Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Concluding thoughts on 213...and Life?

Looking back on my experience in this class, I find it remarkable that I went from completely lacking any comprehension of what Prof. Sexson was saying, to a much more enlightened state. I mean, I think all classes strive to achieve such a transformation, but 213 truly achieved it.

What do I know now that I didn’t know before? That is a silly question to ask, because as I am now aware, we ALREADY know everything there is to know. The question should be phrased: What have I remembered that I had previously forgotten? I feel I almost couldn’t put what I’ve remembered into words, because they already have such a presence in me. But I’ll try.

Sarvam Dukham, Sarvam Anityam—All is suffering, all is fleeting. All is suffering to us; we laugh to keep from crying, we all experience sadness or personal tragedy at some point (or at least we read about it). And people have been suffering since the dawn of man, making it fleeting. It’s ironic because one would tend to assume that true tragedy and suffering stay with a person forever, making it anything but temporary. But fleeting refers to our human existence as a whole, how time is cyclical and how our own suffering is a fleeting moment in the circle of time.

Time. Eternities vs. the times. I will never be able to look at a newspaper the same way again. How can we live thinking that all we experience, all that we are, is a unique creation in this universe? People are innately the same, circumstances are innately the same (5 conflicts), and that notion is inescapable. Where do I go from here? Knowing that nothing I do or experience is ever totally unique? Well, I recognize that fact, and then I also acknowledge that I am circumstantially bound into this role that I am playing. I am somehow a necessary part of these cycles. I don’t exactly know what this role is, but I figure if I’m bound to do it, I can’t screw it up.

And it is not so bad, to have this new outlook on life, which is what this class has given me. You know the people that tell you life is not a game and you need to take things seriously? To them I would now say, what is serious? I have read the eternities and am now well versed in the human condition, and not once has the word serious come up. Rather, life is a game, and you shouldn’t be serious at all, you should be tragic and dramatic and comedic and facetious and tender and blissfully aware. Because if we are to exercise the gift of life, what better way to do it than experience all that we are and all that we are capable of as human beings? Don’t be afraid to give your heart away, or laugh at something silly, or endure the pain of loss, or feel the greatest joy. Don’t be afraid to search for those experiences and revel in them once they’re experienced. Why do we feel so deeply about them? Simply, they are what we are. They are the core of our being and the token of our existence. They are eternal, and we are eternal, and everything that is, has been, and will be again.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Andromache...Will you ever be happy?

I was looking up at my shelf at all the books we’ve read this semester, and realized that I’d only read 2 out of the 10 Euripidean plays. So call me a nerd, but I took the book down and thought I’d read another play or two. So I started reading Andromache, which is set after she is sailed over to the home of Achilles to be enslaved. Surprisingly, she was still unhappy about one thing or another…namely the sacking of her city, the killing of her husband, and her enslavement in the house of her husbands murderer…anything missing? Yeah I thought so too, how about the sacrifice of her child! The whole premise of the Trojan Women, ya know, ringing a bell?

Now I don’t know if I’m interpreting this wrong, or if I’m misunderstanding the play. Maybe the fact that tidbit is omitted is because it is already the focus of another tragedy, and Euripides simply wished to carry out Andromache’s awful fate again and again. But I found it kind of hilarious that in this play, Andromache is “again” faced with the decision to either sacrifice herself, or her son (the child she had with her master). This sounded oddly familiar to me. She was weeping and wailing about how horrid her life has turned out to be, and how it can’t get any worse than this (even though it always does), so on and so forth. And it just felt like I was reading a knock-off version of the Trojan Women a little bit. Like I had seen an awesome movie like Pirates of The Caribbean, and was then forced to watch the second, and third, which were total downgrades from the first and riding off the coattails of the original.

Now I’ll admit, I didn’t actually finish the play, because after Menelaus came in and told her that even though she gave herself up for her child (which is less dramatic in the first place because she didn’t have that option in the other play), his evil daughter might still kill her son, I gave up. I felt like it was a trick, only to make Andromache suffer even more, so I could have the pleasure of reading about her misfortunes for another fifteen pages. I decided to not have that pleasure, and instead write this blog and pretend that the sufferings of Andromache ended with her ultimate sacrifice in the other play.

Pandora and Psyche

I was thinking earlier about Psyche opening that box that was to be delivered to Venus containing the beauty of Persephone, even though she wasn’t supposed to. I thought it was kind of funny how there wasn’t really a consequence for her doing that, and how in fact it led her to be rescued by her dear Cupid. I wonder if the story would’ve gone differently if she hadn’t opened the box, and instead just delivered it to Venus like she was initially supposed to. I mean we wouldn’t have gotten the whole prince charming factor in there, it is much more romantic that way. But then again she was circumstantially bound to do so.

I then think of Pandora and her box, and how she suffered the greatest consequence of all: introducing evil and all things unhappy into the world. How does that work? Pandora gets the rap for doing what should only come naturally to someone when told to possess a box yet not open it, while Psyche ends up with a fairytale ending. I mean a beauty induced sleep comes in a close second to the release of evil, naturally. But it’s actually kind of a funny parallel, because Pandora bore suffering, while Psyche bore pleasure.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Term Paper: Nothing is as is seems

At the beginning of this class, I had a difficult time grasping the point and aim of our discussions and readings. Naturally, however, as time progressed, I became aware not only of the significance in “the past possesses the present”, but of something else that was causing my confusion at the beginning of the semester. This notion, which I have come to believe in more and more, is the inescapability and the inevitability that nothing is ever how it seems (or at least not until you complete this course). The only comfort I can find is in knowing that this is infallible, always has been and always will be, and I will probably forever walk around in a fog of skepticism.

