Heroism, Deformity, and Classical Allusion in Joshua Pickersgill’s The Three Brothers and Byron’s The Deformed Transformed
In the preface to his dramatic fragment The Deformed Transformed (1822), Byron acknowledges it to be partly based on The Three Brothers (1803), a Gothic romance by Joshua Pickersgill.  Most studies on The Deformed Transformed have stated that Pickersgill’s impact on Byron’s drama was only superficial, and that the novel was not interesting for its own sake.  However, The Three Brothers is an original and complex novel which is more important to Byron’s oeuvre than is usually acknowledged. In the first part of my essay, I introduce Pickersgill’s novel and briefly show how his main character foreshadows the Byronic Hero. The remaining part of the essay discusses Byron’s creative adaptation of Pickersgill’s use of classical characters to reinforce his play with a complex set of intertextual classical allusions both in order to elaborate on the question of the extent to which personal identity and freedom are dependent on outward appearance, and to question the concept of heroism and war as a ‘heroic’ endeavour.
Written in 1803, Pickersgill’s romance shares elements both with the Gothic novel and historical fiction. Pickersgill remained an almost unknown writer during his lifetime; when The Three Brothers was reviewed in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1804, the reviewer knew him ‘only by name’.  According to a personal comment on his authorship in the last chapter of his novel, he was a very young author—he commenced the novel at the age of nineteen and worked on it for two-and-a-half years (IV, 459f.). Although the book shows him as a promising novelist, he apparently wrote nothing else.  The name might even have been a pseudonym—one of the reviewers of The Deformed Transformed who mentioned The Three Brothers as Byron’s source, attributed it to Matthew Gregory Lewis (‘for though published under another name, it is his’). 
Like many Gothic romances, The Three Brothers has a complex structure with several stories-within-the-story. In its entirety, the time dimension of the story spans about twenty years (I, 147) and is set in France and Italy during the first half of the sixteenth century. Like many historical novelists, Pickersgill focuses upon a ‘transitional time in history’, a period of wars and changes.  The Renaissance setting is used largely as a colourful background, although the particular violence of the period is emphasised. Still, the writer is aware he is writing about an epoch which in beliefs and customs is different from his own. Occasionally, he includes footnotes with background information, and informs his ‘historical reader’ (III, 332) about liberties taken with dates (II, 177; III, 332). The Three Brothers has comparatively few supernatural elements—it belongs to a sub-genre of the Gothic novel which could be termed ‘historical fantasy’. 
As the title suggests, this is a story about family relationships, with sins and secrets of the past returning to haunt the present. The reader does not know at first that the three main characters Henri, Claudio, and Julian are in fact brothers. Their relationship and true identities are only revealed in Julian’s long confession towards the end of the fourth volume (IV, 228–368), which is the most interesting and dense part of the novel, and the part I will focus on in this paper.
In his first-person narrative, the severely wounded Julian reveals his origins and background. He was born as Arnaud, the illegitimate eldest son of the Marquis de Souvricourt and his lover, a nun who has left her order. Arnaud is initially witty and charming (II, 68f.), a child ‘extraordinary in Beauty and Intellect’ (iv, 229).  As a boy, he is unaware of his illegitimacy, and is spoilt by both his parents and everyone around him. The narrator describes his education as unsystematic and superficial (IV, 229–33). His arrogance and his reliance on charm are blamed on his aristocratic upbringing, which fosters manners and wit, rather than inner values such as the capacity for deep feelings (IV, 237).
At the age of eight, however, Arnaud is robbed by a group of banditti, who injure his shoulder and his spine (IV, 240–44), leaving him crippled, or as his father puts it, a ‘mass of Deformity’ (IV, 246). With his beauty, he also loses the affection of his parents and his cherished position in the polite circles of his family (II, 68f.). His deformity makes him look sublime rather than beautiful, and consequently the change in his looks also causes him to lose the ‘effeminate’ quality with which ‘beauty’ was associated in the eighteenth century, as well as the capacity to be loved. Pickersgill was probably informed by Edmund Burke’s influential essay on the Sublime and the Beautiful of 1757.  In Burke’s conceptual model, the effects of the Sublime and the Beautiful are opposed and not reconcilable (Burke, II, 1, 2; III, 13). Interestingly Arnaud’s confessor later tells him that ‘[t]here is oftentimes a sublimity in deformity’ (Three Brothers, IV, 372), and that deformity can therefore be associated with greatness.
Thus, as Arnaud ceases to look sweet and effeminate, he is no longer treated as a brilliant and exceptional child, and his parents start to favour his younger brother Lewis over him (IV, 251f.).  He becomes embittered and jealous, and his wit is transformed into sarcasm. His extreme feeling of insufficiency makes him project his hate onto his younger brother, who resembles his own former self, as Arnaud himself recognises. When the family is eventually transferred to Italy because of the Marquis’s involvement in the wars, Arnaud attempts to kill his brother out of envy (IV, 257).
When he is older, he develops an intense self-hatred but nevertheless retains the arrogance and feeling of superiority from his childhood, as well as his high ambitions (IV, 261–74). He is further humiliated when he learns of his illeg-itimacy and of his legitimate younger half-brother Henri, who is heir to the Marquis (IV, 286–90). In the circles in which Arnaud has grown up, illegitimacy is at least as great a social ‘disability’ as actual physical deformity, so in a sense, he is now doubly deformed.  Arnaud and his mother are sent into exile to a small village where he is insulted and avoided by the superstitious peasants. His banishment from aristocratic society and domesticity to the obscurity of a remote village, a wild, ‘unformed’ place, corresponds with Arnaud’s bodily change from beauty to sublimity. 
