are broken.