One fellow student told me towards the beginning of the semester that he didn't know how all of these things we were doing would fit together. All I could say to him was, "Oh, you will." From experience with Dr. Sexson's classes, things will always hit me on the head that connect back to his classes. For example, after taking his lit. crit. class last semester, every piece of literature that for some reason just grabs me, I now know is a touchstone. That beauty that resonates and stays with me as a result of literature allows me to feel "almost a remembrance" (oh, looky there, anamnesis. Imagine that, these classes intersecting! joking).
Now as I walk away from Classical Foundations, I will know that nothing is original, and I will always have heard that story before. I will never look at everyday tragedies with thinking about Euripides and Hecuba. Forever, unrequited love will always bring back visions of Echo. I am circumstantially bound in knowing that the Past Possesses the Present. This is the end, but I know it will never really be the end. I have only begun remembering.
Well, I FINALLY finished The Golden Ass. Yes, the last day blogs are due, how convenient, right? But I did finish. The thing that had me thinking was something we really didn't discuss much in class. That is the significance of the rose.
Why did Lucius have to eat a rose to transform back into a human? Roses tend to symbolize vitality, love, passion, friendship, etc. I think that Lucius needed to find a rose because, on that journey to find a rose, he would find virtues like those similar to the rose. He definitely found passion in many forms, including jealousy. He found love in the form of the Cupid and Psyche story. In order to transform back into a human, he needed to embark on a journey and find things to make himself, well, less of an ass. I really wish I had more time to explore this. Maybe i should have had the book finished when Dr. Sexson TOLD me to. What a novel idea, Erica.
So, what story did this remind me of, do you ask. A person speaks out against a god(s) and says that people should not be worshipping said god(s), then loses everything he/she loves. That story, of course, is the story of Niobe. Niobe spoke out against Leto and told the Theban women to never offer tributes to Leto ever again. Leto says of Niobe,
"The daughter of Tantalus has inherited
All her father's blasphemous folly.
Not only has she emptied my temples,
She drives me mad
With insults, derision,
"And tells the whole world her fourteen children
Are a thousand times superior
To my two. Compared to her I am childless.
O my children, double her mockery--back
Into her own mouth, let her swallow its meaning."
One of Leto's two children that Niobe insulted, Apollo, strikes dead all fourteen of Niobe's children. Now, I am not trying to make any commentary on Christianity or Atheism, but the connection between the two seems noteworthy. It seems to speak to the power (or fear) of God(s) that in Ovid's time people were constructing cautionary tales against challenging the Gods, and the creators of Family Guy (or perhaps only the characters) are doing the same thing today.
I can't believe I never saw this connection before. Ok, actually I kind of can, because I have not really looked at this site since high school. But there is a website that people send their biggest secrets to (anonymously) and the site posts them for the world to see. The site is called postsecret.com, and it's definitely worth the visit. A little bit emo, a little bit dirty at times, it absolutely parallels the reed-bed in the King Midas story. Things like postsecret.com are are so successful because most people have such a hard time keeping secrets. Sometimes, just saying it (or posting it online) can create a feeling of release and relief. It's also a book, if you want to carry the secrets around with you.
For our group presentation, we chose to make a video placing the story of King Midas in modern times. The story of Midas, I think, is a rather important one, because it warns against greed and selfishness. People in modern times are more greedy than ever (we are, after all, in the iron age), so I think that the story of King Midas is one of the most relevant in terms of the lesson it teaches. We must appreciate what we have instead of always trying to get more. In American society, that is easier said than done. People are always told that they are not good enough, their car not new enough, their jeans not expensive enough. No wonder this is the Iron Age. All that stuff sucks! By looking at the story of Midas (and our version, featuring Donald Trump), maybe people can see that the greed that drove Midas to make that wish is present in ample amounts today, and we must be careful of it, lest we wind up with ass's ears.
This weekend I decided to take a quick break from the required reading for my classes and read a book that a classmate lent to me, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Just a quick background on the book: it is about a boy who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation without very good schools. He decides that he wants a better education, and he transfers out of the reservation and into a nearly all-white high school in a nearby town. because of that, many of his tribe members hated him and felt that he was a traitor.
