Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Really Last Blog

Last night was to be my last and summary blog of the course, but this morning on NPR Chrysti the Wordsmith told the story of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, explaining the origin of the word
hermaphrodite, to those who didn't know. I, of course, knew the WHOLE story....

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Summary of the Course

I enrolled in the course without any expectations that I would actually enjoy it - of all literature, classical held the least interest for me, but since either classical or biblical foundations are required, this seemed a little more interesting... I have to admit this really has been a worthwhile course, one I wish I had taken at the beginning of my literature courses, the way they encourage you to do in the catalog. But since I was more focused on Women's Studies, I took those classes and Literature courses were for my enjoyment. When I had to decide on a major, I had several literature classes, so I worked my way back to the basic courses. Classical Foundations would have helped in the upper level courses. But since I seem to have done everything a little late, as I have going back to school, I guess it has all worked out okay.

The Past Possesses the Present - I don't think any of us in class will ever forget that phrase...and
not just from a literary standpoint. Every time we read a newspaper (yes, some of us still do that in spite of the internet) we'll be hearing "You shouldn't be reading the Times, you should be reading the Eternities." Every time we watch a movie, we'll be looking for one of Steiner's five conflicts - men and women, age and youth, individual and state, living and dead, and gods and humans. I was reading out loud to my 11 year old - "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Professor Dumbledore was talking to Harry about a fault of age - that you don't always remember what it is like to be young - youth isn't expected to have that understanding
since they haven't experienced age - but age has the responsibility to remember. From my own experience - parenting is an entirely different endeavor if you try to remember what YOU felt like when you were your child's age - and not just parent by the, "I'm older and I know better," but you know what, you don't always know better because of age, and you're not always right.

We had a good variety of texts, "Lysistrata" was a good balance for "Trojan Women" and Iphigenia at Aulis," and the film clips were a good visual aid, "Antigone" was a great example of all the conflicts, "Imaginary Life" was the perfect conclusion for "Ovid's Metamorphoses" using a contemporary author reaching back to Ovid. Another thing I especially enjoyed was looking at a different translation of what we were reading. I found that particularly helpful when reading "Antigone" and I had another copy that I read along with our class copy - a good example of how translations change with the times.

The group presentations have been great to watch, and I was very lucky with my group - since I drive over from Livingston each day, it really is difficult for me to do an evening or weekend meeting, my group was especially accommodating about that.

When I read an article about cattle rustling last week in the Livingston Enterprise, yes, I did think about Hermes, and even though I think a lot of Freud's theories are crap, sexist, etc., I have a better understanding of Oedipus complex, or at least where he got his ideas.

One idea I intend to look into further, is the similarities between classical myths and Christianity, how some of the "true" stories in the Bible might have, in fact, "borrowed" some ideas - especially virgin births and resurrection - I have been thinking about this since finding out the story of the flood is common in many religions, and then we saw it again in Ovid's creation story. When I have time...

Since I have managed to fulfill all my English courses and hadn't taken a course taught by Dr. Sexson until this one, I had asked several other students about his classes. Besides telling me he was a great professor and they had learned a lot in his courses, it was mentioned that he required some memorization, which is NOT my strong point. Thank you Dr. Sexson, that at least in this class there was no long memorization - I believe the shorter quotes will stay in my memory. The class was enlightening and entertaining - I enjoyed it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Little Background on Mentor and the Last Word of Homer's Odyssey

Mentor in Greek mythology - Odysseus's trusted counselor, under whose disguise Athena became the guardian and teacher of Telemachus.

WORD HISTORY - The word "mentor" is an example of the way in which the great works of literature live on without our knowing. We owe this word to the more heroic age of Homer, in whose "Odyssey" Mentor is the trusted friend of Odysseus left in charge of the household during Odysseus's absence. More important for our usage of the word "mentor," Athena disguised as Mentor guides Odysseus's son Telemachus in his search for his father.

I found this at:

The other word Dr. Sexson asked us to find was the last word of Homer's Odyssey. So I tried to find an online text of Odyssey, and this is the last line: "Then Athena assumed the form and voice of mentor, and presently made a covenant of peace between the two contending parties."
I found a couple of other translations, but they were similar, no dramatic last word.

But "parties" didn't seem like a great last word, so I went to several sites to see if there was anything more. I found this "Concluding Sonnet" from the Harvard Classics:

Homer, thy song men liken to the sea,
With every note of music in his tone,
With tides that wash the dim dominion
Of Hades, and light waves that laugh in glee
Around the isles enchanted; nay to me
Thy verse seems as the River of source unknown
That glasses Egypt's temples overthrown,
In his sky-nurtur'd stream, eternally.
No wiser we than men of heretofore
To find thy mystic fountains guarded fast;
Enough-thy flood makes green our human shore
As Nilus, Egypt, rolling down his vast,
His fertile waters, murmuring evermore
Of gods dethroned, and empires of the Past.

I found this at:

"Past" is a better last word than "parties." I look forward to Wednesday to see what it is.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sarah's presentation

Over the last year since Bear Stearns (sp) I've listened and watched with fascination as the greed in the stock market and big businesses has brought our economy close to ruin - deregulation and finally the Bush bailout with little oversight, and the taxpayers paying for CEOs to get their millions in bonuses. Sarah's comparison of Erisychthon greediness as he cut down the trees and his eventual devouring of himself - to America's greed and consumption was wonderful. It was thought-provoking and well-stated. As Erisychthon was not concerned about who his actions affected, it appears that those in control of wealth and power in this country have little concern for the "others," the workers, and those consumers who keep it all going by spending their dollars. This is really an exciting time in our country to see how this will all play out...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Death is the mother of beauty

I googled "Death is the mother of beauty" and got a lot of interesting websites. The one I believe is the most meaningful and connects the best with our class was really long, and had a few stories of people dying before his analysis of the quote. There are several classical allusions that allow me to make sense of his analysis, that I wouldn't have been able to as easily understand a few months ago. A great quote from the article:

"In a life without death and knowledge of death, what could stir our passions. Without the need to realize ourselves before we die, to cross the mountains or sail the sea...what would drive us to write poems or symphonies that amounted to more than repetitive celebrations of the unchanging boughs that Stevens imagined, hanging heavy in a perfect sky with ripe fruit that never falls? Why would we tell or listen to stories? How could we because in that paradise, without desire and hope and fear, there would be no stories, no beginnings, no endings, no past and no future-only a single, eternal enslaving moment beneath those boughs of fruit whose very sweetness would be dulled, if we could taste it at all, by the easeful death of our infinitely ongoing lives."

This might be the reason that people who get cancer have said it changed their lives in incredible ways, not just the fear of the disease itself, but with the realization of their own mortality, they appreciate each day in a way they hadn't before, and are thankful for each day. Or people that have lost someone they love and have gone through pain and suffering because of the loss, are able to appreciate the beauty and briefness of life as they hadn't before.

I think when you understand how uncertain life is, you have the opportunities to make your life richer. One morning when I was 16 I went to school, and my mother came to tell me that my father had died of a massive heart attack, no warning, no chances to apologize to him because I was a normal, self-centered, smart-mouthed teenager. I've chosen to live my life in such a way that I tell the people who matter most to me that they do matter. I tell my kids I love them, maybe give an extra hug or two - yet in a way I think it has made me a better parent, because as they've left home for college or marriage it's been easier to let go because I have said the things I wanted to along the way. They know they are important to me, and I know I am important to them. We continue with our lives knowing death is waiting in the sidewings and appreciate the beauty of life even more because of it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Classical Literature of the Phallocracy and Its Value in the Twenty-First Century

Yes, I'm the student who had concerns about the value of studying classical literature written by old, white men (it isn't the old part that bothers me as much as the white men). But I was intrigued by the readings with women as the central characters and especially interested in the motivations of the men who chose to use strong women in their stories, men from the phallocentric society of ancient Greece. I was not unfamiliar with the term phallocentric; anyone with an interest in women's history understands the concept, even if not familiar with the word. What I discovered was not surprising, but gave me a better understanding of how the past continues to possess the present.