The exception of this, I can already think of, being the condition of the Greek men in Lysistrata, there is definitely no misinterpreting that. But we see this example in old comedy, which everyone knows is just grotesque jokes anyway. More seriously, the study of tragedies we’ve done led to a lot of questioning and uncertainty on my part. I’ve realized that my personal tragedies will never be anything close to those that others have experienced. What seeming misfortunes I have in my life come closer to being labeled comedic rather than tragic. As we know, the sacrifice of a child seems to take the cake in that department, dying for the honor of your brother is a close second, and the death of my pet really is nowhere near that arena. So just to clarify, stop thinking anything you’ve experienced is tragic, because it’s not. Just ask the Trojan Women.

As if the tragedies in my life being unremarkable aren’t enough, I now also fear for my own originality. I don’t know if that everything that is past possesses the present is alluding to that or not, but if everything that is my present has already been a present, how am I ever to consider myself original? How are any of us? It’s like that kid on the playground who tells you that his dad made up some popular joke. If I could go back in time, knowing what I do now I would say, “Well actually that joke has literally been around for ages, originating from Aristophanes Lysistrata, and it has only just followed a cyclically predictable path back into the mind of your unoriginal father”. Talk about a slam-dunk, he would stand no chance of responding. That joke is not as it seems, when what was an original funny bit of comedy, can turn into a worn-out gag, in holding this notion of unoriginality. But maybe we cannot value originality on the grand scale of things, and rather must appreciate it for what it is in our own time and space.

Physical transformations, the most obvious example of “it’s not what it seems”, prove deceiving as well. What appears to be a wild boar is in fact King Pentheus. Lucius is an ass. Calisto is a mama bear. Acteon is a stag. Who’s to say that my dog isn’t Amelia Earhart? I mean nobody knows where she went; it’s not out of the question! These things are definitely not as they seem, but how would anyone be to know? In these transformations we see mothers and sons turn against one another, friends turn to foes, and nymphs into bodiless voices, to name a few. We seem to be surrounded by a veritable garden of transformation, with hardly a clue about what is real. And if our senses are so greatly deceived, what is left to rely on? The only solution, it would appear, is to refrain from eating meat, not uproot any trees or flowers, and know where your son is before you go boar hunting.

When our physical forms are changeable, is too our nature? Are things like love, desire, and grief transformable? Diotima says love is an intermediate stage, there is always desire; it is a stepping stone. If love, which all humans strive to achieve, is not an ultimate goal, what then is? Is any earthly thing as satisfying or completing as we make it out to be? Maybe it is an eternal struggle, to find that which completes you. Malouf begs this question in The Imaginary Life. What is the true destiny of man? At the beginning of the novel, Ovid believes that the civilization of the Child is what would serve him best, when in the end it proves to be the exact opposite. We see a reversal occurring. Bird calls transform from meaningless song, into a beautiful and unique language like our own. The child who originally seemed to be the student, in fact became the teacher. With this widening of perspective, Ovid becomes aware of his place and his destiny. The exile, which seemed to be an unimaginably heinous fate, was always in fact a necessary step to his finality.

Our own fates, destinies, paths, whatever you like to call them, are not so different from Ovid. I think you can relate it to the idea of blessings in disguise. For example, a rejection letter from your dream college could lead to you going elsewhere, and in turn meeting the love of your life. You then find yourself praising what was once a disappointment. We make decisions everyday that guide us in one direction or another; that may drastically alter our course without our knowledge. And we must become aware that our lives are not as they can seem, mundane or predictable at times. We have become who we are through a very precise chain of events that could have resulted in a million other outcomes. It is true that as humans we are circumstantially bound, but it’s not as if we know what we are bound to.

You can’t live like that, thinking that you are just a pawn in the grander scheme of things. That frame of mind can translate into a license to be reckless or uncaring and just assume it’s all in the cards that way. Although we may be products of our circumstance, we are similarly products of ourselves. It seems a bit daunting at times, but as with most everything, it takes balance, and with that you can then operate in the worlds of both ignorance and enlightenment harmoniously. Meaning that, an awareness of our human condition and past as present will serve you well. But it serves equal importance to hold onto your own experiences and thoughts to appreciate them for what they are, and your role as an individual.

You have to take everything in stride, because the world we live in is chalk full of ambiguity and hidden meaning. It may not actually be hidden, but unless you know what you are looking for, it will never reveal itself. What am I talking about? I am talking about an echo, or a windflower, or Groundhogs day, or a current event in the newspaper. These things that are so present in our everyday lives, yet we are not aware of their pasts. And when you come to realize the significance, the importance of these things, what have you gained? Simply, and satisfyingly enough, the ability to chuckle here and there when you read the caption “Groundbreaking New Story!” or see the flight of a swallow, knowing that none of it is as it seems.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cupid and Psyche

While I was reading Cupid and Psyche, I was thinking about what the heck kind of pictures I would find...only because the story is so long and there are so many amazing scenes. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed to find that mostly all of the images were just of Cupid and Psyche together in an embrace. They are beautiful pictures, don't get me wrong, and many do a great job of reflecting the emotion between the two, but they are just all sort of the same.