Following the death of his wife, the Marquis returns to Arnaud’s mother, but when Arnaud forces him to propose marriage to her, his father has him arrested as an impostor (IV, 318–23). Arnaud manages to escape and finds shelter in the house of a young woman he has fallen in love with, only to find out that she is his father’s mistress (IV, 327–33). In horror and desperation, he flees into the woods where (in contrast to Byron’s Arnold) he deliberately seeks the aid of the Devil to obtain a new body (IV, 344–48). Pickersgill’s Satan shows him the images of several heroes from classical Greek history; Arnaud opts for the form of Demetrius Poliorcetes (IV, 347).  Like the diabolical Stranger in Byron’s fragment, the Devil does not make any conditions (iv, 364), probably convinced that Arnaud’s own disposition will lead him into damnation. However, it is implied that he forfeits his soul (and indeed, his life) through the transformation: in order to assume the new body, he has to kill himself (IV, 359), and thus commits the deadly sin of suicide. Thus, the transformation implies Arnaud’s death, and his future career, is that of a ghost in a body not his own. He adopts the name of Julian (IV, 348); through marriage, he manages to obtain a noble title (I, 112–31; IV, 355), turns a bandit captain (II, 196–200; IV, 359), and takes revenge on his family.  Yet despite his beauty and power, he is incapable of love and happiness (IV, 355), and suffers from the knowledge of his guilt (IV, 362).  After he is persecuted for his deeds, he seeks a second transformation, for which the Devil demands a human sacrifice (IV, 364f.). Arnaud comes close to killing his enemy Claudio, but hesitates when he recognises him as his lost brother Lewis (IV, 198–200, 204). He even saves Lewis from his persecutor Henri, whom he gives a deadly fatal wound, but is himself wounded (IV, 219f.). He is handed over to the secular authorities, and sentenced to death (IV, 386). However, before the execution, he is freed from his false body, which in a haunting scene is executed as a mobile, but empty and soulless form (IV, 394–97).
Although the novel can be aptly called uneven in quality, its particular strength lies in the description of its protagonist and the way he is employed for Pickersgill’s criticism of aristocratic rule and lifestyle.  His reviewer in The Gentleman’s Magazine was fascinated by the character of Julian, and the reviewer of The Deformed Transformed in the New European Magazine calls Pickersgill’s main character ‘a bold-faced, interesting villain; one that […] is at once mysterious, as well as ardent’.  Julian may well have been a direct influence on the Byronic Hero, whom he prefigures in several aspects:
Hastily turning round, they beheld a Cavalier of a thrice noble and stately mien: his figure grand and august seemed fashioned in the vast capacity of an Herculean mould; and as they surveyed his supple limbs of peerless symmetry, they secretly acknowledged ’twas wrong to fancy humanity could not reach perfection. He looked attentively to the Chevalier, slightly inclining a head nature wisely might make her boast. His full dark eyes humbled the gaze of beholders, and his proud lip, thickened with disdain, projected conscious superiority to men, and self independence of aught earthly. His high forehead was crowned with hair black as jet, which in waving curls wantoned about his temples, and crescent eyebrows of a fellow hue, strikingly contrasted with the polished whiteness of an unblemished skin. His attire was becomingly simple, for a king’s parade could not have added grace to what was altogether majesty […] They might have judged him even as young as themselves, but the significance of his eye-beam, the expressiveness of his motion, proved him far ripened beyond the greenness of immaturity; and with superstitious fancy they even doubted if that aspect could ever have known the vacant smile of babyhood. The heedlessness of his bow Henri in another would have treated resentfully, but before him his spirits sunk for an interval awestruck […] (I, 49–51)
It has long been recognised that the Gothic villain was one of the many influences on the Byronic Hero, with whom he shares his mysterious, guilty past, giving him tormenting memories, a dark, arrogant look, and a sense of superiority. Indeed, the descriptions of Radcliffe’s villains resemble those of Byron as much as the description of Arnaud does.  However, the complex character of Arnaud, particularly those elements that Byron used for his conception of The Deformed Transformed, not only resembles several of Byron’s protagonists, there are also specific parallels in the summary of their characterisation:
his was a stupendous soul in a diminutive body. He was so Proud of Himself, that disdain was his usual feeling towards others […] He esteemed himself born to confer, not to receive favours. In him pride was downcast and solitary: because it could not look up to superiority, it restrained him aloof from other men: it was truly satanic, and would have lost him divinity in the idea, That better it be to reign in hell, than to serve in heaven. Yet it was a pride not dis-natured to magnanimity, being generous and courageous. But as with a detestation of what is knavish and abject, it joined a contempt for that which is meek and humble, it was entirely unchristian; though, nevertheless, it was grand. (IV, 261–64)
Arnaud’s pride is a typical character-trait of Gothic villains, but it is also shared by several of Byron’s heroes, most prominently Manfred and the protagonists of the Oriental tales, where its anti-Christian aspect is equally stressed. It puts them at odds with the social order and makes them vulnerable to satanic temptations because they are not able to accept an ordinary position in life. 