Eva C. Keuls, in her book "Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Greece, gives a concise definition of phallocracy in ancient Greece: "a successful claim by a male elite to general power, buttressed by a display of the phallus less as an organ of union or mutual pleasure than as a kind of weapon: a spear or war club, and a scepter of sovereignty. In sexual terms, phallocracy takes such forms as rape, disregard of the sexual satisfaction of women, and access to the bodies of prostitutes...In the political sphere, it spells imperialism and patriarchy in civic affairs" (2). The ongoing wars for domination that were integral to our readings demonstrated the phallocracy's attitudes towards women that extended beyond times of war.

In "The Trojan Women," women were little more than prizes of war; they were raped, taken as concubines and slaves, and were subject to ownership of male victors. However distressing this might be, rape as a demonstration of violence, power and domination is portrayed closer to the truth in our society than how it used in Ovid's "Metamorphoses," where a beautiful woman is seen by a man who is so overcome by intense, overpowering passion that a natural outcome is his rape of her. In the twenty-four tales of Ovid that we read, five dealt with rape or coerced sex; it might be interesting to see what it is in the complete "Metamorphoses" tales. The idea of women complicit in their rapes because of how they look/dress continues to be a concern even in the present; rape as an act of power and aggression is a relatively new concept. Rape has nothing to do with passion, but with violence and power. In "Callisto and Arcas," Callisto is raped by Jove, and when Diana discovers Callisto's pregnancy, she banishes her - still a response to women who have been raped or unwed and pregnant in many present cultures.

"Antigone" has a strong female character and also gave us the conflicts important in drama, but the most interesting of these conflicts were the ones between Antigone and Creon. While Antigone's conflict dealt with the individual and the state as well as mortals and gods, Creon appeared to be more concerned with the man/woman conflict in a very particular way. Creon's anger over someone disobeying his edict to leave Polyneices unburied is greatly intensified when he learns it is a female who has disobeyed him. In his first response to learning it is Antigone he says, "Listen, if she's not punished for taking the upper hand,/ Then I am not a man. She would be a man!" (484-5), and "As long as I live, I will not be ruled by a woman!" (525). In his conversation with Haemon he is especially angry that his son would make excuses for Antigone, "And there must be no surrender to a woman./ No! If we fall, better a man should take us down./ Never say a woman bested us!" (678-80). This man was much more concerned about the sex of the miscreant than the actual disobeying of his orders.

So the question; was Sophocles telling the story of a strong woman because women were beginning to challenge male power and authority? Because of Antigone's strong convictions and her willingness to die because of the injustice of leaving Polyneices unburied, she has been viewed as a heroine. But Sophocles based "Antigone" on Theban myths of the rulers of Thebes, and it is more likely he was commenting on authoritarian rule and the status of females in society.

"Lysistrata" was a fun story, with yet another strong female character. Aristophanes wrote "Lysistrata" when the Peloponessian War had been going on for twenty years; he addresses the serious issue of the loss of male lives which was affecting how society functioned. If women had any power, it might be within the walls of the bedroom, yet Aristophanes does bring up the possibility of the women being forced or beaten if they don't submit willingly to their husbands/lovers. Was Aristophanes an early feminist giving women power over their own lives and able to change or control their country's actions in the story? We have to remember "Lysistrata" brought the serious issue of war to the stage, and by using the comedic story of women successfully ending the war, Aristophanes might have hoped he could influence men to rethink their actions. The loss of men meant fewer marriages, fewer children being born, and a weaker society. An interesting note; although the story has survived the centuries, Aristophanes did not win any prizes for it when it was performed, so we have no idea how well the story of a strong, successful woman was received. For some, the idea of women accomplishing what men can not continues to be a reason for laughter.

Sarah Ruden made an interesting point in her essay "Athenian Women" that might suggest a possibility of how women were viewed by the phallocracy, "Ancient Greek homosexuality was in part a signal of the opinion that women were not fully human and therefore not fit to mate with" (Ruden 104). I won't venture an explanation of reasons for homosexuality in the present, but Ruden's statement certainly fits the conversation in Plato's "Symposium." Phaedrus states that the highest type of love is between virtuous men and youths; a nation or army made up of such men would be invincible. Pausanias talks of common love as being of the body, of male and female parentage, whereas heavenly love was born of male parentage and seeks the male as the more valiant and intelligent being. Socrates says Diotima has explained to him that immortality and creativity is what all men seek; male/female creation creation only produces a child, but male creativity produces art, wisdom, and virtue, and is more preferable than children.

The plight of females as possessions given as sacrifices is illustrated in Euripides's "Iphigenia at Aulis." When Iphigenia first learns of her father's intent to sacrifice her she mourns, but when Achilles enters the scene and says he will fight for her she comes to her senses and says, "It is not right that a man come to blows with all the Argives and die for a woman's sake. One man is worthier to look upon the light than ten thousand women" (348). By the end of the story Iphigenia does what any obedient female would do; she sacrifices herself for her father and fatherland. Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz says in "Anxiety Veiled," the text supports the sexual hierarchy and the continued passivity of women even while representing aggressive females" (2), she sees two sacrifices being enacted, one is granting freedom and glory to the sacrificial victim - "the apparent voluntary nature of these sacrifices obscures and mystifies what is at stake: the exchange of young women and her staging the spectacle of women willingly sacrificing themselves, Euripides reinscribes the sacrifice and does considerable cultural work...if women choose self-sacrifice they have no one to blame but themselves. Second, she shores up the status quo. By praising the youthful female figure Euripides has a cultural effect on the men, who are reassured that this separate and independent "other" can be, even wants to be, used by and for men" (38). This appears a more reasonable explanation of Euripides's motive in writing Iphigenia, than that he believed in, and wrote, a heroine. I doubt the men writing these women were making a case for allowing them autonomy or power within their cultures. And in the belief that what is past possesses the present, in many ways circumstances have changed for women within our society, but remain distressingly the same in other cultures.

This paper has written itself since the beginning of the course. Since my personal interest is concentrated on women in history and literature, I felt compelled to try to discover the realities of these women, and the men who wrote them. Unfortunately since history was written by men, most theories are based on what little information is available about women's lives. My own interest aside, I found I've gained a greater appreciation for literary history. In earlier literature courses, I was often distressed when reading a text, having to stop and read footnotes, and if no explanation was available, I knew I was missing some information that would enhance my understanding. This brief course won't erase my ignorance completely, but I have a little better understanding of at least some allusions to classical literature. A quote I read reflects what Dr. Sexson told the class early in the semester, and was reinforced with each of our readings. Just substitute "person" for "man" in the quote, "Every book from which you can get new interests and ideas is alive, although it was written many centuries ago. To realize that is to open a broader universe to your own mind. The difference between an educated man and an uneducated man is that the uneducated man lives only for the moment, reading his newspaper and watching the latest moving-picture, while the educated man lives in a far wider present, that vital eternity in which the psalms of David, and the plays of Shakespeare, the epistles of Paul and the dialogues of Plato speak with the same charm and power that made them immortal the instant they were written" (Highet 545).