I was anticipating great depictions of Psyche alone in Cupid's grand palace, or her awful nasty sisters, her tasks she completed for Venus, or even a final depiction of her becoming immortal, a portrait maybe. I didn't quite find any of that, but there is a painting of Psyche in the act of revealing Cupid's identity, which a thought was refreshing in a sea of feel-good and erotic paintings and sculptures.

I personally hadn't heard this particular story before, and was fascinated by all the facets of it. The innocence of Psyche seemed to assure her a miserable fate from the beginning, but turns out that her consistent innocence led her to great things in the end. She never seemed to act much like a victim, but went about her way in order to continue to do what she thought she must. And I think she totally deserved her happy ending. It was a great story and I really can't stop thinking about it. I looked it up on Wiki (of course) to figure out where it originated from, and it actually said it first emerged from The Golden Ass. This kind of surprised me a little because I was half expecting it to be from some collection of stories by another great and less well known author like Ovid. But go figure, I guess that's enough proof that this book truly is a classic in the foundations of literature.

The Transformation of Lucius and comparison

Lucius’s transformation is quite interesting compared to all the other one’s we’ve read about. In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, all the transformations occur because of extreme events that force the alteration of their subject. Another theme also seems to be that those transformations were somewhat sudden and unwanted, arising out of some despair or violence. In The Golden Ass, Lucius’s transformation is nothing like this. It isn’t sparked by anything other than his curiosity to experience and understand the ways of the infamous witches of the town, and is brought on by his own hand—or rather at the hand of his Love. Of course, he did turn into a creature that he wasn’t intending, but all the same, the intent to transform was always present.

The other thing, was that with Ovid, the story always ended with the transformation. But with this novel we get to experience the transformation towards the beginning, and all the aftermath, which makes for a really enjoyable read. This transformation is also much more lighthearted and comical than others, which I know has to do with the style and subject of the book, but also the fact that he was turned into an ass, and the funny middle ground he experiences between having human thoughts and the impulses of an animal. He often doesn’t seem super distressed about his form, but rather accepts it and is looking towards amending the situation. I find the level headedness of Lucius is quite admirable and totally hilarious at the same time.

The Golden Ass: Pg. 1-80

This book is extremely entertaining so far. It was good to read the intro and learn how Grave’s translations differs so much from the others. I really appreciate modern and conversational translations, because they make it so much easier to read and enjoy. That’s kind of an obvious statement, but I think a lot of people would be surprised that some of these Greek classics are so readable.

But in any case, I find the format of this book fantastic. There is absolutely no chance of becoming bored or predicting what will come next, because the events occurring at times seem totally unrelated! (Then again I shouldn’t act fooled because as we know from this class, everything is related). The more you get into the novel, the more everything makes sense, and turns out to be totally connected. Like when Thelyphron tells his tale about protecting the corpse, I at first thought we were off on another crazy tangent, when as it turned out it was another connection to the mysteries and transformations of the witches.

What I have found most interesting so far, is the relationship between Lucius and Fotis. What at first seemed like a minor part of the story has turned out to catalyze a myriad of events. Fotis grabbing the goat hair for her mistress instead of the hair of the Boetian man, her mixing up the transformation potions, and her knowledge of the anecdote, all of consequence. I’m interested to see how their relationship continues to unfold. It seems so perfect and unblemished, and I don’t know if I’ve been reading too many tragedies, but I fear it isn’t going to last! The fact that Lucius is currently an Ass had potential to get in the way ☺, but we’ll just have to see. I’ve had no idea what direction this book is going in, so I’m not about to make any assumptions!

Monday, April 6, 2009

And you thought Hermes was a crazy baby...

As many of us know, Bacchus is the young god depicted in the story
of Pentheus and Bacchus in Metamorphosis. What you may not know is that he is the god of wine, and patron of intoxication, fertility, and abundance...and he is a contender in the crazy god baby category.

In this one he rides a leopard... painted by the German painter Franz von Stuck.

And in this one, he is clearly drinking wine and... urinating. Painted by Guido Reni in 1623.

Talk about having a good time!

Take Two: An Imaginary Life

After reading everyone’s interpretations of Malouf, I felt like writing a second blog because I realized there are a lot of things I hadn’t really been thinking about while reading the first time.

For example I was reading Christina’s blog entry, and at the beginning of it she said how she thought the plot seemed “circumstantially bound”, and then realized that she was reading the times instead of the eternities. I think I was doing the same thing to some degree unconsciously. Like I thought about the deeper lessons and connections between nature and man as eternal and of absolute truth, but I found myself considering too much Ovid’s situation. I was thinking for some reason, that the fact of his exile is what led him to this metamorphosis. And I know that it was his true destiny, and he accepted it as that, and everything fit into place as it should, blah blah. But it made me wonder if something that extreme must happen to warrant that kind of a transformation? But then considering Metamorphosis, something dramatic always has to happen for some transformation to take place. Because why would someone change, unless some circumstance prompted it? And then that’s where I started! I just look at it as like, even though Ovid’s exile was the “beginning”, the final transformation was one of eternity.

Along those same lines (same lines being my overly literal interpretation of the text at times), I realized I wasn’t looking at the feral Child as much more than exactly that. I realize that he represents a transition mechanism, the embodiment of nature in a human, etc. But I wasn’t looking at him as a symbol so much as an actual being. What I mean to say, is that the contrast between his human qualities and other-earthly qualities, if you will, makes it a bit confusing for me to interpret his character. One minute he is an elusive mystical being, basking naked in the winter’s night, and imitating animal calls…and the next he is like a regular child trying to learn from Ovid, bundling up in the cold, and fishing in the stream for supper. I understand that Ovid’s treatment of the Child serves as a representation between civilization and nature and it’s effects. But the point is that it’s hard for me to see the Child as solely a symbol when he has such humanly qualities at times. I don’t know, because then again, it might not be important how much of a symbol the Child truly is, because his role is what is symbolic, and this story is about Ovid after all. I’m just talking myself through these I guess!

