Mysterious Yusuf

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Yusuf and his beauty are described as if they are divine and sacred. His presence brightens the surroundings, every women fall for him completely just by a glimpse of him, and etc. However, the concept that his beauty is not from Yusuf himself but is derived from God keeps appearing and being emphasized. Therefore, despite the fact that Yusuf is depicted almost as a divine figure and that his beauty transcends his beauty of physical appearance in terms of its significance, it is clear that Yusuf is some sort of a vehicle or a medium to spread God’s words.

However, Yusuf fulfills Zulaikha’s boons, in the chapter “Union,” in a way that God brings miracles to the world. In his encounter with Zulaikha, who has lost her beauty and become all weary after her separation from Yusuf, Yusuf feels sorry for her, so he decides to “fulfill all [her] wishes” if they are within his power. Zulaikha has 2 wishes for Yusuf. She asks Yusuf to restore her beauty, and as her second wish, she wishes to live with Yusuf.

What’s interesting in this story is that Zulaikha’s first wish is within Yusuf’s ability, whereas here second request requires God’s request. In common sense, her first request needs divine power—it isn’t within human’s capacity/ability. However, interestingly, as Yusuf has said, prior to the moment Zulaikha makes her requests, that he would fulfill her needs if they are within his ability, restoring Zulaikha’s beauty was not done by God but done by Yusuf himself. In this particular incident, he doesn’t refer to God or is in need of Him; Yusuf autonomously makes the decision and acts upon his will. This significant scene suggests that Yusuf is not just a vehicle or medium that acts as a messenger of God, but there is definitely something more extraordinary/mysterious about Yusuf.

Jason, the Greek Righteous Man

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Does Jason really think of himself as a righteous man or does he acknowledge that he has treated Medea immorally but is just giving excuses to justify his actions. Jason seems to truly believe that he has not done something unethical or dishonorable. In fact, Jason believes that he has made the right choice for the family; therefore, he should be considered a righteous man. Jason has his own legitimations for his decisions. He justifies by saying that he makes decisions in an attempt to bring good to the whole family, not for his own greed or benefit. The reason he has abandoned Medea and had an affair with a foreign wife is that he “wish[es] to preserve [Medea] and breed a royal progeny to be brothers to the children [he] has now, sure defense to [his family]” (78).
His claim may sound unsubstantiated and ridiculous, but considering the Greek society back then and the different role expectation the society had for different genders, Jason’s belief seems allowable at that time at least.
Obviously, Jason is taking advantage of the role given for him as the male and the father of the household. At that time, the society’s expectation for Greek male was to be in charge of the household and is someone who is responsible for taking care of the whole family by working outside, whereas Greek women were supposed to meddle with household affairs. By saying that he has made the decision in order to protect Medea and his kids, he separates his private feeling and says his “real” reason behind his action as if he has sacrificed for the family as a leader of this family. He’s implying that Medea as a woman cannot understand the grand reason behind his actions. Jason’s effort to be considered as a righteous man/husband/father continues when he is willing to economically help Medea. In addition, contrary to Medea who often goes melodramatic and emotional, Jason manages to keep his tone monotonous and calm, feeling no guilt at all, presumably showing the different stigmas attached to males and females at that time.

Herodotus: a great epitome of Historians

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It is an unequivocal truth that history is bound to be biased and subjective—as we normally say that the history is in favor of the victors—since the observations can vary depending on which side of the story the narrator is standing at, followed by different interpretations. Another different means of distortion would be by excluding a certain portion of the story and place it outside of the big context. Thus, ideally, historians should constantly question themselves if they are, whether intentionally or unintentionally, failing to present the history objectively.

In this sense, Herodotus is very attentive to this issue and strives to deliver the history without any sort of propaganda or bias by presenting different views on the same event. As he starts with the story regarding the cause for the conflict between the Persians and Phoenicians, he lays out opinions of both the Persians and Phoenicians, and clearly states that he “[has] no intention of affirming that these events occurred thus of otherwise.” Because Herodotus is aware of the risk of only showing the seemingly dominant view of an event rather than including different voices, he seems to draw clear distinctions between what is controversial and what he knows of accurately.

2 paragraphs

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Homer compares the vulnerable, burnt state of Odyssey to a lamenting woman. Reading line 586-588, we can readily make the mistake of neglecting the ellipsis and misinterpret as if Odysseus cries as a woman weeps. This intentional ambiguity between Odysseus and a weeping woman juxtaposes with the heroic, robust Odysseus described in the myth. Her “darling husband…who fell in battle, fighting for town and townsmen…” symbolizes the Odysseus’ crews and soldiers who has fought for their country and family and has not been able to return from the battlefield. Still having sympathy toward these men, a woman throws her arm round her darling husband. When the woman “[sees] the man go down, dying,” as if Odysseus has witnessed his crew dying and “gasping for breath,” she “screams and shrills” in agony. It is clearly shown that the woman has attempted to save the man from dying, and watching the man die has been an extremely painful experience to go through.