In him were of all the germs that is heroically good [sic], all that is heroically wicked, but none of what is ignoble or knavish. No virtue but of which he bore some vestige; no vice of which he had not some taint; but passion was his bane; passion mingled with virtues and vices beyond the discrimination of an ordinary analysis. (IV, 274)
Arnaud’s change from extraordinary beauty to deformity and ugliness (and later vice versa) equally emphasises that, no matter what he looks like, he is an exceptional character, his appearance always extraordinary and larger than life. According to Burke, the opposite of beauty is not deformity, but ‘the common form’. As Burke puts it, ‘the beautiful strikes as much by its novelty as the deformed itself’ (III, 6). Even after his injury, Arnaud shows an extremity that is an expression of his superiority. The description of Arnaud’s portrait as an adolescent, before his career as Julian, strongly resembles Byron’s presentation of the contradictory, but grand character of the protagonist, particularly in Lara:
In him inexplicably mix’d appeared
Much to be loved and hated, sought and feared; […]
There was in him a vital scorn of all:
As if the worst had fall’n which would befall,
He stood a stranger in this breathing world,
An erring spirit from another hurl’d; […]
Too high for common selfishness, he could
At times resign his own for others’ good,
But not in pity, not because he ought,
But in some strange perversity of thought,
That swayed him onward with a secret pride
To do what few or none would do beside;
And this same impulse would in tempting time
Mislead his spirit equally to crime;
So much he soared beyond, or sunk beneath
The men with whom he felt condemned to breathe,
And longed for good or ill to separate
Himself from all who shared his mortal state […]
(Lara, ll. 289–348)
In fact, Byron’s own protagonist Arnold in The Deformed Transformed seems to be much less ‘Byronic’ than Pickersgill’s Arnaud. In contrast to aristocratic Arnaud, Arnold is born deformed and of obscure origin. His mother addresses him with words like ‘hedgehog’ (I. 1. 20) or ‘incubus’ (I. 1. 2), which put him on a sub-human level.
From Arnold’s point of view, the tragedy of his situation is not so much his deformity itself, but the fact that he is convinced he is unable to be loved. Arnold sees his status as an outcast as a direct result of his multiple disabilities. When he sees his mirror-image in a spring, he ‘starts back’ (stage direction after I. 1. 46) and admits that ‘They are right’ (I. 1. 46) to despise him. He does not question a society which excludes him from any community with other people because he accepts the notion of being ‘Other’ and therefore necessarily excluded. In connection to Burke’s concept of the Beautiful and the Sublime, it is interesting to see that Arnold, in his own body, is convinced he could be admired and feared, but not loved. Thus, people would react to him as to a sublime presence, and the qualities that make a person lovable are outside him. 
The Three Brothers inspired Byron’s complex use of allusions from classical history and mythology which are such an important element in The Deformed Transformed. When Arnaud in The Three Brothers calls for the Devil to give him another body, the Devil gives him the choice of the shapes of several heroes from classical antiquity:
The satanic gaze turned on the side of the cavern heat so powerful, that the clay in the interstices was absumed to an ash, and the flinty rock vitrified into glass pervious to the sight of Arnaud, who saw thereon visions admirable and amazing. There past in liveliest portraiture the various men distinguished for that beauty and grace, which Arnaud so much desired, that he was ambitious to purchase them with his soul. He felt that it was his part to chuse whom he would resemble, yet he remained unresolved, though the spectator of an hundred shades of renown, among which glided by Achilles and Alexander, Alcebiades and Hephestian: at length appeared the supernatural effigy of a man, whose perfections human artist never could depict or insculp—Demetrius the son of Antigonus. Arnaud’s heart heaved quick with preference […] (IV, 347f.)
The choice of the Greek heroes at Arnaud’s disposal is significant—although they otherwise differ in their image and career, all of them were famous for their extraordinary beauty (see, for instance, Plutarch, Demetrius, II; Alexander, IV; Alcibiades, I). Pickersgill’s immediate source for this list was probably Plutarch’s Lives,  whose biographies of famous Greeks and Romans were very popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. 
Arnaud’s eventual choice of the body of ‘Demetrius the son of Antigonus’ is also an evident allusion. In Plutarch’s biography of Demetrius, the Macedonian king and conqueror (336–283 BC), who spent his last years as a prisoner, is described as ‘flawed’, somebody to be viewed as a negative example rather than a positive one (Demetrius, I). Like Pickersgill’s Arnaud/Julian, he is a ‘mixed’ character whose nature ‘exhibit[s] great vices also, as well as great virtues’ (Demetrius, I). This is echoed in Pickersgill’s characterisation of Arnaud as one both ‘heroically great’ and ‘heroically wicked’ (IV, 274). In addition, Demetrius’ epithet poliorcetes (‘besieger of cities’; Demetrius, XLII) suggests a destructive quality, which is also a characteristic of Arnaud in his later career as a bandit. The name Julian, which he adopts after his transformation, is also an example of Pickersgill’s use of classical allusions, for it suggests Julian the Apostate (AD 331–363, Emperor AD 361–363), the Roman Emperor in late Antiquity who renounced the Christian faith (Apostata means ‘the renegade’), and attempted to restore the traditional polytheistic Romano–Greek religion. 
