Authored by Columbia University Students
Designed by Hiie Saumaa and Michael J. Cennamo
Creative Engagement with the Western Canon
A Panoply of Art and Thought:
“Poetry is what gets lost in translation”
We interviewed Dr. Elizabeth Scharffenberger, a former Core Curriculum teacher at Columbia who specializes in Greek and Roman drama, the history of ideas in classical Greece, and Classics in translation. In our interview, we discussed how Greek texts, such as The Iliad, have been transformed through the ages. We have presented a condensed version of our interview here. For ease of reading, we broke up our transcription of the interview into four themes, narrowing our focus as we went along: (1) Adaptations and the Evolution of Greek Literature, (2) Reading Different Translations, (3) Reading the Original Greek vs. Reading the English Translation, (4) Analyzing Literary Devices in the Greek Text. Adaptations and The Evolution of Greek Literature
Caroline & Jill: How has the dissemination of Greek literature changed over time? In class, we talked about how it started as an oral tradition, and has been adapted into plays, artwork, and movies. Dr. Scharffenberger: Troy?
Dr. Scharffenberger: I think that’s an excellent question. I think that perhaps even classicists might disagree among themselves about to what extent something like Homer was popular literature, popular like the movie Troy, intended for a broad audience with a lot of star appeal. I would probably lean toward thinking about Homer as popular, which is maybe not quite the [typical] way of thinking of classical literature: something that’s hallowed and intended for elite and privileged audiences only. That’s not to say that these poems weren’t perhaps originally composed to be performed in front of, let’s call them, elite audiences. I think that as Homer became very, very popular, if you were a boy in Athens learning your basic letters in the 5th century B.C.E , you would memorize some Homer along the way. You might not sit down and read the whole thing, because you wouldn’t necessarily have access to that kind of technology, but you would certainly have some knowledge of Homer. To properly answer your question, I think that you’d really want to think about technologies of dissemination and how texts are made available. Today, we live in a marvelous age when you can go on the internet and download a translation of The Iliad – it might not be a great translation, but you can even get the Greek text for free on Perseus. I think that we have the good fortune of living in a time when these texts are broadly accessible. In terms of adaptations, people are doing some really interesting things with them; I can’t complain.
Reading Different Translations
Caroline & Jill: Do you have any thoughts on Lattimore, a scholarly translation, versus translations like Fitzgerald, more poetic ones.
Dr. Scharffenberger: Oh boy, that’s a – that is a big issue. There are a lots of translations of The Iliad that are out there. I know that the Lattimore translation of The Iliad has been used in LitHum for a number of years. At least 30+ and perhaps more than that. And I think that there was an experiment a handful of years ago with trying a different translation, and the Core Committee went back to the Lattimore translation. Lattimore is... well maybe you could tell me more about your experiences reading Lattimore. How did you find it?
Jill: Lattimore felt very literal in its translation. It didn’t flow as normal English texts normally flow. In that sense it was, hopefully, very similar to the Greek text. At least, that was the sense that I got from it while I was reading it.
Caroline: I don’t really have anything to compare it to, but my impression of the English was that the grammar was completely different, and they were trying to make up for that. Like Jill said, there was some interesting or maybe difficult syntax. There was a lot of that, and I found it difficult to read.
Dr. Scharffenberger: Right. I was wondering about that because in my experience in teaching in LitHum, there are some students who really have difficulty reading the Lattimore translation. I think that it is difficult to read. On the other hand, I think that this difficulty is perhaps important. Even for someone in the archaic period in Greece or certainly in the 5th century, this is a language that would not have been spoken. It’s a poetic, stylized, artificial language. And I think one of the virtues of Lattimore’s translation, and why I favor it, at least for teaching in a course like LitHum, is that it confronts you with the strangeness of the text. Nobody talks the way that Lattimore has his narrators speak or the way his characters talk.
Caroline: That’s really interesting. So this stylized language is not actually how anyone would have spoken in ancient Greece?
Dr. Scarffenberger: No. Well, as you well know, it’s a poetic, dactylic hexameter. You probably learned all about that from your instructor or from other LitHum sources. Most people don’t speak in verse. You occasionally slip into it, but most people don’t speak in verse except when they’re quoting poetry. Also, the vocabulary is... and again I am a 5th century person, so perhaps I’m a little biased in this perspective, but it’s archaic. Also, there’s a blending of dialects in The Iliad that perhaps would not have reflected the way that an authentic speaker, say of the Aeolic dialect in the archaic period, would have articulated.
Reading the Original Greek vs. Reading the English Translation
Caroline & Jill: How is the experience of reading Greek literature different from reading the English translations?
Dr. Scharffenberger: If you’re American-born, you’re reading your native translation when you read the English translation. Even if you are still conscious of the fact that you’re reading a translation of something from a foreign language, nonetheless, it’s now in your native language. I’ve been reading Greek for probably forty years, but it is still not my native language.
Caroline & Jill: In the English translation, does the literary style get lost?
Dr. Scharffenberger: Always. Always. Something is lost, and I guess you could also say something is gained because reading a translation always makes you think critically about a text. Reading different translations is always kind of an exciting thing to do. But I think that translation is an act of interpretation and it always will be (not that you don’t interpret when you read something in its native language or the language it was originally written in). You’re constantly interpreting when you read, but when you read a translation, your experience of a text is filtered through somebody else’s interpretation. There are ways in which Greek differs from English that makes it very difficult, if not impossible, at times to sort of capture some of the poetic features of the text or the nuances of meaning. That’s a big issue, I think, when you talk about something like honor, for example, or excellence. These terms in Greek have a different semantic range from what they would have in English and that’s leaving all considerations of poetry aside. But there are some big basic issues.
Jill: I studied Latin in high school, and our class would translate texts like The Aeneid. When I was translating the text, it was easy to see how certain literary devices get lost, such as chiasmus and alliteration. All those devices wouldn’t appear in the translation because they can’t. Our class wouldn’t even translate some words into English, such as pietas, because there just isn’t an equivalent English word.
Dr. Scarffenberger: Yes, because “pietas Aeneas” does not mean “pious Aeneas.” It’s again going back to that question of semantic range. The other thing is, as you well know from studying Latin, that you can do things with word order that you really can’t do with English because you don’t have to have your subject first and then your verb and then your predicate, because Latin and Greek are both inflected languages. That’s one of the things that makes Lattimore difficult because I think there are times when he is trying to preserve that word order from the Greek text that is alien to us and strains our ability to interpret.
Analyzing Literary Devices in the Greek Text
Jill: Could you also show us some of the literary devices you may have noticed within Greek excerpt of the opening of The Iliad?
Dr. Scharffenberger: Ok. Now, you probably know this from working with The Aeneid, right. You’ve heard of something called enjambment?
Jill: Yes, enjambment is when a word at the end of a phrase hangs in the front of the next line to emphasize that word.
Dr. Scharffenberger: Right, right, so it’s hanging over. You have a verse but the verse itself is not complete in its meaning. You have this one word that begins the next verse that is very pregnant with meaning because it is kind of left over. And you have exactly that here1. Most of these words are probably recognizable. You have here – “wrath, sing, goddess, of the son of Peleus, of Achilleus.” These [last two] are both genitives, modifying the main word. I think that Lattimore really tries to capture that. I think that he tries to capture that enjambment. So that’s one thing that I can point to on that. You also have another instance of enjambment here with the word “ἡρώων”2 in line 4 – “Many brave souls which created [many] pains for the Achaians.” If you think of ‘Akhaioía’ and ‘Akhilleus,’ you have a nice sound there which comes through in an English translation really nicely. I think another significant thing to think about, and this is not quite in terms of “poetical,” is the structure of the text. The Iliad is the telling of the Trojan War and the fall of Troy, but it chooses to begin with this one relatively arbitrary moment about the quarrel between Achilleus and Agamemnon. What’s really interesting is that Achilleus and Agamemnon are the players in this quarrel, but who do we start talking about? In terms of immortal characters, it’s Apollo, and in terms of mortal characters, it’s Chryses, whose daughter is held captive in the Greek camp. It really narrows in on this story. Chryses never comes back, and the episode with Chryses is over and done with, but it is interesting to start the story this way. An article that I talked about with another class recently [discusses] the “Chryses episode,” when Chryses doesn’t get what he wants from Agamemnon and prays to the gods--Apollo particularly--to make them give back what is his. And it works. Apollo sends a plague, and Chryses gets his daughter back. What this article suggests, which I think is a very interesting argument, is that Achilleus kind of goes ‘hmm... that kind of worked.’ He is sort of in the same situation as Chryses is, but what the article also argues is that Achilleus misreads what happens with Chryses and Apollo. He sees the old man as the angry one as opposed to the god who is being the angry one. There is an interesting line as a part of Achilleus’ narrative as he is telling Thetis what happened. You’ll notice here on line 380: “that the old man went back in anger.” You can contrast that with what the narrator actually gives us – nothing about Chryses being angry. So, does Achilleus misread or misapply who’s angry in this situation? And does that, in a way, make the whole plan of ‘invoking divine help in getting what he wants back from Agamemnon’ – does that make it all go south? That’s kind of an interesting thing to think about.
We would like to thank Dr. Elizabeth Scharffenberger for her insights and her time.
interview with Dr. Elizabeth Scharffenberger
By Jill Shah, Caroline Mansour, Miranda Davis, and kaylee Wedderburn-Pugh
Pride and Punishment
By Lewit Gemeda, Theresa Mensah, Jairo E. Martinez, Noah Basri, & Ben LaZebnik
“A man of hubris...deserves punishment.”
Polyphemus: Odysseus Should Pay for His Prideful Acts of Aggression
Special to the Cyclopes Post
In the last few days, much has been made of my recent transgression with Odysseus. Many have publicly defended his actions, arguing that I was responsible for properly hosting the traveller. But must one be responsible for a vagabond who has no intentions of upholding his end of the guest-friendship? Of course not. With sure knowledge that Odysseus was only using me for my resources, or worse, planning to rob and attack me, I took preemptive action to scare him and his men away.
Appallingly, this only emboldened the aggressor. When I was asleep in my own home, he stabbed me in the eye and told me that his name was Nobody. This deceitful trick prevented me from getting help from my neighbors. Before I could fully react to the violent intruder, he escaped from Cyclopes.
Despite the many personal losses that Odysseus brought upon me, he gave me one reason to feel thankful. As the so-called “brilliant hero” was leaving my home, he chose to shout out his real name for all to hear. Now that I know who has wrongly entered my home, harassed my community, and taken away my eyesight, I can publicly condemn this man. Odysseus, a man of hubris and recklessness, deserves punishment. I call upon every person who reads this to follow the actions of my father, Poseidon, by condemning this vicious traveller and his men. No one should terrorize innocent people like myself and not expect retribution.
The author is a sheepherder and longtime resident of Cylopes.
Agamemnon: The Silent Cause of My Wretched Death
Special to the Mycenaean Times
How shall I account for my actions on those fateful days; actions which resulted in the death of so many strong-greaved Achaeans! Unjust does not convey the emotional and physical havoc I single-handedly wreaked upon swift-footed Achilles and those other men who died due to Peleus’ son’s abstention from combat. However, moronic fails to encapsulate the raw emotion that motivated me.
I was mad – I myself will not deny it. I was mad with hubris. I felt as leader of the Achaean forces that I was entitled to the lion’s share of the war booty and a welcome home fit for a true conqueror. These would signify the ultimate instances I would let my pride get the better of me!
Once I returned from war in Troy I arrived home and immediately thanked the gods and the land for my safe return. Soon thereafter I ultimately let my hubris, yet again, get the best of me. I walked on that purple tapestry at the behest of my betraying bride. My actions were an affront to the gods: I have perpetuated the unbridled irreverence for wide-seeing Zeus as is the trend in my lineage, and as a result I deserved every stroke of that pointy reckoning.
So here I sit now in Hades, joined by Amphimedon, son of Melaneus. He tells me of Penelope’s loyalty to the man of many resources – her husband, Odysseus. May her name and unwavering devotion be celebrated by generations to come! And may the future of Argos remember snake-like Clytaemestra as my murderess and double-crossing queen.
The author is a former king of Argos and the son of Atreus.
Clytaemestra Responds: To My Haters
Special to the Mycenaean Times
I am a woman at a time when it is most inconvenient to be a woman. I was subject to the whims of men all my life: my father, my husband, my supposed political advisors, even my son. As a noble Greek Woman, I am expected to allow these whims of the men in my life to take precedent over my own wants, ambitions, and thoughts. Because I refused to allow this injustice, I am considered a “prideful” woman, one deserving scorn where my male contemporaries receive praise.
I ask you now, what would you do if your husband decided to kill one of your children, a beloved daughter that is the light of your life? Many have tried to justify my husband’s actions. They have claimed it was necessary, that it was the only way to appease our beloved goddess Artemis. OK, let this be true. But why did Agamemnon need to appease the goddess in the first place? Because he wanted the goddess to bless his voyage to Ilion and send him good winds. In Ilion, he would wage a war that would win him much glory and power. In essence, my husband scarified my daughter at the altar of his pride, not the altar of the goddess Artemis. It was through the death of my daughter that my husband could attain his glory. Now, answer me: who is the prideful one?
I did what any grieving mother would do. I avenged the death of my daughter, my flesh and blood. My husband deserved every stab. However, nothing will ever atone for his killer pride. A pride that allowed him to murder his own child. A monster like that did not deserve to live, let alone rule.
Before I end, let me leave you with something I have realized that has rocked me to the bottom of my core. Notice, my husband chose to sacrifice a daughter, not a son. Both are his children, both are his blood, but one was inherently less valuable. Considering how women are regarded in my society, it is no surprise that my husband valued his ego above my daughter. Think of how dark and detrimental this disregard for the lives of women, those who make up half our population, is. What does this say about our nation? How many beloved young woman will continue suffer to cater to the male whim?
The author is the ex-wife and murderer of King Agamemnon. She is now married to King Aegisthus.
Oedipus: I Am Still the One True Saviour of the Theban Race.
I, Oedipus, Rex of Thebes, solver of the sphinx's riddle, can never be accused of hubris. Pride yes, but never hubris. Remember when I came to this town, I was no one, and yet I, even with all the ignorance of a stranger, still managed to solve the unsolvable, which was causing the people of Thebes to suffer greatly. Thrown away by my parents at the foot of a mountain like so much garbage, it is ironic that I was the one one to save their people from the long-suffered curse. Only my tenaciousness and wit stood between you and final death.
As a king, my sharp mind was renowned, and I was thought to be greatly favoured by the gods. Indeed my quest for knowledge ultimately led to my ultimate doom, but people of Thebes, remember that I did it all for you. You begged and begged for me to find a solution to your pain, and as a great leader, how could I deny your supplications? Today, are you not free of disease, starvation, and barrenness now? What use would my solving the riddle have been if you had perished instead of this new punishment. Consider the two people you see as saints today: Teiresias and Jocasta.They wanted me to leave you all to endure...perhaps spelling the end of the Theban race.
The author is now blinded, living miserably, and shunned by the race for which he sacrificed so much.
Realm of Hades - where the interviews took place©
This week, the Society for the Advancement of Greek Women sits down with the four most notable ancient Greek women voted by our readers. The interviews, as documented below, touched upon topics including gender roles in modern society, revenge, justice, their portrayal in their respective stories, and their opinions of each other. Turbulent interviews have taken place all within the realm of Hades in which we needed guidance from Circe to get directions. These are the interviews that unfolded.
Viewpoints: Helen of Troy
Helen discusses her critics, and discusses her portrayal in the Medea.
Helen of Troy
Wife of Menelaus and Paris
Helen has a prestigious pedigree – daughter of the King of Troy, wife of the King of Sparta, sister-in-law to the leader of the Greeks. She is also widely regarded the most beautiful woman in the world: so beautiful in fact, that a war was started in order to retrieve her, after she left her husband Menelaos for a Trojan, Paris.
You’ve become something of a sex symbol as the “face that launched a thousand ships.” How do you feel about that status?
Well, if Aphrodite picked me to be the most beautiful woman in the world I’m not complaining! Still, I don’t think this status really fits with my personality. It was Paris who was favored by Aphrodite, not me. Actually, I am descended from Zeus, a ruling god, not a weak sex goddess. There’s plenty to me besides my beauty! I’m an artist. At Troy I wove some fantastic tapestries depicting the war. They were a great way of expressing my conflicting feelings about it.
In the Iliad, you were a significant character. In the Odyssey, you have a much smaller role. How did you like your portrayal?
I think it was very favorable! I was a good host, which is true. I love parties! I never would have given Telemachos one of my dresses for his mother to wear, as well as his future wife. Penelope could not pull of my style!
More to the point, it was nice seeing an author portray me as a good host, and by extension, wife. The Iliad caught me in the middle of a conflict, not only the war, but my own struggles. I was blamed for the war, and called a slut (indeed, I often believed it). The Odyssey sees me at home with my family. It is satisfying to know that some people can still see me for what I believe I am - a good, noble wife.
Interesting that you mention you might be the cause of the war. Indeed, Many blame you for a war that cost the lives of our best and brightest. But it’s rather contentious among authors whether you were abducted by Paris, or seduced. How do you see it?
Characterizing my leaving Menelaos as abduction or seduction implies that I am weak, that somehow I was manipulated into leaving. This was not the case. Indeed, this is a sexist bias: I am an individual capable of making my own decisions, for right or for wrong. It was my choice to leave with Paris. In fact, I slept with him willingly at Troy. This brought a personal cost: I often longed for Menelaos and my home, and I know many Trojans hated me. But what really caused me pain was the peril in which I put my own family members: I didn’t even realize for a long time that my brothers died in a war over me. I take responsibility for my actions, though I regret them. Homer’s Iliad, captures this sentiment well, where I call myself a slut repeatedly. Truly, at times, I did think of myself that way. Now that I’m older, I see my actions in a different light. I am not a slut, and it was not my fault that the war happened. If the Iliad showed anything, it was the lengths men go to for personal glory. I think I was just an excuse. Still, I broke an oath to Menelaos, who is a good man, and he did not deserve to be treated so unkindly.
Penelope discusses her character in Homer’s The Odyssey
Penelope, from The Odyssey of Homer, is the Queen of the great city of Ithaca and the faithful wife of the city’s crafty leader, Odysseus. The mother of Telemachus and daughter to Icarus, Penelope draws the attention of the suitors of Ithaca during Odysseus absence only to use her wits to keep them at bay eventually reuniting with her king once and for all.
Your husband, Odysseus, was gone for almost twenty years, yet you decided to preserve your marriage despite the unrelenting interest from the suitors. What motivated you through this difficult time? What kept you going?
Well, that’s a good question, I’m not going to lie to you and say it was easy. There were times in those twenty years where I genuinely second-guessed what I was waiting for. I didn’t know if Odysseus was alive or dead, but it didn’t matter to me. To me, marriage is a sacred contract that if breached, it destroys the entirety of its sanctity. When I married Odysseus I knew what it entailed. I waited because of my belief in the importance of faithfulness in marriage. Without this idea, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.
It’s interesting you mention that. Homer does a magnificent job portraying you as the emblem of marital faithfulness. Do you think this is an accurate representation?
I’m glad that my legacy in Greek literature will be defined by the preservation of marriage. There are certainly other women in Greek literature with unfortunate legacies and I’m happy I’m not one of them. I do think, however, that this is not a completely accurate representation. Homer’s portrayal of my character is somewhat misleading. You see, throughout my experience with the suitors, there were times where I was happy they were there. Of course, I always had Odysseus in mind, but I was lonely; and having some of the most prominent men of Ithaca fight for my hand in marriage, it’s hard not to enjoy that. So I kept them on a leash with my clever scheme of weaving and unweaving, which never fully pushed them away but also never drew them close enough. And in that way, I was not entirely faithful. I know that even my son, Telemachus, wanted me to find a new husband, but my adherence to the sanctity of marriage prohibited me from doing so. At the same time, however, the prospect of remarrying was something I was not entirely opposed to, even if, from Homer’s perspective, it didn’t seem so.