The third thing I was thinking about was transformation as adaption. Is Ovid’s transformation begot of destiny, or is it a natural adaption to his “circumstances” and the truths of life to which man must recess in order to become whole? You could probably argue that his destiny and regression are one in the same, so then is it destiny that requires him to adapt to what surrounds him and what truths he is uncovering? Is adaption even the right word? The stories in Metamorphosis just made me think about why a certain transformation would occur (why that specific thing) and what exactly that transformation is. For example, Niobe turns into a weeping stone after all her children are killed. Is that an adaption to her situation? Did the fierceness of her sorrow require something other than her human body to house itself—something more permanent and appropriate of such deep despair? There is a possibility that I am thinking about the purpose of these transformations too hard, for I’m sure there is no universal purpose, and Ovid is more interested in the emotional upheaval and gore anyway. But I just thought the parallel between destiny and purpose was an interesting one.

Oh and lastly, I’m still just not quite sure what the title An Imaginary Life means. But other than that, I have no more thoughts on the subject☺

Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Imaginary Life: assignment

The class theme is “All that is past possesses the present”. This novel connects to this in many ways. Most obvious is when Ovid begins to recall memories from his childhood, but truer and clearer than he had remembered before. He described it as if “I were being handed a new past, that leads, as I follow it out, to a present in which I appear out of my old body as a new and other self” (95). There are unknowns in his past, and as he stumbles upon things he never knew or never realized he could know, these unknowns come streaming back, and he is conscious of the past he never before conceived to be relevant.

Ovid talks about becoming part of the universe, letting the universe in. The Child is outside himself, his “energy distributed among the beasts and birds whose life he shares, among leaves, water, grasses, clouds, thunder-whose existence he can be at home because they hold, each of them, some particle of his spirit” (pg 96). We are made up of more than we know; we are possessed by more than we are aware of. Ovid realizes this and says when the spirit of all things migrates back into us we will then be whole. He chooses to exist in a world of simplicity and observation. He chooses to become more than himself, and in that pursuit transforms into the truest human he could be.

In this class we read all about transformation. The transformation of stubborn rulers into tragic hero’s, domestic women into radical activists, perfect growing seasons to inhospitable drought and famine, enemies to friends, humans beings into trees and animals and stone. Is it going too far to say that in these transformations our characters are becoming what they were destined to become? Is it a natural part of their fate, as it was for Ovid? We can look for clues, like the prophecies of Tiresias (predicting Creon’s fate, Pentheus’ death), that show us that what has happened was inevitable. And through all these transformations we see much tragedy, and is it still as tragic if it was meant to happen?

Ovid’s story begins as a tragedy and becomes the exact opposite. He goes from being miserably exiled, to not only accepting his fate, but reveling in it as it his “true” fate. It all seems so right, the village, his regression into nature, and finally with the crossing of the Ister he enters into “the final reality”. There is no more time, he stops counting the days, is not thinking of any final destination. All things will continue on, but he will not. His transformation was necessary. His end came naturally.

Isn’t that what we are attempting to discover or become aware of? That is, our existence is in the midst of everything that has ever existed and will ever exist. Ovid exists in every moment in the end “It is summer. It is spring. I am immeasurably happy. I am three years old. I am sixty. I am six. I am there.” (pg152). He is where? He is everywhere—in his past, his present, in the earth. He is whole.

When we read about our past, when we discover that everything that is happening now has already happened and been happening forever, when we find the roots of all our stories and fantasies, when after all that we are still curious, we come ever closer to being whole too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Summary of Bacchus and Pentheus

Pentheus, King of Thebes, was a disbeliever in the famous prophecies seen by the wise Tiresias. He laughed at the old man, when Tiresisas warned him that he dreamt the king would meet his death by being torn to pieces by unsuspecting fingers, due to the workings of the new god Bacchus. (hilarious right?)

Pentheus steps outside and sees the entire city engaged in a frenzied celebration over the new god (Bacchus), and orders his arrest. Instead of the god though, the guards bring back a man by the name of Acoetes, a priest of the god. He recounts to the king the tale of his voyage where his crew attempted to kidnap the girlish boy (unaware that he was a god) and were turned into dolphins. All except for Acoetes who saw this boy for what he was at the beginning, and was thus rewarded with priesthood.

Pentheus, obviously not enjoying this story, sent Acoetes away to be tortured. But while the torture instruments were being prepared, the shackles binding Acoetes magically combusted and set him free.

Outraged by this, Pentheus marches into the woods to find and arrest this Bacchus himself. He then happens to stumble into a clearing where women Bacchic worshippers were performing rites, and when they saw him, he no longer appeared to them in the form of their king, but as a boar. They attacked at once began to rip him limb from limb, while he cried out to no avail. Finally, it is Pentheus’ mother who wrenches his head from his body, and with a cry of victory, lets his blood rain down on her.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ovid's Statue

Here is a picture of the statue of Ovid that resides in a square in Constanta, Romainia. The inscription on the statue reads:
Here I lie, who played with tender loves,
Naso the poet, killed by my own talent.
O passerby, if you've ever been in love, let it not be too much for you
to say: May the bones of Naso lie gently.