Byron takes up Pickersgill’s use of classical characters, but he develops it into a complex set of intertextual allusions. In The Deformed Transformed, the Stranger gives Arnold a choice similar to Arnaud’s: he conjures up the shades of Julius Caesar, Alcibiades, Socrates, Mark Anthony, Demetrius Poliorcetes, and Achilles. But while Pickersgill simply gives the reader a list of the bodies his protagonist is to choose from, the Stranger elaborates on the various characters he shows Arnold, who himself comments on their looks. The Stranger introduces them, in most cases not calling them by their names, but describing their character and destiny so that they are easily recognisable for a classically educated reader.  Thus, he says of Caesar that ‘Rome became / His, and all their’s who heired his very name’ (I. 1. 189f.), and Anthony is described as ‘the man who lost / The ancient world for love’ (I. 1. 236f.). For most characters, except for Socrates (whose description is probably taken from Plato’s Symposium)  and Achilles, Byron’s main source was evidently Plutarch, from whom he took several details such as Anthony’s likeness both to Hercules and Bacchus (Antonius, IV, LX).
The choice of shapes shown to Arnold differs from the one given in The Three Brothers in a significant way. Not only does Byron add Roman characters to Pickersgill’s Greek ones, but, although the Stranger invokes the shapes as ‘shadows of beauty’ and ‘shadows of ‘power’ (I. 1. 157f.), not all of them are marked by extraordinary bodily perfection, and in fact most are actually flawed. Caesar’s baldness (I. 1. 190) and Socrates’ ugliness (I. 1. 217–20) are commented on in the play. Alcibiades spoke with a lisp (Plutarch, Alcibiades, i), and, according to legend, Achilles had, of course, his eponymous weak heel, his only vulnerable part, which became the cause of his death. Antonius and Demetrius did not have a bodily ailment, but are both said to have been addicted to alcohol (Plutarch, Antonius, IV; Demetrius, I).  The Stranger uses the shapes to show Arnold that ‘greatness’ does not depend on bodily perfection, that freedom and achievement are a matter of strength and independence of mind. Arnold himself is aware that the outward appearance does not necessarily correspond to the inner values. In his famous monologue on deformity, Arnold himself recognises the masculine, ‘overtaking’ effect a deformed body may have. In his view, a bodily disadvantage may even be a spur for major achievements (I. 1. 317f.):
I ask not
For Valour, since Deformity is daring.
It is its essence to overtake mankind
By heart and soul, and make itself the equal—
Aye, the superior to the rest. There is
A spur in its halt movements, to become
All that the others cannot, in such things
As still are free to both, to compensate
For stepdame Nature’s avarice at first.
They woo with fearless deeds the smiles of fortune,
And oft, like Timour the lame Tartar, win them.
(I. 1. 312–22)
Apart from the psychological effect a deformity might have as a spur, his remark suggests that, in contrast to beauty, deformity has an awe-inspiring effect on the viewer. Bodily ‘otherness’ must not necessarily mean weakness, but can be associated with strength, masculinity (in contrast to ‘feminine’ beauty), and heroism.  This connection is already suggested in the description of Arnaud in The Three Brothers, which is probably why Byron as a teenager was attracted to the story.  In 1805, as a pupil in Harrow, he made a list of famous men, marking all those who had a disability.  Byron was evidently fascinated by the combination of bodily deformity, beauty, and fame. Attractive yet flawed bodies like those of Alcibiades or Achilles seem to suggest that beauty and sublimity do not necessarily exclude each other, but can appear in one individual. Consequently, considering the gendered connotations these qualities both have to feminine and masculine traits, the contrast between each adds to their quality of being larger than life. As the Stranger comments, ‘The greatest / Deformity should only barter with / The extremest beauty, if the proverb’s true / Of mortals, that extremes meet’ (I. 1. 284–87). The fragment’s concept of heroism is thus a combination of the sublime and the beautiful, of masculinity and effeminacy, transcending gender boundaries, and a product of hybridity. However, in the Stranger’s ‘shadows’, the contrast between their opposed qualities makes these attributes even more prominent. Byron contests the Burkean notion that the blending of beautiful and sublime qualities in one object or individual weakens the power of both (see Burke, III, 13 and 27). While many of Byron’s characters transcend gendered categories, in the experimental, over-the-top fragment the idea of the ‘hybrid’ hero is taken to grotesque extremes, when the Stranger describes Arnold’s deformities as misplaced animal features:
Were I to taunt a buffalo with this
Cloven foot of thine, or the swift dromedary
With thy sublime of humps, the animals
Would revel in the compliment. […]
Thy form is natural: ’twas only
Nature’s mistaken largess to bestow
The gifts which are of others upon man.
(I. 1. 103–112)
The Stranger rejects the concept of the superiority of Man over Animal, and of the beautiful over the deformed body, claiming instead that ‘unto spirit / All clay is of equal merit’ (I. 1. 456f). Despite its obvious absurdity, the statement, rejects the derogatory concept of ‘deformity’ as ‘unnatural’ and reflects Byron’s fascination for the idiosyncratic body and his defiance of the notion of purity. 
