Driving Me Crazy

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“Baby, you been driving me crazy, Can you be my lady? Can you be my baby, baby driving me crazy,” Boston’s Boy, a.k.a Sammy Adams, proclaims in his song, Driving Me Crazy. In the song he references the emotional throes he is forced to undergo, now that he has fallen in love with this ‘baby’. In the first part of Yusuf and Zulaikha, her experience’s match very closely those of Boston’s Boy’s.

A stark contrast is provided between Zulaikha before and after her dream about Yusuf. Such exaggerations as, “Never had her heart been oppressed even by the slightest sorrow; never had a thorn so much a s scratched her foot,” mark the tranquility in her life before the dream (pg. 13). But once she has glimpsed Yusuf through her dreams, she enters a deep distress. As Zulaikha is gripped by her love for this beautiful man, she is described as, “her heart languished in silent lamentation” (pg. 15) , “pierced to the heart, Zulaikha collapsed like a hunted animal” (pg.22), and “Zulaikha was wounded to the depths of her being” (pg.27).

Jami however, does not seem to condone or condemn love. What it shows here is that the act of falling in love is never a simple one. Zulaikha also goes through incredible moments of bliss when she sees Yusuf in her dreams, and feels the same sense of passion and elation when she finally does end up seeing him. And before her dream, Zulaikha lives quite an extravagant life, but one that seems to drag on monotonously for the foreseeable future. There is no excitement. So I think what Jami is trying to express here is not disapproval necessarily, but instead a tribute to the emotional roller coaster ride that is falling in love.

 

A Short Hebrew Lesson

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As some of you may know, I have dabbled in the arts of hebrew in the past, and since we’re reading the bible, I decided to give everyone a second take on a few of the translator’s notes. I want to add that the Torah is written in a biblical version of hebrew, and I do not have as much experience as this Robert Alter has in it. Still, I can understand for the most part what is being said and give another viewpoint on them. So below are a few examples I decided to go through.

1.1 “When God began to create heaven and earth...”

In the hebrew, the first word used is B’reshit (בראשית), which is the hebrew name for the book of Genesis. The word comes from rishon (ראשון), which means first, yet it’s in the form of reshit (ראשית) which can mean either first or beginning, and the prefix ‘B’ means at or during. So it literally can be translated as “at the beginning”. The author here designated it as the beginning of God’s creation (and I’m not disagreeing with his translation), but in the Hebrew it seems to imply that this moment is THE beginning of everything, not just God’s creation.

2.7 “... then the Lord GOd fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature.”

The author mentions this, but I want to emphasize the clever metaphor here intrinsic in the language. The word for earth is adamah (אדמה), while the word for mankind, adam (אדמ) (pronounced just like adam but with the emphasis on the second syllable). By substituting these two words, the rough reading is that god created adam from the adamah, and blew into him the breath of life, and here was the adam, with a breathing soul. It’s a metaphor lost in translation that really emphasises the idea that man came from the earth.

Later on in 9.20 it reads “And Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.” Here again soil in hebrew is adamah, which gives this saying a double meaning. The wine Noah gets drunk on comes from his vineyard which comes from the earth. Just as man came from the earth and comes to be a bad thing, so too here does wine seem to come from the adamah. This alludes to the overall idea that creating the earth was perhaps a mistake, as said in 6.6, “And the Lord regretted having made the human on earth and was grieved to the heart.”

4.10 “... listen, your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil.”

In hebrew, the word for voice is kol (קול), yet the world for everything or the entire is hakol (הכל). A short lesson on the hebrew alphabet, there are two letters that can make a c/k sound, kuf (ק) and caf (כ). Yet depending on the situation a caf can also make a ch sound (which in hebrew is the throaty kind of ‘h’ sound). So even though they seemed to be spelled quite differently, kol and hakol sound very similar. So in hebrew it reads literally as “the voice of your brother’s blood”, yet it sounds very similar to saying all of your brothers blood, another metaphor of the language lost in translation.

An auntie just turned off the lights in the dining hall sending me the message to get out. Maybe this is a divine message that I should end this blogpost here, so I will. I hope everyone enjoyed this short hebrew lesson!

 

Vengeance Above Everything

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Every time Medea interacts with a male in the play, she seems to have a personal goal in mind, and she uses her cunning to achieve those ends. It starts with Jason, where she angrily says, “Do you think that I would ever have fawned on that man / Unless I had some end to gain or profit in it?” (368-369). I doubt Medea actually never loved Jason, since she killed her father and brother, helped him steal the golden fleece, and forever left her home country behind.