We talked in class about the exile of Ovid to Tomi, where he was to spend the last 10 years of his life, miserable. One consolation was that he wrote poetic letters to absent family and friends. They remain today in a collection titled Tristia. And while they are all on the subject of Ovid’s lamentation, they are actually pretty entertaining! Since Ovid is basically one of the most influential writers you’ve never heard of, I thought it would be interesting to look up some of his other works. Here’s and example, which is the first poem in the collection:

Book TI.I:1-68 The Poet to His Book: Its Nature

Little book, go without me – I don’t begrudge it – to the city.
Ah, alas, that your master’s not allowed to go!
Go, but without ornament, as is fitting for an exile’s:
sad one, wear the clothing of these times.
You’ll not be cloaked, dyed with hyacinthine purple –
that’s no fitting colour to go mourning –
no vermilion title, no cedar-oiled paper,
no white bosses, ‘horns’ to your dark ‘brow’.
Happier books are decorated with these things:
you instead should keep my fate in mind.
No brittle pumice to polish your two edges,
so you’re seen ragged, with straggling hair.
No shame at your blots: he who sees them
will know they were caused by my tears.
Go, book, greet the dear places, with my words:
I’ll walk among them on what ‘feet’ I can.
If, in the crowd, there’s one who’s not forgot me,
if there’s one, perhaps, who asks how I am,
say I’m alive, but deny that I am well:
that I’m even alive is a gift from a god.
Otherwise, be silent – let him who wants more read –
beware of saying by chance what isn’t needed!
The reader, prompted, will soon recall my guilt,
the crowd’s voice make me a common criminal.
Beware of defending me, despite the biting words:
a poor case will prove too much for advocacy.
Find someone who sighs about my exile,
and reads your verses with wet eyes,
and silently wishes, unheard by enemies,
my punishment lightened by a gentler Caesar.
For myself, I wish whomever it is no ill,
who asks the gods to be kind to suffering:
what he wishes, let that be: the Leader’s anger done,
grant me the right to die in my native country.
Though you obey, book, you may still be blamed,
and called inferior to the flower of my genius.
The judge’s duty is to search out time
and circumstance. You’re safe regarding time.
Fine-spun verses come from a tranquil mind:
my days are clouded by sudden miseries.
Verse asks for a writer with leisure and privacy:
I’m tossed by winter gales, the storms, the sea.
Every fear harms verse: I’m lost and always
afraid of a sword slicing at my throat.
Even what I’ve created, will amaze just critics:
they’ll read it, whatever it is, with indulgence.
Set Homer, the Maeonian, in such danger,
his genius would fail among such troubles.
Go then, book, untroubled by fame,
don’t be ashamed to displease the reader.
Fortune’s not so kind to me now
for you to take account of any praise.
Secure, I was touched by desire for fame,
and I burned with ardour to win a name.
Enough now if I don’t hate those studies, verses
that hurt me, so that wit brought me exile.
You go for me, you, who can, gaze at Rome.
If the gods could grant now that I were my book!
And because you’re a foreigner in a mighty city
don’t think you come as a stranger to the crowd.
Though you lack a title, they’ll know the style:
though wishing to deceive, it’s clear you’re mine.
But enter quietly so my verse won’t hurt you,
it’s not as popular as once it was.
If anyone thinks you shouldn’t be read
because you’re mine, and thrusts you away,
say: ‘Look at the title: I’m not love’s master:
that work’s already got what it deserved.’

After reading a more poetic form of Ovid’s writing, I could really see how he would have inspired Shakespeare. The flow, the word choice, the sadness and lamentation imbedded in the dialogue with the book greatly engages our emotions. Switch a couple words around and this could easily be mistaken for one of Shakespeare’s love stories. Ovid could just have easily been talking to one of his children or some lost love, but the fact that it is a book clearly displays the passion with which he wrote and regarded his writing, and only emphasises the total desperation he feels with regards to his exile. It’s like he makes himself his own tragic hero.

Scanning the rest of the poems, although one would think he would run out of things to wail about, he writes about his wife, his journey to exile, his odyssey, being sick of exile, spring in Tomi, etc. Actually a lot of them seem to be quite similar. In any case, I find these poems completely fascinating, and the way they serve as like a memoir or a tragic autobiography, totally genius.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Male centered viewpoints. I was reading a medical article entitled The Medicalization of Impotence: Normalizing Phallocentrism, when I came across this quote:

Taken by itself, the penis is a floppy appendage which rises and falls and is the source of a number of pleasures. The Phallus is more than this. It is the physical organ represented as continually erect; it is the inexhaustibly of male desire; it is a dominant element within our culture. (Bradbury 1985, 134).’

This article talks about the literal and symbolic stifling of women’s sexuality when men become concerned about real or supposed erectile dysfunction, and how it serves to perpetuate male dominance. In Lysistrata there was obviously no problem of erectile dysfunction, but go with me. The author explains that men become so focused on achieving a ‘normal erection’, that they find it unacceptable to experience anything slightly different, even if their wives are still satisfied. I feel like this represents the rigid standard to which male dominated societies hold themselves. In Lysistrata, the women are suggesting they be in charge of things until the men can get themselves and the war under control. On page 29, Lysistrata suggests the women be in charge of management, and the continuation of her conversation with the Councilor onto page 30 is indicative that he thinks such a proposal is preposterous. Sure a woman-driven society could function, but it wouldn’t necessarily satisfy the standards or wishes of the men. It could work, but why should it matter when a male dominated society is obviously so much better. As Leonore Tiefer argues in this article, even though the erection may not be perfect, it may still satisfy a couples’ sexual standards—men just have a hard time accepting that.

