Raw Deal (Farmerkin/Pasiphaë)


Raw Deal

The classic story of a wooden frame carpentered
as a comely calf
that stars a man
(and also involves
a cow hide)
was memorialized
by the Brothers Grimm and follows
the trickster Farmerkin, who parleys his wooden calf
with its painted black eyelashes, and his cow hide
with its hidden raven, into, eventually,
the drowning of nearly everybody in his town, one
in a nail-driven barrel (so it will  leak), leaving Farmerkin
as mayor of sorts, with pots and pots
of gold.

The tale of a wooden cow frame featuring
a woman
is the myth of Pasiphaë, who, as punishment
for her husband’s greed,
is God-besotted
by a beautiful white bull
(meaning that Poseidon, mad
at Minos, made
her do it.)

It being the fitting of herself into
a heifer frame, sides hidden
by cow hide,
her genitalia carefully slotted
against applicable vents,
then taken out to pasture,
as it were.

One can’t exactly say Pasiphaë,
got the short end
of the stick,
yet Farmerkin, through sleight of paint brush
and pinch of hide-clotted raven, separated
his compatriots
from both their money and
their lives, ensuring his own,
according to the Grimms,
happily ever after,
while Pasiphaë ended up
as archetypal porn queen
and beast mother.

One–if one actually thinks about it–
imagines her wracked
with pain, pregnant, a leaking, gored, barrel.

“Hmmm,” some might say,
who do not understand
what I am getting at.


Here’s an odd sort of poem.  I have been thinking about Pasiphaë (which for some reason I think is pronounced Pacify–ay, rhyming with Pacify- day) since seeing a Jackson Pollock painting of that name a week ago at New York’s Metropolitan Museum.  The painting is part of an exhibit about Thomas Hart Benton, who was Pollock’s mentor.  I happened by it while a lecture was going on in which the docent asked the tourists what they saw on the canvas, and several talked of little stick figures at the middle or top, but no one mentioned the large phallus in the bottom right hand corner!  (Needless to say, I did not point it out, and I couldn’t then remember the story of Pasiphaë, but the whole incident made me look it up later.  I would note that there are many many very graphic illustrations of Pasiphaë made throughout art history and beyond.)

There are several stories based on Pasiphaë but the main one is that she was the daughter of Helios (the Sun), married to King Minos of Crete.  Poseidon gave Minos a beautiful white bull (his altar ego), with the understanding that Minos would sacrifice it back to Poseidon, but Minos instead kept the valuable bull (probably to use as a stud)  which in turn led Poseidon to bewitch Pasiphaë into falling desperately in love/lust with the bull (resulting in the cow frame discussed in the poem.) The beast child born from the union of Pasiphaë and the bull was the Minotaur, which later was kept in Minos’ labyrinth.  Pasiphaë was also mother of Phaedre and Ariadne, and interestingly, it was the great craftsman, Daedelus (the guy who made the wax wings to get out of that same labyrinth with his son, Icarus), who devised the cow frame used by Pasiphaë, to seduce the bull.  (Several poems there perhaps.)    

The  Brothers Grimm Farmerkin story is a story of a classic trickster, who without a cow of his own, uses a wooden frame of a calf to trick a herder into thinking he has lost Farmerkin’s cow and must give him one.  Farmerkin than uses that cow hide for further trickery, ending up with a drowned town and a great deal of moola.  Phillip Pullman who has authored a wonderful retelling of the Grimm stories says that it was originally told to the Grimm brothers by the Hassenpflug family and Dorothea Viehmann. 

Below is Pollock’s Pasiphaë, painted in 1943.  (Unfortunately, I could find no reproduction that does justice to the wonderful palette of the actual painting. )  Above is a painting of Pasiphaë and Daedelus by Giulio Romano, painted in Mantua sometime between 1525-1535.  (No copyright infringement intended in the photos.) 

I was not sure where, if anywhere, I would link this odd poem, but I will try the Poetry Pantry on Poets’ United, since I know they are very accepting people over there!   