Instead, she may have been so in love with him getting to have him as her husband was a profit in itself. She also ends up taking such drastic steps after he marries another woman that it is unlikely she never felt anything for him. As the saying goes, amantes sunt amentes. Her statement does seem to explain her motives, if she is driven only by what she wants – to hurt Jason. And we see this with other men in the play as well.

Creon banishes Medea partly because he fears what plots she is planning. Medea responds, however, saying that really she is not that clever to begin with, and she would never harm a king. He doesn’t buy it. She pleads with him for just one day before she must leave to set up arrangements for her children, and he grants her this while admitting, “Even now I know that I am making a mistake,” (350). The moment Creon leaves, however, she begins plotting the King’s, his daughter’s, and Jason’s deaths. She invokes her own children in an attempt to get what she wants, which is revenge.

Later when talking to Aegeus, again Medea seems act disregarding any relationship for her own desire. Aegeus is introduced as an old friend of Medea, and she uses this for her own advantage. Pretending to fear what will happen to her after she is banished, she begs for Aegeus to allow her safe lodging in his kingdom, and he agrees. Immediately after the conversation, she reveals this is her ‘escape’ plan after committing her crimes.

This leaves the question of is there anything Medea values more than herself, including her desires, in her quest for vengeance? Clearly she is willing to go incredibly far, by killing her own children, but at the heart of her action is a conflict between her desire for vengeance and for her own well being. And in fact, it seems as though she has no gain or profit from all of her actions, as we see, since she ends up alone and even more hopeless at the play’s end. So perhaps it is her thirst for vengeance that drives all of her actions throughout the play.

 

War, huh, what is it good for?

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Starting in 1.82 Herodotus goes off on a small detour about a conflict between the Spartans and Argives over the place Thyrea. They both agree to settle the conflict with a 300 vs. 300 battle, and whoever wins gets to keep the land. It ends with a dispute over who actually won the mini-battle, since two Argives survived while only one Spartan did, yet the Argives returned to their camp immediately, believing they had won, while the Spartan first got some Argive armor and then return. The argument escalates into a full scale battle between the two sides, but in the end the Spartans are victorious.

This passage highlights perhaps that war to the Hellenes was not just an action of a nation, but a culture to live by. The Argives, who previously wore their hair long cut it short after their loss, while the Spartans did the opposite, and started growing their hair long. The battle had the ability to not only change the geographical size of their nations, but their cultures as well. So what does this power that battle has in these nation’s tell us about their culture?

Kao-Tsu: Turn Down For What?

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Kao-Tsu is considered to be a man of great virtue and personal character throughout the novel, but he has a bit of a drinking problem. From the piece’s start, it make it clear that Kao-Tsu loves his alcohol and lots of it. “Whenever [Kao-Tsu] would drink and stay at their shops, they would sell several times as much wine as usual. Because of these strange happenings, whenever the end of the year came around the old women would always destroy Kao-Tsu’s credit slips and clear his account.” Not only does he drink like an American Rap star, but also incurs debt without stop, and only the women’s good will saves him. Later on in the piece, he goes so far as to lead men while drunk.

Kao-Tsu, while leading forced laborers, gets drunk one night, lets most of them go, and leads the rest through a swamp. They come across a great snake lying in the middle of the road, and Kao-Tsu, without hesitation, cuts the snake in two. They find out later this snake was the son of the white emperor, and when Kao-Tsu wakes up and sleeps off the hangover, he “was very pleased in his heart.”

Perhaps my presentist values are making me think of a man who drinks as irresponsible and not as virtuous as Kao-Tsu is described. He piles up quite large amounts of debt, fails at his duties (of delivering the slaves), and kills an Emperor’s son without thinking because he drinks so much. Kao-Tsu, quite the opposite, seems to be irresponsible and should definitely not be trusted with running an entire nation given his habits. Can this somehow fit into ancient Chinese values as a righteous man? Or if not, why then, do people still find him virtuous despite this?

 

Different But Oh So Similar

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Stephen Owen brings up the interesting point that in the wake of a great epic that usually arises in cultures, ancient China produced The Book Of Songs. He argues that, “The Book of Songs is a work that attempts to embrace every aspect of its world ... its wholeness has an ideological basis which would preclude the possibility of epic. Epic unity demands a focus that speaks from one group and excludes other voices: the voices of the common people, the voices of women, voices from all aspects of life outside the heroic ethos.”

