end of Jami, end of the seminar

  1. Comment on the decisive influence of dreams on the course of the narrative (e.g. p. 108-110, 131, etc).
  2. What is the significance of the shattering of the idol by Zulaikha (p. 121)? Also note the references to idols on p. 72, 74.
  3. Why is the sense of sight blamed as a path leading to error (p. 121)?
  4. What is the significance of Yusuf’s power to restore Zulaikha to her former beauty (p. 124)?
  5. Comment on the role of divine manifestations in the narrative.
  6. Why do you think is Zulaikha’s love described as ‘pious devotion’ (p. 130)?
  7. Why should one empty one’s heart of ‘all desire for joy’ (p.158)?
  8. Why is the world like a shoe than pinches (p. 139)?
  9. "theory without practice is a poison without an antidote" (p. 140) does this apply to the texts that we have been studying?
    10.  “Turn from this busy workshop to the world of books, and develop your imagination by reading them. As the famous maxim wisely says, wisdom abides in books even when the sage is in his tomb. A book is the companion of solitude, the brilliant light of the dawn of wisdom, forever opening new vistas of knowledge” (p.143). Sima Qian writes that “[the sages] withdrew and put their deliberations into writing in order to give full expression to their outrage, intending to reveal themselves purely through writing that would last into the future.” The Egyptian scribe writes, “Man dies, his body is dust, / his family all brought low to the earth; / But writing shall make him remembered, /alive in the mouths of any who read.” (remember the handout i gave you guys?) What are the various ways in which the authors that we have studied theorize the power of writing?
    11. "Each of its chapter is a perfumed garden, with beauteous roses in every flowerbed. There the trees of ideas interlace their branches, and find their expression in the melodies of pertly chirruping song-birds" (145). How does this relate to my early lesson about the etymology of seminar?

Reading Questions courtesy of Prof Rajeev Patke.


For Monday, please read Jami from pp. 1-86:

  1. What is the relation set up by Jami between beauty and the notions of unity, difference, and appearance on page 4 (also note pgs., 2, 6, 15, 56)?
  2. What is the relation established by Jami between beauty, love and desire on pages 4-5 (also see pg. 15)?
  3. How does love set one free, according to Jami (pg. 6)?
  4. Comment on the ‘great orchestra’ para on page 10.
  5. Comment on the quality of Jami’s imagery and his use of similes. What do they suggest of his culture and style? (examples: pgs 33, 44, 50-51, etc).
  6. Comment on how a set of ideas and associations concerning love is built up cumulatively through the text through pgs 15-16, 22, 26, 35, 37.
  7. Comment on the ‘true men’ described on page 42: what makes them unique?
  8. Comment on how beauty is related to a specific idea of god (pg. 56), and falling in love as an allegory of reality.
  9. In Chapter 8, how does the appreciation of beauty lead Bazigha to renunciation (pp. 56-57)?
  10. Comment on Yusuf’s self-representation as a ‘mystic rose’ (p. 67).
  11. Comment on the twisted logic of Yusuf’s response to Zulaikha on page 69.
  12. With what arguments does Yusuf reject the 100 maidens (p. 73)?
  13. How does desire get related to idolatry in the interaction between Yusuf and Zulaikha (pp. 72, 74)?
  14. What are Yusuf’s several arguments or reasons for rejecting Zulaikha’s protestations of love (pp. 83-84)?
  15. What might we understand by ‘the command to preserve his purity’ (p. 85)?
  16. Why is Yusuf so horrified by the idol behind a veil in the 7th chamber (p. 85)?

Dinner at my home


Dear all,

To celebrate the conclusion of your LH1 experience, I'd like to invite you to my home for a meal, December 4 at 7:30 p.m. I hope this date will work for everyone. If not, please let me know and I'll do the best I can to find another time.

I live in the Kent Vale II apartments on 117 Clement Rd, Block H (the middle one), unit 02-08. I will provide a main dish (spaghetti bolognese and vegetarian tomato sauce. ) In the comment section below, please indicate what you'd like to bring (both edible and inedible - side dishes, salads, bread, dessert, drinks, paper plates and plasticware). You're welcome to come use my kitchen to cook starting at 6 p.m.