To varying degrees each student finishing this or any other course recognizes and appreciates what has come before, and has a better understanding of the world they inhabit. That recognition is our first step out of ignorance.

Sources Cited
Highet, Gilbert. "The Classical Tradition: Greek & Roman Influences on Western Literature.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1949.
Keuls, Eva Co. "The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens." Berkely: University
of California Press, 1985.
Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin. "Anxiety Veiled: Euripides and the Traffic in Women." Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1993.
Ruden, Sarah. "Athenian Women." "Aristophanes: Lysistrata." Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing
Co. Inc, 2003. 98-109.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Friday's presentations

Allthe presentations were good - a couple in particular made me really think. Brian talked about Pinocchio - the stage of growing - acquiring ass's ears - everyone going through that stage, and literature moving in a circle. I appreciated Dr. Sexson's comment during Wednesday's class - that we started with Demeter in the Homeric Hymns and will end the course coming full circle. I think that is what I have enjoyed the most about my education - when very different classes talk about the same thing - like learning about Pythagoras in a philosophy, communication, literature, and math class, maybe all in a little different way, but still connecting the knowledge gained in each course.

Zack's presentation reasonated the most with how I learn - he spoke of connecting the past to the present through emotions at a deeper level. That might be why we learn certain things the way we do - that it strikes a deeper chord than just "hearing" something - that feeling it, or being inspired by it causes us to retain a stronger memory of something we have learned. Maybe that explains the feeling of deja vu or that we have been here before.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Golden Ass - Fairy Tales - Jack Zipes

After class Wednesday I was thinking about our discussion of The Golden Ass - how much of it was the basis of well-known fairy tales that we grew up with, or at least are familiar to us. I remembered a book I read for a Young Adult Literature class, "When Dreams Come True" by Jack Zipes. He writes, "The first appearance of a major literary fairy tale, Apuleuis's "Cupid and Psyche" was written in Latin in the second century. Moreover, it was included in the book "The Golden Ass," which dealt with metamorphoses, perhaps the key theme of the fairy tale up to the present...whereas many oral wonder tales had been concerned with the humanization of natural forces, the literary fairy tale beginning with "Cupid and Psyche" shifted the emphasis more towards the civilization of the protagonist who must learn to respect particular codes and laws to become accepted in society and/or united to reproduce and continue the progress of the world toward perfect happiness...Like "Cupid and Psyche" the early Latin fairy tales were largely focused towards males and on their acquisition of the perfect moral values and ethics that would serve them in their place of power in society." (pg 8-9)

Zipes explains, "the definition of both the wonder tales and the fairy tale which derives from it, depends on the manner in which a narrator/author arranges known functions of a tale, aesthetically and ideologically to induce wonder and then transmits the tale as a whole according to customary usage of a society in a given historical period."

At the time I read this book I had very little knowledge of classical foundations of literature, but I was interested in the place of women in literature, as characters, storytellers, and authors, so the following was of interest to me;

"The first stage for the literary fairy tale involved a kind of class and perhaps even gender appropriation. The voices of the nonliterate tellers were submerged, and since women in most cases were not allowed to be scribes, the tales were scripted according to male dictates or fantasies, even though they may have been told by women. Put crudely, one could say that the literary appropriation of the oral wonder tales served the hegemonic interests of males within the upper classes of particular communities and societies." (pg 7)

Zipes goes further qualifying his statement, saying that writing down the fairy tales also preserved some of the value system of those deprived of power. I suppose this is true to some extent, but we know that history recorded by the male victors leaves out at least half of the story, I'd venture to say that is true of literature as well.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Redefining "Symposia"

In an earlier blog, probably in February when we began reading "The Symposium," I wrote that the definition of a "symposia" was a drinking party. But while reading Eva Keul's "The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens" she writes although symposia literally means a drinking party, "the symposium was the most characteristic feature of Athenian sexual and social life...dedicated to a varying blend of eating, drinking, games of all sorts, philosophical discourse, and public sex with prostitutes, concubines, and other men, but never with wives...the symposia normally took place in the men's quarter's [homes were segregated for the males and females] of private houses...[this area] was entered through a vestibule which was directly accessible from the street[and] was usually the the largest and most luxurious part of the house...the symposium played a part in the sexual indoctrination of the young man. His contact with older prostitutes seemed to have served to liberate him from any vestige of awe of his mother and other female authority figures of his childhood, which he might still be carrying around from his early years in the women's quarters." A little different than just a few men getting together to drink and talk.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Gimpel the Fool" by Isaac Bashevis Singer

I'm having a difficult time setting down "The Reign of the Phallus" so I can finish "The Golden Ass." Just a recommendation - anyone interested in women's history, women's studies, or how the past possesses the present for women - "Reign of the Phallus" is great! The MSU library didn't have a copy, but I was able to order it from Amazon for just a few dollars.

Today during class Dr. Sexson mentioned "Gimpel the Fool," and how it relates to Lucius, when he is unwittingly involved in the Festival of Laughter, the whole town knew what was going on, but Lucius was unaware, and is mortified when he learns he has been made a fool of; he had cried when he was on trial for the "murder" of the three men (who or which turned out to be bladders, or wine-skins). What I understand from notes/summaries about "Gimpel" is that although he seems to be a fool for what he believes or chooses not to believe, he understands that is how others see him and ignores them. He marries a women with one bastard son that the townspeople say is really her little brother, after their marriage she won't let him sleep with her, has another baby a few months later, and even though he catches her in bed with a man, she denies it. She has 6 more children, and on her deathbed confesses that none of them are his.
He knows the townspeople know all of this, he urinates into the dough of the bread he bakes for the village - but changes his mind after a dream where his wife tells him she is paying for her deceit. He leaves the village and becomes a storyteller and people outside his village treat him well. He begins to "spin yarns - improbable things that could never have happened" and children ask him to tell his stories.

A couple notes - "Gimpel" was written in Yiddish and has Jewish themes of the individual's search for faith and guidance in a cruel world...explored in parable form with details common to folktales. The character of Gimpel is an example of the "schlemiel" - a foolish, unlucky man, common to Jewish lore, whose follies are delineated in order to present a moral lesson. That connects to "The Golden Ass" which was written as a religious novel. Since I haven't finished it, I guess I'll see how Lucius's story is completed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pyramus & Thisbe and ill-fated love