The Book of Songs stands out from epics in that it is not a narrative, but instead a collection of poems written for any and all audiences of ancient China. I disagree with his last point, however. I believe the power of epics stems from the idea that they may speak from one voice, but in such a way that it can leave a moral impression on whoever it is being read by. That is why it touches so many. Any ancient work may exclude some voices we would consider important from our presentist point of view, but this is due more to the time it was created from than a fault in the basic build of an epic.

As brought up in class, Athena is almost always in disguise during the Odyssey, which begs  the question of was there really any divine intervention, or was it all human driven? This brings up important implications and morals about the Odyssey, and perhaps Odysseus’s punishment was warranted based off of his actions. I’m sure there are poems in the book of songs that deal with the idea of responsibility and consequences. I’m willing to bet many more lessons for all the ‘voices’ of society written in the Book of Songs could be found in great works such as the Odyssey and Ramayana. What makes them able to transcend time and cultural boundaries is that despite the fact they are written in one voice, they do not drown out the others.

 

Odysseus in body, but spirit?

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Odysseus reveals himself, on purpose or not, to Eurynome, the cowherd, and the swineherd by showing the scar on his leg he got from a boar as an adolescent. However, when it comes to relieving himself to his wife, Penelope, he doesn’t show her the scar. Their nurse tells Penelope about the scar, and it does help convince her to come down and see Odysseus, yet she never asks to see it. The entire Odyssey is driven by Odysseus’s desire to see Ithaca, Telemachus, and his wife again, but while Penelope is judging whether or not her husband is actually, finally standing before her, she neither asks to see nor does he offer to show the scar.

Penelope only comes to believe that Odysseus is finally home when he tells her of the practically immovable bed he built for the two of them. She won’t accept any physical evidence as proof that her husband has truly returned. She admits that “You look – how well I know – the way he looked, setting sail from Ithaca years ago aboard the long-oared ship,” yet it is not enough to convince her (23.195ff). Perhaps she does believe, at that point, that it is her husband standing before her, but she fears 20 years has changed who he his. She fears he is no longer the Odysseus she once knew, and that the man she remembers will never return, until he recites a secret shared between the two of them, and one maid, with such passion and detail that only the Odysseus she knew could. Then she realizes that the man who has returned is not just Odysseus in flesh, but also in mind.

 

The Gods Aren't That Holy

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In chapter 8, a bard sings a song about the forbidden love between Ares, god of war, and Aphrodite, goddess of love and wife to Hephaestus, a god of craftsmen and a cripple. Hephaestus traps the two in the act, for all the gods to see them, and then Poseidon begs him to let them loose. Finally, Hephaestus agrees and lets the two go. This story may be troubling since it shows such strife between gods. Usually, divine beings are assumed to have a heightened sense of morality and purity, yet the greek gods seem to be just as petty and immoral as humans can be.

The Odyssey would never have been such an epic if it wasn’t for such immortal clashes. Poseidon holds quite a bit of hate in his heart for Odysseus, causing the story. And if it wasn’t for other gods who felt otherwise, Odysseous would never have left Calypso, but then again he would never have been held by Calypso if she didn’t have such carnal urges. This story of inner strife between the gods is another fractal aspect of the Odyssey, showing how not only do gods end up creating the problems of mortals, but they end up requiring divine intervention in order to solve those probelms.

 

Revised Question

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2. How justified is Vali’s argument against Rama after he is shot, and how convincing is Rama’s response?

 

Rama’s killing of Vali seems contradictory, on its surface, to what Rama would be expected to do. To shoot a monkey in the back while he fights with another monkey doesn't seem like such a dharma-supported action, but Rama is considered a bastion of dharma. To explore this issue and see whether or not it should impact the way we view Rama is very important to getting a comprehensive understanding of the Ramayana.

 

I expect through a close reading I hope to analyze the specifics of both Vali’s and Rama’s argument, as well as how the narrator describes the situation. By examining each of their arguments, specific points and the logic behind them, I hope to find out which argument seems more sound.

 

My Three Questions

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1. Marica says that no matter which option he chooses, when decided whether or not to lure Rama away as a deer, will kill him. So why does he choose in the end to help Ravana?

2. How does Rama use the monkeys’ position as neither a fully a beast or fully a human to his advantage when justifying his killing of Vali?

3. Rama argues that even though Ravana was so bad during his lifetime, he still deserves to have his last rights. How convincing is his argument?