Third paper assignment



1200 words

due Monday 24 November, 2014, 5 p.m.

upload on canvas; paper copy to my office (#07-23)


Read carefully Erich Auerbach’s chapter “Odysseus’ Scar” from his magisterial Mimesis—written during WWII while he, a German-Jewish philologist, was in exile in Istanbul. It is one of the founding texts of the modern discipline of comparative literature and inspired your professor to become a literary critic.[1] Take note of his methods of analysis, his technique of close-reading, and his synthetic arguments about texts and cultures. This will be your model for your third assignment. You will build on the skills you acquired in the last two assignments—asking questions and close-reading—to analyze two texts and construct an argument which will illuminate a problem that they share. You may write on any two post-Homeric or post-Sanskritic text that we have studied.

  1. Sexual ethics

 The norms of sexual behavior are pervasive in the texts that we have studied. Pick two moments and explore the relationship between gender, desire, transgression, and social norms.


  1. Us and others

How do Herodotus, Sima Qian, Euripides, Jami and/or the narrator of Genesis represent the foreign: their customs, geography, language, people?


  1. Gods and mortals

 In what ways do human beings communicate with the divine?

[1] An illuminating review of Auerbach’s life is in the The New Yorker. 9 Dec. 2013.


Auerbach, Odysseus' Scar

Reading Questions for Genesis 38-50



1.) The story of Joseph has been described by scholars as fitting in the genre of the “novella.” What are the literary techniques and characterizations deployed by the narrator?

2.) What have seen lots of sibling rivalry in the text. How does fraternal violence reach its climax and how is it resolved with the story of Joseph and his brothers?

3.) Paternal prejudice is also pervasive. Discuss Jacob’s preferential love for the sons of Rachel.

4.) Discuss the multiple intelligences of Joseph and his father Jacob.

5.) The accusation of rape is a common trope in ancient and modern literature. How is it represented in the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife?

6.) Explore the arc of Joseph’s career in Egypt.

7.) Joseph is a skilled oneiric hermeneut. What is the significance of dreams?

8.) Crying is important. Joseph weeps trice when he recognizes his brothers after twenty-two years. Odysseus weeps when he recognizes himself in the Bard’s recitation, when reunited with his son, servants, wife, and father. What is the function of tears and weeping?

9.) Jacob says to the Pharaoh that his days have been “few and evil.” Alter has an illuminating commentary on the span of Jacob’s life. What do you make of Jacob’s successes and failures?

10.) Why does Jacob cross his hands when he blesses his grandsons?

11.) The land of Canaan and the land of the Egyptians. The Patriarchs as sojourners and tent-dwellers and sheep-herders. Leaving one’s homeland, one’s parents, one’s place of birth. Returning there to find a wife and to be buried. Trying to survive during famine. Discuss the cultural and economic geography of the Patriarch’s world.

12.) How is Egypt—her land, politics and customs—represented? How does it compare to Herodotus’ account?

13.) Joseph seems Odyssean in his testing and making trials of his brothers. Why does he conceive of such duplicitous trials? What’s the significance of silver and the silver cup?

14.) The Book of Genesis ends with the mummified body of Joseph being transferred back to his homeland. Why does the first book of the Bible end in this way?


Genesis 26-37 Reading Questions


1.) Might Jacob’s cleverness be the biblical version of Odysseus’ metis?

2.) This part of our readings recount the life and struggles of Jacob. In what ways might we read his tribulations as a consequence of his theft of Esau’s birthright?

3.) Comment on the ways in which famines are a driving force in the narrative.

4.) Reflect on the parallels and divergences of Jacob’s and his father Isaac’s attempts at finding a wife.

5.) What is the relationship between God and Jacob? How do they communicate?

6.) Reflect on the theme of sibling rivalry in the text.

7.) Is Laban a jerk?

8.) How does the text reveal the existence of “other gods” of the Ancient Near East?

9.) How do the conflicts between Rachel and Leah reflect on the imperatives of biological reproduction?

10.) Who is the “man” who wrestled with Jacob? What’s the significance of the blessing and his limp? (cf. Odysseus’ scar)

11.) “And Esau ran to meet him [Jacob] and embraced him and fell upon his neck, and they wept.” Comment on this scene of reunion and recognition.

12.) We discussed sexual ethics in the last seminar—how is this problem explored in our reading for today?

13.) Notice the multiple times God reaffirms his covenant to his chosen people—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—does it evolve or strengthen?

14.) What is the narrative technique of Genesis? What patterns of repetition, formulae, and set scenes do you notice?