I know I'm backtracking a little looking at Pyramus & Thisbe, but I saw a production of "West Side Story" last evening, and had a different awareness than I had previously. The movie came out in 1961 when I was just a child, and I loved it for the music with little awareness of the love story - By the time the 1968 "Romeo and Juliet" Franco Zeffirelli film came out I had read Shakespeare's "original" as well as "Midsummer Night's Dream" with the Pyramus and Thisbe side story. What a perfect time for a 15 year old girl in love with a "bad boy" who had a motorcycle, parents who forbade contact with him, to really get immersed in the exciting, and rebellious love story- I even had a huge movie poster of "Romeo and Juliet" on my wall. By the time the 1998 "Romeo and Juliet" film was released, I had two teenage daughters, who loved the urban contemporary setting of the story compared to Shakespeare's original. So with a background of watching these other films, and Steiner's "conflict theory" still bouncing around in my brain, I viewed the story in a slightly different way. There was age and youth, society and the individual, and a twist of man vs woman. The story is about 2 gangs in NYC, the Jets (white youth) and Sharks (Puerto Rican youths). Tony, the white male, and Maria, the Puerto Rican female, fall in love - so that's the impossible love situation. But this time I really looked at Doc, the white drugstore owner that employs Tony and tries to get the Jets to stop the violence against the Puerto Ricans; you understand the words of age, wisdom and experience will not do any good. In "Antigone" I thought Creon was a pompous old man filled with hubris, and Antigone was right despite her youth, I felt Doc was able to recall youth and understand what disaster was likely to occur. But the gang members thought he was just an old man with no guts to do what they felt needed to be done - fight to reclaim their "area" from the Puerto Ricans. Society vs the individual occurred in two ways - the racism and prejudice felt by both the whites and Puerto Ricans vs the two people who were concerned with individual feelings and wanted to be together, and the authorities, the police trying to keep the status quo against the individual gang members. And finally in a patriarchal society, (especially Puerto Rican) the male youth feeling the necessity of fighting to claim territory, and the females understanding that the war between the gangs was male pride or some such nonsense. Since I'm awaiting the arrival of the book I ordered "The Reign of the Phallus" I thought the man vs woman part of the drama last night was especially meaningful. I enjoyed the premise of "Lysistrata" and feel women have more power than just the power of controlling sex: the fact that the play was written by Aristophanes, a male, just reinforced that part of patriarchy and phallocentricism is based on male fear of female power, especially sexual power. It just brought back to mind going down to a high school football field where my son was practicing and hearing the coach yelling at them to run harder, not like they were "carrying a purse." What a perfect way to motivate young males to be warrior-like - not like a female. While some thought Aristophanes might be considered an early feminist in fact, I think he was using "Lysistrata" as something of a joke, to shame the men into viewing what continuous war was doing to society - and what better method than to write strong females (who are, by the way, sly and deceitful)?

Just an interesting note: I went to IMDb to see what year the '90s "Romeo and Juliet" was released and found besides the '68 and '98 versions there were 34 "Romeo and Juliet" films produced starting in 1909 - and another 19 that had "R & J" in the title. That's quite a few originating with Pyramus and Thisbe, and who knows what came before that story?

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Golden Ass

I found a couple of good websites tonight for The Golden Ass; I haven't started reading the book yet, just finished the introduction. The best website has many links to art as well as modern works inspired by or relating to The Golden Ass. It also has links to selected passages from different translations alongside the Latin original.
There are some great paintings on the site too. One bit of information was "the key to understanding the Golden Ass is to look at it as man's effort to find a true interpretation of his experience - the universal human struggle to discover a meaning behind...blind fortune's irrational, indiscriminate cruelty..." The translator of our Golden Ass, Robert Graves, tells us of the main religious principles that Apuleius was concerned with in his writing, and to remember above all, it is a religious novel. Another website has links to other Metamorphoses and analyzes each chapter of The Golden Ass:

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I was looking at a few websites for Metempsychosis and found a great one with a poem and music:

Following is the poem "Metempsychosis" by Jane Hirshfield:

Some stories last many centuries,
others only a moment.
All alter over that lifetime like beach-glass,
grow distant and more beautiful with salt.

Yet even today, to look at a tree
and ask the story, Who are you? is to be transformed.

There is a stage in us where each being, each thing is a mirror.

Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,
ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.

Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket
gives off-
the immeasurable's continuous singing,
before it goes back into story and feeling.

In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.
Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.

I would like to join that stilted transmigration,
to feel my own skin vertical as theirs:
an ant-road, a highway for beetles.

I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.
To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,
and then keep walking unimaginably further.

As I was reading the poem I could picture Ovid in Imaginary Life as he laid on the ground, and was feeling part of the earth, ready to embrace the next step, his peacefulness and acceptance of the process. He didn't call to the Child as he was collecting food for them, he felt no need to have someone with him. I think the Child will return to Ovid is and understand.

It's much easier to end the day with these thoughts, rather than the tragedy of Trojan Women.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On NPR news 4/1/09 The past possesses the present

This morning on the news the broadcaster said, " In the middle east, where the past is always present..." and he proceeded to tell about in the 1930s during the Spanish civil war the right wing insurgents stole babies and young children from women in the leftist wing in order to indoctrinate the children in Franco's fascist ideas. One of the reasons for this was that the left-wing women had broken outside of their usual roles (becoming involved in things other than their families) and it was decided they shouldn't be allowed to raise children. The first thing I thought about was the Trojan Women, when Astyanax is taken from Andromache and he was killed to keep him from seeking revenge on the Greeks. The babies and children that were taken from their mothers in Spain were either put in orphanages or sent to live with a families that supported the regime. The mothers were often executed after their children were taken from them; the estimate is that 12,000 children were taken. Even after Franco died in 1975 the people did not want to rake up the past , and it wasn't until the last decade that this has come out in the open. A book, "The Lost Children of Francoism" (I think; I was driving and couldn't write everything down) goes into further detail about that time. Euripides was writing in protest of wars over 1500 years ago, and used the examples of how women and children were affected - and here we are centuries later still dealing with women and children as the bystanders, yet victims of war.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Response to Elizabeth's blog

This is the part of blogging where I have been the most remiss - looking at other blogs and commenting. Elizabeth's Power of a Story took me back to the Oral Traditions course I took a couple semesters ago. It was great - each student told stories during the course - ranging from comedy to tragedy (it was amazing how closely these two were intertwined) - and part of our tests were recalling the stories. The funny and more gruesome or graphic stories were the ones that stayed in my mind - also the ones about children. I believe that English majors especially view history as stories, there is so much to be learned about life at the time of the story - who is telling it and what they are saying even indirectly about their society.

Ben's blog had great visuals - and an interesting comment about Jake's blog, and the parellel of the myths and Christianity's stories. I wrote about this a little at the beginning of the course - the story of the flood being part of other religions and mythologies. Reading the Metamorphoses, and looking at how goddesses got pregnant ( example of a female going into the water, a male jumping in water and she gets pregnant) makes one wonder if the Bible's claim of the virgin birth somehow evolved from such stories. After all, we already know that some of our religious holidays have much to do with pagan beliefs and rituals as far as their timing, etc. This is probably disconcerting if the Bible is viewed as the literal truth, but in fact, if Jesus is seen as a historical social activist who was crucified for going against the political leaders of the day, it is possible to embrace what he taught, which is not so different from what we face today, the greed of those who have power, the reluctance to help those less fortunate (coincidentially women and children are those most affected in bad times - look how long it has taken to get an effective insurance program for children). I didn't mean to get religious or political with this, but I think in a roundabout way it comes back to what is past possesses the present. Does this make our situation more or less hopeful at this point in history?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thesis statement for term paper - maybe

In much of our classical foundations literature, women are victims of the patriarchal societies of both the gods and mortals. But women played integral roles in the important rituals of fertility and the cycle of life; some of which continue to this day.

An Imaginary Life

"An Imaginary Life" was less an assignment and more like reading for pleasure; it pulled together the ideas that run throughout this course. It encompassed the themes of the eternal return, metamorphoses, honoring the cycle of life through rituals, and Steiner's five principal constants of conflict in the condition of man: men and women, age and youth, society and the individual, the living and the dead, and men and gods. I have enjoyed other readings we've been assigned, I never thought how beautifully they were written, but "An Imaginary Life" made me appreciate how it was written as much as I did the story. Perhaps the lyrical qualities of the other readings were lost when translated and modernized and we do not read them in their original language and form. Another quality that made "An Imaginary Life" so compelling was the contrast between the fast-paced tales of Ovid and the slow-paced metamorphoses written by Malouf.