The Stranger’s comments about the characters he conjures up subvert a tradition which glorifies war as an heroic enterprise and conquerors as heroes and role models. His emphasis is instead on their destructive quality. Thus, in his incantation he summons ‘the shape of each Victor / From Macedon’s boy / To each high Roman’s picture, / Who breathed to destroy’ (I. 1. 177–80; my italics). He stresses that military glory is only achieved through destruction: when Arnold wonders that the disappearing shadow of Julius Caesar, ‘the man who shook the earth’, ‘is gone / And left no footstep’ (I. 1. 203f.), the Stranger also describes Caesar as a destroyer: ‘His substance / Left graves enough, and woes enough, and fame / More than enough to track his memory’ (I. 1. 204–06). In this, the play rejects an idealised image of classical heroism and warfare. In the context of the play’s preoccupation with war and violence, it is also significant that all characters shown to Arnold had a violent death of unnatural causes, except for Demetrius who, however, died a prisoner in a foreign country (Plutarch, Demetrius, LII, LIII). Pickersgill’s Alexander and Hephaistion, who, although young, both died of natural causes are notably absent in The Deformed Transformed (see Plutarch, Alexander, LXXII, LXXVI). Thus, the choice illustrates the point the play makes about the violence inherent in Western culture, and also gives a hint that the Stranger’s offer will ultimately bring Arnold to a violent end.
In The Three Brothers, Joshua Pickersgill presents a society of cruelty and violence on different levels. The book opens with the description of a village emptied of its young men because of a current military expedition (I, 4–6). The story is filled with military campaigns that give the reader the impression that this is a world permanently and senselessly at war. It is a similar world of chaos and violence that Byron’s Arnold enters after his transformation. As his main wish is to experience life in its fullness, he tells Caesar that he wants to go ‘Where the world / Is thickest, that I may behold it in / Its workings’ (I. 1. 493–95). Caesar’s answer shows that Byron adapts Pickersgill’s dark concept of human culture:
That’s to say, where there is War
And Woman in activity. Let’s see!
Spain—Italy—the new Atlantic world—
Afric with all its Moors. In very truth,
There is small choice: the whole race are just now
Tugging as usual at each other’s hearts.
(I. 1. 495–500)
Thus, when Arnold chooses to go to Rome, it is not surprising he finds it at a moment when it is under siege. At this point, relatively late, the story which started out in a remote forest moves into a concrete historical situation: the Sacco di Roma, the conquest and plundering of Rome, which took place on 5 May 1527.  Even though Demetrius, ‘Taker of cities’ (I. 1. 259), would have been an equally appropriate choice in the context of the Sacco di Roma, Byron’s hero opts instead for Achilles. So fixed is Arnold on physical beauty as the only means to happiness that he can only be content with the ideal, superhuman beauty of a mythological rather than historical character.
Unlike Pickersgill’s hero, Arnold claims not to have any grand, overreaching aspirations or a lust for power. Although he knows that even in his own body he could ‘be feared, admired, respected, loved’ (I. 1. 359), he is convinced he could not be loved by ‘those next to me, of whom I / Would be beloved’.  As he says, he wishes primarily to be loved by those close to him (I. 1. 358–61), to be part of the community and belong with and be accepted by the others. However, his later choice to assume the form of the mythological war hero Achilles (which Byron’s character opts for instead of the body of Demetrius), suggests that he also desires superiority and greatness.  His true desire is to be free from the limits of his existence; in this aspiration, Arnold resembles other Byronic overreachers such as Manfred, Cain or Lucifer, from whom he otherwise seems to be different in his wish for private, domestic happiness. Appropriately, like Byron’s Manfred (II. 2. 150–62) and Cain (I. 1. 301–18) and unlike Pickersgill’s character, who deliberately calls for Satan, he refuses a Faustian pact with a supernatural being. He agrees to the Stranger’s unconditional offer of a bodily exchange only when he is assured that he ‘shall have no bond / But [his] own will’ (I. 1. 150f.). Thus, he does not realise that with a change of body he essentially gives up his individuality and agency.
Despite his bodily transformation, Pickersgill’s Arnaud is not able to free himself from his past and the memories of his rejection, or even from his original body. It does not decompose (IV, 195f.), and when he later seeks a second change of shape, the Devil tells him that he cannot seal a new pact, as the blood in his veins is not his own (IV, 365), so that his new shape is ultimately an illusion. In Arnold’s case, the impossibility of escaping the material reality of the body is even more poignant. As he finds out, he cannot leave his old body behind.  The Stranger, assuming the name of Caesar, assumes Arnold’s rejected original form and follows him ‘as his shadow’, thereby showing that his process of transformation and self-reinvention cannot be complete and leads to a split identity.
Stranger: In a few moments
I will be as you were, and you shall see
Yourself forever by you, as your shadow.Arnold: I would be spared this.Stranger: But it cannot be.
(I. 1. 446–49)
After his metamorphosis, Arnold exists as a fragmented being, alienated from his past.  There are hints that he no longer remembers his former life, having forgotten ‘all things in the new joy / Of this immortal change’ (I. 1. 445f.). Thus, despite of his refusal of a conventional pact, he has lost his individual identity and implicitly his ‘soul’ at the very moment of his transformation.