Our culture perpetuates gender roles for both men and women; the construction of masculinity holding that men be dominant, protective, insensitive, strong, etc. The expectations to which male dominated societies are held are married to these ideals. Anything any less manly or less dominant are simply unacceptable.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Profanity and such

Profanity, this day in age, is a fascinating topic to consider. On one hand, I think a lot of us like to believe we’ve evolved from the prude-ness of earlier generations. In some respects I think that can be proven true—MTV anyone? We certainly appear to not only accept it more, but to actually generate it, encourage it. Profanity sells, so why not capitalize? Of course, profanity has always existed in our society, and in all societies before us, so it really isn’t anything new. Yet it somehow retains its ability to shock and entertain us all the same.

When beginning my reading of Lysistrata, I was prepared for something, mmm colorful (we’ll put it that way). What I got was a total shock that I wasn’t at all expecting. Not to say that I was offended, just a taken by surprise a little. It was simply the blunt, matter-of-fact the play is written way that left me in awe. Like for some reason, because it was ancient, it is supposed to be all proper and discreet. Ha! What a crock. It is like those kids that walk around the playground when you’re in elementary school and tell you they know a dirty word, and then try and convince you, proudly, that their older brother or sister, or perhaps some drunk uncle of theirs coined it. We have this notion that profanity is a recent thing we bad-ass Americans brought into the world along with our democracy and chicken-fries. Oh how wrong we are. Those people obviously hadn’t read this play.

What really got me thinking were all the different translations we read in class. How some were blatantly more vulgar than others. Translations differ, as is their nature, but I have to wonder how much is the difference is due to linguistic interpretation, and how much has to do with the translator being scared witless to write the word ‘dick’ in their book. The Sarah Ruden translation seemed to me the most contemporary, conversationally. I don’t know maybe someone in the sub is having such a conversation right now. Some were more, not necessarily discreet, but maybe more eloquent than others i.e. “point my slippers at the roof” “Put my legs in the air”. Either way, they all got the point across.

I like to imagine, what if I were the sort of person who would actually be offended by reading this? A. What in particular would offend me B. Would it offend me so much that I would have the courage to walk out of class and humiliate myself and C. I would wonder why this surprised me after having learned all I have about the Greeks in the first place? Of course, this is difficult to imagine because I find it so utterly amusing. But would anyone have the bones to attempt a translation that cut out all profanity? I don’t know maybe someone has tried, maybe we heard that attempt in class. But it brings up the question of censorship.

Like we well know, there is a lot of profanity floating around in our society. And naturally we have developed censorship methods. Music has clean versions for sale, for example. This gets a lot of people because they believe that a song should be heard as it was originally intended, instrumentally and lyrically. They feel that something of the piece is lost in the alteration of the “unsuitable parts”. And I totally think that is true in a lot of cases. After all, profanity is a means of expression, and who’s to draw the line between what is appropriate and what isn’t? It is excruciating to think what would happen to such a classic work of literature like Lysistrata, if it were to be censored. All the meaning would be lost, along with most of the entertainment. Plus reading it is a great indication of our past, and that saying how you’re no more vulgar than the ancient greeks holds so true.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Board Games!?

Of all the activities that took place at the ancient greek symposiums, I found that they played board games one of the funniest! Apparently one of the games was a dice game similar to our Parcheesi, which they played with three dice (later the romans adapted it to be played with two dice). Here's a depiction of Achilles and Ajax playing such a game:

Modern Symposium

Researching the Symposium I ran across an article that documents a modern day symposium between philosophers at a dinner party, based off of the format and subject of love at Plato’s Symposium. It is interesting because not only does it include a helpful summary of the points each ancient Greek character made, but a modern interpretation as well! Here’s the link:

Once you're there, you can click on the PDF form for the full text at the bottom of the page.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Antigones Passage

I was reading and struck upon a passage in Steiner that was quite interesting to me. In congruence with the 5 conflicts that we’ve been discussing, it hits upon the conflict between gods and mortals. On page 275, the interpretations of Creon’s political views, and their effects on his actions, come into question. Steiner reads “Has Creon discovered in the bleak clairvoyance of his rage the abyss of non-relation between mortal and divine? Does he now realize, if only in a barren flash of insight, that his desecration of Polynieces corpse was a meaningless gesture because a man’s fate in respect of the transcendent cannot be determined via ritual or the denial of ritual?”. This is one interpretation of the rigidity by which Creon appears bound to the laws of man. We do see that his view contrast with Antigone’s reverence for the god and their laws, but how extreme is it really? Steiner offers, on page 276, that Creon’s outcry on line 1284 can read as “signifying that no sacrifice can appease all-devouring Hades”. Maybe as much as he would like to believe in the laws of the gods, he knows that no act or deed can remedy his dark fate. Yet it seems that this view wouldn’t make sense until the actual death of Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice. Because until that point he wasn’t planning on the death of his wife and son as well, so the only tragic-fated one was Antigone. At that point he could still go off of the excuse that he must stick by his laws in order to keep the state afloat. But then again, if at that point he actually did find the rule of the gods inconsequential, the act of the burial or desecration, as well as the death of Antigone, would have been of no consequence. Therefore there would have been no tragedy.—It seems integral to the construction of the play that the true views of these characters are so ambiguous. We think we understand the role that Creon’s political observances play, and we try to understand that because it is our nature to desperately want to characterize people, but any other interpretation can change their entire meaning and his intentions completely.