Clytaemestra discusses her character in the Aeschylus’ Oresteia
Clytaemestra Co-ruler of Argos, with Aegisthus, mother of Orestes and “wife” of Agamemnon
Clytaemestra was the wife of the illustrious Agamemnon whom has spent 10 years abroad fighting the Trojan War. She is a strong-willed woman whom is able to defy the norms of her society. She rises up against the male authority in a patriarchal society by slaying her husband and choosing her own sexual partner, Aegisthus. She has since become the ruler of Argos and has proved herself through her acts of deceit (a strong masculine attribute in the Greek times), fulfilling her own justice, shows of intelligence, and her assertion of power and dominance. Alas, she has utterly been slain by her own son Orestes with the aid of his friend, Pylades.
Clytaemestra, do you believe that you have been just in your fulfillment of revenge upon Agamemnon?
I will repeat what I have said as accounted by Aeschylus, “Much have I said before to serve necessity, but I will feel no shame now to unsay it all. How else could I, arming hate against hateful men disguised in seeming tenderness, fence high the nets of ruin beyond overleaping?” I am not ashamed to admit what I have done; I glory in it actually. I have finally done my daughter, Iphigenia, justice. She was killed unjustly and injustice breeds acts of justice, which may be violent, “with the sword Agamemnon struck with the sword he paid for his own act.” I have struck in the “strength of righteousness. And that is that.” I was utterly wronged; we cannot have a state in which a tyrant, Agamemnon, feels he can kill anyone. “There will be no tears in this house for him.” Additionally, I do not plan to be a tyrant and kill and more people, I will no longer be bloody; fate has given way – this is the end of suffering. I plan to bring good order to Argos; hence my actions are justified because they have gotten rid of a tyrant.
But, do you feel that you may have been in the wrong for the fact that you have been unfaithful to your husband?
NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST!!!!! I know what he has been doing with those dirty Trojan women, Cassandra! She deserved to be killed as much as him. What message are we sending to future generations if we don’t punish those whom have been wrong; Agamemnon has not only been wrong on one front, but three – he has killed our daughter, Atreus (Agamemnon’s father) has killed Aegisthus’ brothers and fed them to their father, and Agamemnon has been unfaithful. He is not as pure as he sets out to be, that’s why he was so hesitant to walk on the sacred tapestries. If he had nothing to hide himself, he wouldn’t have been so anxious! I have done what I’ve had to do to get justice for my daughter, myself, Aegisthus, and all of Argos. Yes, that has included asserting my own power by choosing my own sexual partner, regardless if I may have only chosen him because he could aid me in my plot against Agamemnon.
But don’t you think that that is dishonest?
It may well have been, but one has to do all that is necessary to hold those whom are guilty responsible for their actions, irrespective of the methodology. Yes, I lied – I told him that I had been “faithful” and I have said “I have been like a women,” but I am much more than what one may suspect a woman to be – I am not vain. I am one with power and one who is not afraid to do what men have done to me, CHEAT AND LIE!
What do you think about your actions as compared to, let’s say, Penelope or Medea, whom have been in situations like your own?
Penelope, that prude! I could not wait 20 years for a man whom has cheated on me! She should have taken charge and not have waited for her dirty rotten husband to return or her spoiled son to take action. A woman in our situation has to take control; we have to use our stereotype as being innocent as a veil to trick men! A woman has to take initiative - even go as far as to kill the ones whom have wronged her. If I were in Penelope’s sandals, I would have taken on every suitor myself. A woman has to prove herself – be powerful. Penelope could have been ruling Ithaka - not weaving for it and letting many men struggle for power. She weeps while she could have taken action. Finding another man and ruling Ithaka could have fulfilled all of those days alone in bed crying – she could have been in bed doing other things! A woman like Medea has the right idea how to handle this situation. She killed her children before they had the chance to kill her! Talk about intelligence! And I thought I could predict my own omens! She enacted justice just like me and she was successful in her enactment as well! Jason was just as much of cheating scum as Agamemnon and Odysseus!
Thank you for your time. No problem, there isn’t much else to do while spending an eternity in the depths of Hades.
Love and Hate: Medea
Medea discusses her life and Euripides’ rendition of the play.
Medea, Princess of Colchis
Princess of Colchis”, “socceress”, “barbarian”, “serial-killer”, “mother”, “fugitive”– Medea is known for many names. By manipulating three most powerful male characters: Creon, Jason and Aegeus, Medea successfully carried out her vengeful plot against her unfaithful husband. However, her acts of homicide – especially that of her children – marred her popularity among the general audience.
Thank you for joining us despite the threats from the Interpol. Your life story is well-known among our Athenian audience. What do you think of Euripides’ most recent delivery of this all-time classics?
I think overall Euripides did a good job recounting my story. There are inaccuracies, here and there, you know, but I forgive him. Everybody knows how challenging it is to depict such a legendary journey as mine. Speaking of which, I tremendously enjoy the dramatic tension that underpins the play. In my opinion, Euripides crafted an elegant plotline. He started off the play on a heart-reckoning tone; he compiled explicit expressions for my grievances and sorrow, and most of all he concluded the play with my triumphant exit. My favorite moment of the play is when Creon spoke: “You are a clever woman.” That is precisely what he told me the day he attempted to banish me. What a fool! Anyway, I should praise Euripides for his innovation in setting up multiple characters in the play. I am so happy to hear the nurse and the chorus advocate justice and rebuke that womanly scum (Jason).
You have spoken very highly of Euripides. Probably you haven’t heard, but his production only ranked last among the three plays performed during the festival of Dionysus. What do you think is the problem?
In fact, I’m not surprised, you know. The male audiences are apparently too foolish to be able to recognize the brilliance of this play and what I did. I think the result speaks volumes about the general anti-feminist attitude among the Athenian audience. This is very disturbing. Using Euripides’ words, “we women are the most unfortunate creatures.” We are “full of fear, defenseless, dread the sight of cold steel.” This is exactly why I decided to speak up and act for myself. By committing what those fools claimed as murder, I am trying to reverse the great order and pave a future for my fellow lady friends. However, I could also think of a second reason as to why the play was not well-received. I have to clarify that it was the Corinthians who took the last breath from my children. Euripides – he’s quite clueless at times - made me the perpetrator of such crime. This is totally uncalled for. Such fictional, repulsive brutality not only tainted my motherly nature but also blinded the audience. This small alteration of the plot is a stroke of failure for Euripides.
There are rumors that Aeschylus is shooting his new production Agamemnon, which people speculate would be a blockbuster at the festival of Dionysus. What do you think is the biggest challenge for portraying Clytaemestra?
I know Clytaemestra personally, and you are asking the right person. Clyty and I are similar in many ways. We both love our kids but devise the worst for our husbands. The biggest challenge, I think, is to capture the complexity of such interplay of love and hate. That definitely asks a lot from the actress (or actor) who plays Clytaemestra. At the same time, we both possess extraordinary talent of manipulation. Therefore, it is critical that the actress (or actor) learn to switch between different pretenses.
By JP Barreto, Jiajie "Tommy" Zhou, James Woodall, & David Peyser
By Madison Barker, Whitney Hartstone, Farah Taslima, Anurak Saelaow
A closer look at the film, O Brother Where Art Thou?, as a modern film adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey. Do the characters match up? Are the minor roles given a greater voice through film? Our film analysis is accompanied by a contemporary interpretation of the sirens’ song. This video contains images of sirens from mythology and from the film. Also, there is a glimpse of the score of the song. Do you feel the lull? Are you entranced?
The film O Brother, Where Art Thou presents itself as a direct offshoot of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. Through the course of the protagonists’ misadventures in the American South, a distinct series of parallels and associations emerge in terms of narrative, character, and theme. While the viewer may recognize more overt inspirations, such as the reminiscence of the respective trickster-protagonists Odysseus and Ulysses, other elements prove to be more subtle. In the course of this review, we focus the lens on the minor characters and their significance, examining the roles of the blind railroad worker, Penny, and Big Dan as well as their inspirations.
THE RAILROAD WORKER:
By including the blind, old railroad worker (played by Lee Weaver) in the plot of the movie, O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Odyssey share the common themes of prophecies and blindness as an indication of wisdom. Although the railroad worker only appears twice in the film, he is a significant character – he foretells the future of the three prison escapees:
You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first... first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a cow on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation. (O, Brother, Where Art Thou, Coen)
The old railroad worker essentially provides the audience and the men with a generalized version of what will occur in the plot at the very beginning of the movie. Despite the fact that Ulysses, Delmar and Pete decide to ignore the railroad worker, everything that the blind man says comes to fruition. For example, after a spontaneous flood occurs, the men actually see “a cow on the roof of a cotton house”. Therefore, the old railroad worker can be labeled as a prophet, similar to the prophet Tiresias in The Odyssey. Like Tiresias, the railroad worker helps the “three who are now in chains” with their journey, not only by predicting their fate, but also in a physical sense by allowing them to accompany him on the handcar and aiding the men in their escape. The correlation between the railroad man and Tiresias is furthered by the fact that both men are blind yet they possess exceptional amounts of insight and knowledge. Although both men lack the ability to physically see their surroundings, they prove to be the wisest and most knowledgeable characters in their respective plots. This idea corresponds to the shared themes of knowledge and sight in both O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Odyssey.
Delving deeper into the common theme of sight and wisdom, The Odyssey and O Brother, Where Art Thou? depict the characters who can physically see as the people who are metaphorically blinded by other affairs like pride and distinction. After years of attempting to return home, Odysseus asks Tiresias how to reach home. Tiresias tells Odysseus that the only way Odysseus will get home is if he can “contain his own desire” (Homer 11.105). Contrary to Tiresias’ advice, Odysseus displays his lack of wisdom because he is not able to resist the temptation to gloat and showcase his pride. While escaping the Cyclops’ cave, Odysseus yells, “Cyclops, if any mortal man ever asks you who it was that inflicted upon your eye...tell him that you were blinded by Odysseus”(Homer 10.502-504). Odysseus is very resourceful but he lacks the self-control to refrain from boasting about his accomplishments. This overwhelming sense of pride blinds Odysseus from making the rational decision to keep his identity concealed and, in turn, Odysseus’ rash actions lead to his long suffering. Likewise, Everett’s obsession with his hair is symbolically related to Odysseus’ pride induced downfall. In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Everett continuously applies hair pomade and he is always conscious of the status of his hair. For example, when Everett wakes up from the Sirens’ trance, the first thing that concerns him is his hair, not the fact that he was kidnapped. Everett’s engrossed obsession with his hair signifies the importance of physical appearances to Everett. His clouded priorities-which are driven by vanity-later prove to hurt Everett and his companions. The stench of his pomade is so distinct that it attracts Everett’s enemies, such as Big Dan being able to recognize Everett’s distinct scent at the Ku Klux Klan meeting. Everett’s attention to physical appearance is a manifestation of his own pride and his importance of self-worth. Although Odysseus and Everett both have sight, they are often blinded by their pride. In contrast, Tiresias and the railroad worker, already blind, remain able to see situations with more clarity, as well as see things that are not visible to those with sight.
The minimal number of women in O’Brother, Where Art Thou emphasizes the importance of those who are included in the film. Aside from the washing women, the only leading female character in the movie is Penny Wharvey McGill. Penny is the selfish and materialistic wife of Ulysses Everett McGill. Even though Penny knows that Ulysses is alive, she claims that he “was hit by a train” (O, Brother, Where Art Thou, Coen). Upon Ulysses’ homecoming, Penny is more dismayed than excited to see her husband – when the store clerk asks her who Ulysses is, she says, “he’s not my husband, just a drifter I guess” (O, Brother, Where Art Thou, Coen). Penny not only denies Ulysses’ existence in her life but she goes to the extent to claim that he is a complete stranger to her. Also, despite the fact that Ulysses is alive, Penny is about to marry another man because the suitor, Vernon, is “bona fide” whereas Ulysses, in her mind, is not reputable (O, Brother, Where Art Thou, Coen). Penny continues to justify her decision to marry Vernon not because she loves Vernon, but because he is “bona fide”(O, Brother, Where Art Thou, Coen). This fact proves that Penny’s actions originate from her greediness and consciousness of status. In addition, Penny readily shifts her allegiance to Ulysses when she realizes that Everett is a part of the popular and successful “Soggy Bottom Boys” singing group. Within the course of a single night, Penny’s attitude toward Ulysses evolves from completely disregarding Ulysses to agreeing to remarry him. The sudden manner in which Penny returns to Ulysses implies that she is motivated by other factors, such as money and status, rather than love. Penny continues to be defiant and obnoxious by insisting that she will only marry Ulysses if she has her specific wedding ring. The movie ends with Penny nagging at Ulysses and refusing to marry Ulysses because he could not retrieve her ring. Penny’s common catchphrase is: “I counted to three” (O, Brother, Where Art Thou, Coen). This displays her impatience and stubborn behavior. Penny always seems to want more than Ulysses can give her – setting these unattainable standards sheds a poor light on the character of women as a whole. Penny’s superficial behavior shows her lack of loyalty and compassion as a wife and woman. Overall, through the exhibition of Penny, women are portrayed as being selfish and manipulative. The narrow representation of women provides the audience with a skewed view of females in general.
Penny’s role in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is intended to be analogous to the character Penelope from The Odyssey. Both wives endure the trials of living without a husband; however, Penelope and Penny handle their relatively similar situations in very opposite manners. While Penelope eludes her suitors and lovingly waits for her husband, Penny readily enters a new relationship and concludes that Ulysses is dead even though Penny knows the he is still alive. The extremely different relationship dynamic between the two couples is evident in the homecoming scenes of each husband. When Penelope is reunited with her husband, Odysseus, she is overjoyed and “she could not let him go from the embrace of her white arms” (Homer 23.240). The love Penelope has for Odysseus is palpable by her actions and she is genuinely happy that he has returned home. In contrast, when Penny and Ulysses are reunited, Penny blatantly denies that Ulysses is her husband by saying, “You ain’t my husband. He got hit by a train” (O, Brother, Where Art Thou, Coen). Penny refuses to acknowledge Ulysses’ existence – this implies that she does not want him in her life and insinuates that she would rather have him dead than apart of her life. By altering the relationship dynamic from The Odyssey to Penny and Ulysses’ lack of connection in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a tarnished view of marriage and commitment is conveyed. Countering the strong bond between Penelope and Odysseus, Penny and Ulysses’ dysfunctional relationship can be synthesized as the harsh reality that true love does not exist.
With his single working eye and brutish manner, Daniel “Big Dan” Teague is evocative of the vicious Cyclops Polyphemos of the Odyssey. Direct parallels between Big Dan and Polyphemos may be drawn in terms of character, role, and narrative – these similarities illustrate points of thematic significance across their respective works.
Character-wise, Big Dan and Polyphemos are violent and self-serving; they thrive on physical superiority to extort and coerce. Polyphemus slaughters Odysseus’ men with “pitiless spirit”, devouring them without mercy to satisfy his hunger (Homer 9.144). Likewise in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Big Dan beats Ulysses and Delmar with a tree-branch (the weapon itself is reminiscent of a Cyclops’ club) and steals their money and vehicle. These instances showcase the forceful and direct methods by which Big Dan and Polyphemos use to accomplish their goals. Both characters are defined by their physical strength rather than their mental agility, which puts them in direct contention with the trickster-heroes of the stories.
Big Dan and his Cyclopean counterpart are defined by their avarice and insatiable greed. Polyphemos consumes vast quantities of Odysseus’ “gleaming wine” to the point of “drunken vomiting” – Polyphemos’ enormous appetite exemplifies his gluttonous inclinations (Homer 9.146-147). Likewise, Big Dan is immensely materialistic; he exploits religious faith to make a profit. “There are vast amounts of money to be made in the service of God Almighty,” Big Dan states, referring to his Bible sales business. Delving deeper into the relevance of greedy behavior, it is possible to draw a parallel between Polyphemos’ role as a literal shepherd and Dan’s role as a religious man – both characters exploit another species to achieve personal gain. Polyphemos herds sheep to reap the benefits of the animals’ meat and cheese. In a similar manner, Big Dan preys on the faith of others to accumulate money. As a result, greed is a central aspect of Big Dan and Polyphemos’ personalities.
Likewise, both Polyphemos and Big Dan are depicted as belonging to a larger community, hostile to outsiders; this ties in to a larger theme of hospitality and the treatment of strangers. Polyphemos belongs to a tribe of Cyclopes who “do not concern themselves over Zeus of the aegis” and the “right of strangers” (Homer 9.144). Similarly, Big Dan is a member of the xenophobic Ku Klux Klan and participates in the attempted lynching of an African-American man. Polyphemos and Big Dan’s shared mistreatment of outsiders earns them an eventual karmic retribution which results in their gruesome downfalls.
Narratively, the stylistic framework and tropes surrounding Polyphemos’ character in The Odyssey manifest in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. One of the most blatant references to The Odyssey in the film occurs when Big Dan is nearly stabbed in the eye by the sharp wooden end of a Confederate flag. Viewers who are familiar with the original fate of Polyphemos expect a gory outcome for Big Dan when the flag is launched into the air because Polyphemos is brutally stabbed in the eye by a large wooden stake. The audience’s forecast is subverted by the near-miss of the throw; however, this relief is fleeting because a huge burning cross comes crashing down on him soon after. The Coen Brothers take advantage of the preconceived notions surrounding Polyphemos’ blinding in order to generate surprise and suspense. In other words, the Coen Brothers tease the audience’s expectations before finally fulfilling them. This encapsulates the nature of the film’s adaptation of The Odyssey – the Coen Brothers are consciously aware of the movie’s borrowed attributes and, thus, the writers use clever references to the original text to dramatize the plot of the movie.
The essential question remains as such: what do the directors intend with these parallels? Big Dan is consistently portrayed as a caricature of the sour side of religion: exploitative, xenophobic, and self-serving. His affinity with the character of Polyphemos provides a lens by which Big Dan may be judged by the viewer – pitting him as a villain throughout the film. Thus, the Coen Brothers are able to covertly convey the intended opinions about a character by taking advantage of the overarching similarities with the character’s counterpart in The Odyssey.
The purpose of the project was to present three different responses from a perspective sympathetic to Medea following the events of the play. The visual component is representations of the family in which Medea was both victim and murderess. Pitting the two extremes of Medea’s character against each other serves as a fitting companion to a poem, letter and narrative that explore Medea’s characterization as either villain or heroine. The poem is a justification of Medea’s actions on the basis that she was true to herself and to her vision of justice. The letter is written from the perspective of Medea in Athens and is addressed to her father, King Aeetes of Colchis, and depicts a repentant Medea. The narrative describes a scene in which Medea, contentedly situated in Athens, experiences visions of the horrors she has committed and has to use her powers of rationalization to calm herself. It was an interesting process to take a vilified mythological character and try to represent her differently using different modes of literary expression.
Medea to the Core
The purpose of the project was to present three different responses from a perspective sympathetic to Medea following the events of the play. The visual component is representations of the family in which Medea was both victim and murderess. Pitting the two extremes of Medea’s character against each other serves as a fitting companion to a poem, letter and narrative that explore Medea’s characterization as either villain or heroine. The poem is a justification of Medea’s actions on the basis that she was true to herself and to her vision of justice. The letter is written from the perspective of Medea in Athens and is addressed to her father, King Aeetes of Colchis, and depicts a repentant Medea. The narrative describes a scene in which Medea, contentedly situated in Athens, experiences visions of the horrors she has committed and has to use her powers of rationalization to calm herself. It was an interesting process to take a vilified mythological character and try to represent her differently using different modes of literary expression.
