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Note: I'm not sure if it belongs on this site, but I'm not sure where else I should ask it.

In the title/theme song of the sadly short-lived Firefly series, they say "Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me."

I personally would say this comes from the ancient Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Ovidius (also known as Ovid) used this myth in his 'Metamorphoses', in which Icarus dies and becomes the Icarian Sea.

At the start of this piece of poetry by Ovidius, he writes: "Omnia possideat, non possidet aera Minos", which (roughly) translates to: "He, Minos, may possess everything, but possessing the sky he does not," or in better English: "Minos may possess everything, but he does not possess the sky." I don't quite recall what else Ovid said about this, but if I remember correctly, he did (explicitly) say something about the land and the sea not being available.

Is this a coincidence or did the composer of the theme actually try to catch the essence of this myth and use it in the theme? Did the composer or someone else ever talk about the song, maybe explaining other parts of it?

(This may sound like a strange question, but we spent half a year studying and translating the Metamorphoses of Ovidius last year at school.)

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    They don't look related to me; land, sea, and sky encompass everything, so... – Izkata Jul 10 '12 at 12:05
  • Well, actually, in both the myth and the title song, the land and the sea are unavailable, but the sky is open. – lesderid Jul 10 '12 at 12:08
  • AFAIK, Joss Whedon wrote the Firefly opening theme. Now, don't get me wrong, I love that guy, but somehow I severely doubt he gets his inspiration from Ovid. :) – Martha Jul 10 '12 at 15:41
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    @Izkata: I think the notion that "land, sea, and sky encompass everything" is a Classical way of breaking down the world, as in the Greek myth where Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades choose their domains. Other cultures have different approaches, and in a space setting, I don't think it's an obvious way to carve up a solar system. So it would make sense if Whedon is alluding to something Classical. – ruakh Jul 10 '12 at 17:43
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    +1, great intertextual observation. Whedon is well-versed in philosophy and ideological theory (especially western feminism), so it wouldn't surprise me at all. Side note, I respectfully disagree with the person who said they doubt Whedon gets his inspiration from Ovid. Why not? Some folks are just well versed, and thus they are the ones who produce meaningful pieces of art. – FoxMan2099 Nov 20 '13 at 4:10
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Interesting - I wasn't aware of that poem. I don't know, however, that the theme song has any inspiration in ancient myth or poetry. I'd always taken it as having a double reference/meaning. The first is a reference to the fact that humanity had destroyed "Earth that was" and their only way to escape was to the sky/space.

The second inspiration is that it's a more metaphorical reference talking about the the crew of the Serenity, and Mal in particular. They are wanderers and the song is as if they are the ones who are speaking or feeling the lyrics. They're essentially saying that land is transitory, that you (the Feds) can take it away or destroy it. But they'll always have the sky. There's no way that the sky can be taken away from them. In the sky they will always find refuge.

Daedelus and Icarus did not find refuge in the sky. For Icarus, it was even fatal. I think that has the opposite meaning from what the theme of Firefly is trying to convey.

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    Never thought of the first part, but what you say in the second paragraph is how I always took it. – Izkata Jul 10 '12 at 12:19
  • This indeed is likely what they meant when they wrote the song's lyrics. The browncoats did lose the war though, and they're now trying to escape by fleeing to the sky. Some of them lost from the Alliance and some of them continue to flee (crew of Serenity for example). But I'm probably searching too deep, hehe. – lesderid Jul 10 '12 at 12:28
  • Don't forget that the rebels frequently accuse the Alliance of destroying their planets (or letting them go to waste). The Alliance does not take very good care of those on the rim. One might guess that during the war, some planets actually had the land burned and the seas boiled. – KRyan Jul 10 '12 at 18:49
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    An allusion to another work can still make the opposite point. In fact it can be rhetorically powerful. – FoxMan2099 Nov 20 '13 at 4:12
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    To some extent though, I think it's more fitting of Daedalos and Icaros. Because Mal and the crew accept the danger in their freedom (people die, because they're not protected by the law and have to deal with generally unsavoury types), but they choose freedom over living in the confines of the Alliance. Just how Daedalos preferred the dangerous undertaking of flying to freedom as opposed to complacently staying trapped on the island (Icaros' death only highlights the inherent danger of their undertaking) – Flater May 7 '15 at 13:30
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The story of Icarus is a myth, and myths are more than just supernatural stories that explain phenomena in the world. They characteristically comment on universals, or archetypes, and the Icarus myth uses narrative (poetic narrative, yes, but still a story, or narrative) to discuss the concepts of boundaries and limitations. In this story, we see both the creative genius given to humankind, the pronounced limitations and boundaries that humans experience and encounter, and the hubris exhibited by humans in refusing to acknowledge and give credence to such limitations and boundaries.

In that sense, there is certainly an intertextual connection. Is it a conscious one? Maybe or maybe not, Whedon is well read and well studied, and these types of big picture concepts tend to blur in such cases and it's hard or even impossible to say, "This idea started for me at X or Y."

I think a major theme of Firefly is definitely freedom. And not just freedom of rebels against the powers that be, but the freedom of the human spirit and the innate desire to shuck the boundaries that limit us. That's the significance of the ship to Mal---it is freedom. Freedom from the powers that be, from the rules and regulations, from societal norms and mundane, etc.

Yeah, there's a connection, just probably not a direct one. Both touch on archetypal themes in meaningful artistic expression, especially freedom, boundaries, and limitations. In so doing, they employ more fundamental archetypes, sky, water, and land.

Great thoughts in the OP, not sure what you're studying, but Intertextuality is a blossoming field and you may have a paper to read somewhere on the intertextual connection. It's not like you have to prove that it was a conscious decision, it's more like it would be an interesting exercise to read the two together and ask why they agree and differ on various points.

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You asked: "Did the composer or someone else ever talk about the song"?

Joss Whedon is the composer, and he discusses his inspiration for the song as part of the director's commentary on the series DVD, possibly on the first episode.

As I remember he mentions being inspired by the American Civil War.

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Mal is from Shadow, which was destroyed by Alliance forces. Apparently this invoved a very thorough "scorched earth" programme, which literally burned the entire planet turning it into a "black rock" like the one Miranda was said to be.

  • This was definitely discussed by people involved with the show, but do you have any references? Some place Joss said this, or Nathan Fillion talking about character motivation he’d been given? – J. C. Salomon Nov 19 '13 at 22:55
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Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me
Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me
There's no place I can be
Since I found Serenity
But you can't take the sky from me...

Those are the lyrics, and I would say that it's more a reference to the Alliance war to subjugate all the worlds, and the fact that in the black (space) the singer (presumably Mal or people like him) are free, and you can't take that away. You can scorch the land, ruin the seas, but the sky (Again presumably space) is still his.

The line "Since I found Serenity" could be a double meaning, since the battle of Serenity Valley during the Unification war was where Mal and the Independents basically fought their last stand. Mal knows then that there is no place for him in the Alliance, so "there's no place I can be", and it's also an allusion to the ship Serenity where you can't take the sky away.

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