Unlike Pickersgill’s protagonist, who changes his name to Julian, Byron’s character decides to stay ‘plain Arnold still’ (I. 1. 543), convinced that he can essentially remain the same person. However, he has to discover that he cannot completely maintain his original self. Quite early on in his career as ‘a conqueror [and] chosen knight’ (I. 2. 4) Arnold longs to be ‘in peace—at peace’ (I. 2. 21); he has no desire to be a war-hero, but as a new Achilles, he is trapped in that role. The Achilles reference is also of particular importance, in that it underlines the fragility of the life of the hero-figure. The presence of an immortal stresses the vulnerability of human life, and Caesar expressively reminds Arnold of his mortality:
Caesar: […] though I gave the form of Thetis’ son,
I dipt thee not in Styx; and ’gainst a foe
I would not warrant thy chivalric heart
More than Pelides’ heel; why then, be cautious,
And know thyself a mortal still.
(II. 2. 19–23)
There is a certain irony in this passage, for Achilles’ famous invulnerability which he has in various versions of the legend (although not in the Iliad) is always invariably connected with his equally famous heel, his one weakness that causes his early death. One of his key characteristics in the Iliad, as well as in later versions of the story, is that he is ‘short-lived’, doomed to a violent death at an early age (for example, I, 352; I, 416; XVIII, 95). The Iliad repeatedly emphasises both Achilles’ many gifts which make him superior to others and the awareness of his near death, thereby illustrating the destructive force of war and the sadness of the loss of young life. According to legend, Achilles had to choose between a short and glorious life and a long one spent in obscurity (Iliad, IX, 412–16). Both in the Iliad and the Odyssey the Achilles-figure is employed to question the heroic ideal and the view that glory is worthy and desirable reward for an early death. His imminent end is repeatedly mentioned, but the epic closes before his death, which is narrated in the Odyssey, where the shadow of dead Achilles would ‘rather slave on earth for another man— / Some dirt poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive— / Than rule down here over all the breathless dead’, thereby implicitly correcting the choice he made in life.  In addition, the Iliad questions the glorification of war in another way: Achilles, as its main character and greatest warrior, is not an entirely positive character. The best fighter and the most beautiful and gifted of all Greeks, he can also be a cruel and brutal killer, an over-emotional and vindictive character who does not always act according to the epic’s concept of honour.  In The Deformed Transformed, the Achilles connection is thus a hint at Arnold’s probable early and violent death, and also supports the play’s subversive comment on the heroic ideal and the illustration of its brutality. 
Byron’s reviewer in The New European Magazine noticed that Caesar’s role as cynical commentator also recalls Thersites, a minor character in the Iliad, and a more prominent figure in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.  The lame and deformed Thersites, in the Iliad ‘the ugliest man who came beneath Ilion’ (II, 216) questions the sense of the campaign, and after several lost battles suggests that the Greeks give up the siege (II, 25–242). His protest is effectively suppressed by Odysseus, who beats him down (II, 265–69), but although Homer has the crowd cheer and agree with Odysseus (II, 270–77), his arguments are not contradicted, and (at least for the modern reader) they leave an uneasy feeling. In Troilus and Cressida, Thersites’ role is of greater importance.  Like The Deformed Transformed, Shakespeare’s play presents a very unheroic, brutal war: its Achilles is a very negative character who kills the Trojan prince Hector not in a fight, but while he is taking off his armor (V. 8. 1–22). Thersites mocks and ridicules the Greek warlords very much as Byron’s Caesar mocks Bourbon (e.g. II. 1; II. 3; III. 3; V. 1). At one point, he makes his exit calling the Greek commanders ‘the faction of fools’ (II. 1. 118). Like The Deformed Transformed, Troilus and Cressida is concerned with a criticism and subversion of the heroic ideal and a presentation of the dirt and violence of war.
As one of the main heroes fighting on the Greek side, Achilles is invariably connected with the Trojan War. In transporting Arnold to a Rome under siege, Caesar therefore to a certain degree makes him re-enact the role of the original Achilles in a rewriting of the Iliad. Arnold has to discover that he cannot completely maintain his original personality and self in a new body. Quite early on in his career, he longs to be ‘in peace—at peace’ (I. 2. 21); he has no desire to be a war-hero, but apparently, in the body of Achilles, he cannot escape from this role. In this context, it is also significant that the city under siege is Rome. According to Roman legend (told, most famously, in Virgil’s Aeneid), Rome was founded by the descendants of Aeneas, the only survivor among the great Trojan heroes.  The Romans saw their city as a second Troy, which makes Arnold’s position as Achilles even more poignant.
While Arnold as an Achilles-figure is the enemy of Rome as a second Troy, Caesar’s name links him to the city. Not only has he chosen the name of the famous dictator, and the title of Roman emperors. Julius Caesar’s family, the Patrician Julii Caesares, claimed direct descent from the Trojan hero Aeneas via his son Julus (Aeneid, I, 321–48). Thus, the Stranger’s decision to call himself Caesar already alludes to a future enmity between him and Arnold. In this context, Caesar’s name even gives a subtle hint that he is in fact the Devil. Aeneas was the son of the goddess Venus (Aeneid, I, 315): the planet Venus, both ‘morning’ and ‘evening star’, is traditionally also identified with Lucifer, the ‘bringer of Light’, or ‘Son of the Morning’, as Arnold addresses him (III. 1. 21).  Arnold’s own suggestion that the Stranger, when he announces his intent to change his own shape, might adopt ‘that of Paris’ (I. 1. 367), who killed Achilles, or that of ‘The Poet’s God’ Apollo (I. 1. 368), the most powerful god to fight on the Trojan side, also prepares for their future rivalry. In addition, the allusion to Apollo as the god of poetry also refers to the Stranger as an artist, a product and defender of civilisation in contrast to Achilles as a destructive war hero, and of course, as a ‘creator’ like the poet himself. Throughout the drama, the Stranger/Caesar is linked both to the Devil and the artist. Thus, his claim to ‘ape’ (I. 1. 367) the actions of the ‘Being who made’ (I. 1. 86) the original Achilles alludes to the traditional image of the Devil as ‘God’s ape’, but also to the artist ‘aping’ the author of the original Iliad. Implicitly, the play both rejects and mocks the Romantic idea of the artist as a godlike original creator and instead hints at the iconoclastic, or even derivative nature of all art.