Medea to the Core
A heart of fate
She takes the bait
Forgets her past
For love that lasts
A heart of red
The marriage bed
A heart of sorrow
His love to borrow
A heart turned black
A self gone slack
No peace of mind
Love left behind
A heart gone cold
Her soul’s been sold
A fatal plan
To spite a man
A heart of malice
Down goes his palace
Once love now hate
A severed mate
A heart of loss
Sons on a cross
Death of the new
She’ll make him rue
A heart of bliss
His endless abyss
Herself once more
Medea to the core.
Letter: (Samantha Murphy Solano)
I am writing to hopefully secure your forgiveness. The life for which I left my home and my family is in shambles. Jason has forsaken me and taken another woman to love. His new wife is dead, her father is dead, our children are dead, and I am far from home. I realize now how foolish I was to kill my brother and leave you for this man that tossed me aside without a second thought. Do not worry, however, I secured my revenge and he got what he deserved in the end. I was a fool to think that a man would somehow be more constant than family. I regret leaving you and my homeland. All that separation has done is bring me sorrow and pain.
I am now living a moderately comfortable life in Athens, although it is nothing like home. I know that this letter is futile, and there is no way my crimes against you or our family can ever be forgiven, but I have to try. I still love you and Colchis, and it would mean the world to me if I could return, or even if you could grant me the smallest forgiveness. I know I do not deserve it. I have been incredibly stupid and I have betrayed everything that I have, but I still remember where I came from. I never appreciated home until I realized that I could never have it again. I completely understand if you do not reply to this letter, if you still hate and scorn me, because the gods know I would as well. Just please consider the possibility of letting me, once your beloved daughter, back into your life.
Narrative: (Hannah Juge)
The beauty slept in luxury next to her latest conquest, Aegeus, the King of Athens. A hushed peace lay across the city when visions of past actions gripped Medea in terror, the faces of her two sweet sons sweeping across her eyelids. Her hand rushed instinctively to the stomach that had expanded to bear each precious child as she realized the very same hand had cut short the lives rooted in the now barren and empty womb. Medea let escape a soft whimper. After ensuring her moment of weakness had not disturbed the deep slumber of her new husband, Medea slid out of bed, crept into her antechamber and closed the door quietly behind her.
With the outside world shut firmly away, Medea crumbled in sobs of despair, regret and rage. The boys were innocent. It was hardly their fault that Jason was a poor excuse for a man who betrayed his only family. Studying the elegant lines of her alabaster hand, Medea marveled at the instrument of her offsprings’ demise. Memories of their scared cries and pleads during her delivery of justice collided with memories of their laughter and wonder at discovering little pieces of the world. They would never know the glory and excitement of adventures across oceans; having a foreign mother was the closest the boys had ever come to learning how others lived. Offspring of a foreign shrew, since the Greeks disregarded Medea’s divine and royal lineage, the poor souls never stood a chance after their father’s betrayal. She had never wanted to kill them, their death was the means to a necessary end. The collateral damage of the demise of Corinth’s royal family weighed lightly on her soul. Creon had been an accessory to Jason’s crime and the silly girl did not care about the family she was destroying.
Medea knew her sanity hung by a string, a string of her anguish. Though she could never allow anyone else to see her in these moments of weakness, they assured Medea of her humanity. She felt the pain of the loss her sons acutely, but someone in her relationship had to be an adult. Adults recognize that there are forces bigger than themselves. Even a descendant of Helios and the daughter of a king could not allow a crime to go unpunished. Medea told herself that the physicality of her pain demonstrated her selflessness; she had acted as a force of justice at her own expense. Her critics called her a murderess, guilty of multiple instances of regicide and infanticide, but they could not lump her together with weak Greek women of fame who had let the world around them collapse in injustice and sin without taking any action themselves.
With her youth gradually slipping away, Medea regretted the loss of a life as the honored matriarch, surrounded by the love and respect of children and grandchildren. She was also a victim of Jason’s greed and selfishness, Medea reminded herself. Reassembling her composure after she had indulged grief, Medea rose from the cool marble floor and sat in an ornate chair at her cosmetics table. Assessing her reflection in the shiny bronze, Medea noticed the tiniest of crinkles at the corners of her eyes, an incentive to limit the frequency and depth of these nocturnal episodes. Her foreign eyes had sent shivers of fear into the spines of the bravest of men just as easily as they had roused feelings of lust in the most misogynistic of men, all while offering glimpses of the mysterious future. Considering her new queenly status, Medea’s eyes had not yet lost their luster. No matter the trials and tribulations she faced, Medea survived in style. She reached for one of the many bottles on the table, smiling at the fear and suspicion surrounding her practical magic, and swallowed a soothing draught of one of her relaxation potions. The sting of her past slipping away, Medea’s thoughts turned to the tasks she faced in Athens. Medea rose and closed the door to her sanctuary, pleased with her regained composure, and slithered back into her comfortable bed. Medea slept easily for the rest of the night.
Mevludin Isic, Ciara Keane, Samantha Murphy Solano, and Hannah Juge
Symposium on the Lord’s Love
Lukas Salomon, Nathan Sherwood Hickman, Cherry Zhang, Kevin Wu
THE SPEECH OF JOB
Why do the good suffer while the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? How does the Lord manifest His love for each of us? These are questions that many of us, including myself, ask at times.
From my own experience, I can say that the Lord’s love is more empowering than any type of love between human beings. Love, in general, can bring a source of motivation. In romantic love, the man becomes more poetic, more polite, and more educated in order to impress the beautiful woman in pursuit. In familial love, the young sometimes push hard on themselves to become powerful, bringing pride to themselves and respect to their family. Likewise, the Lord’s love for us propels us to become stronger and stronger through suffering. Five years ago, when I was suddenly deprived of all earthly possessions and my sons, for days I mourned the losses of my beloved ones. When I was later afflicted with loathsome sores from the sole of my feet to the crown of my head, I wished that I was never born. Is it by the will of the Lord that all this evil has struck me? Yet I had done no wrongs. Even though I felt great injustice, my prayers to the Lord remained pure. As time passed, the physical pain from the sores and mental pain from the deaths of my sons eased. I was not afraid of being the victim of any more misfortunes. That was when I realized that the Lord’s Love was so strong a force that it had cast out all fears.
Suffering, enduring, and then strengthening – this is how the Lord reveal His Great Love for us. Initially, the suffering was so great that I felt as if hundreds of golden arrows were thrusting into my body. My faith in the Lord allowed me to endure the pains. When those arrows were eventually drawn out one by one, I was left with the fire of Great Love. For the first time, my soul felt enriched.
The Great Love does the best that can be done for the humankind; it promises us the greatest strength by allowing us to overcome all fears. I probably have omitted a great deal in this speech on the Lord’s Love. If I have overlooked certain points, it is your time, Adam, to proceed with the discourse on the Great Love.
THE SPEECH OF ADAM
Jacob introduced a crucial point about the supreme power of the Lord’s love, although in my opinion he has not developed this idea sufficiently. Let me start my speech by stating the most important point of all: the Lord’s love is endless, and with this endless love comes endless wisdom. We mere human beings should never question neither His love nor His wisdom, for we will end up badly if we do so. It is better to completely submit to Him and His love.
If you ask yourselves now from where I take the authority to speak about these things, I shall tell you that I myself made the mistake of thinking that I was wiser than the Lord and not completely accepting His infinite love. In the beginning, as you all know, we lived in Paradise, only Eve and I, in complete harmony with the entire nature, and we could have gone on living like that forever. But one day, in our endless stupidity, we forgot that the Lord always knows best, and succumbed to temptation. We tasted the fruit of the Forbidden Tree although He had told us not to do so, and from that day on, humans were condemned to suffering. If we had submissively accepted the Lord’s eternal love and wisdom, we would still innocently rejoice in Eden.
We made the mistake, and it could not be undone. But you should watch out and not be as stupid as we were. If your lives are difficult and burdensome, do not forget about the Lord’s love, for he will help you. But even if your lives feel easy and comfortable, do not forget about the Lord’s love either, for He is much superior to you and can crush you at any time as He pleases. And no matter how great the temptations may be, never succumb to evil. Know that the Lord’s love is greater than everything and it is the only thing you need, for what He loves shall live forever.
THE SPEECH OF ABRAHAM
Adam, you spoke the truth at last, but through great sufferings that could be avoided. Indeed, the Lord’s love is greater than anything else, including other forms of love. The source of your suffering was your failure to distinguish between the two kinds of love — the divine love of the Lord and the earthly love of others: humans, fame or possessions alike. You weren’t aware of the fact that love of the Lord is the most fundamental and essential of all, for the Lord is the creator of the world, and without Him, your beloved human companion, fame and possessions, and even yourself, would not exist.
But how do we mortals express our love towards the Lord, the creator of all? Although we could not kiss on his cheeks, we could at least get our hands together, maintain our loyalty and faith in thee, and obey any order He delivers — prior to anything else. Following without questioning is how we shall love the Lord, like how a good lamb follows its master. A lamb, which follows the shepherd, would be safe; however, hideous wolves would swallow the lamb, which follows its beloved companion into the wilderness. Love the Lord, so you, as well as your beloved companions, shall also be protected and awarded.
Based on these understandings of the nature of love, I agreed to sacrifice my own son for the sake of showing my faith and my willingness to follow the Lord — the love of my son has always been inferior to the love of the Lord. The Lord worked a miracle and gave me a son through Sarah, at the age of 90 years old! So He could also take Isaac away from me anytime as He wishes. However, if I positioned my love towards Isaac before my love towards the Lord and tempted to save him, both my son and I would face damnation. Besides, I realized that the Lord never intended to make me kill Isaac, as He would never respond to anyone’s love towards him with harsh punishments like such.
I believe the Lord knows my loyalty all along, and the purpose of the test was not to test my loyalty, but to teach me a lesson — the exact lesson that I am preaching right now — a man that loves the Lord more than anything else would receive love and blessings from the Lord. The love of the Lord determines your goodness, but other forms of earthly love don’t. An evil man is one that disregards the love of the Lord and his orders. And as far as I am concerned, a good man would never suffer under the Lord’s eyes.
THE SPEECH OF NOAH
In my opinion, you see, all those who have spoken before me did not discuss and compare those who have experienced the Lord’s love with those who have not yet personally felt the Lord’s love. Let me first give you the story of my own journey during the flood.
When I was on that ark, I spent many a days pondering upon the Lord’s love: what it meant for me as well as what it meant for others. In both cases, the Lord’s love is for those who desire it. I thought about the life that I had lived and what I had done leading up to the time of the flood. For six hundred years of my life, I lived for the Lord. I honored Him in every step that I took. The world around me was becoming more and more corrupt each and every day. It was very hard for me not to fall into temptation and become like everyone else. This is why the Lord chose me to build the ark. I had kept his directions throughout my life while no one else did. He knew that I was capable of and was willing to follow the specific directions he gave me regarding the flood. I would have to build the ark a certain way and follow the exact parameters to the cubit. No one else in the world proved that they had that level of discipline. I wanted to follow the Lord and made that conscious decision, which was why he showed me merciful love and allowed me to survive the flood with my family.
The Lord made a promise to build a covenant with me after the flood. He kept that promise. I spent over 150 days on that boat, wondering what the people who died in the flood thought about the Lord’s love. Would they ever think the Lord’s love was good? He wiped them off the face of the earth. The Lord’s reason for wiping them off the earth was the exact reason why His love is for those who desire it. The Lord’s love was the only way to survive the flood. He offered it to all, but I was the only man who took it. No one else on the earth besides me desired it. They chose to refute the Lord’s love and live the way they desired for themselves. So, when the rewards of the Lord’s love came, I was the only one who received the rewards because I was the only one who chose the Lord and His love!
Visual component: This is a drawing by Kevin Wu. It depicts Job, Adam, Abraham, and Noah as philosophers who come together in a Symposium and ponder over the nature, the power, and the benefits of the Lord’s love.
by Ravi Campbell, Kate Wilson, Eryn Ammons, Halishia Chugani , and Cheeyeon Park
This is a clip of “All I Ask of You” from 2004 British adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera directed by Joel Schumacher. The romantic outdoor setting that Christine and Raoul are placed in sets the mood for a mutual love relationship that the two agree on while singing
This is a 2006 modern interpretation of the play Medea, directed by Tanushka Marah. The clothing of the chorus and Medea are simple and solemn in black, giving the play a more strict and rigid feeling of the society’s expectations of love at the time
Euripides’ Medea and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera, two distinguished plays, evaluate themes of love, commitment, and betrayal. Medea is the story of an ex-wifes’ revenge on her husband who leaves her to marry a princess, while The Phantom of the Opera tells the tale of a musical genius infatuated with a woman who is in love with another man. The chorus in Medea acts as a spokesperson for how ancient Greek society viewed the role and purpose of both love and marriage as functional. Conversely, The Phantom Of The Opera’s “All I Ask of you,” demonstrates how love is portrayed in society today, juxtaposingly portraying it as romantic and emotional. Upon examining the chorus in Medea and lyrics from “All I Ask of You,” it is evident that different time periods of theatre portray love uniquely. The chorus in Medea belittles the romantic aspects of love, while the lyrics of “All I Ask of You” portray the amorous emotional characteristics. Representative of their periodic societies, these works demonstrate the drastic evolution of marital relationships from Greek to modern day society.
In Medea, the Chorus represents Ancient Greek society’s insincere view of love and marriage. Specifically, the Chorus depicts marriage as nothing more than a tool used for sex and reproduction. The Chorus says, “Why crave for that unwanted bed, poor woman? Death comes with all speed,” telling Medea to stop mourning over her marriage bed (Medea, 151-152). In other words, now that Medea is not desired in bed, she is worthless, and rather than complain about it, she should just wait for death. It is evident that in ancient Greek societies, a woman’s worth in marriage is dependent on her ability to procreate to the extent where if she is undesired or unable to reproduce, she is equivalently dead. Furthermore, the Chorus explains to Medea that “If [her] husband worships his newfound marriage-couch, don’t be torn by him so much.” (Medea, 155-157). The Chorus is well aware that Jason’s actions left Medea homeless, alone, and powerless, yet, rather than sympathizing with her situation, they tell her to toughen up and get over it. The fact that the chorus is telling Medea to calm down, despite Jason having committed adultery, hints that adultery is largely accepted in ancient Greek societies. As shown by Jason’s actions, lechery, when committed by men, is considered acceptable in ancient Greek society, and it is not uncommon for men to be infatuated by new desires.
On the contrary, in Phantom of the Opera’s song, “All I Ask of You”, love is viewed as a matter of commitment and loyalty. The lead characters, lovers, Christine and Raoul, expect love to provide protection and comfort for their relationship. Christine affirms this as she asks her lover Raoul to “always [be] beside [her] to hold [her] and hide [her.]” (“All I Ask of You, 20-21). Furthermore, she asks Raoul to “share with [her] one love, one lifetime. Say the word and [she] will follow you” (“All I Ask Of You”, 27-28), displaying that Christine and Raoul view faithfulness and loyalty as important themes of love. The importance of commitment in relationships is a direct commentary on how modern society emphasizes love’s integral role in a relationship, and expects it to be reciprocated by both partners. Moreover, Raoul, seeking companionship, asks Christine to “share with [him] one love, one lifetime. Let me lead you from your solitude. Say you need me with you here, beside you anywhere you go let, me go too Christine, that’s all I ask of you” (“All I Ask Of You”, 22-26).
Although Medea takes place in Ancient Greece where marriage was expected to consist of sex as a mean of reproduction, the play introduces modern relationship ideals, creating a transition from marriage as a tool for procreation to a relationship consisting of mutual love. Some confusion, however, stems from Medea’s relationship with Jason. The chorus suggests that Medea should not mourn over her loss of him because it is expected that men are unfaithful; as a woman she is expected simply to procreate, not love. However, Medea’s dramatic reaction to losing Jason asserts her true love for him. Medea felt that Jason betrayed her love with his licentiousness. However, the chorus implies that his intentions were simply use her to produce/provide offspring, as he soon moved on to a new spouse to achieve a higher social status. The chorus claims that this concept resonated throughout ancient Greek society. Medea stands up to the societal gender-role expectations, thereby revolutionizing the role of women. While the chorus of the play primarily focuses on Ancient Greece’s expectations of marital relationships, Medea’s own actions initiate a transition from the ancient Greek concept of an insincere relationship to the ideals shown in “All I Ask of You”--the desire for a relationship bound by love that is reciprocated between two partners.
The chorus in Medea and the lyrics from “All I Ask of You” oppose each other regarding the role of love, a contrast that can be further applied to those in both the greek and modern time periods. The chorus in Medea portrays love with insincerity, and values marriage explicitly as a mere mean of reproduction. On the other hand, “All I Ask of You” consists of true love, faithfulness, and the ultimate desire to be together. Though Medea’s actions may have been a stepping stone into modern ideals--namely female self-empowerment, the relationship ideals portrayed by the chorus directly contradict those in “All I Ask of You”. The parallel between the lyrics of each work and the societal values at the time further alludes to this distinction between the two time periods.
Love in Medea vs. Phantom of the Opera’s “All I Ask of You”
Bearden believed that “all of us from the time we begin to think are on an odyssey.”
Romare Bearden's A Black Odyssey
Racceb Taddesse, Ohemaa Ofori-Atta, Pauline Morgan, Efua Peterson, & Allison Peng
Romare Bearden was one of the most distinguished artists from the 20th century. Bearden was born in Charlotte, N.C., but moved to Harlem with his family when he was a young child. His experiences in Harlem and the different cultures there helped to influence his later artwork. He had numerous interests in not just artwork, but also the performing arts, music, history, and literature. After he began to focus on art, he experimented with various artistic styles and with multiple types of mediums. However, he is most famously known for his creative and meaningful collages. Two of his collages appeared on the covers of Time and Fortune magazines before. In addition, his work has appeared in many of the world’s most well-known museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and countless others.
In 1977, he created a series of 20 collages and watercolors that depicted themes and scenes from The Odyssey by Homer. This artwork, titled A Black Odyssey, helped to portray connections between African-American culture and classical mythology through symbolism and allegory. These works explored the human condition and its universality, allowing people to connect with the art and interpret it in their own ways. Robert O’Meally, a professor at Columbia University and the curator of this exhibit, commented, “In creating a black Odyssey series, Bearden not only staked a claim to the tales of ancient Greece as having modern relevance, he also made the claim of global cultural collage—that as humans, we are all collages of our unique experiences. Indeed, Bearden does not merely illustrate Homer—he is Homer’s true collaborator, and he invites us as viewers to inherit Homer’s tale and interpret it as our own.”
At first glance, anyone who is familiar with the stories in Homer’s works will recognize many of the scenes in Romare Bearden’s “A Black Odyssey.” With titles taken directly from Homer’s tales, the exhibit’s connection to the epic it was drawn from is certainly a strong one; however, there is no doubt that Romare Bearden has brought the iconic stories to the present day with his creative retelling. Having moved to New York as part of a larger migration of African Americans moving out of the south, Bearden was inspired by the widespread search for homecoming. This “Great Migration” occurred during much of the twentieth century and involved the movement of millions of African Americans from the rural South to metropolitan areas in the North. Entire families left their homes to escape increasing racism and segregation and to search for jobs. This movement was, quite literally, a black odyssey; an almost direct, real life reproduction of Odysseus’ journey in the Odyssey. It was the relocation of much of a black America to places they hoped to be able to call home, and resulted in new and transformed culture, such as the Harlem Renaissance.
“Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey” retells both the ancient epic and the more recent story of the millions of African Americans with great relatability to both. It presents the global theme of homecoming, which has become more and more significant in the ever changing modern world, through a scope that can be understood by all viewers. The defeat of the Trojans is shown in “The Fall of Troy”, yet the piece also tells the story of injustices faced by millions of African Americans, even as it becomes an even more general representation of the countless reasons any of us may search for home, or the feeling of home. In much the same way, each piece in this exhibit tells stories of homecoming in complex layers that make it truly universal in the end.
Layout of the Exhibit
From the moment visitors walk into the Wallach Art Gallery, Romare Bearden’s “A Black Odyssey” is obviously the central focus of the floor. The title of the exhibit, “Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey,” is blocked out in large letters placed at the entrance as visitors walk in. A small information desk with a sign-in book, sale items and two employees introduce the exhibit before visitors have actually seen Bearden’s work. Finally, walking into the gallery’s main room there is a clear path from the left wall, clockwise into the adjacent rooms. This general layout tells a narrative not only of “The Black Odyssey” but also the life of Romare Bearden. These clear focal points lead visitors through the exhibit, developing their understanding of both Bearden and his representation of the Odyssey.
The first room focuses on the general works of Romare Bearden, ranging from his post- Second World War Iliad series to the cut-outs that would become vital for the Odyssey in the 1970s . From the left wall a quote from Bearden, a short biography of his life and a work on Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, taken together give an overview of the purpose of the exhibit. After introducing Bearden’s past, the Iliad series of drawings from 1948 is then presented as a prequel to the Odyssey series in the next room. Included in this room are illustrations on the fall of Troy not by Bearden, but Matisse- tying in both Bearden’s development as an artist because of Matisse’s influence in cut-outs and the idea of intertextuality in taking a work like the Odyssey and representing it in art.
Rather than going straight into Bearden’s Odyssey paintings from here, the layout of the room leads visitors into a hall split into sections connecting the rooms of the gallery and Romare Bearden to his works. The themes of water, purity and home are developed by comparing parts of Bearden’s life to the formal elements he chooses in his works. The final room of the exhibit takes all these elements of Bearden’s life and presents the “Black Odyssey” series in this context. The curator, Dr. Robert G. O'Meally, chose to place the works in both chronological order for Bearden’s lifetime and according to the books of the Odyssey, effectively relating the narratives of the Odyssey and Bearden’s life simultaneously. Through this the exhibit becomes a narrative of Homer’s Odyssey, the Odyssey of Bearden’s life, and his works.
Comments on Exhibition Pieces
Specific pieces: “Ancient/Modern Black/Universal” “Reconstructing Womanhood” Odysseus is the Greek word for struggle and indeed struggle is a dominating theme in “The Black Odyssey”. Bearden’s Odyssey chronicles the journey of African Americans from Africa to America as slaves and later their journey to becoming free. The art work documented, with its bold colors and sharp edges and dissonant two dimensional planes, the creatively explosive era in Harlem. This era was also dominated by Jazz music and blues, which Robert O’Meally speaks passionately about. Furthermore, his works exhibited an improvisational method of doing art much like Hip hop, an up and coming genre in music at the time. To communicate his powerful stories, Bearden employs striking shapes, rich colors, and clear inspirations which also ruminate on pertinent themes of homecoming and self discovery.
A thought provoking part of the exhibit may be the abrupt change in storyline from the Odyssey to the Iliad. With this came an abrupt change in style from collage making to usage of pen and ink. Bearden captures the brutality of war with his pen and ink by using sharp strokes. This creates an interesting overlap between the murderer and the victim in such a way that the murderer is also a victim to his own wrath. This symbolizes the self-destructive nature of war, which Bearden sought to communicate.
True to his words “all of us from the time we begin to think are on an odyssey”, Bearden transforms Homer’s Odyssey into vibrant, graphic images that adeptly communicate the familiar epic, reveal his own personal and cultural history, and evoke grand themes that concern the human condition. Both small-scale and universal, the works in “Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey” present the artist’s individual struggles and leave space for the viewer to impose his/her own story and discover her own meaning.
The Iliad, Homer's timeless epic tale of the wrathful Achilles, has been considered a classic for centuries, an essential element of the Core curriculum for Columbia students and, in 2004, perfect material for a blockbuster hit. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson and starring Brad Pitt, Troy attempts to retell Homer's bronze-age epic on the silver screen, but generally falls far from accurate to its source material. But rather than simply suggesting poor adaptation, the many inconsistencies reveal a shift in society's ideals since the age of Achilles.
Within the first few seconds of the film, the audience is presented with the armies of the power-hungry king Agamemnon entering into formation in a battle for control of Greece. Anyone who has read the epic will instantly notice the difference in opening scenes, but this only precedes a larger inconsistency in Agamemnon's characterization. In the original epic Agamemnon was shown to be an able, if sometimes short-sighted, leader of the Greeks, while here he steamrolls through the Greek states, satiating his bloodthirsty greed by subjugating all of Greece beneath his rule. Ancient Greek society, accustomed to tyrannical despots as much as benevolent leaders, would have viewed the unrestricted power of a warlike king very differently from many today. The all-powerful monarch is regarded much more negatively today, and thus throughout the film Agamemnon seems more a stereotypical villain than a leader of men.
Like brother like brother, as the saying doesn't go; Menelaus in equally dictatorial and controlling in his marriage with Helen. Here, Helen is not motivated by any divine intervention, but loves Paris for his kindness and sincere devotion to her, a devotion which her husband definitely does not share. Achilles and Briseis share this same chemistry later in the film, as Achilles treats Briseis with a humanity she wasn't afforded in the epic and the two develop trust and care for each other. The treatment of both relationships clearly divides the treatment of women today from that in ancient Greece. While in the epic Paris forces Helen into loving him and Achilles's relationship with Briseis would at best be sexual domination, the movie tries (as well as most Hollywood films) to present equal, loving relationships between these men and women.
But romance and regency are not at the forefront of Homer's epic or Peterson's film. The true focus of the epic is in the brutality of war and the pointlessness of honor, as elucidated very clearly by Achilles in one of the epic's most powerful scenes. But while the characters in the film often express these ideas, Hector and Achilles reprimanding Paris and Patroclus respectively for their cocky reveling, the cinematography often betrays this idea. The lengthy lists of names and lineages are gone (a welcome change for many a reader) and are instead replaced by frantic cuts of slaughter and violence. While these add a sense of action and chaos to war that was not found in the epic, often the humanity of each solider is lost amid the bloodshed. As the body count rises, the audience is left without any understanding or caring for the characters who die, effectively sapping the horror out of the war in exchange for a few big-budget battles.
While Homer's Iliad will continue to be read by future generations and revered as a classic, Peterson's film has already begun to collect dust, and for good reason. The Iliad is a masterfully-crafted epic, with messages that, despite its clear age, are still relevant today. Certainly, Peterson's film often doesn't do the epic justice, but it does provide a nice context for society, showing us how far we've come since the days of Hector, Breaker of Horses.
In this clip, portraying the fight scene between Hector and Achilles, we see a number of deviations from Homer’s text that are indicative of the larger differences between the Hollywood film and its source material. Firstly, Hector faces Achilles without any sense of fear or cowardice, unlike in the text wherein he runs from Achilles, racing around the city before submitting to his fate. In The Iliad, Priam explicitly spoke against Hector going off to fight, yet Hector drove himself onward to fight in light of his earlier mistakes (notably when Poulydamas warned the Trojans to retreat from the Achaian ships). Priam tells Hector, “Come then inside the wall, my child, so that you can rescue the Trojans and the women of Troy” (22 56-58). Furthermore, there is no evidence of divine intervention in the ensuing fight between Achilles and Hector in the film adaptation. In the text, Athena “likened herself in form and weariless voice to Deiphobos” and later moves Hector’s shield in the climax of the battle (22 227). In the film, meanwhile, Hector simply trips on a rock and Achilles is given a chance to stab him. The removal of god and goddess imagery ties back into the lack of anti-religious tone of the film, something that is ultimately typical of “Hollywood-ized” films.
Similarly, this clip removes a very key scene of divine intervention in the narrative. In The Iliad, Menelaus overpowers Paris to the point of near-death, but Aphrodite steps in and “wrap[s] him in a thick mist and set[s] him down again in his own perfumed bedchamber” (3 381-382). In the film version, Paris cowers away from Menelaus and his brother, Hector, steps in to defeat Menelaus. We can only speculate the filmmakers’ reasoning for this, however it most likely ties back to the overall removal of religious figures from the action of the plot, perhaps with the thought that human interactions are more compelling to a modern audience.
The timeline of the Iliad, starting from the creation of the book up until the release of its film adaptation, brings the Iliad’s modern importance into question. Edwin Cook analyzes this relative importance in a speech about the Iliad’s contemporary relevance.
Alana Feldman, Nicholas Rhodes, Joshua Suh, Olubunmi Solano, and James Zhang
After studying Homer's epic poems in Lit Hum, four students visited Romare Bearden's Black Odyssey exhibit. Here are the moments of reflection and self-discovery that they experienced...
One's Own Place on the Ancient and Modern Worlds
By Michel Zelazny
Originally entitled Battle with Cicones
In the Greek epic poem “The Odyssey”, one of the most remarkable scenes is Ulysses traveling and staying on the land of the Cyclopes, where he complains about not having an adequate reception as a guest, whereas the Cyclopes are not satisfied with the visit of the foreigners, claiming that their space was invaded and that Odysseus’ crew was invading their legitimately obtained territory. The story goes on with Odysseus fooling and blinding the Cyclops Polyphemus after the latter promises to eat the entire crew, but one point remains as an great source of investigation and topic of debate still suitable to modern days, and this concepts is discussed as one of the main questions of Romare Bearden’s exhibition “A Black Odyssey”: what does making a place for oneself mean overrunning the place of another?
The Greek culture used to valorize the role of hosting as one of the most important principles for proper living, but nowadays it is quite rare to see people taking unknown guests into their own place, because modern society has on privacy and safety two of its major ideas. The question gains even more interest when considering that more than three million people are homeless in the USA, a value easily outnumbered by that of vacant houses. Although it is quite noble to defend and sustain one’s properties, it could be of better usage to hand these unused pieces of land to those who need it the most. On the other hand, it is certainly easier said than done, as it is extremely hard to cease something that belongs and is result of one’s hard work. Furthermore, the discussion can also be extended to the degree on which coexistence can thrive. It is widely known that one’s right ends where the other’s right begins, and mutual respect has always to be taken into account in situations that involve homeless people invading private property. In these situations, even though it would be best for society that more people have a place to live, it is not morally permissible to forcibly occupy a land without consent or a formal agreement of rights and duties of the owner.
Therefore, it is questionable whether Odysseus had the right to blind the Cyclops. Even though Polyphemus had promised to eat all of the guests, the crew had no right to invade their land, and should have left the Cyclopes alone instead, since the territory had been legitimately obtained. Just like that, the guesting/hosting protocol nowadays is a matter of extreme respect from one another and the rules previously agreed, in order to ensure what one wants without violating basic principles of the relationship established with the territory sharers.
Art Through Art
By Joshua Kolb
Originally entitled The Fall Of Troy
Romare Bearden’s Black Odyssey series actually begins with the end of The Iliad. I am intrigued by Bearden’s artistic choice, to deviate from his source material to achieve his own artistic aims. This particular painting is not the only time he differs from The Odyssey. For instance, his interpretation of Odysseus’s return to Ithaca features Odysseus proudly standing on the front of his ship, whereas in the actual text Odysseus is lounging on the deck; this change significantly alters the subtext and projected meaning of this same action. Similarly, starting the entire Black Odyssey project with the sacking of Troy affects the context of the events that follow are in direct relation to this event, whereas this context does not exist in the text of The Odyssey itself. This piece, and the choice it represents, exemplifies the question — which surrounds the entirety of the Black Odyssey project — of artistic appropriation. Clearly Bearden has a purpose in his project, one that is distinct from Homer’s. And from the existing text that is Homer’s Odyssey, he fashions an entirely different and original piece of artwork. Is this art autonomous and individual? Can it stand alone, or must it be seen within the context, not only of Bearden and his intentions, but of The Odyssey itself? The exhibit compared some of Bearden’s methods to that of jazz musicians, who use existing pieces of music as a base to improvise and transform. I think Bearden’s Black Odyssey is a singular and self-contained piece of art; I am not sure whether it should be considered a reinterpretation or an individual and autonomous work. Clearly a preexisting artwork — The Odyssey — is the basis of this series, but has Bearden transformed the work — through choices of tone, content, and context — into something singular? Part of the beauty and power of Bearden’s project, for me, is this comparison between his choices and his source material; this, for me, firmly links the Black Odyssey to The Odyssey itself, and I think to try to divorce it of this original context would deprive the Black Odyssey of some of its meaning and power.
This artistic choice is also, I believe, extremely prevalent today. The appropriation and reference to other works is dominant in culture. Mass popular culture is inundated with these forms. For instance, the emergence and mainstreaming of “meta,” wherein a piece of art will comment upon itself in the context of the piece. Moreover, appropriation is rampant in popular music through “sampling,” in which songs will either be built upon, or feature, another unrelated song. However this trend is not just limited to mass entertainment. Beyond Bearden’s art, The Odyssey itself has inspired numerous other works. These include one of, if not the, most groundbreaking and seminal novels of the 20th century, James Joyce’s Ulysses. In fact at the Bearden exhibit we visited, there was a small portion featuring a few etchings that Henri Matisse made inspired by, and representing portions of, Joyce’s Ulysses. Thus, Bearden exemplifies how art is both a reflection of the context within which it is created an is an inspiration for further creations of art. Moreover, it shows how art not only reflects the context from which it is created but helps to create new contexts for artists to create in. This constantly alive process — of invention and reinvention, interpretation and reinterpretation — makes both fresh and repeated experiences with art, like what is done in Literature Humanities, such a rewarding and necessary endeavor.
An Ithacan Queen and a New York Teen: A Reflection on the Female Condition
By Ria Sen
Originally entitled Odysseus and Penelope Reunited
By depicting the ancient Greek characters and story of Homer’s Odyssey through an African American artistic lens, Romare Bearden’s Black Odyssey series illustrates the universality of the themes and conflicts, such as gender inequality, faced by the poem’s central characters. In Odysseus and Penelope Reunited, Bearden’s presentation of people and houses in perfectly compartmentalized sections of the canvas reflects Odysseus’ household’s regaining equilibrium both internally—with man, woman, and child assuming their correct roles in the family—and externally, as the royal family’s authority is restored with Odysseus’ return.
This work underscored a question that perplexed me when I originally read the play: if domestic and social order depend so much on Odysseus’ presence, what power does Penelope, the queen of Ithaca, have in her own right? The answer is: not much. While Penelope’s husband is away, Penelope doesn’t take the reins—it is her son and her suitors who fight to fill the leadership vacuum. Moreover, Penelope’s person and property are not safe unless Odysseus is present to offer protection.
It is facile to believe that the gender inequality faced by Penelope is isolated to her time and civilization. In fact, Bearden’s work emphasizes that, like other aspects of The Odyssey, the patriarchal infringement on women’s rights is a universal social issue. In the twenty-first century, cultures across the globe continue to subordinate women and limit their access to resources, such as education or loans, that would help them achieve agency and financial independence.
Seeing Bearden’s thought-provoking work around Thanksgiving has helped me reflect on how thankful I am to live in an environment where gender equality continues to be supported and advanced. I am grateful to be born into a society where my accomplishments are not limited by my sex, and I love that I have role models (both male and female) who encourage me to follow my dreams, wherever they may lead. Bearden’s art, thus, did not merely amplify my understanding of The Odyssey in isolation, but filled the crucial role of forming a bridge between an ancient Homeric epic with modern society and my life.
Michel Zelazny, Adil Rashed, Joshua Kolb, Ria Sen
A Day at the Museum
Beyond the Book: Artistic Renditions of the Aeneid
by Adil Rashed, Michel Zelazny, Olubunmi Solano, & Theresa Mensah
Our Lit Hum group wanted to see how far the Literature Humanities syllabus extends outside of our small classroom setting. It seems that every week we make it through another thousand lines of ancient lyrical prose, but what becomes of those words upon words? How do we accomplish more than just passing a quiz or test with the abundance of insight we are accumulating from texts that cover themes that are still relevant today? Our project showcases how one former student was able to transform his interaction with the Aeneid into a masterpiece. Also taking the creative route, our group member, Theresa Mensah, designed beautiful collages to accompany major scenes of the Aeneid, representing her own interpretation of the book. These individuals’ works, among others, prove that what we have learned and read about these past semesters can only go on to help us create something impressive now or years down the line.
Paul Bloom is a sophomore in Columbia College, majoring in psychology and music. He is a talented pianist who originally wanted to begin his musical career as a drummer. After a small bout with classical piano, however, he found his niche in jazz and improvisation with the keyboard, “learning the style, but putting [his] own spin on it” (Bloom). This early trait of improvisation and creativity only strengthened his talents as a musician, allowing him to become the remarkable composer that he is. Accordingly, it came as no surprise to his previous Lit Hum teacher that, when given the opportunity to undergo a creative project rather than write a final paper, Bloom not only took that opportunity, but made something so symbolic of the Core and its aim that he has been asked to perform it on two separate occasions.
Bloom’s composition embodies the founding story of Rome by bringing together and assigning musical themes to the many cultures involved in the city’s discovery as described in the Aeneid. Since the delivery of that initial project, Bloom has altered the meaning behind his composition to encompass cultural and political events and instances of erasure in the history of ancient Rome that mirror circumstances that have been endured within American history and even modern day. His specific symphonic methods used to accomplish this enormous task of political discourse through a medium that lacks both lyrics and images, both cleverly and consciously constructed. His purpose was to indirectly present the listener with a compiled historical account, but knowing the thoughts behind each note only enhances the depth of the piece as it is voluntarily replayed again and again.
Early on the windy Sunday morning of February 22nd, Paul graciously allowed fellow LitHum students into his dorm room for a truly stimulating and thought provoking interview:
Adil Rashed: Can you tell us a little more about how you got into this project?
Paul: My second semester of LitHum last year, my professor gave us the opportunity of making a creative project instead of a final paper. I told him very early that I wanted to do something related with music. We went through a couple of options, but we found that The Aeneid was the best fit because there is a lot of things in there and it sounded the perfect work to retell through music. The story is very clear and very well laid out, with many culture and civilizations, so I felt it was a great book to start with. It seemed a good medium to work with and create a piece of music.
Michel Zelazny: Did a lot of people take this opportunity?
P: Not really, I think just one other person from our class took the opportunity. I think it was because it required a lot more effort than a paper would have required, but I also think I got a lot more out of it.
A: What inspired you to do a musical performance as opposed to your final paper? I know you have said that it required more of a time commitment than a final paper would. Why did you continue to pursue it?
P: I am always looking for different ways to use music to portray different events in his life. In High School, I made a project based on Dr. Seuss’ books and it was really fun, so I saw the Aeneid project as another challenge for me to take on. That was really interesting to me, and it changed throughout the whole process what I was trying to do. We performed the first version just to my LitHum class, and we did an open performance in February.
M: What were the main differences between both works?
P: The biggest difference between the two projects was that the first one focused on representing the Aeneid and sticking as close as possible to the themes that we created for all these civilizations and their cultures. But on the one that we made two weeks ago, we wanted to make it a lot more current and applicable to our society. The music changed a lot and we tried to add a lot more references to American music on the last 100, 150 years. Different references to different types of music of people who might find themselves outside the dominant narrative in our society. The Trojans are becoming the Romans and they are losing part of their identity, and the United States is doing a similar process, so we tried to make some “marginalized” American musics heard: some types of Jazz, folk music, etc. All of these musics came from people with marginalized identities in American history.