In Malouf's tale, Ovid slowly transforms from the urban poet whose life is completely of the mind to one who is (re) exposed to the physicality of life - where securing food, shelter, and protection from danger are an integral part of daily life - there is no time to sit and contemplate on other thanwhat is necessary. The Child helps Ovid realize that humans are as much of the earth as the animals and the rest of the natural world, even as Ovid is trying to help the Child connect to his humanness. The entire fifth section of the book tells of Ovid's final transformation - the fluidity of movement that Malouf uses makes Ovid's metamorphosis appear as a possibility, as something that is natural.

Another important theme in both the course and "An Imaginary Life" is the eternal return - the cycle of life through the ages, the seeds of spring bringing new life. This is demonstrated in the rituals of both the women and men of Tomis, the understanding that to pay tribute to the past is to ensure the continuance of the future. When Ovid is in the midst of the field with the impaled horsemen he thinks, "I feel a moment of exhilaration, and am reminded of something- something that my mind just fails to grasp, as if all this had happened before" (45). Being in the presence of the Child, Ovid remembers his childhood, his father and brother, and the Child of the past, the present, and the Child he is; all illustrating the cycle of life, and how life in whatever form, continues.

"An Imaginary Life" ties all of this together in contemporary and yet timeless ways; the past possesses the present, the present retains what is past.

Theme of "Metamorphoses" - All is in Constant - All Things Always Change


People listened to Pythagoras (a real historical person) great philosopher and teacher, when he explained to them the origins of things. He was also the first person to teach that we should not eat animals - he wanted a return of the Golden Age when people ate just the fruit of the earth; to eat animals is like eating fellow-workers. Pythagoras also taught the mysteries of Apollo; there was no reason to fear death, "Our souls/Are deathless; always, when they leave our bodies,/
They find new dwelling places," also, "All things are always changing,/But nothing dies." Since the Spirit goes to another body, it continues living - we must not kill animals or we become guilty of fratricide. "Nothing is permanent in all the world; All things are fluent;every image forms,/Wandering through change. Time is itself a river/In constant movement."

Pythagoras gives examples of changes from the world itself, mountains and rivers, to animals - such as cocoons to moths, birds hatching from eggs, and so on.

Pythagoras's main teachings - we are all changing, but death is not an end, he says "We are not bodies only,/But winged spirits, with the power to enter/Animal forms. Thus it is wicked to eat animals.

EPILOGUE - Ovid says "Now I have done my work. It will endure,/ I trust.../Beyond Time's hunger...part of me,/The better part, immortal, will be borne/Above the stars;my name will be remembered./ I shall be read, and through all centuries,/I shall be living, always."

OF INTEREST - Pythagoras is believed to have established the "higher soul concept" into Greek consciousness in the form of METEMPSYCHOSIS - the transmigration of the soul.
This was mentioned in class before spring break.

The story of Hippolytus in Book 15 was designed to illustrate the truth of the doctrine of metempsychosis - Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and Hippolyta, rejects his stepmother's advances, she lies and says he tried to seduce her, Theseus believes her, asks Neptune to punish Hippolytus - he drowns - Paeon, the son of Apollo restores him to life - Diana transforms him -his rebirth - Diana places him in her sacred grove and changes his name to Virbius.

The cult of Virbius has survived into modern times - it was written about in "The Golden Bough," Sir James Frazer's book on mythology.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ted Hughes/Sylvia Plath and 3/23 class

Because Plath is one of my favorite poets - and Hughes one of my least favorite - I was interested in their son's suicide. Intrigued because I had read that Hughes' second wife also killed herself, and their daughter. I read a couple on-line newspaper articles about Nicholas Hughes' suicide, hoping to find details about second wife's death. As it turns out, one article said she was his wife - the other, his lover. In any case, Hughes left Plath in 1962 for Assia Gutmann Wevill - Plath killed herself in 1963, Wevill and Hughes had a daughter in 1965 - Wevill killed herself and their 4 yr. old daughter in 1969 in a "copycat" suicide - gassing them both. This certainly has the components of a tragedy - the death of a child, and 46 years after his mother killed herself, the son committed suicide too. Hughes had 2 out of 3 of his wives/lovers commit suicide, and 2 out of 3 of his children deaths related to suicide. Personally, I think it has something to do with Hughes. Pictures of Plath, Hughes, their children and his widow are at:

Disturbing painting, "The Flaying of Marsyas" @:

Guess I'm all about embracing tragedy, pain, and suffering tonight.

Found some interesting backstory to Ovid and his banishment to Tomi in 8 a.d. by Roman Emperor Augustus. Augustus was trying to give the Romans the sense of a morally upright state - he had laws passed regulating activities such as premarital sex, and enforced economic measures that penalized people for avoiding marriage and reproduction. His daughter, Julia the Elder was caught in an affair with Marc Anthony and was banished. When his granddaughter, Julia the Younger, was caught in similar circumstances, she was also banished. It seems Ovid "playfully" criticized Augustus's attempts at legislating morality, especially in his first book "Loves" (or Amores), and coincidentially he was banished the same year as Julia, the Younger.

In a critical overview of Ovid and "Metamorphoses" - it was said his "influence on Western art, music, drama, poetry, and literature cannot be overstated." There was Ovidian graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, the 12th century was called the Ovidian age because so many poets wrote imitations of Ovidian hexameters and used themes from the Metamorphoses. Ovid was the most influential of the classical poets during the Renaissance with painters, sculptors, poets, and dramatists.

Last interesting note - "In the relation to the Judeo-Christian tradition, the gods of the Metamorphoses are very much like the God of the Old Testament: their anger is profound, and they do not hesitate to take revenge upon humankind as a means of teaching lessons never to be forgotten."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring break and Tiresias

Obviously I'm not enjoying break on a some beautiful, warm beach, but sitting in Livingston watching it snow and trying to catch up on reading. I'm glad we've left Greek tragedy behind - too emotion-filled. I did enjoy the reading I've done using feminist literary theory, Trojan Women and Iphigenia - Literary Theory remains my least favorite Eng Lit class, but appears it has interesting uses after all.

My assigned reading is Tiresias - found a couple of interesting websites while looking for more information:

relates some details of a recent performance of Ted Hughes' translation. We've discussed so many background stories of Greek gods/goddesses, most of which I didn't know, I tried to connect some of the stories. I was interested in Tiresias's transgendered esperiences. This website was good:

Found another good site concerning snakes/sex which told more of Tiresias's story before he was questioned by Juno and Jupiter. I like the connections to T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," and Woolf's "Orlando," a really intriguing story. Also interesting to note that Tiresias is an icon for the transgendered community. That site:

If I knew how to do it I would put the engraving here, but it's of Tiresias by Johann Ulrich Krauss, from a 1690 edition of "Metamorphoses."

Hope everyone is too busy having fun rather than reading this in the next few days....

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sophie's Choice

Just a quick note on the comments about "Sophie's Choice." I saw the movie when my daughter was about 3 years old and believe it was one of the most upsetting movies I have ever seen. Meryl Streep is an incredible actress and was able to play that gutwrenching part perfectly, but to appreciate the horror of that scene you would have to have a child to imagine her torment in making that choice. As intense as love is between lovers, or husband and wife, it pales in comparison to what you feel as a mother, and I believe, as a father towards your child.