Reading questions for Genesis 12-25


1.) The nomadic life (sojourner) versus the urban one: which is better?

2.) What is the relationship between genealogy and geography?

3.) The Lord appears and speaks to men and women in different guises. Comment.

4.) What is a covenant?

5.) Why does Sarah laugh?

6.) What is the sexual ethics of Genesis? (Telling others that your wife is your sister; marrying your half-sister; circumcision; sleeping with your Egyptian slave-girl, having concubines, seducing your father while drunk, trying to rape visitors. . . . )

7.) God’s promise to Abraham is repeated several times—comment on the pattern and it temporality.

8.) How does Abraham deal with his neighbors?

9.) Comment on the bargaining scene between the Lord and Abraham in Genesis 18.

10.) The Flood, The Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah: what is the logic of divine punishment?

11.) Why does God “test” Abraham by commanding him to offer Isaac as a “burnt offering”? Comment on the narrative technique of this passage.

12.) Cain and Abel; Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob: why does the biblical narrative seem to favor the younger brother?

13.) tent-flaps, camels, silver, gifts, hospitality—what are the social institutions of the Ancient Near East?

14.) How are economic transactions conducted in the text?

15.) Oaths, promises, contracts, covenants—discuss the ways of agreements in the text.

16.) Comment on the moments of deception and duplicity in the text.

17.) Seeds. Comment.

Genesis Reading Questions


Our reading assignments for the next two weeks are as follows:

3/11 Monday: Genesis 1-11

6/11 Thursday: 12-25

10/11 Monday: 26-37

13/11 Thursday: 38-50

 Chapters 1-11

1.) Robert Alter’s translation of the beginning reads, “When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, ‘Let there be light.’”

The King James Version, in contrast, reads “In the beginning God created the Heaven, and the Earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

What are the different senses of temporality in the two translations?

2.) What powers do divine, human and serpentine languages have in the first three chapters?

3.) In what ways does the text present binary oppositions as the structuring principle of the narrative?

4.) What is the relationship between narrative (storytelling) and creation (speech)?

5.) For many readers, Genesis 1:1-2:4 and 2:5-25 form two separate but related narrative units. Most importantly, the divine creator is called “the Lord God” (YHWH ’Elohim) instead of ’Elohim. What differences are there in the two accounts?

6.) Cattle and crawling things are repeated in the text. Why?

7.) From 2:11 to 2:16, the text zooms in to geographical description (chorography) with much precision and local details. This seems different from the previous cosmic vantage point. What do you make of the differing perspective?

8.) Blessings, commandments, naming, curses, persuasion: what can language do and not do?

9.) Gender. Discuss.

10.) Note Alter’s commentary and his attention to the word plays and puns in the Hebrew. How do his explanations help us understand the original text? What features of the Hebrew language can we notice?

11.) Human beings are said to be made in the image of God. Yet God and the Lord God seem to have human characteristics. What are they?

12.) “Let us make a human in our image, by our likeness” “Now that the human has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. . .” Comment on the use of the first person plural in these passages.

13.) a.) Why did the Lord favor Abel and not Cain’s offerings? b.) What is an offering? “Sin” is mentioned for the first time in 3:7. c.) What significance is it that the first murderer is the founder of the first city? d.) What relationship is there between violence and civic institutions? e.) What significance is there at Abel is a “herder of sheep” and Cain a “tiller of the soil”? f.) What significance is there that the Lord favors the younger brother over the older one?

14.) In 4:22—Jubal “the first who play on the lyre and pipe” and Tubal-cain, “who forged every tool of copper and iron” are brothers from different mothers (but the same father.) What’s the significance of this?

15.) What is the significance of the genealogy in Chapters 4 & 5?

16.) Does God/ the Lord/ the Lord God ever change his mind? When and where and why?

17.) 6:18--“And I will sent up a covenant with you” What is a covenant? How does the God bless Noah and his sons? In what ways are his commandants a modification of what was stipulated in the Creation story? How does the relationship between humans and the animals change? Humans and nature?

18.) Why does Noah become drunk?

19.) How does the biblical narrative explain the diversity and confusion of language? In what ways is the story of Babel supremely ironic? What linguistic parallels do you see in human and divine speech? In what ways is the desire to build something a reaction to the fear of the memory of the Flood? What is the relationship between architecture and language? What does it mean to ”make us a name”? What are the different glosses and etymology of the name “Babel” (see footnote 3, p. 47)?