A: Now you composed a piece that reinterpreted the Aeneid using music as your medium. Was there anything particular about the Aeneid that really compelled you to choose this particular piece?
P: I decided very early on, because most of the work was related to casting music. At some point I thought about Metamorphoses, but there were already several pieces of music and this would make too much influence over me. I couldn’t find a comprehensive macro version of the Aeneid. I didn’t find anything similar to what I was going for.
A: How did you approach interpreting the events of the book? I mean you not only have an enormous variety of events - from Dido’s suicide to the foreshadowing of Rome’s forever lasting fame - but also an abundance of scenes to choose from. What was your criteria in choosing certain scenes over others?
P: I looked at it as choosing events that were indicative of what was going on between cultures rather than individuals for both projects. The Dido-Aeneas relation is certainly important, but the Trojan quest for building an empire sounded more appealing to me. I took those specific events as indicatives to interactions between cultures. For instance, at some point the Trojans find a Greek soldier on the Island of the Cyclopes and they take him in. I interpreted it as an entrance of Greek culture into the Trojan world. Some other selected scenes include the Trojans and the Carthaginians meeting with each other, the Trojans retelling the fall of Troy, the trip to the underworld and its reference to future, and when they finally get to what will become to Italy. The second half of the book has a lot of battles, so I focused more on the tensions and appropriations among the fighting cultures
A: For us non-musicians, the idea of transforming a written piece to music seems more than slightly mind-boggling. I can’t even imagine where I would start. Could you tell us a little about the beginning process? What was your process in translating the words on the page to clefs on the staff? P: It is very challenging for me to figure out how to do it. In my opinion, there is never a right way to do it, nor a wrong way to do it. The way I chose to do it for the most part was assigning a theme of music for each culture, one snip for each culture. When the cultures interact with each other, I changed and developed these snips.
A: Did you use the rich imagery conveyed by Virgil to compose particular portions or was it rather visceral? Were there any particular influences that you wanted to include in your piece? if so, for what reasons?
P: It is hard to know because Virgil’s imagery is so embedded in the text, so it really affects how you read it and analyze it. I tried to focus more on an analysis, but the imagery surely played a role in places like the description of Aeneas’s shield, because the imagery is really connected to the shield itself.
M: Was there anything you were trying to avoid both from a musical creation standpoint or certain plot points?
P: I don’t think I tried to avoid anything in particular talking purely about the music itself, but I was trying to avoid making the compositions too jumpy, because there are many different interactions and you could easily get lost among them. Thus, one of my main challenges was to find out how to create easy transitions between the different events that are happening.
M: What were some difficulties you encountered either interpreting or composing the piece? Did you ever feel limited by the lack of instruments or did you ever have trouble interpreting a scene?
P: The hardest part was define what it means to create a musical production of The Aeneid as a Columbia student in 2015. I wanted to make sure that I could appropriately use and respect my influences, just like the Trojans assimilate the cultures of a lot of different people. I needed to be clear in my work that I wasn’t taking traditions and ignoring them and their authors. Vijay Iyer, one of my favorite musicians, says that “you can’t really call yourself a jazz musician if you don’t care about the social issues“, and I strongly believe in that. It is my responsibility as a Columbia student with privileges to try to be self-aware and think about these issues, trying to deal with them responsibly and making a positive impact.
A: What did you want the audience to get from this piece? How did you want your audience to respond?
P: I wanted to make the audience think a little bit more about these issues with our performance. I made a brief introduction on the beginning of the play talking about the parallelism between American and Roman imperialism, and I wanted people to consider the fact that we scrutinize societies in The Aeneid, but we are afraid of criticizing American imperialism with the marginalization of black people in society. I wanted that people could think about that, and to look a little bit more critically to our society. And I think that talking about a concept right before the performance changes how people listen to it. So I hope that what I talked about in the beginning influenced people to think differently.
A: How has the core changed your perspective or interpretation of music? A lot of the books we read do talk about the arts and music; Orpheus is mentioned in the Metamorphosis and many other books do remark on the role of music; is there any particular book of the core that impacted you? P: I definitely read a lot of texts throughout the Core, and it gradually changed my perspective on things, even if it meant not agreeing with some of the philosophies the Modern Western Society, which is a construction in itself. That certainly has definitely influenced the way I look the world around me, which consequently changes in some way how I approach music. At Columbia, the music program is very classical focused, maybe in great belief that classical music is much better than all other types of music, which I don’t believe. I try to bring in different types of music and improvisations in situations where classical music is being played here.
A: How did the core help facilitate your musical interest? In what way would you say it allowed you to further your musical ambitions?
P: Through this Aeneid project, the Core has allowed me to pursue a large skill of musical projects, which I really enjoyed working on. Other than that, I think other elements have not impacted on me creating music. Most of the Core classes changed my musical ambitions just because they changed my perspectives.
M: Is there any advice you would give to LitHum and Core students? P: I think trying to approach the Core through a creative project is a really good idea. It’s helpful because it makes you consider what the texts mean to you, because you are outputting something by yourself. At least for me, making such projects always mean much more for me. I try to care about all my papers, but sometimes it has a mandatory character that I do not like that much. It forces you to reconsider what you are studying in your own terms. I would really encourage other people to do those types of projects. My general advice would be that there is no right or wrong way about; you just need to consider your own identity and your own background. To question general ideas and consider our own positions as Columbia students is extremely important when creating this project.
A: Did you use any source besides the book to create your work? Do you feel that in-class discussions helped you throughout the process? P: In-class discussions helped me understand what was going on in the text a lot better, but our discussion classes were in January, and I wrote the piece in February/March, so I don’t think the discussions helped me particularly on the creation, but those early discussion certainly helped me understand The Aeneid. I remember that my professor gave us a map of the Mediterranean area, with the places the Trojans went, and I think this influenced my work because it literally showed where they went and conquered, but I didn’t use any secondary sources, as I wanted to be based on the actual text, and not someone’s interpretation of it.
M: Is there anything you are working on at the moment that we should look out for?
P: Nothing at the moment but stay tuned for future projects.
A: Thank you for taking out the time to meet with us. Hopefully your story will serve to inspire countless others to unleash their passion and realise how impactful the core can be. The core doesn’t have to be purely education; it can broaden your scope and make you reconsider various different subject matters in a completely different light. Olubunmi Solano listened to Paul’s concert and had the following reaction:
What power does music lend the experience of a story? How does it shape the way we experience a deciding battle or the fluttering of new love? Paul Bloom, at the time a freshman in Joe Blankholm’s Literature Humanities class, composed a riveting piece of music to accompany his personal experience with the ancient text we have all come to know, the Aeneid. Bloom’s particular choice of instruments and their combined product at first struck me as peculiar. A combination of a tenor saxophone, trumpet, bass, piano, and drums follows Aeneas along his journey from Troy to the New World where he destined to found Rome. The upbeat, modern tones seemed somewhat out of character within the first few minutes of that initial note, but as the music picked up, swayed and ebbed at peak emotional and distressed moments, I found myself recalling the major events of this tale with every change in the musical mood. One can pick up the instances of fear, mystery, and expectant curiosity as Aeneas and his crew sail courageously towards the place that they only have their faith to believe will become great. New characters and lands are introduced with the effervescence of a contrasting rhythm, and the dichotomy is apparent, but with time the tunes form a beautiful melody, harmoniously rolling into the next scene of the fate-driven journey.
The portion of the composition where I believe Aeneas and Dido separate for good was well tailored to the amount of emotional unrest that was conveyed in the scene’s written words. These notes captured the anguish and depression associated with that abrupt abandonment, an abandonment that was not even personally decided, but instrumented by the orders of a third party. Only such orchestrated progressions could translate something as tragic and heartbreaking as an unrequited breakup into an expression that we would all be able to interpret as deeply and acutely as Dido did.
Theresa Mensah, a current LitHum student, also decided to channel her inner “core” and decided to create a two collages, using the Aeneid as her lens of interpretation:
Collage 1: Aeneas as the Oak tree on the mount with Dido and Hera riding the insidious "north wind'
Collage 2: Aeneas' crew discovering Ulysses' crew-mate on the island
I am someone who remembers sensation better than anything else. My parents hypothesize that my sense of touch became heightened because of my worsening sight; yes, I do wear glasses. As such, I have always appreciated art that has a textural component as well as visual; art that invites you to run your fingers along ridges and edges, whorls and swells, roughs and smooths. I was supposed to compile a representation of the influences of the Aeneid in the arts. The music was fabulous, with different tempos and tones. However, when I got to the visual arts section, while incredibly beautiful, and highly impressive, none of the works catered to my need of differential texture. So I decided to create two collages that would.
The North Wind collage is inspired by a section of book four where Dido is trying to convince Aeneas to stay in Libya. Virgil likens the words she sends through her sister Anna to north winds blowing to uproot a steady oak tree that is Aeneas rooted in the mountain. The figure in white on the right is Hera who is hoping that Dido succeeds at seducing Aeneas from his fated path. Dido is represented with a somewhat witch-like profile, because in this case she can be seen as villainous because she is trying to twist fate. Furthermore, I decided to use twigs for Aeneas' base to a achieve the texture of a tree trunk. I found this particular piece of imagery startling in its vividness, so I felt compelled create this collage.
The Meeting between the Trojans and the Greek collage was inspired by the interview with Paul Bloom. He spoke about how the interactions between different cultures in the Aeneid helped him to compose his piece, and to me, the most surprising interaction was the Trojans saving the Greek man, an enemy who had just defeated them. The different plume colours in their helmets distinguish the different peoples. With the Trojan in white and the Greek in red. I always wanted to somehow represent the motion of the sea with paper, so there are several different shades of blue cut up into squiggly lines to represent wave motion. The soldiers' helmets are made from the silvery side of cereal wrappers, Hera's dress is made of tissue, and Dido's dress is made of the inner lining of the op I wore on the first day of the New Students' Orientation Program. All the paper used was taken from guidebooks, newspapers, and all sorts of other odds and ends that I have accumulated since arriving at Columbia University. I really enjoyed producing this piece.
We hope these collages appeal to you as much as they do to us.
by Whitney Hartstone, Madison Baker, & Nathan Hickman
We decided to imitate a chapter from Ovid’s Metamorphoses by utilizing similar rhetorical strategies including writing in the present tense and applying action verbs while maintaining Metamorphoses’ central theme of transformation. In doing so, we have created a fictional account of Ovid’s demise and a justification for his said unfinished piece.
The hum of a scribbling pen disturbs the peace of the night.
Ovid sits at his makeshift desk with thick yellow parchment in front of him.
His hand travels swiftly across the pages as he transfers his ideas to the paper.
Working tirelessly, he writes as though his thoughts will vanish in an instant.
Visions of love and pain invade his mind,
the more he writes, the more he feels as though the words extend from his soul.
Wanting to capture every aspect, Ovid documents the images worthy to record.
He is linked to the pen, ink serves as a means of materializing his vision.
The words consume Ovid, and time becomes a meaningless construct;
hours pass and words escape from his hand as quickly as the seconds tick by.
As he labors over his creation, a drop of ink falls to his paper, disrupting his concentration for the first time. He searches for the source of the ink,
only to discover that more droplets have stained his piece.
Ink begins to stain the front of his tunic as the dripping converts to a steady stream of obsidian.
Ovid looks down and realizes that the ink is leaking from his body.
Ink begins to ooze black from his ears, running down his temples and onto his shoulders. His body liquefies into a pool of ink, spreading across the floor.
The hum of a scribbling pen no longer disturbs the peace of the night and
Ovid no longer sits at his makeshift desk, but the thick yellow parchment remains.
Metamorphoses Rap (click to play)
Everything is changing
Nothing is ever staying
We make assumptions according to what we're told
Ovid was very bold
He explained what we're sold
metamorphoses means change
love and pain
Greediness and gain
Truthfulness to claims
Nothing's ever the same
Metamorphoses means change
We read a lot of books
Some are long some are short
Believe them or not
You can choose either or
Cause some stories are Lame
While other stories are flames
It makes you wonder if they
Are made up
But wait up
Ovid wondered that too
So he rewrote them for you
And saw them all the way through
Wrote about change by simply changing them too and adding a couple clues and only seeking the truth
Leaving your heart racing
Having you contemplating
If the person will make it
One person running after the other
The chased one will go under cover
And that's how we got this tree
Everything is changing
So, you ever wonder why the birds in the sky
Why the hell we can't fly Ovid claims to find All the stories behind
Why this and that
Are this in that
They may not be facts
But his confidence isn't lacked It's backed By things that actually happened Hear me out as I’m rapping
He talks about creation, the iliad Aeneas But he chooses to add a little magic He tells tales how he wanna
Even if he's made fun of
He always will be one of For of his kind he is only one of
* The chorus is first stated in bold
For our particular project, we decided to do something similar to last semester and focus on the victims of sexual assault in The Metamorphoses by Ovid. Our project includes a prayer from Io, to Diana, asking for guidance and consolation after Jupiter raped her, a creative writing piece from Daphne’s perspective after Apollo assaulted her, a poem that focuses on Caenis choosing to change into a man, Caeneus because she was raped, and an illustration of Daphne and Apollo’s encounter. We hope that this project can shed light on the victims of sexual assault and the horrors they had to go through, since in the actual Metamorphoses, their suffering took a backseat.
Running as quickly as her legs could carry her, Daphne cursed the beauty that had become the root of her misfortunes. Apollo’s pleas continued to encroach on her, sounding closer despite her efforts to tear through the beloved forest. Anger coursed through Daphne’s veins, anger at the gods for using others as their playthings and anger at Apollo for his undesired pursuit. Daphne was familiar with refusing men, however, her tried and true method of coaxing her father to accept the refusals would be of little use against a determined god.
Feeling her mortal limbs succumb to fatigue, Daphne began to feel angry at herself. Her beauty and body were failing her miserably. Tears flowed down her face as branches tore at her flawless skin. Her cheeks reddened both from the physical toll of the attempt to escape and the unwarranted shame clawing on her person. Daphne could feel betrayal closing in on her from all directions; her reverence for the gods, especially Diana, seemed to be of little use to her now. Even the nature she had delighted in and dedicated herself to was impeding her flight, breaking her skin and wearing at her will to live.
Apollo’s advances were unrelenting. Daphne could practically feel his fingertips brushing her flowing hair, causing her core to shudder with fear and disgust. Her heart dropped even further into the pit of her stomach when she heard the babble of the stream ahead. In a last minute attempt to prevent Apollo’s assault, Daphne implored her father to intervene on her behalf.
Almost instantaneously, Daphne’s feet fastened to the ground. Her smooth, pale skin, distressed by the flight through the forest, began to harden as the blood pumping furiously through her veins slowed into sap. Daphne turned her head just in time to see Apollo’s confused and shattered face. Dropping to his knees, Apollo fastened himself to her midsection as it transformed into a tree trunk. The transformation was a relief for Daphne. She narrowly avoided a violation of her person, and now she was a part of the home that had brought her such joy.
As the last inch of her skin transformed into bark and her arms hardened into long, elegant branches, Daphne’s gratitude to her father for his intervention tasted as bitter as her new form. She was certainly rendered unable to provide her father with his greatest wish. Men had never been of interest to her. Daphne never toyed with the hearts of others nor believed their adoration was her due; now, in order to prevent being attacked, she was the one who had to change.
Tears streamed unbecomingly from the eyes of the god as he looked up at Daphne. His new plan was to integrate her tree form into his veneration, taking advantage of their shared eternal beauty. Leaves shook on Daphne’s branches as she realized how Apollo felt entitled to Daphne in both her human and tree form. She could make her peace with her new form, but resented the reality that it was her body, not the mentality of her attacker, that was transformed.
Caeneus in the Clear
A woman knows
The woman’s woes
Made to suffer
A woman sees
A life of ease
The life of male
All else pales
A woman feels
The alternate appeal
A yearn to change
To turn the page
A woman submits
He’ll never quit
A soul left shaken
A woman cries
Pain has no guise
The man has risen
A woman desires
The feel of fire
It comes with power
No need to cower
A woman changes
A life in stages
Female to male
Escaping nature’s jail
Man stays still
Atop the hill
No longer in fear
Caeneus in the clear
Diana, I humbly ask for your guidance,
Do you think men enjoy causing women pain? I cannot fathom the actions of men who take and take and take and never consider the consequences. I have been crying for days, lamenting my fate. I feel as though my entire will has been taken away from me. I am no longer in control of my own life, but am now a pawn to be used at the whims of the gods. Jupiter raped me. I tried to fight and I screamed and I cried, but what can a lowly nymph do when the king of the gods decides he wants you? And he doesn’t even want me, because that’s not how you express love or affection, by forcing, violating, enjoying pain. No good person would ever do such a thing. Then again, Jupiter is not a person. He is the king of the gods, and he does as he pleases. I cannot imagine a fate worse than mine. After he violated me, Juno became suspicious, so I was turned into a cow. I became an animal, not even human. Although, it matched how I felt after I was raped. I felt like an animal, being forced to abide by Jupiter’s will, being a vessel for his pleasure. To be fighting so hard against something and for all of your efforts to not do one thing to change your fate is terrifying. I have never felt so helpless and so lost. My own helplessness was reinforced by the fact that immediately after I was turned into a cow and given to my rapist’s wife as reparations for him raping me. I was somehow, through a twisted turn of fate, being punished for my own rape. Even though I have since been turned back into myself, I cannot stand being in my own skin. I can never forget the terror I felt as Jupiter took me, without any regard for how I felt about the matter. I’ve since learned that I’m expecting a son by him. I can hardly stand to think about a child being produced from this horrible act of violence. How will I be able to look at this child, this poor, innocent child who had no hand in my fate, when I know it is his? It is not fair to the baby, but neither is it fair to me. I am left in the dark, I am terribly depressed and lost and I do not know how I am going to make it through. I pray to you, Diana, the goddess of childbirth and virginity, to provide me with some comfort and insight to light the way. I cannot do this alone; I cannot survive with these memories constantly playing over in my head. I’m begging you for anything that can get me through this.
A Collection of pieces on sexual assault in metamorphoses
What is Hell?
Eryn Ammons, Halishia Chugani, Elina Marie Rodgers, & Kate Wilson
Description to accompany the video:
The question of what happens to man in his afterlife has been one that has plagued the
minds of many, and continues to be unanswered for some. While the living watch their loved ones die, it is clear that death causes the human body to become lifeless, and overtime decay into nothingness. Yet, what the living have no knowledge of, is what happens to the soul in the afterlife. Bold visionaries like Dante and Virgil have addressed these questions in their own works, and it is clear that their perceptions of death and the afterlife were strongly influenced by thei`r respective religions, cultures, or some combination of the two. We decided to ask current Columbia students what their own perceptions of death and afterlife, and where they think they obtained these thoughts and beliefs, whether it be an upbringing in a religious family, various forms of literature, etc. Through their responses we see that the conversation regarding the afterlife is still as speculative, diverse, and alive as it was for Virgil and Dante.
We chose to set the stage by asking every student if they have read Dante’s I nferno. Each student (with the exception of the one student from the GS/JTS joint program) confirmed to having read parts of I nferno at least once in their high school or college experiences, but each student had a different way of reading Dante’s work. While some students said they viewed Dante’s vision of Hell to be consistent with his Catholic background and understood where his vision of Hell came from, others found it to be purely fictional and fantastical. It did not confirm, deny, or change these particular students’ pre established visions of Hell.
The following questions centered around the imagery of Hell, and perhaps if they had a vision of Hell or the afterlife at all. Most students depicted Hell to be a fiery, red place, commonly seen in most forms of literature, movies, etc. One student even found it surprising that in Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell, the sinners were encapsulated with ice, because she always thought Hell to be completely consumed with fire. A few students were also surprised at how in depth Dante
described the sinners. One particular students commented that he believed that all sinners in Hell would be together, not separated based on their wrongdoings.