However, it is the victors who make everything much more heartbreaking than it already is. The reason why the myth and the song about him were so tormenting to bear for Odysseus is that the Odysseus described in the myth is so successful and majestic compared to himself in reality who seems much more inferior. This bitter moment of self-recognition is hard for Odysseus to withstand, having all the losses he has gone through in mind. Thus, “the victors” is the aggregated images of Odysseus in majority of the townspeople’s’ minds, explaining the plural form.    “Just behind [his] back,” in places where Odysseus has not yet reached therefore cannot see, this notion of Odysseus as a legendary figure prevails and as a result “yokes [Odysseus] to hard labor [and] pain.”

The Han State: Expanding without Violence

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Although the Han state was well known for its grand power and wealth at the pinnacle of Han’s society, the Hans state—instead of overwhelming all the other kingdoms and barbaric states by purely force—took a sly but diplomatic approach to expand its influence.

By transmitting envoys, the emperor wisely made use of the history, which was informed by returned envoys, to fulfill his ambitions. In an attempt to destroy the Hsiung-nu, the emperor sought alliance with the Yuech-chih. Being aware of the wounded realationship between the Hsiung-nu and Yuech-chich since the king of the Great Yueh-chich had been murdered by the Hsiung-nu, the emperor of the Han speculated that the Yuech-chich must have antipathy toward the Hsiung-nu and therefore strived to take advantage of this history of the two in favor of his nation.

With a particular purpose of alliance in his mind, the emperor of the Han state had particular means to seek alliances as well. Having a firm understanding of other kingdoms including their culture, the emperor intentionally presented his kingdom’s power and wealth in a conspicuous manner for those who are too distant from the Han to realize its magnificence, intimidating small barbaric states without any bloods shed. Mind boggled by the mastery of the Han state, a number of kingdoms provided the Han with gifts, which they particularly possess in both quality and quantity, to appease the Han. Without starting a war—detrimental to any nations part of it—the emperor of the Han state was successful in making alliances with other kingdoms inferior in power to the Han state.

Also, the emperor sent a princess of the imperial family from his own kingdom to other, which he strives to ally with, as another means of expansion. Developing a special familial kinship between two kingdoms played a great role for the emperor to acquire the Wu-sun as one of his allies.

Music/Poetry with Two faces

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In an attempt to break the ice when encountering new people, we often start with sharing our taste in music.  Whether we have same preference or not, because it is not an issue of  right or wrong in this matter but of having emotional responses to music, music brings people together in harmony in a way. By sharing our experience in listening to music, we feel very much alike just by the fact that music has certain impact on our lives.

Listening to the same music, with the same lyrics and melody lines, people have different reactions and opinions for it. Singing the same music, again, with the same lyrics and melody lines, the singers come up with various interpretations when performing. In line with our discussion on what a good text is, a good music is open to everyone and evokes countless different emotions depending on who’s listening, or singing, the same piece. Music can literally change people in various ways.

In this sense, poetry is very equivalent to music. Having the musical elements within the texts, poetry sends out messages and imposes influences on the readers in its peculiar manner. Often our emotions are hard to be put in words or in proper grammar. They are too complex to be portrayed completely. Thus, I believe that the most descriptive writing can get is by being poetic. In poetry, every element in writing is somehow intentionally utilized in order to express the author’s emotions and thoughts. The structure, repetition in words or phrases, rhythmical selection of words, length of a poem, and even grammar are few of so many tools that can be used, but there are so less restrictions in poetry.  Without revising too much, we can “show not tell” how we feel through poetry, spontaneously expressing us as an individual.

This familiarity and quite universal influence of music, therefore, can readily be utilized as “a force of control and an instrument of instruction” by anyone who is in power. Some of the religious schools in Korea that are academically superior have certain amount of students who are not religious but have come to take advantage of the academic prestige and the abundant resources of this school. Technically speaking, of course it is illegal to enforce a particular religion on someone, so the school relives the student saying that they won’t have classes covering religion because it is obvious that the lecture would be skewed in some way. However, all students are required to stand up and just listen to hymns every morning. They are not obliged to pay attention or memorize the lyrics; they just have to stand up and listen for a while.  Some might overlook the impact of this daily routine activity. Surprisingly, however, in turned out that just by this brief exposure to some religious songs, many unreligious people have expressed interest in religion.

In short, the common trait that poetry and music share is that both of them inconspicuously seep into our lives and influence our perception/thoughts, and this feature of them can either act as an outlet of emotion or a source of power exerted upon us.

New Question (hope it's not too late..!!)

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Why do “evil characters” in the book are shown to be round characters. As if the author intended occasional twists, bad characters reveal some aspects of theirs, which don’t seem to fit the characters. Is there no ultimate evil in this book? If so, how can Rama’s punishment of them in the name of Dharma be justified? What is Dharma that justifies Rama’s actions solely?