20.) What are the different narrative styles, poetic tropes, rhetorical strategies of the text? Is the authorial voice consistent or does it vary? At what moments is it poetry and prose?

Medea reading questions


Next week will be devoted to Medea. You are required to read the entire play before Monday’s seminar.

1.) What function does the Nurse’s opening speech perform?

2.) What rhetorical strategies does Medea use to gain the Chorus of Corinthian women’s sympathy. Pay attention to the lines 250-2, when Medea says to the women of Corinth, “How wrong they are! I would very much rather stand/ three times in the front of battle than bear one child.” Why does she say this?

3.) In lines 285-304, Creon and Medea discuss her “cleverness,” sophos in Greek, which encompasses both the positive sense of “wise” as well as the pejorative notion of “ingenious, devious.” This is perhaps one of the most important words in the play. What senses of “cleverness” are they using?

4.) Medea says, “Do you think that I would ever have fawned on that man/ Unless I had some end to gain or profit in it?” (lines 368-70) Did Medea ever love Jason? Answer with references to other textual examples from the play.

5.) Jason’s speech in 522-575: What justifications does he give for marrying a new princess? Is it convincing? (The Chorus doesn’t seem to think so, saying, thought you have made this speech of yours look well. . . you have betrayed your wife and are acting badly.)

6.) Examine Medea’s fear of her exile from the polis. Given what you have studied in Aristotle’s Politics, why would this be a real fear for her and those in the audience?

7.) As is common is Greek tragedy, physical atrocities take place off the stage (as opposed to, say, Shakespearean tragedy.) and reported as speech by the messenger. Why do you think this is so?

8.) Examine Jason’s plead for justice (dike) in the end of the play.

9.) In what ways does Medea skirt the boundaries between mortal and “super-mortal” in the end of the play?

10.) Whose tragedy is it?

11.) What does Medea want?

12.) Is Medea mad or does she have full deliberate knowledge of her deeds?

13.) In what ways is Medea a political play?

Herodotus reading questions


Hi everyone,

For next week we move to our second part of historiography and read Herodotus. The readings for next week are:

Monday: Book 1:1-94 (note that these are the paragraph sections, actual page numbers are pgs. 3-56)

1.) Pay attention to the first three paragraphs of the text. As Prof. Mayer explained in lecture, the Greek “historiē” means “inquiry” and Herodotus is considered the “father of history” in Western civilization. How does his opening posture position himself in relation to the epic tradition? How is historical narrative different from epic narrative?

2.) “These are the stories told by the Persians and Phoenicians. I myself have no intention of affirming that these events occurred thus or otherwise.” You will notice that Herodotus takes great pains to gather and organize different competing accounts of events. What then is his role as narrator?

3.) What does the Gyges story tell us about what we are permitted to see and what we are not?

4.) Our first reading is predominately interested in the ambitions of Croesus. How does his rise and fall demonstrate the moral principle that “human prosperity never remains constant” (1.5, pg. 5)

5.) Oracles. What does Herodotus make of them? (Compare with the omens and auspicious signs in the Biography of Gao-tzu)

6.) What does Herodotus think about kingship?

7.) The primary goal of Herodotus’ history is to explain the causes of the Persian war. How does he do this through a constructed dichotomy between “Europe” and “Asia”?


Thursday: Book 1:131-140; 2.35-57; 2.85-90; [extra: 3.38 p. 224—I will provide photocopy on Monday] 4:59-75 (pgs. 71-75, 133-57, 152-3, 224, 306-311)

 8.) These sections are concerned with Herodotus’ “anthropology”—the study of different cultures and his examines the practices of the Persians, Egyptians, Scythians. Pay attention to those who are more xenophobic and those who are more xenophilic.

9.) What is the relationship between culture and geography in Herodotus’ world?

10.) What do you make of the fact that Herodotus reports that “the names of the gods came to Hellas [Greece] from barbarians . . . specifically from Egypt”? What does this tell us about the nature of the gods?

11.) “Custom is the king of all” (p. 224). Discuss.

12.) How does Herodotus explain cultural conflict?

13.) How does Herodotus’ account of the “barbarians” different and similar to that of Sima Qian’s?


Good luck on the completion of your second papers! I look forward to reading them.



Andrew Hui