Unlike Arnaud, who after his transformation finds himself incapable of affection and love, Arnold falls in love with the Roman girl Olimpia, whom he had rescued from a rape attempt. Despite his deed, as well as status, valour, and physical beauty, however, Olimpia remains indifferent to him (III. 1. 46–54). When he complains about this in the fragment of Part III, Caesar implies that once Arnold has chosen to reject his own body, he has also lost the capacity to be loved for himself:
Caesar: […] you would be loved—what you call loved—
Self-loved—loved for yourself—for neither health
Nor wealth—nor youth—nor power—nor rank nor beauty–
For these you may be stript of—but beloved
As an Abstraction—for—you know not what—[…]
(III. 1. 61–65)
Though his greatest wish had been to be loved, he has to find out that, in a body other than his own, it is impossible to inspire true affection. Instead of liberating him, his transformation has lead to alienation and loss of self. In the ‘sublime’ shape of Achilles, much like in his original body, he can find admiration, but not the affection he claims to desire. Byron may also be alluding to Burke’s remark that ‘Achilles, in spite of the many qualities of beauty which Homer has bestowed on his outward form, and the many great virtues with which he has adorned his mind, can never make us love him’ (IV, 24), as he is too far removed from ordinary human beings. Thus his beauty and qualities make him sublime and ‘Other’ in the same way as a disabled character (such as Pickersgill’s Arnaud), whereas a loveable character is familiar and small.  Burke also argues that the reader is meant to sympathise with the domestic Trojans rather than the Greeks:
With regard to the Trojans, the passion he chooses to raise is pity; pity is a passion founded on love; and these lesser, and if I may say domestic virtues, are certainly the most amiable. […] Admiration is the passion which Homer would excite in favour of the Greeks, and he has done it by bestowing on them the virtues which have little to do with love. (IV, 24)
The character of Olimpia herself is also linked to other women from classical mythology. Her readiness to kill herself instead of being raped associates her with the Roman heroine Lucretia, who killed herself after having been raped by Sextus Tarquinius, son of king Tarquinius Superbus (Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, I, 58). In ancient Rome, she was seen as the epitome of female heroism and virtue; according to legend, her fate gave the impulse for the expulsion of the Tarquin kings, and the foundation of the Roman Republic (Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, I, 59–60).  Caesar explicitly compares Arnold’s love for her with Achilles’ love for Penthesilea (II. 3. 144–46), queen of the Amazons, who—according to one tradition (although she does not appear in the Iliad)—is first killed by Achilles and then raped by him.  When the Stranger first describes Achilles, he mentions his betrothal to the Trojan princess Polyxena, how ‘With sanctioned and with softened love’ he stood ‘before / The altar, gazing on his Trojan bride’ (I. 1. 274f.). Like his mention of Penthesilea, however, the invocation of Achilles’ love for Polyxena points to a tragic, violent ending, for, according to some versions of the legend, Polyxena was sacrificed to the shadow of dead Achilles after the Greeks had conquered Troy. Olimpia’s attempt to kill herself at the altar in St Peter’s may also be an allusion to Polyxena.  All these women resemble Olimpia in that they are traditionally represented as being very courageous, but all of them share a tragic fate and are either abducted, raped, or killed. Thus these allusions hint at a tragic outcome of the love story between Olimpia and Arnold, which may have to do with his rivalry with Caesar. At the same time, they also point at a major consequence of war and pillage: violence towards women.
In Byron’s representation of a chaotic world, the choice of Rome and of the particular event of the Sacco di Roma is highly significant. The political centre of the ancient world and medieval capital of Western Christianity, Rome is in more than one sense the centre of the Western World and European culture. Interestingly, in Caesar’s view the city as a place is re-gendered and changes gender as it develops from political to spiritual capital: it ‘hath been Earth’s lord / Under its Emperors, and—changing sex, / Not sceptre, an hermaphrodite of empire— / Lady of the Old World’ (I. 2. 8–10).