Well, this book is a very fast but entertaining read. The last thing I expected was a reference to Euripides in the novel. But, there it was on page 173, during a time when the main character was, you guessed it, grieving the death of a loved one. Junior (main character) said:
"And I hoped I would find stories that would help me. So I looked up the word "grief in the dictionary. I wanted to find out everything I could about grief. I wanted to know why my family had been given so much to grieve about. And then I discovered the answer: Okay, so it was Gordy who showed me a book written by the guy who knew the answer. It was Euripides, this Greek writer from the fifth century BC. A way-old dude. In one of his plays, Medea says, 'What greater grief than the loss of one's native land?' I read that and thought, 'Well, of course, man. We Indians have LOST EVERYTHING. We lost our native land, we lost our languages, we lost our songs and dances. We lost each other. We only know how to lose and be lost.' " (172-3)
Even a character like Junior with minimal education (none in classical literature I'm sure) knows that Euripides got it right so long ago, and no one else can define tragedy and the way we grieve better than him. Instead, we just try to re-write and paraphrase it the way he said it, but no one ever really gets it as well as he did. Finding references to classical literature even in a young adult novel like this has shown me once again, that we will never escape the lessons that "way-old dudes" like Euripides have taught us.
A cartoon from the book:
Well, even before I began reading I knew that even if I didn't know explicity why this book was important it would have an impact on me. Maybe, a few months down the road, the importance of the piece would smack me on the head when I least expect it as I have come to expect from Dr. Sexson's classes.
However, the connections and importance of this novel seemed evident right from the very beginning. We can read Ovid and read about transformations into animals, stars, and sounds and take from them a moral or a message, but Malouf contextualizes the idea of transformation even further. In the story, Ovid undergoes a transformation right alongside the Child. The transformation that Ovid speaks of in the story is very similar to the transformation that we as college students undergo as we grow up. We learn how to survive in a foreign world and without the comforts of home; we learn how to relate to people that we never thought we would; we learn to trust other people and ourselves because, without that trust, we would not survive this world. In the story, Ovid undergoes a personal transformation as the result of his relationship with the Child. Everday, we undergo transformations as a result of our relationships with both ourselves and other people.
The reason that An Imaginary Life is important and relevant to our lives is that Malouf tied all the ideas we have been exploring in class back to an emotional and spiritual transformation, which is a transformation that all humans will never stop undergoing their entire lives.
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measure destined for her soul.
Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.
She says, 'I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?'
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.
She says, 'But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.'
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.
Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.
Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feel shall manifest.
She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, 'The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.'
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
This really touches on the idea that souls are trapped in the prison of our bodies, and after death, the soul is freed, but only to be trapped in another body. This has got me thinking, how can we, as humans, take our souls back to a feeling of freedom while we are still living? How can we feed our soul to make it feel as if this body and mind which it inhabits is less of a prison and more of a resting place. The idea that my soul is a prisoner bothers me a little bit, I have to admit.
So, how can I help my soul help itself? Well, I could die. But I'm going to vote NO on that one. At least for a few years. So, is it a hike through Hyalite that helps feed our souls? Is it falling in love? Is it experiencing literature that takes us back to the Golden Age when our souls did fly free and we truly knew beauty? Or is it all of the above? I think that the only way we can free our souls while we are living is just to truly live and love and experience everything we can in the world. Reading classics like The Sympsium has helped me realize that. When a person's soul feels free, he/she can open up to the beauty that was once present in the Golden Age, and someday return to that pure love after biding their time in the Iron Age. In doing that and taking care of my soul in this life, I can also ensure that my soul will not transmigrate and come back as a grasshopper. I would much rather be a snowy owl.
An interesting definition I found was on a Catholic Encyclopedia (it was even the first hit on Google, before Wikipedia). It also defines it as the doctrine that a soul can inhabit many things being throughout its course, of both men and animals. This is one of the few beliefs that, even starting in ancient times, remained somewhat stable and indentical through many different religions and regions of the world. One thing that I found interesting is that old Christian doctrine states that placement of a soul in a human body is punishment for sin in a past life. Otherwise the soul would be in a more heavenly world. Alas, with the adoption of the doctrine of Redemption, metempsychosis has fallen from the radar of Christians. The things one learns from a Catholic encyclopedia.
All is suffering, all is fleeting. Such a depressing thought can surely put a damper on someone’s life view. However, as a direct result of our exposure to classical tragedy, English 213 students now know that nothing in literature is depressing, even if everything in life is fleeting. Tragedy teaches us, through example, how to deal with some of the worst situations we will encounter in our short lives.
