Mutatis Mutandi

It all began the day I arrived in Brasilia from Canada, and my brother Chico invited me to go to Naty´s thesis defense the next day. So I went. It was super nice. It was about the Brazilian artist Chico Buarque. After the defense, a group of my brother´s friends went out for a beer and great conversation. Brains working full throttle.

Then I realized that Chico Buarque was one of those great Brazilian musicians I knew through osmosis, but didn´t really know that well. I decided then to make up for the time lost. I scavenged and played everything in Chico´s Chico´s collection (things by Chico Buarque in the things belonging to Chico my brother).

Since everything is really well-known, it wasn´t like “wow, I´ve never heard this before!” But there was that feeling that comes when you suddenly realise something you´d never noticed in something you´ve heard a gazillion times since you were born. Things that make you go “wow, this is so surprising, and at the same time, so typical!”

The first bursts of laughter came when listening to “Façamos”. This was not only because the lyrics are really funny, but also because it is a very well thought out version of “Let´s do it (Let´s Fall in Love)”, by Cole Porter (which is always the warm-up song in my lindy-hop class). Hardly recovered from the first explosion, laughter seized me again when “O Malandro” started playing, such a fantastic version of “Mack the Knife” that felt more like an original Brazilian samba than anything.

But what spurred the thought “Wow, I have to start a blog about this!” was “Mulheres de Atenas” (“Women of Athens”). This song illustrates so well what I´m reading for my comps, that it´s unbelievable! But when I got to write the blog, first I had to sum up part of what I´m reading for my comps (Page du Bois, J.R. Martin, etc), so the blog got longer and longer. And this is how we got here.

I don´t want to reinvent the wheel here with a full analysis of the song, especially since this is a new re-descovery of my own. All I wanted to say is that if Page du Bois or Jane Roland Martin listened to (and understood) this song, they´d go berserk.

Apart from the cadence and the rhymes which are absolutely genius, the accuracy with which it reflects both the Ancient Greek context and current reality is simply out of this world. Chico Buarque is fabulous in the way that he manages to adapt works of art created in different places, ages and reality and re-create them in such a way that the version is more original and seamless than the original, be it “Mack the Knife” or Homer´s Odyssey.

From the very first line (“Look up to the example of those women of Athens”) we see, ironically but accurately, the idealization of ancient customs which scholars like Du Bois attack. The description of the ideal woman “without preferences, without desires, with neither flaws nor qualities” is so terribly on the mark, that many thought the author was meant it earnestly.

Now, one may think that such an error is absurd, caused by either female hypersensitivity and hysteria, or by male ignorance and sexism, to think that the author wanted his song to be interpreted literally. But given the amount of serious and well-intended scholarly work with this kind of rhetoric, as well as how widespread this pattern of domination still is, such a mistake is completely understandable.

Which is not to say that we can just let it go and shrug our shoulders amazed at people´s ignorance. The error is grotesque, true. But it´s an error that only proves how grotesque contemporary civilization still is. The mere comtemplating that “Mulheres de Atenas” may perhaps be an ideal worth having proves that, in this respect at least, we are not that much ahead of the Greeks of over three thousand years ago. This is sad. Also sad is not to recognise this fact, and think that this equity has already been reached, as if mere positive thinking was enough to make unjust inequalities disappear.

What I like in the works I´m presenting here, like Martin, du Bois, Reagan, Monteiro Lobato, and others which are still to come, like Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Nísia Floresta, Cecília Prada, as well as this song by Chico Buarque, is the way that they show how these patterns apply over time and space, mutatis mutandi. I only wish I had Chico´s knack for translating so well not only the content but the whole feeling, from one context to another, one reality to another. Meanwhile, I´ll do what I can in my own esterical way to introduce these wonderful thinkers to other wonderful thinkers I know. To illustrate this, I end with a rough esterical version of the lyrics of the fabulous “Women of Athens”. Enjoy and weep!