It seems like a line that a lot of people struggle with. The line of faith, that is. What is the value in giving yourself whole-heartedly to a god head; performing rituals; believing in something that may not have tangible effects on your life? You can find meaning in anything if you search hard enough, see signs anywhere. But you also have to be reasonable in what you find. Or you can simply live by the laws of man, which are wholly tangible and applicable, and only question your fate and your practices when some course of events prompts you to do so.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Midgy the Hamster--May She Rest In Peace

The death of a pet. A truly devastating occurrence for a child. In many instances it is the first time they experience any kind of tragedy or emotional trauma. I mean sure, great Aunt Mildred may have died, but sentiment for that old bag of bones is nothing compared to the aquatic frog you bonded so deeply with over the 3-day period it was alive.

A child’s pet is basically his best friend. And why is that? Constant attention. Kids need attention, and that hamster isn’t going anywhere fast. A bond begins to form between these two eager creatures. They give each other their whole heart, and hold nothing back, which makes for a truly special relationship.

And eventually when the pet grows old, as all pets inevitably do, and dies, there is a feeling of loss. It feels like the deepest of pains, to know that your special friend is no longer there to spend hours with you playing video games and devouring foreign objects. Yet at the same time, you are consoled by all the adults who tell you that the little guy is going to a better place; which is a totally acceptable and comforting thought. And you’re able to move on and form relationships with new pets while still keeping those fond memories of the first one alive. The key to all this, however, is the tangible death of the animal. The physical evidence that your bunny rabbit or goldfish, just didn’t have any life left in them, and that they had nowhere to go but up. The grieving process has a chance to come full circle.

On the other hand, in the cruelest and most unusual of circumstances, your pet doesn't die but simply disappears…into a wall, in my case. That’s right, my little hamster, Midgy, the love of my 8-year-old life, gone, into a socket hole in our kitchen wall. Imagine the horror—no—the sheer suspense in it all. One minute she’s there, and the next, nowhere to be seen. By the time mom figures out what happened she has the job of keeping you optimistic about the chances of Midgy reappearing, when in fact she has probably already made her way into the foundation, never to be seen again. Which is exactly what did in fact happen. I had no consolation, no closure. Who’s to say she went to a better place? It’s likely if that better place is trapped between dry wall. I can completely understand Antigone’s need to bury her brother, to give him a peaceful rest, to finalize things. For all I know, that poor hamster's body is just laying on the damp cellar earth, decomposing, never having made it to hamster heaven. These are disturbing thoughts. And if I could have gotten my little hamster back, dead of course, you can bet I would’ve given her a proper burial that all loyal pets deserve. In a shoe box in the back of the yard. Antigone by no means shoved her brother in a shoe box, but even the simple act of throwing dirt over the body was enough to bring her peace. And that’s all any of us really look for; an ending, a finale, a last goodbye, some closure.

Midgey the Hamster
May she roam the foundation for eternity

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dysfunction In The Family

Talking about dysfunctional families on Monday got me to thinking about the ways in which my own family is dysfunctional. A key to this thought process is the fact I’ve been away at college and am no longer around my family 24/7, and therefore having been removed, developed maybe more of an honest interpretation.

Comparing my family to the ‘stock’ dysfunctional family, I can’t find anything too dysfunctional. My dad isn’t dopey, maybe a little removed when he reads or does the crossword. Actually as he ages I’ve been noticing a little senility, but at 46 I think it would be unfair of me to start grouping him into the old-man-out-of-the-loop crowd. Instead I’ll just say he has his own interpretation of things.

Mom isn’t the sensible one, so much as she is the insensible one. A long day of work will leave her in a tizzy over why a single sock of mine is lying in the middle of the floor. Her automatic response is that I flung my sock off in a fit of filth, and the fact that it is still lying in the middle of the floor obviously signifies my complete disregard for the cleanliness of the house. Actually, Mom, I was doing my laundry and the sock happened to tumble out of the basket—in no way was it a deliberate attempt to defile the kitchen floor.

Little brother would appear to be the all-american kid from a distance…a considerably long distance. He plays sports, does homework, watches TV, and eats. However the ratio at which this all happens is the clincher. Lots of TV, not so much homework, quite a few sports, lots and lots of food. His food selections are actually quite shocking to me. He’ll come into the kitchen for an afternoon snack, and proceed to make a whole bag of pot stickers. Yeah like 15 or 20 of them. Enough to feed the whole family and still have leftovers basically. And then that’s it…until an hour later he comes up to eat a huge bowl of cheerios, not a cereal bowl, but like a serving bowl. The problem I have is that these are all goods foods to eat, but the sheer quantity in which he eats them gives me nightmares about nutrient deficiency and explosions.