So, to prepare myself for the movie tomorrow which I can only assume will be the scene when Hecuba is preparing her grandson's body I found another translation of "Trojan Women." The translation is by Kenneth McLeish, I found it a little less tedious and and less wordy, while still keeping close to our translation. This is Hecuba's speech after Talthybius gives her her grandson's body on Hector's shield:

Put down the shield, my Hector's shield.
I should smile to see it; it tears my heart.
O Greeks, how big you are, how brave!
Why murder him? A child!
Were you afraid?
That he'd pile up Troy again?
Make it great again? We're dead.
We were dying even then,
When Hector swam
In his glory, in all that sea of spears.
We were dying even then-
A million men! -
And now our city's gone.
You're afraid of one tiny child.
It's beyond belief. I spsit on you.
My little one, why did you die like this?
You could have died for Troy,
A grown man, a husband,
In majesty like the gods:
Fulfilled, if such things bring fulfillment.
Your inheritance! You saw it everyday,
You knew it in your heart,
And it's snatched away.
Poor little boy. Your curls, your mother
Kissed them, tended them,
Flowers in a graden.
Now they're ripped away:
The hard stones,
Troy's bones, Apollo's stones.
Blood grins in broken bone.
How can I bear it?
Such sweet hands, your father's hands,
Dangling. Lips, dear lips.
How they chattered,
What promises they made.
D'you remember? How you hugged me?
'Granny, when you die
I'll cut off all my hair.
I'll come to your grave
With all my friends.
We'll sing and sing for you.' Not so.
Old buries young.
A child, an old woman,
Cityless. Oee moee.
Were they for this?
Hugs, kisses.
Sleepless nights
When I watched you sleep?
What can we write of you,
Write on your tomb?
'This baby scared the Greeks.
They murdered him.'
Hear that in Greece and blush!
Your father's power and wealth,
They're not for you.
Your inheritance is one bronze shield.
Your bed below the earth......
Bring what's there,
What you can, to wrap him.
Poor boy! We've nothing:
Fate sees to that.
But all we have is yours...
If we're fooled by human happiness,
We're fools..... (cloaks are brought from the Trojan dead)
These robes are yours.
Wedding robes for your marriage
To some princess from far away.
Shield, glory of Hector,
Mother of victories,
Here is your crown.
Dead with this death,
You'll never die. He honours you.
What shield of Odysseus, so wise, so false,
Now shines so bright?
I bandage your wounds,
A poor doctor who finds no cure.
Your father will ease your pain
There with the dead below.

I'm not looking forward to this tomorrow.

On a somewhat lighter note, I'm interested in what part women play in wars. Historically women have been given as peace offerings, they are considered a commodity when collected like a prize (as in the case of Trojan Women: to the victors go the spoils). They have been kidnapped, ransomed, raped. Even in wars raging now, raping of women in conflicts is methodof war, a way for the men to exert domination and fear. Instead of women being seen as victims, they are often considered to have brought dishonor to their families if they survive the rapes. In some middle eastern countries it is acceptable for a male family member to kill the woman who has brought dishonor to the family in such a way. In my search for information about women during the classical period, I found a great book that is written by a woman who describes herself as a "feminist critic who is simultaneously a Hellenist," and considers the place of Greek tragedy in feminist criticism. The section I am reading now looks at the relationship between gender, power, and sexuality in tragedy. She says Euripides may indeed "invent women" and "reverse traditional representations" but ultimately he recuperates the female figures for patriarchy. The next chapter I intend to read is about women as sacrifices, citing Iphigenia. The book is "Anxiety Veiled" by Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz. I wish I could be reading it on a warm sunny beach over break, but sitting by a fireplace at home will have to do.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Knowledge as the goal

Wednesday in class we were asked to blog about a time when we traded insults with someone, and I just don't have anything to write about. I grew up as an only child so I didn't get to share fights with a sibling. I'm pretty good at marital "discussions," but even then I have managed to not say much I would regret. But something Dr. Sexson mentioned about acquiring knowledge compels me to write. I attended college right after high school for about a year and a half, but didn't really have a "goal", and it seemed like a better idea to be a beach bum for awhile. I eventually got married and had children, but the idea of returning to school stayed with me. It never seemed like the right time, I stayed involved with family and community things, ran a home-based business, all of which were worthwhile. Then my kids started attending college and the time still wasn't right for financial reasons. In my forties we adopted a 2 yr. old, and I realized I could spends years waiting for another child to grow up, and made the decision to go to MSU. I had absolutely no goal in mind beyond taking all the Women's Studies classes available, since that was my interest. Since MSU does not offer a Major in Women's Studies, I also took whatever literature classes interested me. People would ask me what my major was, what I wanted to do, and I had no idea - seems like most "non-traditional" female students return to school to get a teaching or nursing degree, neither interested me. I just wanted to take interesting courses. Eventually, though, the General Studies Dept thought I should have a direction, or at least be assigned to another dept. besides theirs - I already had a good start on an English Literature degree, so here I am. I guess my point with this is, the degree became important because it shows I have reached a "goal"but actually what has been worthwhile are the courses I have taken - even some I had no interest in originally. So will this really do me any good? I won't spend decades at a career, my husband will be retiring in about 10 years, about the same time as our youngest child graduates from high school, was it selfish to spend lots of money and time to attend MSU? I'll probably even die before all my student loans are paid! But it has been worthwhile just to gain more knowledge about subjects I'm interested in, and I don't think I would have appreciated the opportunity to do this 30 years ago.

I love Lysistrata - the scene between Myrrhine and Cinesias is my favorite scene - but the exchanges between the men's chorus and women's chorus are great. There is something very real about the old women finally expressing their feelings - something I've noticed about women in their 70s and 80s. They also tend to use more explicit words and don't have the patience to endure some of the niceties - they are often blunt, but refreshing. Younger people can often be shocked or surprised by this, but I consider it more hopeful than the idea of sitting quietly and politely on the sidelines of life. Lysistrata's speech Lines 574-586, using the metaphor of untangling and cleaning the wool and the mess men have made of their society is great, and historically accurate for what we are enduring now. Funny, we somehow haven't seemed to learn from history. Maybe someday....

Monday, March 2, 2009

Make Love. Not War

After reading a couple of introductions to Lysistrata on different websites, I'm anxious to start reading the play. I haven't read the 2 essays either, so perhaps I'll change what I am thinking at this time. Because one of my major interests in literature and history is the place of women in both the stories and as the writers, at this point, I wonder if Aristophanes was sincerely looking at the possibility of women being capable of strong enough actions to secure peace - or if in his critique of the inept handling of the Pelopponesian War, he showed through his play he showed how ridiculous the situation was. Not to focus on the capability of women, but by using them, to shame the patriarchy. After all, it is a comedy.

One of the quotes I found referring to the reception of Lysistrata in contemporary times., "Modern audiences enjoy the sexuality and humor in Aristophanes' work, and they enjoy what appears as modern feminism and the depiction of strong women" (italics mine). Somehow I can't picture Aristophanes of The Symposium being an early feminist.

Another interesting quote, " The opera Lysistrata and the War, which was written in the early 1960s and first performed by the Wayne State University opera workshop as a protest to the Vietnam War." I can remember protesters from those years carrying signs that read MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR. Intriguing, that connection between Lysistrata and the 1960s!

A brief summary of Lysistrata is she convinces the women to withhold sex from their husbands/lovers until they end the war. I'm sure this was not an original idea with Aristophanes, nor that it is intended to compliment women's ingenuity or strength of character. Women have always been portrayed as being sneaky or underhanded especially in matters pertaining to sex. Women denied power in the public sphere have usually retained some power within the privacy of their relationships. Withholding sex? Seems like the logical place to start.