When the students were finally asked where they believed their interpretations came from, they expressed that their beliefs came from either their own religious backgrounds (Catholicism, Southern Baptist, Sunday School) or upbringing in a non-religious household. To one student, Heaven and Hell logically do not make sense to her, since she expresses that religion, along with Heaven and Hell, are like a completely separate world to her. To two other students, growing up with a heavy Christian influence in their families has been a huge contributor to their ideas and beliefs of death and the afterlife.
Questions Posed (For reference, do not necessarily need to uploaded to newsletter)
1. Did you read the nferno? Howdidyoureadit(i.e.fiction,truth,oneman’sbelief)?Did
you like it? Did it change your thoughts? What were your opinions on it?
2. What is hell? (As in, what do you think about when someone says ‘HELL’?)
3. What do you think happens after you die?
4. How do you feel your past experiences have shaped the beliefs you hold about what
happens after you die?
I am six. I cry, confused. “Where are her parents?” I ask myself, as a girl my age,
carrying a baby, begs for money as our car stops at a traffic light. Carrying a Barbie doll in hand, I don’t understand why, in India, there are so many girls like her and so few girls like me. Back then, seeing that I was different from all those young girls was my Hell.
Ten years later, I find myself standing at the same traffic light, working on my film, Sex and the City, except there is no love and romance, and no beautiful shoes and dresses. The only thing they have in common are beautiful girls, but in my film, these girls are voiceless victims of the statistic where a girl is raped every 22 minutes in India. There is no happy ending for these girls like Carrie Bradshaw. They are in a reality of backward ideologies, lack of opportunities, and a country f raught with religious and sexual violence they cannot escape. Inequality is my Hell.
I am now in remote Dharamsala deep in the Himalayas. It is the summer of my sophomore year. “Where are you from?” someone asks me. Growing up with four passports and a mix of cultural identities, this has always been a hard question to answer. But I never expected to be in a situation where someone would not have an answer because there was no country he could refer to as a homeland.
I am in Hong Kong. I scream, flustered. I can’t stop crying. She is my age. An Ahmadi from Pakistan. Raped and disfigured, because she was different. But the stories don’t stop. I want them to stop, but they don’t. They are from Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Togo, and dozens of other countries. They are victims of unspeakable horrors, persecuted for the very diversities I love and embrace. Life’s contradictions are my Hell.
I am in Carman 703B. I place Dante’s I nferno on my bed and lean my head back to examine my room, a literal form of application of literature to the 21st centur. All of a sudden I picture my room the first day I walked in. The now completely covered (in photographs and posters) walls were once nothing more than thin cinder block. Although today it has become my home, tomorrow it could be my Hell, and in approximately two months it will be nothing but a memory. When I think this way, Hell is a place. Though not defined as strictly as Dante’s Inferno, this version of Hell is defined by the location, largely through confinement or isolation. A month into my first semester at Columbia, I read a play called No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre in my theatre Scene Design class. In this book, three damned souls, Joseph Garcin, Ines Serrano, and Estelle Rigault, are locked in the same room in Hell. Committers of great sins, all three people expected torture devices, essentially something along the lines of Inferno, but instead found a plain room decorated in the style of the Second French Empire. Hell is being stuck with people.
I asked my brother what he thought of Hell, and said, “I was once at an art exhibit in Tokyo, Japan. They asked that same exact question to kids too young to understand crimes, sins or punishment. One kid’s answer stood out to me. Only 9 years old, he explained that Hell is when you can’t stop doing what you want to do. For example, the kid wanted to run around the playground for a long time, but his teacher teacher wouldn’t let him. “Hell is when you have to keep running around even if you don't want to anymore” the kid concluded. Hell is not being careful what you wish for.
At the end of the day, I am my experiences. I look to Dante’s Inferno with burning questions: Where would I fit in? What is my perception of Hell? I have come to the conclusion that my Hell is undefinable because it is impossible to condense years of experience, knowledge and connections into one or two traits. My Hell is neither a place nor a time, an issue nor a person, a contradiction nor a mental state.
Columbia Counseling and Psychological Clinic offers alternative services to those shunned by other psychologists/counselors. We honor a discrimination-free, care-for-all, 100% dedication to our visitors. Our world-class, multi-lingual, literature-know-it all counselors graduated from the best Lit Hum Section at Columbia College. Whether you are from Latium or La Mancha, whether you have Dementia or Bi Polar Disorder, we have the right one for you. Here are some of our success stories:
Therapy Report: Dante Alighieri
A Brief Glimpse into the Mind and Character of Dante Alighieri
“Hope not ever to see Heaven. I have come to lead you to the other shore; into eternal darkness; into fire and into ice.”
Mr. Alighieri is a Florentine poet with an active political life. He has proved a difficult case for previous therapists, however. He is disposed to faint often, and appears to have hallucinated a journey into a fantastical world of horrific punishment. Past therapists believed that Dante might pose a risk to society: he relishes in recounting the gruesome punishments in his “Inferno,” suggesting strong sadistic impulses and a desire to quash feelings of compassion. Our conversation suggests a more humane Dante with deeply held moral convictions.
Mr. Alighieri, you had been complaining of fainting. What do you believe causes this?
I once was weak, and too forgiving of those who sinned.
Oh, so you no longer faint? What changed?
I was once a sinner myself. I had wandered from the righteous path, was unhappy, and was given to self-pity. I often saw in other sinners, some of myself, and I empathized with their pain. Meeting Paolo and Francesca, for instance, I fainted out of pity – for was their lust so different to my love of my adored Beatrice. Thankfully, I came to understand that suffering is God’s will for sinners, and now I have seen the light. My pity itself was sinful – how dare I question God’s decisions?
Did you come to this realization all on your own?
Well, Virgil helped. He guided me through the depths of hell, and showed me all the levels of punishment doled out to all the sinners. Really put things in perspective and made me want to clean up my act.
I’m sorry. Virgil? The dead poet?
Yeah, he’s my hero. It was so wise of Beatrice to choose him as my guide. I would follow him to the ends of the earth. I didn’t expect him to be so condescending, but that’s alright. I think he’s just afraid my greatness will exceed his.
Do you mean to tell me that you went on a journey into a magical other world with the help of a dead writer?
Of course. Who hasn’t? Writers are always the best guides.
I see. Well, Mr. Alighieri, if you’re so pure now, why do you spend so much time describing the minute gory details of these punishments? You seem to love it. I mean, my notes here are practically an epic.
But all God’s creation is beautiful, isn’t it? Even the pain, God crafts with such care. Everyone gets precisely what they deserve. You fail to understand that these people are not to be pitied.
But how can you claim to love your fellow man, and aestheticize violence towards him?
You could ask the same of my guide Virgil. So much art beautifies the bloody. But I am a good Christian – I know love. My piteous young heart showed that. But I do not pretend to know God’s ways, nor why we suffer. I want everyone to see everything about hell, so they can truly grasp it’s terribleness. I want to protect those still on earth. Redemption is available to us all. For those in hell it is too late. My experience should serve as an example. It takes comprehension of evil to understand that we can be good.
Therapy Report: Don Quixote
Tommy Zhou, Associate Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, guides Alonso Quixano to confront his painful conditions of dementia and schizophrenia.
“As for your grace’s valor, courtesy, deeds, and undertakings, there are different opinions. Some say, ‘Crazy, but amusing’; others, ‘Brave, but unfortunate’; and others, ‘Courteous, but insolent’”
The Don Quixote Syndrome is a mental condition of borderline schizophrenia and lewd body dementia. Among the great deal of clinical literature written on this mental illness is the most representative work of medical history composed by Cide Hamete Benengeli. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, authored by Benengeli, describes the first and the only patient of this mental condition – Alonso Quixano. No other clinics claimed to be able to cure his condition, but at Columbia Counseling and Psychology Clinic, Mr.Quixano discovered his new wellspring of life.
Hi, I’m Dr.Tommy, a senior counselor at Columbia Counseling and Psychological Service. May I take your coat please?
“O thou, whosoever thou art, rash [doctor], who cometh to touch the armor of the most valiant knight who e’er girded on a sword! Thou doth leave thy life in payment for thy audacity!”
Security guard! (To Don Quixote) Mr.Quixote, please sit and calm down. You may wear your coat…armor. I am your friend.
(Sitting down and recovering his wits) Ah good doctor, I apologize. Sometimes it comes back, you know. I every so often had those fits when I found my old knight errant passion running wild once again… Please don’t call me Don Quixote. I am Alonso Quixano, the shameful knight that never was and an old man suffering from the relapses of this hapless ailment.
I completely understand, Mr.Quixano. No need to feel ashamed. We learn a lot from our pasts, don’t we? Hmm…Let’s have a look at your previous clinical records. (Reading) I see… I am your most faithful audience today, and feel free to tell me anything and everything you desire. How about we start with, say, you telling me why you are here.
As you might have read in Benengeli’s book, my mental state is, how do I put it, not so consistent. For almost three years, I took on ridiculous journeys, believing that I was a knight errant, charged with a duty to right the wrongs in this corrupt society. In doing so, I have put so many people in perils’ way, including my faithful squire, Sancho. Since I recovered from that fateful fever, which both brought me sanity and almost claimed my life, I started to feel immense guilt for my past acts. Unfortunately, as good doctor you have witnessed just now with admirable composure, I have also been suffering from relapses of this ailment. Other therapists say that there is no cure for my condition…
Please do not despair, Mr.Quixano. Our clinic boasts an extensive history of treating cases that had no precedents, including the “Turnus Disorder” and “St.Augustines Syndrome.” To discover the cause of your problem, could you please help me identify when you, or the others, first noticed your irregularities?
As I could recall, my dear niece and barber once remarked that I “became so caught up in reading that [I] spent [my] nights reading from dusk till dawn and [my] days reading from sunrise to sunset.” They said that “with too little sleep and too much reading [my] brains dried up, causing [me] to lose [my] mind.”
I see. Long periods of reading and fantasizing without any rest seemed to have induced a sleep disorder, which, as I recalled from your medical history, led to chronic insomnia. That is why you were unable to sleep on so many occasions, for instance at the inn, or the night following the windmill fight.
How dare you call my watchful nights disease! Rather than to sleep, the knights I know all spent their nights pining away for their ladies. That is how a knight should act. That is the core of a chivalry code. “O beauteous lady, strength and vigor of my submissive heart.” (hand on his chest, with a painful expression)
Are you alright, Mr.Quixano? Do I need to call the doctor?
I am fine. Sorry. It’s the relapse again…
Don’t worry. I will cure it. Now tell me, in the past, have you experienced things that, say, feel real but never happened?
(Laughing) Ha, are you referring to my alleged hallucinations? Which one do you want to hear – the windmill or the cave? Young man, the truth is: there is no truth. How can I survive the fall from a spinning windmill? Is it even possible to descend that deep into the Cave of Montesinos? How did I stumble upon a terrace in that pitch-dark space?
But Mr.Quixano, those are what Benengeli documented. Why would he forge those accounts? Why did he mention those specific tales, if they weren’t something that you had in fact professed?
Once, my most faithful squire Sancho told me about a shepherdess he heard of in a story. He claimed that the other storyteller swore the truth, so since then Sancho retold it as truth. Aren’t you Sancho and isn’t Benengeli the storyteller?
But you must have had hallucinations. Alongside the windmills and the cave, you have charged against monks, freed prisoners and even murdered an innocent mule-driver. Would a sane man do those things? I suspect that the fall from the windmill, as well as other countless falls from Rocinante, has given you serious concussions. The damage in your brain is responsible for your cognitive fluctuations.
Good doctor, I want you to believe my words just as you want me to believe yours.
(speechless)… I see your point Mr.Quixano, but one of us has to be wrong.
Frankly, even I don’t know what happened. People around me sometimes called me mad, but more often, they seemed to act in accordance with me. The innkeeper even held a little ceremony to dub me as a knight! How am I supposed to tell the truth from the hallucinations?
(Epiphany) A-ha! I believe that I have uncovered the source of your relapses. The fact that people played along with your imagination has reinforced your fantasy and ingrained in you this very thought of chivalry. Right now, although you have forfeited such make-believe world, your subconscious is still experiencing the repercussions of your previous mental state.
So I am not completely at fault for my reckless acts?
Like I said, whether it was the innkeeper, or Sancho, or the Duke or the Duchess, they enjoyed playing along with your fantasy and manipulating you into acting…in your particular way. They have unethically established their pleasure on your unfortunate condition. I believe that they ought to be condemned. So do not feel guilty for your previous acts. Divert your attention to other things like poetry, and I promise that the relapses will eventually pass.
Thank you for thine kindness, Doctor. Without guilt, I feel like a new man now.
Therapy Report: St. Augustine
A Brief Glimpse into the Mind and Character of St. Augustine
“The punishment of every disordered mind is its own disorder.”
I am here today speaking with philosopher and spiritual guide, St. Augustine of Hippo. He was referred to me by another therapist who seemed to indicate that the subject is suffering from anxiety and extreme personality disorder. Many have said that the subject demonstrates a lack of self-esteem by overanalyzing every action he commits. My goal today is to reevaluate these perceptions and to, perhaps, even discover another reason for his supposed conditions.
Hi there, St. Augustine, thank you for coming in today. I understand that you are having trouble with your past and it has been affecting your job performance as a Saint. I am here to help you talk through these issues and search for a solution. Why don’t we start by you telling me why you think you are here.
Well doctor, the question of why I am here is something I simply cannot answer. God has put me here and for me to even attempt to understand God’s reasoning would be as futile as jumping away from ones own shadow. I am nothing but a servant to God. Wherever he will guide me I will go. I may not know the reason for this specific path, but I do know that God always provides opportunities to grow and learn.
I can see that you are obviously a very devout man. I want to move away from this side of you and focus on your life as an author. As I am sure you are aware, your book, Confessions, has been read by millions. How have you been balancing the sudden fame with your religious profession?
Well first of all, doctor, my life as a priest and my life as a writer are one in the same. I would not have been able to write my book without coming to terms with god. With that said, I believe my work has inspired many to seek the truth of god and within the realm of my profession that would be considered a success.
The stories of your life have caused many to dissect the type of person you are. I have no doubt you are well aware of the conclusions many have made. Why don’t you tell me what you think about them.
I know that many people see me as someone who becomes obsessed with something for a period of time and then forgets it and moves forward to the next thing. They are not wrong. As a child, I was obsessed with a desire to do wrong, purely for the sake of it. I became infatuated with a philosophy that distorted my views on God and I prided myself on finding the wrong answers in important questions. I have struggled with my past, I cannot deny that. But that was the path that was designed for me by God. Without it, I would not be the man I am today. I am an obsessive person, but I have finally find my ultimate obsession. There is nothing more important to me than my faith in the Lord.
I see. Lets take a moment to focus on your past. What do you remember as a child and as a young man?
I try not to remember my childhood. It pains me to think that even in my innocence I lived an evil lifestyle. Of course, what always comes to my mind is the pear. I didn't need the pear. I didn't even want the pear. What I wanted was the thrill of stealing the pear (tears fall from Augustine’s eyes).
Perhaps that was the moment in your life that guided you through your youth?
Indeed it did. Doctor, I have a hard time thinking about these moments, I must take a break to repent for my childhood sins.
Of course, take your time.
(5 hours later)
Thank you for waiting doctor.
No problem, I don’t mind waiting five hours for my patients - it’ll just cost you extra - you’re paying for those extra hours, by the way. Now, why don't you tell me what you thought about in your prayers.
I thought about my mother, doctor. My mother, God rest her soul, was and is my biggest inspiration, other than the Lord, of course. She was the only one who had faith in me as a child and as a young man in Carthage. But, all I did was to disappoint her. I never really fulfilled what she asked of me. To me that is my greatest regret in life.
But you devoted your life to God, isn’t that what she wanted?
Yes, but I made her suffer for years through my hedonistic lifestyle. And I knew it pained her to see her son do the things he did, but for some reason it didn’t stop me. For me, my piety is all I have to make up for the suffering I caused my mother. That is why my moral and ethical principles are solely based on God. It is so I can make amends for the pain that my mother had to endure when I was a child.
So maybe your extreme personality can be traced to your relationship with your mother.
My faith is all that matters to me and I am very critical of my past for that exact reason. I owe who I am today to my mother, for having the faith in me to overcome my challenges. I owe it to her to incorporate God in every facet of my life. If people consider me crazy for that, then so be it. But my devotion is rooted in my love for my mother. That I think is something many can relate to.
Well thank you for coming in today Augustine. I have learned much about you that, truth be told, was not apparent until now. I must tell you that, based on our conversation, it seems your anxiety is not rooted in your past. Rather, you suffer from the inaccurate perceptions of your readers. I believe your readers see you as an extreme person, and you, by no fault, are affected by this. I think if your readers understood the intentions of your character, then you would find that your anxiety would slowly wither away.
Therapy Report: Turnus
A Brief Glimpse into the Mind and Character of Turnus
“All these fateful oracles—words from the gods these Phrygians bandy about—alarm me not at all.”
Turnus was a fierce Latin warrior who attempted to defend himself and his race from the onslaught of Trojan invaders. Nevertheless, he has been prompted to meet with a counselor in order to question what his intentions were when he unleashed an incredible rage and slaughter on the Trojan forces that led to the destruction of great young warriors like Pallas. Our goal is to make Turnus to see his wrongdoings.
I see in your police report that you were the conspirator behind the action to ignore the peace between the Latins and the Trojans. What brought you to break peace after it was already initiated by Latinus and presented to you by Drances?
Drances was such a smug coward. He accused ME, the GREAT Turnus of such fear! I’ve never seen him slay men with swords in the same way he attempts to slay men with words. In the same effect, he would fail! I couldn’t let a wimp try to put ME into place.
So, you’re saying the reason you wanted war was to undermine Drances?
Well, that is only part of the problem, but it’s compiled with the fact that I didn’t want to see my homeland give way to the “great” Trojans who are war-battered losers. It is dishonorable to give up to a nation of losers. I truly knew that I could beat them.
But, it is nationally known that the Trojans are great soldiers…
To HELL with them! By making peace, we lose hope in Latin arms. We used to have courage, but have sunk down to the rising tides of the Tiber that the Trojans fill with OUR blood. NOT AS LONG AS I AM ALIVE! I didn’t want to see my home battered by pleas of peace – I am not defenseless. Peace is vile when I am not yet dead – I have the omens of the Gods to warn me that I will succeed. As long as I have feet to run into battle with, and hands to chop – I’M HERE FOR WAR!!!! HAVE I BEEN BEATEN??!?! I THINK NOT!!!!!!
Okay, Turnus, I’m going to need you to calm down – your face is as red as….
My darling Lavinia. My face is as red as my darling Lavinia (Turnus is near tears). Her cheeks as red as fire – so warm. She had the perfectness of a virgin and SHE WAS MEANT FOR ME! AENEAS COULD HAVE KEPT DIDO, INSTEAD HE INVADES FOREIGN LANDS TO STEAL MY LOVE! I’d die and stream with blood for her to be mine. Is it so much to ask to keep my passionate love for Lavinia?
So, your passion in love has turned into passion for blood?
Of course it has! The furies were on my side! I WAS INVINCIBLE – I AM INVINCIBLE. I DON’T CARE ABOUT ALL OF THIS! WHY DO YOU ASK ME SO MANY QUESTIONS? ARE YOU IMPLYING THAT I’M WEAK!!!! (Turnus stands up and approaches the Counselor and unsheathes a hidden shank.)
HELP!! HELP!! (The Counselor’s head is hacked off like the head of Phegeus.)
YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD THE COURAGE TO CUT DOWN MY PRIDE! NAY! THE GODS ARE IN MY FAVOR – THE FEROCITY OF MARS AND JUNO PROTECT ME – YOUR IGNORANCE TO MY POWER PROVED TO BE AN OMEN TO MY SUCCESS!
Turnus is soon apprehended, but Turnus cuts through the leagues of Guards, and piles up bodies like he does Trojans. Turnus’s face becomes so red that he bursts a blood vessel in his left eye and succumbs to the pain – he is immediately apprehended.
One Week Later…
Turnus is assigned a new counselor, with bodyguards present. Turnus is slightly sedated.
Okay, I’m going to ask you bluntly – why do you feel the need to kill so gruesomely?
If you tempt me to battle, you will receive the prize you deserve. The gods have always been with me – my fortune is to protect my honor and my land.
Why do you believe your last counselor “tempted you to battle?”
He questioned my courage and my honor.
Is this why you warred with Aeneas?
Lavinia was my honor, and not standing up for myself when I felt empowered to fight threatened my own manhood. The gods hold me back from feeling anger now, and if anything, it is the gods that I fear.
That’s not the gods, that’s just the medication. Why then, did you, in some ways, show weakness when you begged to be pitied by Aeneas and be sent back to your father?
I am just as human as Aeneas. I love as he does and I have a family as he does. I am fundamentally human. Once my capacities for anger are limited and my bravery is undone by my own mortality, I have nothing left to do, but to plead. I could not jump into the Tiber to escape Aeneas that time.
Do you regret stealing Pallas’s armor – this is what caused Aeneas to kill you?
My anger has always gotten the better of me. The day that I wrapped the girdle of Pallas around myself came back to bite me. As anybody, I moan when I die, I am human and pleaded just the same.
Why did you feel the need to fight Aeneas even when defeat was imminent?
I’m a hero and I needed to die a hero’s death – with honor! I wasn’t going to watch my city get sacked like Troy. I’m not a coward, and I never will be – O! How I needed to prove my courage and put myself into the light of glory!
Why is honor so important to you?
Because I’m a hero. Heroes need courage, honor, and glory and they die as such. I only wanted to protect the woman I loved, the position I desired, and the land that I love.
That is very honorable indeed. Were you regretful?
Have you learned anything about your anger?
I am human, but the gods are with me! I regret nothing.
Thank you for cooperating today, Turnus. You’re having some serious issues with your anger, but I believe that this can be relieved with time. It seems that the issues you defend and thence make you enraged are extremely important to you. Maybe with time we can find other outlets for your anger - like punching a pillow, instead of your counselors!
Ask the Fool
by Lewit Bedada, Jairo Martinez, Josh Suh, Ria Sen, and Ben LaZebnik
For our newsletter, our group decided to work with a section that is common in many newspapers: the advice column. Not only does this format make our project similar to actual news publications; it is tied to the theme of counsel, which has had a presence in many of the course’s texts. Since the Fool in King Lear is a notable provider of counsel, we decided that he would be the advice columnist. For our newsletter, we inquired as to how the Fool might respond to advice-seeking letters from Sancho Panza (from Don Quixote), Dido (from The Aeneid), and Ovid (who wrote Metamorphoses). We also provided drawings to illustrate the characters whose minds we chose to temporarily inhabit.
SANCHO PANZA’S LETTER:
I feel lost, miserable, and now I don’t know what to do. A while back, a man by the name of Don Quixote recruited me to accompany him on his journey of knighthood and chivalry. At the time, I was by no means rich and noble, but I lived a satisfying life with my wife and children. However, this stranger promised me wealth, nobility and a governor position at his to-be-found isle. He exuded so much energy and conviction that it was hard not to believe him. It seemed too good to be true and I could not turn down what seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. He sold his way of life, and I eagerly bought it.
I left without giving it a second thought. I selfishly left my family behind, believing that only prosperity lay ahead. They weren’t happy about it, but I didn’t care. I was going to be rich! But now, approaching a month into this so-called journey to chivalry, I’m starting to have serious doubts pertaining the promise of my affluent future. To say the least, Don Quixote is a strange man. To be real, he is beyond crazy! From the very beginning, Don Quixote struck me as a unique man. His personality was distinct but at the time, not to an alarming extent. But as I spend more and more time with this childish man, I’m realizing that I may have been fooled (pun intended).
There very well may not be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. What I was advertised is looking more and more like a lie! Maybe lie is not the right word but more of an unreal delusion. Don Quixote lives in his own little world full of illusions driven by fanatical instincts. After all, this is the same man who once tried to fight a windmill. And for some odd reason, he keeps singing “Dulcinea,” who propels him to act the way he is, in his sleep. But even she probably does not exist. I feel as if I got tricked. My gut instinct tells me I did and so I must leave. But of course I cannot know for sure. This journey so far has been tiring, wild, and pretty miserable. And I don’t want to continue if there is no reward. And to add to this stress, I’m starting to miss my family back home. I took their existence for granted, and it’s a shame that I only realize this after I walked away.
But I still believe that time is still on my side. If I go back now, I think I can make it right again. It’s going to take time and a lot of work. It might not ever be the same but at the very least I can salvage a decent familial relationship. However, the possibility of being a governor is still enticing and I don’t want to let that dream go too. Being governor is still more important to me than seeing my family, but I don’t want sacrifice my family relationship if I still can’t be governor. I know I’m being selfish but I feel very conflicted. At this point I feel stuck and do not know how to best proceed. Do I leave Don Quixote and go back home now? Or stay faithful to Don Quixote and trust that he will deliver on his promise. Help! SOS! What should I do?!
FOOL’S RESPONSE TO SANCHO PANZA:
Have some care for your roots,
Even when in cahoots,
See the man by your side,
Whether friend, foe, or guide,
As a man who has shed,
What remains in the head,
And may stray from the road,
Away from that which is owed,
Ever distant from your core,
Where you possess riches galore.
I’m a strong, beautiful, North African queen who prides herself on her independence. My personal history has been filled with upheaval—including betrayal by my brother, the murder of my husband, and being forced to leave my homeland—but I still remained true to my duties as ruler.
Recently, I met an exotic foreign soldier, and we had immediate chemistry. He was smart, strong, and has a powerful past of surviving adversity that immediately clicked with me, given my own experiences. I fell head-over-heels in love with him. We’ve been having an affair for a while, but it hasn’t been easy on me, politically speaking. My image as a faithful widow has been tarnished and the citizens of my land now think of me as a trivial, lovestruck girl. Also, the powerful lords who were previously seeking my hand in marriage are now turning against me because I’m in love with an outsider.
Fool, I’m concerned by my lack of concern about these huge problems. My romance with this man is provoking chaos, not only in my personal life, but also in matters of state. I’d be okay with these massive sacrifices if it means spending the rest of my life in his arms. But if he leaves me, those sacrifices would be for nothing: I’d be a ruined woman, powerless and ridiculed, and my people will be thrown into political turmoil.
Logically, there are massive obstacles preventing me from continuing this affair, but, emotionally, I can’t help myself. Can it be that loving Mr. Right is so wrong? Please advise me on what steps to take (even if my overwhelming passion for my lover may cause me to completely disregard your advice.)
Cathartic in Carthage
FOOL’S RESPONSE TO DIDO:
Tend to the flames of the fire,
Burning bright with desire,
For the force that lights the day,
Can burn acres and acres away,
Although some might stay or depart,
What will remain is in your heart,
Unmoving, tough, made of wood,
Never moving freely as it could.
My mind has been ill at ease for a long, long time. Among the great many things occupying my mind, questions over my legacy are what keep me up at night. I am in the middle of composing what will be my greatest, if not the world’s greatest, poetic achievement. The title is still up in the air, but I am leaning towards something that embodies constant change. Maybe something starting with an M, who knows… whatever I choose, I am sure it will be iconic.
You see, Fool, (should I call you “Fool”? do you prefer something more forgiving?) I know what I am working on right now is the best reflection of my genius. What keeps me up at night is not self doubt; I know what i am capable of. What troubles me is that others won’t recognize the genius of my work. It seems almost unfair that something as trivial as acclaim from the lowly masses is what determines my legacy, but alas, that is the world we live in.
What can you say to me that will alleviate my anxiety? I hope you have words that will soothe my troubled mind. Words that prove your namesake wrong.
You should know who I am
FOOL’S RESPONSE TO OVID:
Words, words, words aflutter,
Some might shine amid the clutter,
A bird can fly above the earth,
Yet without wings it has no worth,
Move through time to see the story,
For other tales contain true glory,
Our time can still come tomorrow,
But without the past there is sorrow,
Hear those from the days of old,
As future is bronze and bygone is gold.
There has been much recent debate regarding whether the Fool is an entertainer or adviser. Although the Fool has served a wide variety of important figures including kings, this publication takes no legal responsibility for the consequences of the Fool’s advice being put into practice or going unheeded. The Fool’s opinions are his and only his; they do not reflect the opinions of anyone else involved with this publication.
Anurak Saelaow, Cherry Zhang , Cheeyeon Park , Lukas Salomon, Kevin Wu (Illustration)
Confession is indeed a broad term. In contemporary context, people often associate the concept with admission of crime, however, one can also confess his/her falsity of ideas, misjudgments, religious faith and love, just to name a few. No matter what is the object of confession, the act of confessing itself is a manifestation of self-awareness and often a result of intense self-inspection. Through confessing to a higher self (often God in Christianity), people not only affirm their beliefs and levitate their guilt, but also become more aware of their mistakes, misconceptions or flaws in personality, which lead to a better understanding of their own identity and character. Thus, a confession can reveal a lot about the confessor, even things that the confessor isn’t aware of before confessing. In our newsletter project, we attempt to incorporate the Christian idea of confession, introduced by Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”, into other well-known literature works, namely Shakespeare’s “King Lear”, Montaigne’s “Essays”, Goethe’s “Faust” and Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”. We intend to address our understandings of the four characters — King Lear, Montaigne, Faust and Don Quixote — as well as some overarching themes and ideas presented in these works, by taking the roles of these characters and confess to the Lord in their voices.
“I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” (3.2.61-2)
It is only now, when I look back upon my earlier days of hubris, that I can see clearly the hazards of my kingly position. The ornaments and adornments of the royal court, Goneril and Regan’s cheap pearls of flattery – oh, what trivial things they all seem now! To think I turned my back on dear Cordelia when she alone could speak the truth and tell me, “Nothing.” I was wrong when I thought that nothing would come of nothing.
Many a man has mulled over some memory of their insolent past, a misdeed or night of mischief. Even that saintly man Augustine speaks of stolen pears and the wayward pressure of his peers, his continual struggle toward the light. My own sins are far worse. I have been guilty of far greater transgressions – my vain belief in my own glory, my blustering arrogance. It has taken me an entire journey to come to terms with this. When I was cast out into the storm by my false daughters, my own ego was still swollen, and I dared to challenge the gods themselves. “Blow winds, and crack your cheeks,” I railed, ever-
insolent, ever-prideful, against the overwhelming forces of nature. What foolishness! What hubris! How did I not know that I was merely an old man in a very large world? I suppose I thought the universe would bow and scrape, heeding to my every whim like my gilded courtiers. How wrong I was.
In that hovel, stripped of all my kingly garments, I began to realize the extent of my weakness. In the company of fools and madmen, one has no choice but to start reflecting on their absurd words and begin to tease out some sort of truth. Past the veil of riddles and japing wordplay, I saw gradually a series of admonishments that I should have heeded far, far earlier. They stirred in me a yearning for the sole redeeming star inside this dark canvas of sky – my one and only Cordelia. What sort of man was I, to demand such praise from my own family? A foolish one, surely. Foolish and insecure, hiding behind my crown and scepter. That explains why Goneril and Regan could move me so, singing so sweetly about my significance. They knew me better than I knew myself. Only Cordelia, my youngest and most beloved, could bear to let me know the truth – oh, and for that I shunned her, cast her out, threw her to the gates of France! Even now my skin crawls and my ears flush red when I think of my past injustices, the absurdities of my reign. What does a man do to redeem himself? I sense that my end draws near – is it only death that lets me attain a karmic resolution? I do not know, and somehow, I am too afraid to find out.
Alas! How foolish I have been! Agreed to a pact with the devil himself, forfeited the protection of God in Heaven! I was weak, prone to the seduction of Satan’s sweet voice, unwilling to accept earthly limitations, ever wanting to have more than what was due to me. In my complete stupidity, I thought that I could find all the answers in science, and not in you, Lord God. I thought that through alchemy and astronomy and through devoted studying, I could perceive whatever holds the world together in its inmost folds. How wrong! How silly! But in my hubris, I agreed to the devil’s offer, I gave him my life. He showed me the worldly pleasures I had always dreamt of -- but now I realize: those joys were nothing but trivial dissipations compared to your eternal might. They did not even last for long! Sinful deceptions! Even love, the highest of all feelings, was just an ephemeral companion: I would have given my life for Margaret, but she is gone, forever. I confess, my Lord: When Mephistopheles first brought me to her, I was naïve enough to think that he only wanted to do me good. I was happy, was content; all my desires were fulfilled. But when I was already thinking of marriage and a happy life, the cruel ordeal began. Mephisto made me kill Gretchen’s mother, he made me kill her brother, and then she even killed our child. The blood of three murders is on my hands, all because in my eternal hubris, I succumbed to the devil’s devious luring. O, if I had only had the strength to stay with you, God! If I had only embraced religion and sweet faith instead of mocking it! I would now be a happy man! But instead, Satan took me down to the deepest abyss. I forwent all my chances, abandoned all virtues; preferred dancing with lewd witches over saving my soul. And now, here I am. Alone, bereft of everything. There’s not a thing left. Gretchen didn’t follow me, she stayed in the cell, I know she was right, for she stayed with you. I wanted it all, and yet obtained nothing. O God, I sinned, my life’s a sin, but now I know that you, Lord, are all there is, and all I need. The devil had me trapped for long, but clearly, all the power is entirely yours. I confess! I regret! I atone! My soul’s a blank slate. Let me start over again! You saved Gretchen -- and now, please save me.
My conscious is content with itself, so I rarely repent. I often make such bald claims, and all my close friends know that I always speak the truth as much as I dare. After a profound self-examination, I came to the conclusion that, though I do not believe in repentance, there are two things that I feel compelled to confess. Confession is not the same as repentance. While repentance does not apply to things that are not in our power, confession certainly does.
I must suit this confession to the hour, for soon my mind may take idling me elsewhere. First, in “On Repentance,” I spoke about the fact that all men’s actions are shaped to condition of life. With this statement, I meant that we should not be disturbed by our imperfections and vices. I did not, however, wanted to say that men did not need to recognize the vices in themselves. I found out that there have been some young men who regarded this statement as their freedom to commit crimes. Peaches were stolen from my neighbor’s trees, but when the boys got caught, they quoted my essay to defend themselves. Through my writings, I have unintentionally created harms for my neighbors. So now I truly regret that I have spread misleading messages that poisoned the minds of some youths.
Second, I want to address my true intentions behind writing “On Cannibals.” There are, indeed, many places in the essay where I embraced the peaceful and simple lives of the fellows in Antarctic France. There are also a few places where I openly criticized the European society for using religious and political reasons to justify their barbarous acts. Europe, what is considered a civilized society, actually has crueler methods to torture a man than to eat the man alive. I made these comments only because I wanted us to also recognize our society’s faults while we are judging other societies. I did not anticipate my writing to start a peasant revolution. Such chaos for the country was never part of my original intention in writing about the Cannibals. I acknowledge that I have provided the evidence and ideas for some men to exploit. But I’m not begging for forgiveness. I blame both of these unexpected events on my judgement, not my performance, and thus this shall not be considered as repentance.
I confess that I have opened my eyes to the world of reality. I confess that I have been defeated by the rest of the world who called me mad. I wasn’t mad. As a knight, I was the one who was trying to save this world from its demise, from further falling into the madness of concerning themselves so much with people’s ranks and social classes, from becoming numb to the excitement that exists in everyday life, for life is teeming with adventure everywhere you exist. I confess that I was not accomplish this duty I had as a knight, and resigned to solitude in the countryside as a useless member of this world. This is never what I wanted from the start.
For I am not marble and you are not bronze, I saw value in everyone, I saw worth in things that were not marble nor bronze as marble and bronze. The world needed as reminder from me that marble and bronze existed in their kitchen, on your donkey, beneath the dinner table, inside the bathtub. I imagined, not out of madness but out of compassion. I imagined to save this world from being concerned so much about who is the prostitute, who is an innkeeper, and who is a farm girl. Frankly, I do not care. The prostitutes are my princesses, the innkeeper is the keeper of my castle, and the farm girl my Dulcinea del Toboso. Why is it that everyone needed to make sure that Dorothea was kissing a girl at a bar to let me know that she is never anything close to a princess, when we could all imagine that Dorothea could have a better life as a princess? Dorothea can become a princess if she wants to be, and if she wills herself to be. I willed myself to become a knight and therefore I became one. I think, therefore I am; you think, therefore you are. Let us all never give up on our dreams that we can move past what the society tells us who we are!
Misuse of the Western Canon
Racceb Taddesse, Ohemaa Ofori-Atta, Pauline Morgan, Efua Peterson, Allison Peng & Farah Taslima
After almost a year of exploring the Western Canon, it has been interesting to see the impact of these works even into our contemporary lives. From the profound religious philosophy of Saint Augustine’s Confessions, to the influence of Shakespeare’s King Lear in contemporary theater, to the words of Virgil’s Aeneid written onto memorials across the world, we have seen how these works are still important in our everyday lives. But what about the way we misuse them? In our world of social media, of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, we are fascinated and almost obsessed with these seemingly legendary works, and attempt to apply them to our everyday lives. Whether it may be in the form of a nonsensical line from Shakespeare, tattooed on a pop icon, or an ancient poet’s quote taken out of context, this current trend is problematically misusing these works. We take them out of context and try to apply them to our lives, without giving a thought to what they were actually meant to mean. In this project our group will explain why using out of context quotes is problematic by exploring four of these works: Virgil’s Aeneid, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Goethe’s Faust.
The Aeneid, Virgil (Pauline & Efua)
In Columbia’s own New York City the 9/11 Memorial Museum is a tragic example of the misuse of the Western Canon and the quotes that, placed back in their original context, can appear horribly inappropriate and even disgusting. In 2011, after long debates over what should be done with Ground Zero, it was decided that a museum and corresponding memorial should be placed where the World Trade Center once stood. At the center of the museum would be a large reliquary containing 8,000 unidentified remains, honoring these victims with a large quotation on the outside wall. The quote was chosen from Virgil’s Aeneid stating, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” This is not the first time this quote has been used in a memorial, but others- such as the Valiants Memorial in France- honor military personnel; the use in the 9/11 Memorial Museum is the first time this quote has been applied to civilian deaths, and even more, civilian deaths that resulted from terrorist attacks.
The debate surrounding the use of the quote stems from the message it sends when placed within its actual context in the Aeneid. Considered for its content only, the phrase “no day shall erase you from the memory of time” certainly does characterize the idea of memorial and remembrance. To summarize its meaning, Alice Greenwald, the museum director, has stated that the quote was used as a “reference to a single day not being able to erase the memory of those we love.” This rationale draws from a philosophy that a phrase should be able to be taken at face value, rather than analyzed within the context of its source. Similarly, other supporters of the quote’s use consider it restrictive, and perhaps even arrogant, to condemn the use of an otherwise apposite phrase entirely because of criticism from an academic frame of reference. That said, in a place as thoroughly intentional as a museum, it would be negligent to disregard that the phrase was deliberately chosen and quoted from a specific text. There is a certain appeal to ethos gained from quoting a poet as famous a Virgil; however, once the decision has been made to quote a text rather than to create an original phrase, the context of that quote within the text must be considered carefully. In this case, the quote used occurs during a scene in which two Roman soldiers, Nisus and Euryalus, essentially die in each other’s arms after slaughtering many enemy soldiers. Though their story of mutual love may be touching - Nisus runs back into a losing battle in the hopes of saving Euryalus, only to then die alongside him - it is difficult to reconcile the extreme violence in this story with the commemorative intentions of the 9/11 memorial. Had the artist chosen a quote only moments prior, the image depicted would have been one of graphic slaughter and bloody military sacrifice. When read with awareness of this context, the phrase seems much more aligned with war aggressors than victims. Though the museum may have been well-intentioned when including this particular Virgil quote, the fact remains that they did choose to include this particular Virgil quote. In doing so, they were unable to successfully create an atmosphere devoted to honoring victims of war and violence. Instead, they allowed a glorification of aggression and brutality to pervade a space where it should have been condemned.