And then there’s me. And I don’t even have anything to say about that because I am perfect.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cross Road Blues: Legend of Robert Johnson

I went to the crossroad

    fell down on my knees

I went to the crossroad

    fell down on my knees

Asked the Lord above "Have mercy, now

    save poor Bob, if you please

Mmmmm, standin' at the crossroad

    I tried to flag a ride

Standin' at the crossroad

    I tried to flag a ride

Didn't nobody seem to know me

    everybody pass me by

Mmm, the sun goin' down, boy

    dark gon' catch me here

oooo ooee eeee

    boy, dark gon' catch me here

I haven't got no lovin' sweet woman that

    love and feel my care

You can run, you can run

    tell my friend-boy Willie Brown

You can run, you can run

    tell my friend-boy Willie Brown

Lord, that I'm standin' at the crossroad, babe

The legend of the crossroads, or rather of Robert Johnson at the crossroads, turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment once researched. It turns out that this legend is much more marvel and much less truth than I was hoping to find. But I guess it follows the trend of legends tending to be falsified. These lyrics are to Robert Johnson’s song ‘Cross Road Blues’ which in some cases is believed to be about that fateful night he met with the devil. However many now believe it to be (less excitingly) about hitch-hiking. The emotion and conviction with which he played the song were truly born out of feelings of anxiety that naturally would come with being a young black man stuck at a crossroads at nightfall during the 1920s-1930’s. The line “tell my friend-boy Willie Brown” eludes to Johnson asking someone to tell his friend what happened to him. He feels desperate and alone. And this interpretation of the song does make sense, because according to the legend the exchange with the devil happened at midnight, and this song is during dusk.

The significance of the crossroads is still deep rooted in ancient and mystical tradition. And without direct reference, the crossroads allusion is enough to leave us a spark of belief that something other-worldly just might have happened.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

History Quotes

As I was re-reading over my notes I came across the James Joyce quote said in class, “History is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake”. So I looked into it a little bit and found a few more quotes that went along with some of the themes we’ve discussed in class:

“History doesn't repeat itself - at best it sometimes rhymes”—Mark Twain

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge - myth is more potent than history - dreams are more powerful than facts - hope always triumphs over experience - laughter is the cure for grief - love is stronger than death”—Robert Fulghum

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”—Napoleon Bonaparte

“We learn from history that we do not learn anything from history.”

“What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past”—Victor Hugo

“History is fables agreed upon.”—Voltaire

“History repeats itself, has to, nobody listens”—Steve Turner

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Myth of the Eternal Return

Coming off the exhilarating high of Groundhogs Day, we’ve been able to talk more literally about the concept of eternal return. As before we were simply relating police reports and strange happenings to mythological events, we can see now that even normal, everyday things repeat themselves.

The basic concept of ‘Eternal Return’ is that there exists a finite amount of matter in the universe, however, time itself is infinite. So with infinite time, the finite matter will eventually run out of configurations and repeat itself.

There are several interpretations of this phenomenon. One is that eternal return makes our world meaningful, because we are imitating preexisting models. So everything that is happening in the present is significant because it automatically parallels something that has happened in the past.

But then again, since matter and events are repeating themselves, wouldn’t it make sense to assert that our world isn’t meaningful so much as it may be predictable? Is anything meaningful or special if it’s occurred countless times before? Or rather is it comforting to know that whatever is happening has indeed already happened?

It is a dilemma for those of us who accept this theory of eternal return. I know I have mixed feelings about it myself. But I always think it’s more fun to contemplate these things than to be one of those people that would rather believe their scrambled egg in the shape of Jesus is truly a universal phenomenon.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The "secret" of mothers and daughters

The Hymn to Demeter has opened up a lot of discussion about the special secret relationship that exists between mothers and daughters. It is supposed to be a universal relationship that is closed off to men. Veiled if you will. Unfit for men’s eyes. But I have to wonder why exactly this is. And what makes the relationship between father and son so much more open?

Throughout history, men have dominated the world. Their strength and power have been never been kept a secret, and maybe that is why their relationships with one another are no secret either. There is a bond between father and son. That is not debated. But the nature of the relationship is possibly a bit different than we think. I wonder if it isn’t a father-son, superior-subordinate relationship so much as it is a brotherhood. A father’s purpose is to teach his son the ways of man, and during that process I’m sure many fathers seek a sort of buddy-buddy companionship. Sure there are the military parents that strictly adhere to a pecking order, with the father always the higher ranked. But there still persists that informal type of camaraderie that inevitably comes when discussing “guy stuff”. Everyone knows the general content of these teachings, and that’s why they aren’t considered any big secret. There is no mystery behind these men.

The lack of mystery is certainly due to some societal factors. Men, especially in ancient Greek society, were always in the public sphere. They were the central figures in the culture, while women resided in the background of not only public, but often private life as well. Their lives are hidden, out of the way, inconspicuous. In then makes sense that women are much closer to women, than men are to men, because women only have each other. They totally rely on other women to teach them what they need to know, because they have no other possible way of acquiring that knowledge.

Maybe it also has to do with women generally being more sympathetic and understanding than men. They are more thoughtful and emotional by nature, which makes their bonds stronger. Both men and women have important things to teach their children, but the lessons between mother and child seem to run deeper than that. They act as connections between the souls of two related people. Maybe the whole childbirth aspect is important to analyze as well. Fathers are blood related to their sons and all, but they were never as physically connected as mother and child.

Still, there is supposedly an underlying “secret” to the bond between mother and daughter. A mystical element of sorts. Is this “secret” still as relevant today as it was supposed to be in the ancient world, where mothers and daughters were more dependent upon each other? As the daughter of a mother, I am actively taking part in this special bond. But I’m trying to figure out exactly which part of it is so secret. Shouldn’t I be privy to what it is that is so sacred?

I mean, maybe I am, and am just not aware. What is the secret? As far as I’m concerned it could be anything from female emotion, to menstruation, to secret family recipes. Or maybe it is something that just cannot be put into words. Something that you’re not supposed to be aware of. Something that maybe you don’t notice is there until you lose the connection. In any case, it remains somewhat of a mystery to me. No wonder men can’t figure it out!