Mulheres de Atenas (by Chico Buarque)
(Women of Athens – trans. by Ester Macedo)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens)
Vivem pros seus maridos, orgulho e raça de Atenas
(They live for their husbands, pride and power of Athens)
Quando amadas, se perfumam
(When loved, they apply their perfumes,)
Se banham com leite, se arrumam
(Bathe in milk, dress up)
Suas melenas
(Their hair)
Quando fustigadas não choram
(When chastised, they do not cry)
Se ajoelham, pedem, imploram
(They kneel down and implore)
Mais duras penas
(For further hardships)
(Further chains)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens)
Sofrem por seus maridos, poder e força de Atenas
(They suffer for their husbands, might and force of Athens)
Quando eles embarcam, soldados
(When they board their ships, soldiers)
Elas tecem longos bordados
(They weave long fabrics)
Mil quarentenas
(A thousand quarantines)
E quando eles voltam sedentos
(And when they return, thirsty,)
Querem arrancar violentos

(They want to snatch, violent,)
Carícias plenas

(Full caresses)

(Obscene caresses)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens)
Despem-se pros maridos, bravos guerreiros de Atenas
(They undress for their husbands, brave warriors of Athens,)
Quando eles se entopem de vinho
(When they fill themselves up with wine)
Costumam buscar o carinho
(They usually seek the affections)
De outras falenas
(Of other ladies)
Mas no fim da noite, aos pedaços
(But at the end of the night, in shreds)
Quase sempre voltam pros braços
(They almost always return to the arms)
De suas pequenas
(Of their dear little)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens)
Geram pros seus maridos os novos filhos de Atenas
(They beget for their husbands the new sons of Athens,)
Elas não têm gosto ou vontade
(They have neither preferences nor desires,)
Nem defeito nem qualidade
(Neither defects, nor qualities,)
Têm medo apenas
(Only fear)
Não têm sonhos, só têm presságios
(They don’t have dreams, only omens,)
O seu homem, mares, naufrágios
(Their husbands, seas, shipwrecks,)
Lindas sirenas
(Beautiful sirens)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens,)
Temem pro seus maridos, heróis e amantes de Atenas
(They fear for their husbands, heroes and lovers of Athens,)
As jovens viúvas marcadas
(The young widows, wounded,)
E as gestantes abandonadas
(The pregnant women, abandoned,)
Não fazem cenas
(Make no scene,)
Vestem-se de negro se encolhem
(They dress in black, withdraw)
Se confortam e se recolhem
(Comfort themselves, retire)
Às suas novenas
(To their novenas)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens,)
Secam por seus maridos, orgulho e raça de Atenas.
(They wither for their husbands, pride and power of Athens.)

References, allusions and recommendations:
– Homer´s Odyssey
– “Mulheres de Atenas”, by Chico Buarque
– “Let´s Do It (Let´s Fall in Love)”, by Cole Porter (also “Façamos (Vamos Amar)”, by Chico Buarque)
– “Mack the Knife”, by Bob Darin (also “Opera do Malandro”, by Chico Buarque)


2 responses to “Mutatis Mutandi

  1. If it wasn’t for your blog I wouldn’t of found the correct title for Chico Buarque’s ‘O Malandro’ which I literally thought of as ‘Mack A Faca’ after I first heard it. Muito Obrigado, Ol.

  2. Just like Oliver above, your blog brought along a discovery for me! Otherwise, maybe I never would’ve seen Mulheres de Atenas in this light. I remember hearing it before, but not more than once. Maybe the lyrics repeled me in a way, maybe I took it literally too and that damaged my perception of it (and Chico). Whatever the case, I’m very glad to have read you and re-discovered what I know see as a gem, another one of a very talented musician and wonderful person.

    You’r account of coming into Chico felt very familiar to me, since my story with him is not that different. I, too, had heard him and of him, but it took a given moment, a given song to really listen. Ever since, I’ve been a hopeless fan!

    I loved your analysis and your post in general. I’m very happy my friend decided to send me a link to your post. Thank you very much

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