Akio favors Greek myth. “Ohtori” can refer to a bird from Chinese mythology.
Primary correspondences. Each of the three main characters has a primary fairy tale correspondence and a primary mythological correspondence. The primary correspondences are worked out thoroughly and maintained consistently. Utena is Ganymede; Anthy is Hera; Akio is Zeus. There are also a plenty of secondary correspondences.
moons of Jupiter
Castor and Pollux
Europa and the Bull
Io and Zeus
King Midas has Donkey Ears
Akio corresponds to Zeus and Oedipus.
Anthy corresponds to Hera when with Akio, to Rhea when with Dios, and to Persephone when playing Mamiya for Mikage. See her complex mythological background below. She may be connected to Circe.
Dios corresponds to Cronus.
Mikage corresponds to Hades.
Nanami is connected with Io, who was turned into a cow, and loosely to Danaë. See below for both.
Utena corresponds to Ganymede, to Astraea, to Cronus via her connections with Saturn and Dios, and is connected with Europa in the story of Europa and the bull.
Anthy and Akio share a complex mythological background. As Hera, Anthy is Zeus’s (Akio’s) wife. Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, so as Persephone she is Zeus’s daughter. In episode 26 Anthy tells Utena that Akio is like a father to her. Zeus and Hera are brother and sister and a married couple. Their parents are Cronus and Rhea, who were the former rulers of the gods. Cronus ruled over the Golden Age when there was no immorality and corresponds to Dios. His planet is Saturn; see celestial bodies - Saturn. Rhea corresponds to Anthy when she was with Dios. See Akio and Anthy - incest.
Mikage corresponds to Hades, who was the eldest son of Cronus and Rhea.
It doesn’t stop there. It’s a reference to Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother. In myth, Zeus overthrew Cronus. In Utena, Akio overthrows Dios. Overthrow is metaphorical killing; Dios is dead. Anthy as Rhea is Zeus’s mother, and in Utena she was responsible for turning Dios into Akio—she is symbolically Akio’s mother. (Both parents are needed: Dios accepted Anthy’s attempted help, so he cooperated in his own overthrow.) Oedipus brought a plague on his city through his unintentional misdeeds. It corresponds to Akio’s misrule of his world, which he believes is good and necessary.
It still doesn’t stop! Utena is associated in multiple ways with the planet Saturn that appears in the window behind her in episode 25. See celestial bodies - Saturn. Utena corresponds to Dios and Cronus. In the end, according to the parallel, Anthy will marry Utena (to the same extent Anthy married Akio), and they will restore the golden age. Compare Utena’s association with Astraea, whose return will bring a new golden age.
Utena’s association with Saturn ties her to destruction and renewal, that is, to revolution. Anthy’s association with Persephone ties her to death in the underworld, and to the sowing and reaping of crops in the upper world—that is, to the destruction and renewal of life. Anthy’s connection with death fits with her use of poison, which is part of her femme fatale character archetype. Utena and Anthy are aspects of the same thing: Utena represents destruction and renewal with change—revolution, a boyish concept (and she is slated to die). Anthy represents destruction and renewal with continuity—eternity, a girlish concept (and she is immortal, that is, eternal). See Anthy on reincarnation and the passing on of knowledge from parents to children in episode 27.
The multi-level mythological correspondence is awesomely detailed and beautifully worked out.
Cronus’s downfall and Oedipus’s downfall are both due to attempts to bypass a prophecy. The prophecies predicted a bad end. Cronus fulfilled the prophecy by trying to avoid it, while Oedipus fulfilled it because his father tried to avoid it. It’s a common motif in Greek myth: Divine prophecy is always fulfilled, and it is no use trying to avoid your fate. Akio’s fate is not told in prophecy, but he will never be able to pass the Rose Gate no matter what he does. His attempts only achieve his own step-by-step overthrow. Akio thought he had foretold Utena’s fate, and he was wrong.
Akio is Zeus, and Zeus’s planet is Jupiter. Utena does not make any direct reference to the planet (unlike Utena’s Saturn). It may make indirect references. I noticed that Utena has mythological connections with all four of Jupiter’s major moons, though the connections with Io and Callisto are a little weak.
The major moons of Jupiter are the Galilean moons, the four bright enough for Galileo to see through his primitive telescope (and for you to see tonight with a pair of binoculars). They are Io for Nanami - Europa for Utena - Ganymede for Utena - Callisto which has thematic resonance.
Andromeda is referred to indirectly. See Cassiopeia below.
Akio alludes to the Greek goddess Astraea when talking with Utena in episode 20. Astraea corresponds to Utena.
Beautiful Callisto was a companion of Artemis, goddess of the moon and the hunt—and of chastity. All Artemis’s companions had to take a vow of chastity. As so often (Europa, Io), Zeus fell for Callisto and “seduced” her, which is Greek myth-speak meaning he tricked and raped her. He transformed himself to look like Artemis, got close and impregnated her. Callisto tried to hide her pregnancy, but Artemis eventually discovered it and kicked her out. Stories vary about who did what next, but agree that Callisto was turned into a bear Sho-ock! Kuma shock!, bore a son, and was placed in the sky as the constellation Ursa Major (the big bear).
If Callisto parallels someone in Utena, then I haven’t figured out who. But there is a lot of thematic resonance: The moon, Zeus’s illusionary appearance, lesbianism, trickery and rape, pregnancy, being turned into an animal, being turned into a constellation. The Big Dipper is important in episode 37, and it is part of Ursa Major. Is the parallel there though I haven’t found it, or are myths and Utena each so densely internally connected so that of course there are a lot of interconnections?