In the early sixteenth century, when the story takes place, Rome had long lost its political power and its spiritual leadership of Christianity was threatened and questioned by the Protestant Reformation (which features in The Deformed Transformed in the person of the Lutheran soldiers who call the Pope the ‘Anti-Christ’; II. 3. 5), so that the city in The Deformed Transformed symbolises both power and its fragility. Several times, the play emphasises that Rome itself had been the aggressor, an expansive empire similar to the Holy Roman Empire by which it is now attacked. Although, as Arnold points out, the present Romans cannot be held responsible for the deeds of their ancestors, the Holy Roman Empire, once itself conquered and subdued by Rome, now sees itself as Rome’s heir. Both are located in a world and a culture in which violence breeds violence. In this context, the intertextual reference to the Trojan War is equally important: the ancient Romans saw themselves as the descendants of the Trojans. The allusion to Troy supports the notion that a victim will in time become an aggressor. It shows present conflicts as rooted in a distant, mythological past. In addition, in the Iliad’s version, the story of the Trojan War was the oldest literary text in Western culture known in Byron’s time. Although legendary, in ancient Greece and Rome it was largely seen as historical. By alluding to the first great war in European cultural memory in a play which subverts the heroic ideal, Byron implicitly criticises and challenges a literary and historiographic tradition which glorifies and idealises classical heroism and which celebrates the wars of the past and the present.
* * * * *
In its unfinished state, The Deformed Transformed is a genuinely sceptical work. Clearly, in the play love and freedom are not achieved by the rejection of one’s own physical reality and individuality, but Byron does not argue either that ‘mental beauty’ has precedence over or transcends the physical state (which might have been the case if Olimpia had indeed fallen in love with Caesar in Arnold’s body). In fact, in a finished version the play might have easily lost some of its complexity. As it is, the fragment explores the relationship between body and soul without giving any definitive answers. Keeping Caesar’s identity ambiguous, it also maintains an interesting tension between the presentation of a chaotic, amoral universe and a world conforming to Christian theology. It is therefore an interesting and tempting thought that the fragmentary state of The Deformed Transformed may have been deliberate. Although in a short preface he wrote that ‘the rest may appear, perhaps, hereafter’,  he wrote to his publisher John Hunt ‘I doubt I will go on with it’.  Byron’s decision to publish this ‘odd sort of drama’ as a fragment suggests that he might have intended it as an experiment, a dramatic counterpart to Don Juan, which was composed at the same time and shares its digressive structure. Contemporary reviewers already pointed out the similarities and supposed that his eventual decision whether to continue it or not depended on the audience’s reaction that it elicited. 
Byron, who claimed to ‘deny nothing, but doubt everything’, had a lifelong suspicion of truths represented as definitive and orthodox.  The fragmentary state of The Deformed Transformed gives him the opportunity to use a Devil-figure and make a point about human cruelty in a chaotic world, without assuming any clear-cut theological position. His scepticism and awareness of the impossibility of any absolute truths is also connected to an awareness of the fragmentary character of every state and statement. From the beginning of his literary career, he experimented with fragmentary writing,and he commented in one of his journals that his own ‘mind [was] a fragment’.  The play also reflects the situation of the protagonist. It recalls the structure of the Iliad itself, which concludes before the imminent death of its main character Achilles. On a deeper level, Arnold himself is a fragmented being, who, through the transformation and the bond with the Stranger, gives up his body and his real self. Henceforth, he is divided in parts, his body severed from his soul and mind, and all of them disconnected from his past, so that he exists only in the present, split from his history.
As the Stranger and Byron’s play argue, love and a fulfilling existence are not achieved through a narcissistic pursuit of perfection and a rejection of the imperfect. Rather, a reinvention of the self should acknowledge and integrate individual idiosyncrasies. As I have argued in this paper, The Three Brothers is relevant for Byron’s use of intertextual classical allusions in The Deformed Transformed, for his concept of heroism and the genesis of the Byronic Hero, as well as for his defiance of the Burkean concept of an opposition between the Sublime and the Beautiful. It is this combination of contrasts, this fluidity and paradox that constitute the fascination of the Byronic Hero and the Byronic idea of a complex, fulfilling life. In its present state, The Deformed Transformed is a highly sophisticated work, with a complex use of intertextuality. The classical allusions function on different levels, to characterise Arnold and Caesar and their relationship, to put in question the possibility of individual freedom and the nature of heroism, and to subvert the ‘classical’ Western heroic ideal and heroic historiography. The Deformed Transformed deserves to be recognised as one of Byron’s important investigations of the human condition.
Caesar: […] The beautiful half-clay, and nearly spirit!
I am almost enamoured of her, as
Of old the Angels of her earliest sex.
Caesar: I. But fear not. I’ll not be your rival.
Caesar: I could be one right formidable; […]
(II. 2. 174–80)
This article is copyright © 2004 Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, and is the result of the independent labour of the scholar or scholars credited with authorship. The material contained in this document may be freely distributed, as long as the origin of information used has been properly credited in the appropriate manner (e.g. through bibliographic citation, etc.).
I. HEUER. ‘ “Shadows of Beauty, Shadows of Power”: Heroism, Deformity, and Classical Allusion in Joshua Pickersgill’s The Three Brothers and Byron’s The Deformed Transformed’, Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text 12 (Summer 2004). Online: Internet (date accessed): <http://www.cf.ac.uk/encap/corvey/articles/cc12_n01.html>.
Imke Heuer studied English and History at the Universities of Hamburg, Perugia, and York. The present article derives from research originally done for her MA thesis in Romantic Literature at the University of York, where she is currently working on a PhD on ‘English Theatre, German History and the Politics of Adaptation’. Her research interests include English interest in German theatre and culture in the Romantic Epoch; Romantic drama (particularly Byron); the representation of history in Romantic writing; the reception of classical history and mythology in English Literature.
Last modified 2 August, 2004 .