Modern tragedy can be defined as “a dramatic composition, often in verse, dealing with a serious or somber theme, typically that of a great person destined through a flaw of character or conflict with some over-powering force, as fate or society, to downfall or destruction (dictionary.com). A definition like this has been honed over many centuries of composition and performance of tragedies, much like the genre itself. Tragedy as a literary genre has grown from The Trojan Women into Titus Andronicus, into King Lear, and even into current movies like The Changeling. As the world changed over thousands of years, many facets of tragedy have changed as well. Modern tragedy encompasses much more than the death of children and loved ones. Modern tragedy tends to deal with events so mundane that looking at them as tragic makes our very lives much more, well, tragic. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman seems like a prime example. The main character, Willy Loman, is a salesman in
Classical tragedy, on the other hand, is much easier to define and describe. Aristotle defined tragedy as “an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude.” He also pioneered the concepts of a fall from high to low and catharsis. Catharsis describes a sense of cleansing of emotions like pity and fear through watching or reading a piece of tragic literature. A viewer/reader should feel lighter and a bit happier after experiencing a piece of tragedy. In fact, the lack of catharsis is one of the biggest arguments against plays like Death of a Salesman as tragedies. Plays like that are not tragic enough to elicit such feelings in their viewers. They are just not tragic enough to be tragedies, in the Aristotelian sense of the word.
Among the all-time greatest creators of cathartic literature is Euripides. Euripides is one of the three great Greek tragedians. The Trojan Women, his characteristically melodramatic play still leaves audiences and readers in tears during Andromache’s plea for her child’s life and Hecuba’s eulogy of her grandson. At the end of the play, audiences feel purged and refreshed, thus encompassing and personifying catharsis, even thousands of years after the idea’s conception.
The concepts and definitions of tragedy and classical literature are simple enough to memorize and retain, but not until a person sees these concepts play out in real life does he understand that the past always has and always will possess the present. All semester, I have noticed the theme of this class creep into my everyday life in the form of an argument with my sister or an overheard conversation, but the full scope of what the class’s theme was saying did not fully hit me until, for the first time since I commenced my transformation in January, I came face-to-face with real tragedy. Last week, as I was working on this paper, a close friend of my boyfriend’s committed suicide.
As I watched the tears stream down his face as he contemplated time after time about what could have driven his friend to take his own life, I struggled with how to console him. The last thing anyone going through a tough time wants to hear is, “I know how you feel”, which is, sadly, what so many of them wind up hearing. Even if I had wanted to say that to him, I have no idea how he felt. Every person suffers differently, but I wanted to do something to help ease his pain. In a move that may have caused him even more anguish, I asked him to watch Romeo and Juliet with me. Luck being, he was actually a fan of the 1996 Baz Luhrmann production, so he consented fairly easily. At the very least, I thought, a movie would distract him for a bit. But, I hoped for a bit more: perhaps catharsis can help ease feelings of pain even as fresh as his. As the movie ended, my boyfriend started to seem a little bit better. At the very least, he had stopped beating himself up about why such a great person would take his own life. I began to wonder if thing about “I know how you feel” somehow got turned backwards throughout the ages. Maybe when my boyfriend saw Juliet’s realization that her beloved had taken his own life, he wanted to utter a small, “I know how you feel”. This may have helped me answer one of the questions I always had about tragedy: If catharsis is so effective, why must we suffer in real life at all?
Tragedy as a literary genre focuses on the individual; tragic events in real life are much the same. A death of a loved one can make an individual feel all alone even in a world of over 6 billion people. Tragic literature shows an individual that he is not alone in his suffering. Tragedies show a person that at some time, somewhere, a person was hurting just as badly as he is and that that person was immortalized in a text, forever available for that one person in any single moment that really needs a catharsis. Tragedy shows everyone that in any situation, good or tragic, there is always someone they can identify with.
Because of this and many transformations I have undergone this semester, I have learned that no matter how alone I feel I will always have Juliet, King Lear, or Hecuba to cry with. Aristotle taught me that suffering along with those characters will help heal my own suffering just a little bit, just enough to pull through. Literature binds us into one entity which spans languages, seas and centuries to remind us that, no matter how rough things get, we are never alone.
Dictionary.com. Ask.com. 16 Apr. 2009
Hadas, Moses, and John McLean, trans. Ten Plays by Euripides. New York: Bantam
Classics, Random House, 2006.
Romeo and Juliet. Dir. Baz Lurhmann. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. DVD. 1996.