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14 Comments on “Raw Deal (Farmerkin/Pasiphaë)”

  1. Polly Says:

    I have a passion for Greek myths – and love this poem

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thank you, Polly. I feel like I should link somewhere as very few people will see it otherwise, but it is a bit of a weird piece. There are a few really interesting myths about Pasiphae–but I agree with you–there are so very many interesting myths. I need to learn more. k.

      On Mon, Feb 9, 2015 at 3:22 AM, ManicDDaily wrote:


  2. hedgewitch Says:

    This is a fascinating conjunction of myth and fairytale, k, and shows the real meaning of those words, which is a whole lot not what the modern fluffy contextual use of them has become–they were very stark religious or secular analogies and explanations, as well as often cruel commentary on the flaws, ironies and brutalities of human life, all of which is very evident here. My main problem in my reading is that while I understand the concept of the white bull, and the human heifer,(less so the drowning village, but seems political) I am so not getting the visual on the whole wooden frame part–like both paintings, it seems an optical cole slaw for me. How can you make a wooden frame of a cow? It would be instantly perceptible and false, not to mention logistically well nigh impossible. Or is that the point? That it is so egregiously a construct? ARGGGhhh. So sorry not to be able to make a more intelligent comment– I do feel the sense of violation though, and of objectification.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Well, you know cows, I think!

      It is definitely an odd idea in both cases, and probably the poem –such as it is–needs more context, especially since the Farmerkin story is not so famous. There he was really fooling a classic dupe–the kind they have in Fairy Tales–and in the case of Pasiphae, she may not truly be fooling the bull–I mean, who knows what the bull thinks? (He may be Poseidon anyway.) But it is a good point–in the Fairy Tales one cannot believe how dopey people sometimes are! But somehow that is part of the story/fable–you know what I mean– I don’t think I’ll go farther with this one, but maybe think about Daedelus. K.

  3. I am smiling at your comment about PU being accepting…..LOL. Yes, we are. I am not literate enough to know all of the mythology involved. But I love the idea of a white bull and can well see how a woman might become enamored of one, while my mind does not generally go farther than that! This is an ambitious write, and well done, with lots of good referential material provided. Wow.

  4. I get what you’re talking about. Has iit always been that way for women? Give us a break!

  5. claudia Says:

    oha – what a story – and how one thing can take us here and there… i totally get this… and i love if there’s space for interpretation

  6. susan Says:

    An amazingly gruesome fate for Pasiphae! I knew she was the mother of the Minator (?), not the rest of her story. The “frame” built by Daedelus is the maze/cage for the beast–but from your description, I wonder if it was not sent back into the womb? BTW, the reason Daedelus built wings to escape was the king planned to kill him as the only one knowing the secrets of the maze. I love that the most gruesome stories of myth center here–Medea’s and now this one. With her mother so punished for indiscretion, Medea’s rebellion makes a lot more sense! Neat work with the myth.

  7. Grace Says:

    I have read of the myth before K so thanks for the additional notes to your poem ~ Somehow I didn’t think of imagery of : Pasiphaë ending up
    as archetypal porn queen and beast mother – in the painting.

  8. A grim (pun intended) fate for poor Pasiphae–I too had some trouble making the frame out of the bovine–but as I looked at the painting more, it seems that the cow is somehow a part of the frame –maybe without knowing it

  9. glmeisner Says:

    Very entertaining comparison between the two tales.

  10. brian miller Says:

    it is interesting the link you make between farmerkin and pasiphae…i am familiar with the second and not so much with the first…perhaps our trickery, our need of wood frames and pretending to be who we are not…or what we are not — do not end up as it should…

  11. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade) Says:

    Unusual poem, yes, both intriguing and sad. (I think I know what you’re getting at!) And the story of Pasiphae, which I didn’t know, is fascinating.
    You would probably like The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth, about the Grimms and one of their sources; http://www.amazon.com/The-Wild-Girl-Kate-Forsyth/dp/0749013281

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