I'm looking forward to reading...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality

After today's class discussion referring to Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality" I found it in an old Brit Lit book. Because today we were talking about remembering, I looked for the relevance to this within Wordsworth's ode. In 1843 Wordsworth wrote a letter to Isabella Fenwick saying, "In later periods of life I have deplored, as we have all reason to do, a subjugation of an opposite character, and have rejoiced over the remembrances, as expressed in:
For those obstinate questions
Of sense and outward things
Fallings from us, vanishings
(lines 141-43 - all about getting older and wiser)

Wordsworth goes on to say:
"To that dreamlike vividness and splendor which invest objects of sight in childhood, everyone, I believe, if he could look back, could bear the Poem regarded it as presumptive evidence of a prior state of existence."

The introduction of the Ode begins:
The Child is Father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound to each by natural piety
(I think this speaks to the cyclical nature of existence)

Wordsworth was called the "poet of the remembrances of things past."

Wordsworth's recounting of the time of childhood, loss of innocence, and looking back at youth seems much like the climb on the ladder to knowledge and wisdom that we discussed today in class.

And to make up for my slights on dead, old, white men, I have to say some of my favorite lines of poetry, and the most beautiful, were written by Wordsworth in this Ode:

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be,
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

I do appreciate, at least to some degree, the shoulders of the men we stand upon.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.

OK - the setting is a cafe instead of a symposia, and the man is not as eloquent as Socrates and his cronies - but he is defining and describing love as he knows it. I think his thoughts of love and beauty are similar to Eryximachus' and Socrates'.

As a physician, Eryximachus views love in a scientific manner - there are loves and desires both healthy and diseased. The man speaks of the science of love he has created in order to gain a better understanding of it. He says he was a "sick was like a smallpox", he boozed, fornicated and committed any sin that appealed to him. And he figured out how men should love, instead of loving a woman first, one should begin with a tree, a rock, and a cloud - the healthy beginning of love - kind of work your way up to the "sacred experience" of loving a woman.

As Socrates recounts Diotima's wisdom concerning love, he too, speaks of the steps in progressing to the ultimate love and beauty. But it starts first with appreciating physical and external beauty then, appreciating beauty of the mind, beauty of institutions, laws and sciences, and finally an understanding the nature of beauty - the purest understanding.

The man in the cafe started developing his science because he lost a woman he loved, he then began to appreciate the beauty of nature and love of all things as a way to get back to the love of a woman - his ultimate goal. The speakers in The Symposium saw physical love shared with a woman as the basest expression of love. For Diotima, the ultimate goal is the creativity of men, not through the body, but through male intellect.

All the males in the Greek "men loving men" group would reject the man's goal to learn of love and beauty so he could someday be worthy of loving a woman.

I think the man telling the paper boy he loved him, was not an expression of Greek male love, but was part of his progression in loving anything and everything to attain his goal.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Symposium

I have a great little book I used during a philosophy course - I found that after reading some philosophers I was still a little confused over the points they were attempting to make. The book is Introducing Plato and this is what it says about The Symposium. I will paraphrase and make my comments in parentheses. "Symbosia" were after dinner drinking parties which usually involved games and entertainments of various kinds - this conversation is about the "true nature of love." The love they are talking about is homosexual love. For most males Athenians, heterosexual love was regarded as little more than an inferior procreative urge. Most Athenian women played very little part in public life and were confined to domestic duties. Marriage was not conceived of as a partnership between equals. (I would suggest that statements and beliefs such as these are why so many feminist scholars feel that reading the wisdom and scholarship of old, dead, white men is not only irrelevant to lives now, but is maddening as well - In our book p. 31 we read "Men whose bodies only are creative, betake themselves to women and beget children....But creative souls - for there are men who are more creative in their souls than in their bodies - conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or retain.")

Back to The Symposium, Nevertheless he (Plato) seems to have convinced himself that physical homosexual love could eventually be transformed into something transcendentally spiritual. Phaedrus begins by claiming that love is a good thing...It instills a sense of honor and self-sacrifice in individuals that experience it. Pausanias admits that love directed towards young boys and girls is merely the desire for sensual gratification. But when directed towards young men, it somehow becomes purer and nobler and results in life-long associations. Eryximachus insists that love is a cosmic force that constitutes the universe itself.
Aristophanes claims that everyone originally consisted of three genders - male, female, and hermaphroditic. As a punishment Zeus split everyone into single genders - so love is always the attempt to find one's own "lost half," whether male or female. Love is more than a quest for sexual gratification - it is the search for a lost self. (Ever see all those Hallmark cards for husbands and wives that refer to that person as "my better half?")

Agathon agrees that love is a kind of yearning: it moves towards an object of beauty which remains unpossessed. Socrates uses the story of Diotima, a woman of wisdom, who told him that love is the link between the sensible and spiritual worlds. If love is that which moves towards what is beautiful, and wisdom is beautiful, then love is the manifestation of the human soul seeking out the true wisdom of the Forms. (It would take a whole philosophy class to explain the Forms theory). True love must eventually evolve into a purely spiritual quest which embraces goodness and happiness. It is associated with the creative force that sustains all art and progress. A higher and nobler kind of homosexual love leaves behind the physical world of sensation, but it is not sterile because it procreates ideas and discoveries, and is one of the root causes of civilization itself. Alcibades brings the conversation down to a more human level. He tells of Socrates resisting Alcibades attempts to seduce him.

This helped clarify - wish I had read it before I read The Symposium, but I did go back and reread and could better appreciate what was being said. It still sounds like a bunch of guys going out for the evening drinking beer trying to impress each other with their vast knowledge.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Powerful passage(s) from Steiner's "Antigones"

I believe the whole section from pages 234-242 where Steiner writes about the male/female conflict are powerful - some of which was covered in Friday 13th class discussion. But there are a few passages that I think are particularly important and of the most interest to me. Steiner writes on page 237, "there can be no doubt as to the fullness and authority of the realization of masculinity and femininity in the pivotal collision in Antigone." In my blog on the 12th when I compared the two translations of the drama, I was interested in how Creon was responding to a
female who had disobeyed his edict. I believe Creon is more concerned with the problem of a woman disobeying him - although he does mention her youth, that doesn't seem to be what infuriates him the most - he is concerned about the consequences or ridicule he would face when it is learned that it is a woman who defied him. But if you reread Antigone's and Creon's exchange and especially when Antigone speaks beginning at line 497, her conflict with Creon is not because he is a man, she would have buried Polyneices if a female leader had decreed he remain unburied. Although Antigone calls Creon a "tyrant," a "mere human being," and a "fool," she does not see the conflict between them occurring because he is a man, nor is her focus on that. The conflict as Antigone sees it is caused by the unjust proclamation that Polyneices remain unburied, the conflict is between the "gods' unwritten laws" in which she believes, where "Hades longs to have the laws obeyed," and at least in this instance, the unjust laws of humans. I think we could also see the conflict between the individual and society here at least to some degree. But for Creon, the main concern is the belief of the female as an inferior acting against male power. In Creon's exchange with Ismene when she asks if he would indeed kill the bride of his son, Creon responds "There's other ground for him to plow, you know." Kind of a variation of "all women are the same in the dark." Another good example of Creon's beliefs comes out in his conversation with Haemon. Steiner says "The furious debate with Haemon further intensifies, but also vulgarizes Creon's doctrine of male prepotence" pg 239, and pg 240, "Haemon's mere speech is, according to Creon, no longer that of a man. It betrays that reversion to the spheres of animality of which woman is enigmatically, an extension, and which if allowed free play, let alone dominion, will undermine the city of man...But to him and, one has every reason to believe, to the very great majority of Sophocles' audience, the logic of coexistence is one of clear masculine primacy." When Haemon defends Antigone's actions of burying Polyneices using the reasoning of gods' laws vs laws of man, he says "You have no respect at all if you trample on the right of gods!" Creon responds "What a sick mind you have: You submit to a woman." Even when his son pleads with him to look at justice/injustice, gods' laws/laws of man, Creon just brings it all back to a female standing up to male power. I think this might be a good time to write what is past possesses the present.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Another translation of "Antigone"

Friday 2/6 we were asked to find another translation of Antigone. The one I have is in Literature - An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry and Drama. Antigone was translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. I went to the translation we are using in 213 and found the lines I had marked when reading, the ones where Creon refers to Antigone, and the conflict between men and women. Although we have discussed the conflict between male and female language, Creon, in both translations is much more concerned about the "place" of women and not just the differences between the sexes. While concerned about an individual defying the edicts of society I believe Creon is more concerned with a female defying the wishes, or proclamation, of a male. In the Woodruff translation, lines 484-485, Creon says;
Listen, if she's not punished for taking the upper hand,
Then I am not a man. She would be a man!
In the Fitts & Fitzgerald translation Scene II lines 82-3;
Who is the man here,
She or I, if this crime goes unpunished?

