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...