Friday, May 15, 2009

The Ugly Prince: Louis XIV in Rossellini’s The Ascension of Louis XIV

I have been reading Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus. Since Xenophon's Cyrus is the basis of so many other depictions of young monarchs, it might be useful to understand Rossellini’s movie through the lens of Xenophon’s book. Xenophon describes Cyrus: “And even to this day the barbarians tell in story and in song that Cyrus was most handsome in person, most generous of heart, most devoted to learning, and most ambitious, so that he endured all sorts of labour and faced all sorts of danger for the sake of praise.” (Cyropadeia, 1.2.1)

Indeed, it is a commonplace, even among fairy tales, that the young prince is handsome, tall and well-spoken. Rossellini’s Louis XIV is almost astonishingly different from this – he is short, stout, comparatively ugly and speaks poorly. The actual Louis XIV of history was indeed short, stout and not especially handsome. But allegiance to the details of history was not critical for Rossellini – Rossellini takes numerous liberties with other historical facts. Rossellini must have had other reasons (or additional reasons) to depict Louis XIV as so different from our image of the archetypal young prince.

Rossellini’s reasons for this are to me unclear. But potential answers are likely to be at the center of an interpretation of this movie.


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