In The Tale of the Rose in episode 34, the shadow girls repeatedly warn Utena to be careful. For Utena, the message flies in one ear and out the other. It’s somewhat like Cassandra warning the Trojans about the Trojan Horse and being disbelieved. If there were an element of Utena that I could point to as corresponding to Cassandra being cursed to be disbelieved, then I would conclude that the parallel is real.
The W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia, named after the mythical Cassiopeia, represents Utena’s bad end, the case where she submits to Akio and neither helps Anthy nor survives. Celestial Utena will be punished as Cassiopeia was for her hubris. Cassiopeia appears in the amusement park lights in episode 33, more obviously in the sky in episode 34, again after Utena spends the night with Touga in the arena, and is explained in after the Routine Date. Cassiopeia’s hubris was in championing the beauty of her daughter Andromeda. Andromeda corresponds to Anthy: Utena’s hubris (according to Akio, who corresponds to Zeus) is in championing Anthy. The story of Andromeda and the sea monster makes Utena into the hero Perseus.
Castor and Pollux are inseparable twin brothers. They are represented by the constellation Gemini, two of whose stars look identical and are named Castor and Pollux. Anthy and Utena correspond to them; see Anthy and Utena are twins.
Utena refers to two different versions of the myth. In one version, they had the same mother and different fathers. See Gemini. Castor was fathered by a mortal man and is mortal; he corresponds to Utena. Pollux was fathered by Zeus and is immortal; he corresponds to Anthy. In episode 26, Anthy tells Utena that Akio is like a father to her; see Akio as a father. In the other version, the twins hatched from an egg. Symbolically, that is what Utena and Anthy do when they leave the Academy. Castor and Pollux wore fragments of the eggshell on their heads in the form of white hats. Anthy’s white cap when she leaves the Academy refers to it.
Anthy has some similarities to Circe. I don’t know whether they are intentional or meaningful. Both are associated with magic. Circe can turn others into animals; Anthy turns Nanami into a cow. Circe is knowledgeable about drugs and poisons; Anthy is associated with poison, and possibly provided Akio’s date rape drug, used against Kanae and against Utena. If the parallel is real, then Utena should correspond to the hero Odysseus. Odysseus follows divine advice to avoid Circe’s tricks, and they become lovers; his goal is to save his crewmen who Circe transformed. Utena plays prince to Anthy, inspired by the arguably divine Dios, and they come to love each other, and Utena’s goal is to save Anthy who Akio has transformed into a witch.
The parallel of Anthy with Circe is good, but not detailed enough to be convincing. The parallel of Utena with Odysseus is somewhat confused.
But if you do accept that Utena = Odysseus, that would make Akio into a lying Calypso. Calypso promised Odysseus immortality if he would remain on her island and be her husband, as Akio falsely promises Utena an eternity in the castle in the sky if she marries him.
The parallel between Nanami and Danaë is so loose that it is likely unintended, but I thought I’d write it down anyway. Nanami is adopted into a wealthy family—that is Danaë’s shower of gold. Much later, in Nanami’s Egg, she believes she will have a child with no apparent father. Under Nanami’s character archetype, belonging to a wealthy family caused her ignorance; she became interested only in social status and how others viewed her. See the 18th century description of Nanami under A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
The First Seduction is parallel to the myth of Europa and the bull. I discuss it under the episode 33 constellations, because the bull is the constellation Taurus.
Ganymede is Utena, and as a central reference is discussed separately.
Mikage corresponds to Hades. His underground lair is the dark underworld of death that continues forever without change—Mikage seeks eternity. The sculpture garden has a copy of the sculpture The Rape of Proserpina, which is Latin for the Greek myth of Hades abducting Persephone to rape her and make her his wife. In Utena it is reversed: Anthy playing Mamiya seduces and controls Mikage.
Hypnos is the ancient Greek god of sleep. Hypnos lives next to Lethe, the river of forgetfulness; in Utena, sleep is associated with forgetting. He is associated with poppies; red poppies appear in episode 35. He is married to a goddess of hallucinations, which is to say, illusions. Their children are dreams. His brother is Thanatos, god of death; those near Akio have a high risk of dying. If Utena does not intentionally allude to Hypnos, then it should.
Nanami turning into a cow is parallel to the myth of Io and Zeus, though the parallel is not particularly close. Io is another of Zeus’s lovers. It is the version of the myth where Hera (meaning Anthy) turns Io into a heifer. The parallel is broken when Utena removes Nanami’s cowbell; in the myth, Zeus restores Io’s humanity.
The shadow play of episode 24 riffs on the myth of King Midas having the ears of a donkey.
According to Wikipedia, the Babylonian god Marduk, ruler of the gods, is associated with “water, vegetation, judgment, and magic.” Akio and Anthy between them have all those associations. It’s suggestive, but I don’t have any other evidence that Utena refers to Marduk. Greek gods and Babylonian gods are historically related, so maybe the associations reflect that.
Ohtori is (among other things) the Japanese name of the mythological Chinese Fènghuáng bird.
Mamiya as played by Anthy corresponds to Persephone. When in the underworld with Mikage, Mamiya/Anthy is the spouse of Hades and dread co-ruler of the underworld. When in the upper world, Anthy is associated with plants and growth. Those are the two aspects of Persephone, representing the turn of the seasons and the cycle of life and death. See Anthy and Akio’s complex mythological background above.
Jay Scott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
first posted 31 July 2022
updated 4 October 2023