And in Woodruff, lines 524-5;
Go to Hades, then, and if you have to love, love someone dead.
As long as I live, I will not be ruled by a woman.
In Fitts & Fitzgerald, scene II, lines 118-9, don't refer at all to Antigone being female;
Go join them, then; if you must have your love,
Find it in Hell!

In Creon's exchange with Haemon, in Woodruff, lines 678-80;
And there must be no surrender to a woman.
No! If we fall, better a man should take us down.
Never say that a woman bested us!
In Fitts & Fitzgerald, scene III, lines 47-8;
And no woman shall seduce us. If we must lose,
Let's lose to a man, at least! Is a woman stronger than we?

Other translations were read aloud in class on Wed 2/11, Antigone's opening speech, this is Fitts & Fitzgerald's translation;
Ismene, dear sister,
You would think that we had alaready suffered enough
For the curse on Oedipus:
I cannot imagine any grief
That you and I have not gone through. And now-
Have they told you of the new decree of King Creon?

Woodruff's translation is full of images. I like it better. I also think Woodruff's translation brings out more of male/female conflict throughout the entire drama, not just the few lines I focused on.

It was strange that you asked the class on 2/11 if we had experienced the death of someone,
it is the date my dad died when I was 16. I don't know if this classifies as "suffering"
but it has definitely affected how I have viewed and experienced the world since that day.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

January 26-30th classes - notes and comments

Looking up a few of the works of authors mentioned in the lectures - I found a good essay at "The Renaissance of 1910: Reflections on Guy Davenport's Poetics" by Marjorie Perloff. She is looking at Davenport's essay, "ThItalice Geography of the Imagination." A couple of his ideas are meaningful in context with our class, "What is most modern in our time frequently turns out to be the most archaic...there is nothing quite so modern as a page of any of the pre-Socratic physicists, where science and poetry are still the same thing and where the modern mind feels a kinship it no longer has with Aquinas or even Newton." I also liked "Our age is unlike any other in that its greatest works of art were constructed in one age and received in another." "The Geography of the Imagination" for anyone interested, is published in Davenport's Forty Essays, but was originally given at the Distinguished Preofessor Lecture @ the University of Kentucky in 1978.

Returning to visit Nietzsche was not like visiting an old friend, I hadn't cared for him much when I met him in a Philosophy class. His first book, The Birth of Tragedy, proposed a solution to the
origins of Greek tragedy, focusing on Sophocles, Euripedes, and Aeschylus. He said the Chorus is the interpreter of Being which plays with appearances, and that music is the language of Being, of the will hidden within individuals. I like this - especially after our discussion on the importance of music in Friday's lecture. The idea of time being not linear, but cyclical, the eternal recurrence or return, says that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur in a self-similar form an infinite number of times. Nietzsche wrote in The Gay Science in 1882,"What if some day day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more,' would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him, 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine' ?" Thinking of Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day, learning to become more sensitive, less self-absorbed, and he eventually got Andie McDowell at the end of the movie, when his lessons had been learned. A pertinent quote from the Bible is Ecclesiastes 1:19-20 "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said,"See, this is new?' It has been already in the ages before us."

Reading in Steiner's Antigones, the conflict between youth and old age, Antigone and Creon, to me is even more personally relevant than conflict between the sexes. Much of my view of the world and my place in it was determined by the decade in which I was an adolescent - the 1960's the "battle" between the young and idealistic and the elders and those who refused to consider any but the traditional ideas. The truth of war, the cost of lives, the thought that no one over the age of 30 could remember or participate in what was new or revolutionary - movies like "Easy Rider" pitted the culture of youth against the "establishment." If I had to find a solution to the quandry of age vs youth, it would be to remember what it was like to feel the idealism of youth - to remember that the morals and guidance we try to instill in youth are often very different than how "adult" lives are lived. The age-old idea that it is wrong to kill, but necessary in wars as a current example, and for Antigone, the idea of respect for the gods and to follow their laws, can be pushed aside when it comes to the burial of Polyneices. I'd say the best plan for raising children is to remember your own youth and not to dismiss feelings and ideals of the young, it's very possible there is more wisdom and truth there than in the clouded, perhaps jaded memories of the older generation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

All that is past possesses our present

1/26/09 - reading for another class tonight - Adrienne Rich's poetry - Number VI of her Twenty -One Love Poems:
Your small hands, precisely equal to my own-
only the thumb is larger, longer-in these hands
I could trust the world, or in many hands like these,
handling power -tools or steering-wheel
or touching a human face....Such hands could turn
the unborn child rightways in the birth canal
or pilot the exploratory rescue-ship
through icebergs, or piece together
the fine, needle-like shreds of a great krater-cup,
bearing on its sides
figures of ecstatic women striding
to the sibyl's den or the Eleusinian cave-
such hands might carry out an unavoidable violence
with such restraint, with such a grasp
of the range and limits of violence
that violence ever after would be obsolete.

Seemed like a fitting entry for the Hymn to Demeter...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Eleusinian mysteries

There were many websites devoted to Eleusinian mysteries, but one that focuses on Demeter is
Comments on Wednesday Jan 21st class discussion - how Persephone's time in Hades and then rebirth when she ascends back to the world of the living - how that myth appears in the biblical story of Jesus and the resurrection. In a personal search to learn more of the historical Jesus in opposition to the resurrected Christ, it clearly demonstrates how biblical stories have appropriated myths that are reassuring. Several semesters ago in a Religion/Science course, taught by Linda Sexson, we used a great book Noah's Flood - The Genesis Story in Western Thought by Norman Cohn - other cultures and religions have origin stories, and stories of the flood, stories many Christians believe are exclusive to their faith. It's an exciting book for those willing to question many of the myths they might have accepted as fact - it might be that there is room in our beliefs for both.

Also in the Jan. 21st discussion was the conflicts of language between men and women - how they use language very differently. The example used in class - a woman asking the man how she looked in a dress - shows how we expect the female to be self-centered and vain, interrupting the male's more significant thoughts as he has to come up with an answer that placates her. Sheila Murnaghan says in the Intro to the Homeric Hymns that the Hymn to Demeter is "notable for its foregrounding female perspective on events that belong to a patriarchal world order" (xviii) From the patriarchal world of the ancient Greeks to the present patriarchal order - yes - all that is past possesses our present. From a contemporary feminist view, that's not a good thing. It's difficult to feel part of a literary history that truly is "his - story," when what we read does not come from a female story-teller, but from a male story-
teller attempting to tell a story about a female perspective.