The message of the quote may initially seem appropriate to the memorial; however, by choosing to cite a specific text, the artist and museum have introduced an additional storyline that must also be examined in order to comprehensively experience the museum. Although the museum’s purpose was to memorialize the victims of September 11th, it has failed to create an adequate tribute by using an inappropriate quote in the wrong context. Not only the quote, but also the museum, continues to perpetuate ideas of violence, revenge and anguish, rather than commemoration or peace, through walls of horrific images and almost voyeuristic film presentations of terror-filled moments. With Virgil’s quote at the center of the museum, a message of violence rather than peace fills the space.
King Lear, Shakespeare (Allison)
Similar to the Aeneid’s problematically quoted line, Shakespeare’s King Lear is also misused in modern culture. On the back of pop icon, Megan Fox, a quote reads, “We will all laugh at guilded butterflies” (Act 5, Scene 3) This quote is a perfect example of how people might misuse quotes because they do not know the context from which it comes from. Megan Fox said that she decided to get this tattoo because she felt that the quote helped to remind her not to get caught up in Hollywood because people end up laughing at you in the end. However, this quote actually comes from a very sad and depressing scene in King Lear. In this scene, Lear and Cordelia are locked away in prison and Cordelia is about to get killed. Lear is out of his mind at this point and insane because not only does he realize that his two daughters Goneril and Regan betrayed him, but also that Cordelia was the good child all along and Lear treated her poorly. While speaking crazily, he says that “We will all laugh at gilded butterflies,” perhaps in a nonsensical way because he was crazy, but maybe also to mean that people often laugh at others who are deceptively attractive in certain ways. By this, Lear might have meant that while he himself may have looked worthy on the outside, he in fact did not have much to his name. Now, people will laugh at his pitfalls because he has now revealed that he is not worth much at all.
A piece of Jewelry sold on Etsy quotes King Lear stating, “Nothing can come of nothing” (Act 1, Scene 1). While this quote is listed as an inspirational quote on a necklace, it is unfortunately misused. People will order this necklace thinking they are wearing an inspirational quote. They may believe that “nothing can come of nothing” has an inspirational message that you should put in effort and hard work if you really want something. However, its context from King Lear is completely different. The quote comes from a scene in King Lear that is actually not very inspirational and in fact kind of sad. In this scene, King Lear asks Cordelia to speak about how much she loves him so that she can get a piece of his kingdom. However, she refuses to speak about her love in the grand way her sisters do. After her refusal, King Lear becomes angry and tells her that “Nothing can come of nothing.” (King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1). In the end, because Cordelia will not elaborate on her love with words, Lear banishes her and wishes to never associate with her again.
Similar to the jewelry, a T-shirt from Zazzle quotes a similar line, “You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face” (Act 4 Scene 2). This quote is misused on this t-shirt as some sort of inspiring or fun quote. Those who order the shirt might believe that quote on the shirt has an inspirational message saying how they are worth much more than just “dust” or rude things that others might say to them. Others might interpret it as just a fun quote from a famous play. However, it actually came from a dramatic scene from the play which had a lot of tension. In this scene, Albany is disgusted after seeing how Goneril treats Lear, her own father. After seeing enough of her selfish qualities, he tells her that she is not even worth the dust that the wind blows on her face. He essentially tells her she is worthless because she is horrible and selfish person.
Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen (Farah)
Like we have previously seen with the works of both Virgil and Shakespeare, works from the Western Canon can be used in odd and even offensive ways. From Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Darcy’s letter written on a scarf is a misuse of the letter, and a misinterpretation of this heartbreaking moment experienced by Elizabeth. It is meant to be a fashion statement and reflect the “sweet” words of Mr. Darcy but the letter is really not a love letter at all. This moment is a far less romantic moment as it is in fact a judgmental criticism of Elizabeth. This scarf is a representation of a romanticization of something that is in fact not romantic at all. This moment is quite upsetting and the opposite of what this scarf represents. Mr. Darcy makes excuses for his actions expecting a far better outcome than he is worthy of, which certainly does not warrant a scarf. People that might buy this scarf have a misunderstanding of what this letter is, they think it’s a love letter and his expression of love toward Elizabeth, so it makes a cute and loving fashion statement. However, this is a misinterpretation and a false understanding of what this letter truly is. If buyers were to know, this scarf would not be a very attractive purchase.
Like the scarf, there is a tote bag with the simple statement “You can keep Mr. Grey I’m sticking with Mr. Darcy.” This tote bag makes a mockery of what Mr. Darcy and the story of Pride and Prejudice are. The juxtaposition of a modern day “romance” and the classic pride and prejudice are unparalleled. Christian Grey does not possess the same honor and integrity as Mr. Darcy, nor the same poise and demeanor. Though the bag puts Mr. Darcy in a better light than Mr. Grey, it is in ill-suited to compare the two at all. They are the same in perhaps class and economic stability, but who they are as men and their relationships with their partners are not the same at all. This bag was made in ill-taste and almost disrespectful of what pride and prejudice truly is and the iconic character that is Mr. Darcy.
Though these seemingly insignificant pieces of apparel- a scarf and a tote bag- stand alone, they are symbolic of a larger cultural trend. A trend that allows us to take the words of authors and conform them to our everyday lives, regardless of whether or not the situation fits our circumstances.
Faust, Goethe (Racceb)
In German advertising, literary references have been constant features, stressing the "culture" of the German people. A typical example is a fashion ad in the online version of the magazine Brigitte. It read in October 2005
Mode & Schonheit
Augenblick, verweile doch ... Mode vergeht. Und Accessoires? Die bleiben langer, wenn man die richtigen auswahlt. Wir zeigen die schonsten Klassiker dieser Saison.
Which translates to:
Fashion & Beauty
moment, pray tarry...
Fashion changes. And accessories? They last longer if one chooses the right ones. We show you the most beautiful classic ones this season. Though not everyone in Germany may have seen a production of Goethe's Faust, there is still a tacit assumption that readers of a popular magazine are familiar with the work. In the Brigitte online newsletter, the headline for an article was an indirect quote from the character Faust's pact with the devil that he would give up his soul if he were ever to wish to hold fast a moment that was beautiful (Augenblick, verweil doch... Act II). In this case, the emphasis was on selecting accessories that would not go out of style too quickly. Here we see a clear difference between the context of Faust’s work as compared to the new rendition by the fashion magazine. Additionally, a drugstore chain in Germany by the name dm also made use of Faust’s quote for many years on its reusable cotton bags, modifying it for their purpose. The bags were printed with "Hier bin ich Mensch/ hier kauf ich ein" (Here I am a human being/ treated as a human being, here I will go shopping) an allusion to Faust's "Hier bin ich Mensch, hier darf ich's sein" (Here I am a human being, here I am allowed to be one). In Faust, this line was used to describe the big feast during the easter season of revival and renewal when he sees everything striving and growing. Merry voices of the village people make him feel that he is in the middle of their paradise. The great and powerful alike shout joyously: "Here I’m human, here I am allowed to be really human" (faust 940). Clearly, this has very little to do with reusable cotton bags. These two examples show the strategies employed by companies’ advertising to speak to their consumer- Germans. These kind of ploys bank on the fact that German people stress the importance of maintaining and propagating their “culture”.
As the LitHum syllabus has progressed, we have seen many of the books in the western canon referencing those that came before them. Additionally, allusions to these major texts are found throughout other art forms, as well throughout much of the rest of society. The use of quotes from the western canon can be very powerful, as they are able to draw from the impressions and images that accompany references, as well as from the words. For example, a quotation from the Iliad may make even someone who has not read it think of heroism and bravery, regardless of whether the actual quote has to do with either, simply because the text is often associate with those themes. However, popular references to these texts are often used with so little regard to their context that the actual story may tell a very different one than intended. When people choose to reference these texts, they choose to include a whole other narrative within their intended one. Though this effect can be advantageous when used appropriately, it can also be damaging when used without an awareness of the quote’s context. As we have shown with the examples of Virgil’s Aeneid, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Goethe’s Faust, misuse of references to the western canon are not only frequent, but can also have adverse implications and create negative messages where they were not intended. For further interest...
Pride & Prejudice
On translation - interview with Dr. akash kumar
“Translation is the art of failure” Umberto Eco
In an effort to understand Dante’s Inferno as a work of translation and as a seminal Lit Hum text, Caroline Mansour and Jill Shah interviewed Akash Kumar, Ph.D. in Italian and Comparative Literature, Core Lecturer, and Lecturer in Italian in the Columbia University Department of Italian. The interview presented below has been transcribed by Miranda Davis and Kaylee Wedderburn-Pugh. For the ease of reading, the interview has been transcribed in a QandA format.
Q: How is the experience different reading Dante in Italian versus reading Dante in English?
A: It depends on which English you’re reading. In Lit Hum we read Mandelbaum, and that makes a difference in terms of the meter. We don’t have the perfect rhyme in Mandelbaum all the time. He translates in meter, but it’s just the basic pentameter in English. We get ten syllable lines all through his Inferno, and that’s a pretty big difference right there. You don’t actually get the terza rima, the rhyme scheme that Dante invented to write T he Divine Comedy, in the translation. You don’t hear the words rhyming. You don’t have the same number of syllables per line – for Dante it’s eleven in Italian and in the pentameter, it’s ten.
Q: Is Mandelbaum your favorite translator or is there another one that you prefer?
A: Mandelbaum is my favorite. I think it still reads like poetry. There are translations that are a little more technically sound – they might get the words better, they might get the word order a little bit closer to the original, but you lose the poetry sometimes in that process and that makes a difference. There are other poets like Robert Pinsky who have actually tried to replicate the terza rima in English, and it works, but I think it ends up being less accurate. So, Mandelbaum has the accuracy and has a pretty good poetic flair.
Q: As far as accuracy goes, do you think there are things that are lost in translation? For example, in D on Quixote, there is humor in the names of characters. Is there anything like that in Dante’s Inferno? A: Yeah! For instance, the names of the devils, when Dante and Virgil are being chased by them. Lots of those names are funny: Barbariccia, Libicoco, and all those. You can translate them just fine into English, and some translators do and actually render Barbariccia’s name as “curly hair”, and that’s fine but it loses the humor of the original sound. You also lose assonance and alliteration because you’re taking it out of its original language and putting it into another one. But you have to render it as readable and poetic for y our language audience. There’s also stuff that you gain in translation though. Just in comparing the translation to the original text, you can think about the original text differently. There are ways of the translation trying to “update” the original . A poet named Mary Jo Bang translated Dante’s Inferno recently and updates the references – instead of referring to medieval Florentine stuff, you’ll find a pop reference to an American band or something like that. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It depends on your reader. Maybe it helps us look at the original text a little differently at what Dante is doing in his time and how we do it in ours.
Q: Speaking of Latin, is Dante’s Inferno straight Italian or is it a mix between Latin and Italian or something in between?
A: You actually have Latin that comes up sometimes. The first word that Dante says to Virgil when he meets him is from the Latin version of the Psalms – miserere. T hat’s not an Italian word that’s a Latin word. Dante is saying “Have pity on me” but he is using the Latin version of the Psalms to do it. W hen we get to the first line of Inferno 34, and I think Mandelbaum doesn’t translate this line. He leaves it in Latin. That too is Latin, but Dante is being pretty clever about it – he’s changing the Latin. The original line doesn’t have that inferne in it. He’s trying to talk about the devil and so he adds that little bit in. So he’s not just making poetry in Italianhe’s also doing it in Latin. And you’ll notice he uses a Latin word like inferne and makes sure it rhymes with an Italian one in the third line. That’s something you might lose in translation. You lose the actual multilingual properties of the poem as well.
Q. Do you think that there's a specific reason that he separated T he Divine Comedy into cantos?
A. This is a really watershed moment for Italian letters. First of all, Dante choosing to write a work like this in Italian as opposed to Latin is a big deal. He’s choosing a language that is a more common language instead of the proper educated elite language, so that matters. He’s coming out of a lyric tradition, a tradition of poetry that’s been going on since the middle of the thirteenth century and that he participated in himself. He actually wrote lyric poetry prior to writing T he Divine Comedy. He was a love poet. He wrote sonnets and canciones, which are longer poems, about 100 maybe sometimes 130 lines or so. If you look at cantos in Inferno they’re around that length, so it’s kind of like stringing a whole bunch of long form poems together to make one unified work. And then if you look at the whole of the divine comedy from that point of view, you’ve got 34 cantos in Inferno, 33 in Purgatory and 33 in Paradise, you get that nice round sum of 100 if you add all of those up. There’s symmetry there, there’s kind of a real deliberate creative process, even at the level of mathematics.
Q. Is there a work of art that you think is particularly poignant that’s based off of Dante’s Inferno? A. Yeah, too many to count almost. But I really like Salvador Dali’s Dante illustrations, so that’s something to take a look at for some visual inspiration. There have been a lot over the years. There was a video game made a few years ago called D ante’s Inferno by Electronic Arts. They bastardized the text – they turned it into a hack and slash. You know, Dante’s a crusading knight who’s fighting his way through hell to save Beatrice, who’s being held by the devil. And of course that’s all wrong, Beatrice is the one who saves Dante, and that matters a lot. But they get some visuals pretty right in a lot of ways. That’s something worth looking into as well, especially the lake of ice that they do.
Q. How do you think Dante has influenced writers of our time or before our time?
A. Let’s stick with our time. I mean certainly, before our time, we’ve got all sorts of writers who’ve been engaging with T he Divine Comedy because it’s this landmark moment of poetry in a modern language. So in the Lit Hum syllabus we’re kind of going along, we’re doing work in ancient languages. We do Ancient Greek, we do Hebrew, we do Latin. When we get to Dante, we get a modern language, one that’s still used and spoken. So it certainly influenced any number of Italian poets and writers who have been writing in the shadow of Dante, but also poets at large in the western tradition, all over the world. So I end my Lit Hum class with reading a little bit of Derek Walcott’s Omeros. Derek Walcott is from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, and he writes this work that’s kind of an epic, kind of a novel, written in poetry, in poetic form, as a way of kind of capturing the history of St. Lucia, going beyond the western tradition, beyond the west. But he’s very influenced by Dante, even to the point – this will bring us full circle – of rhyme scheme. He kind of adapts Dante’s terza rima to a certain extent. So if you just look at the first few lines here, “This is how one sunrise we cut down them canoes/ philoctete smiles for the tourists, who try taking/his soul with their cameras. Once wind bring the news.” Right, so canoes and news rhyming, and then taking dictating shaking in the fourth line, he cuts it all up in three lines. He’s taking Dante as that source of metrical inspiration. We have a whole slew of modern writers and poets who do the same.
Unweaving the Core
Noah Basri, Alana Feldman, Joshua Kolb, & Nicholas Rhodes
Unweaving the Core did not just take apart and dissect the texts of Literature Humanities, but took those unwoven threads to create an entirely new tapestry. Imbued with the foundation and the spirit of the Core literature, the installation followed these existing threads, and introduced completely new ones, to create different and exciting blends. The works were put on their feet, literally; and also found new dimension through different genre — not just the spoken word, but the visual and musical as well. The production, moreover, dared to be inspired by the Core — the texts were a starting point for other texts and other associations. An exploration of slavery — a theme mentioned and of significance in numerous LitHum works — strikingly exemplified this. The spoken texts dated from the 18th and 19th centuries, explicitly tying recent history with the experiences of characters conceived of over a millennia ago; the final text described the present — specifically the “new Jim Crow” of the criminal justice system — connecting today with modern slavery, and thus the injustices and indignities of life here and now with those from the ancient time and birthplace of our civilization.
Seeing the production, with actors both inhabiting a character and having the freedom to explore, added a new breadth to our understanding of the texts. Actors roamed throughout the halls, interacted with onlookers and were forced to spontaneously react; one scene bled into another, and the melange helped to produce our deepened appreciation. By personifying the texts, and traversing beyond what was expressly written in each book, the players were able to investigate the psyche of the characters. In this spirit, we spoke to Nathaniel Jameson, an actor involved in the production of Unweaving the Core, to understand his perspective of this approach, his role in the program and his insights into Literature Humanities.
Nathaniel Jameson is an actor involved in the production of Unweaving the Core. After the show, we sat down with him to discuss his roles in the program and his insights into Literature Humanities.
Nick: In the production you played Odysseus and a suitor. Tell us about your mental preparation that went into becoming your characters.
Nathaniel: It was a breeze to get into character as Odysseus. As I read Homer’s Odyssey, I envisioned a dauntless, yet noble man who would never willingly end his pursuit of reunion with his family. This determination really resonated with me and I was lucky enough to play Odysseus for a scene on Circe’s island. We really took some stylistic liberties with the plot and created a bit of a role reversal in the power dynamic of Homer’s version. In the rendition I performed, Odysseus was a White settler figure, trying to take slaves from Circe, while Circe was a shaman or other voodoo magic practitioner. The show at this point was Circe desperately pleading with me to free her enslaved people. This power dynamic contrasts with Homer’s insofar that in Homer’s Odyssey Odysseus is the one begging for his freedom.
Nick: Now could you tell us about suiting up as a suitor? What was most appealing about playing such a despicable character?
Nathaniel: Getting into the mindset was easy. I knew I just had to make some pretty misogynistic comments directed towards maids and the spectators of the production. The toughest part for me was staying in character. To me this is the most rigorous litmus test of theatrical endurance. Overall, it amounted to several hours of self-suppression - I mean I could never let my inner Nathaniel out. My favorite aspect about playing the suitor was seeing the re-emergence of their struggles in the works we’ve read. For example, as a suitor I delivered this line from Lysistrata when addressing Penelope: “O Zeus, Canst Thou not suddenly let loose some twirling hurricane to tear her flapping up along the air and drop her, when she’s whirled around, here to the ground neatly impaled upon the stake that’s ready upright for her sake.” Similarly in the spirit of unrequited love/lust I paraded throughout the production, addressing people as Dulcinea. My role in the show allowed me to understand the intersectionality of the characters’ struggles and emotions, which is more powerful and enriching than simply reading the works.
Noah: How did your reading of the works influence your perspective on the production as a whole?
Nathaniel: It’s easy to sit in a chair in LitHum for 2 hours and say, “these texts are influenced by one another.” But standing up and approaching random people and delivering lines from Lysistrata or Don Quixote while playing a character from a completely different work truly proves that these texts not only influence each other, but converse with one another. There are parallels between these works that transcend themes and character traits. For me, it took complete immersion, vis-à-vis acting, into the works to understand that. This all comes back to the main vision of Professor Martin, who directed the production: immerse people in the LitHum universe and they will decode meaning more and apply the works to their own lives. In short, immerse the people by presenting them with a multi-sensory experience. Give them food to taste so they can taste the raw emotions of the characters. Give them music to hear so they can feel the lamentations of wronged characters. Give them a show to watch and an alternate reality to thrive in, and in return you will get an enthralled audience.