 

What I found intriguing was that the obviously bad characters, everything with a plot has evil characters that induce conflicts, are portrayed to have various aspects contrary to the fact that good heroic characters in this book are mostly flat characters. Ravana, seemingly the ultimate evil in the plot, sticks to his role and keeps acting malevolent as he abducts Sita from Rama. However, as soon as he succeeds in abducting Sita, he becomes a little boy who has a crush on somebody. As if he’s in love, he provides everything he can and puts effort to ameliorate their relationship. The one who has mercilessly abducted Sita and wrecked her life is gone, but a young boy who doesn’t know what to do to get the lady’s interest emerges inside Ravana. Also, as soon as Vali, the monkey who has taken away the kingdom from his innocent brother out of contempt and slept with his brother’s wife, succumbs to Rama, he worries about his family as soon as he acknowledges his sin. For someone who had an affair with his/her brother’s/sister’s wife/husband, I used to believe that their ideas and concept for families are quite different from others. However, seemingly the most evil characters in this book have shown unexpected aspects of them. I don’t know where these questions would lead me to, but I think they are some nice questions to ask.

 

The scene after Rama successfully kidnaps Sita, and the scene where Vail is about to die are worth close-reading to answer these questions.

The Pheacians: close-knitted but exclusive

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The Phaeacians have migrated from Hyperia to Scheria, avoiding “the overbearing Cyclops, stronger, violent brutes” (168). Because of their history of running away from strong figures, when the Phaeacaisn enconters Odysseus, they seem to be extra more kind to him. “Every stranger and beggar comes from Zeus, and whatever scrap we give him he’ll be glad to get,” says the princess, showing the Phaeacians’ both fear and reverence toward god-like figures. As if Athena knows this tendency, Athena makes Odysseus “taller to all eyes” after the he bathes in order for Odysseus to be loved and looked up to by all (175). In addition, it seems like they have respect toward Poseidon in particular because all the Phaeacians “trust are their fast, flying ships that cross the mighty ocean. Gifts of Poseidon” (180). They compliment the ships as “quick as a bird quick as a darting thought” (180).

Also, the Phaeacians’ city seems like a very close-knitted community where all the power is centralized to King Alcinous. The princess mentions “All our people’s power stems from [King Alcinous]” (174). Because the Phaeacians are extremely centralized and exclusive in a way, the Phaeacians seem to have xenophobia in general. Athena “drifted a heavy mist around [Odysseus], shielding him from any swaggering islander who’d cross his path,, provoke him with taunts and search out who he was” (18). It is clear that the Phaeacians’ attitudes toward outsider seem very hostile and aggressive. Regardless of this antipathy, Odysseus becomes an exception.

What kind of a place is the forest?

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Forest is where the ascetics are tested. Putting aside of the comfort which they used to take for granted in a more civilized place, the ascetics tend to head for the forest, expecting difficulties (Raksasas seem to be portrayed as the symbol of evil initially). Abandoning all the temptations and putting themselves in an uncomfortable spot seem to be the way of the ascetics' approaching Dharma.

With this in mind, one of my curiosities when reading Ramayana was resolved. I wondered why Kaikeyi was so obsessed with sending Rama to forest. I thought that taking away the crown from Rama was her ultimate goal, but it turned out that Kailkeyi wanted to spoil Rama completely. Because Rama was so revered and looked upon by all, Kailkeyi wanted to "un-Dharma" Rama by sending him to the forest in an attempt to legitimizing Bharata's anointment. Also, it is clearly shown afterwards that Rama fails to make the wisest choice all the time, which is very unlikely of him, and strives to wipe out innocent species out of anger.

Rama's lesson

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“The good prospers while the evil suffers, as the old saying goes, and in Ramayana, characters who have one of “three major weaknesses that arise from desire” end up violently being killed by the good, and their moments of death are explicitly and vividly described as if the stories are fortifying the message (233). Simply put, those who have violated 3 moral percepts presented by Rama in the book are penalized mercilessly in the end, Desiring another woman’s husband, Supernakha scolds Rama’s wife and tries to take Rama away from Sita. Enraged by her actions, Laksmana uses his dagger to “cut off Supernakha’s ears and nose,” like he’s giving her a lesson. Filled with desire to take vengeance, Supernakha goes straight to her brother and insults him in order to make Khara himself go confront Rama. “Without a justified cause for hostility” but because he was outraged by his sister who keeps pushing him to take revenge for her, Khara decides to murder Rama out of anger (233). However, the almighty Rama kills Khara by “[unleashing] a shower of arrows” (257). Khara bleeds to death. Last but not least, Marica who has falsified his form and pretended to be a deer, helping Ravana to kill Rama, fails to dodge from the arrow of Rama that ends up “[piercing] Marica’s heart” (272).

Rama initially presents 3 “weakeness that arise from desire” and, as if he’s showing how important it is to refrain ourselves from these weaknesses by taking actions, Rama punishes the characters who have fallen for one of these weakness one by one. The candid description of how the characters are paying the price seems to highly stress the cruelty of the 3 weaknesses.