Saturday, September 28, 2013

12 Labors of Hercules

Just though I'd talk about all 12 of Hercules's labors. incase you didn't feel like googling them.
So basically, Hercules did some bad things like killing his sons and stuff because Hera, who hated that one of Zeus's affairs led to the birth of such a powerful son, drove him mad. To make up for his crimes, he had to serve King Eurystheus, and the king gave him the following labors.
1.) Killing the Nemean Lion
Basically, was a lion with impenetrable fur. Hercules didn't need to pierce his skin to kill it, however. He just bashed its head with a skull and choked it.
2.) Killing the Hydra
Sam already described this one, but here's a quick recap. Everytime Hercules cut one of its heads, two more would grow in its place. To get around this dilemma, Hercules got his nephew, Iolaus, to burn the stumps so the heads couldn't grow back. Eurystheus didn't count this, however, because Iolaus helped him.
3.) Catching the Ceryneian Stag
So there was this super-fast deer with golden antlers that could even outrun arrows, and Hercules was told to bring back these antlers. To do so, he had to chase the deer around for an entire year before he finally caught it.
4.) Catching the Erymanthian Boar
For this task, Hercules got the advice of Chiron. Listening to Chiron's instructions, he easily caught the boar in the winter. When he got back to Eurystheus, the king was so afraid that he jumped in this really nasty pot. (see picture)

5.) Cleaning the Augean Stables
This guy Augeas had a bunch of immortal cattle and a giant stable that hadn't been cleaned in several years. When Hercules was told to clean it, he changed the path of a river and simply washed away all the  filth. Eurystheus said this didn't count, though, because the use of a river was cheating.
6.) Killing the Stymphalian Birds
The stymphalian birds were the birds with bronze teeth and sharp feathers that they could shoot out. Hercules couldn't get to them because they excreted toxic material and lived in a swamp that could not support his weight. Athena helped him out, giving him a rattle made by Hephaestus to scare the birds out of hiding. When they can out, Hercules shot them with his bow.
7.) Catching the Cretan Bull
The Cretan Bull was just a giant bull that was causing havoc in Crete. He just snuck up behind it and beat it up, not much to say about that.
8.) Stealing the Mares of Diomedes
These were not normal horses he had to steal, but fire-breathing, man-eating horses. Also,if it is the same Diomedes as in the Aeneid, he was a very powerful Greek warrior, and he would have beaten the mighty Aeneas, had not Venus come down and carried him away to safety. After Hercules freed the horses, he tamed them by feeding Diomedes to them.
9.) Getting the Girdle of Hippolyta
This should have been easy because Hippolyta had heard of Hercules's exploits and was willing to give him the girdle, but personified rumor came down and told Hippolyta's people that he was there to kidnap her. When her people came to see what was going on, Hercules thought it was a trap so he killed Hippolyta and ran off with her girdle.
10.) Getting the Cattle of Geryon
Geryon was the three-bodied giant we talked about in class. Hercules shot him in the head with arrow and stole his cattle.
11.) Retrieve the Apples of the Hesperides
The Hesperides were the daughters of Atlas. He found them by catching Proteus and forcing him to tell him where they were. He got the apples by convincing Atlas to get apples and by holding the sky up while he did so.
12.) Capturing Cerberus
We already talked about this one in class. He went down and captured him without using weapons, wrestling him to the ground. While there he also freed Theseus, who was trapped with Pirithous in the underworld for trying to capture Proserpina.

"Dux femina facti"

"Dux femina facti." Publius Vergilius Maro haec verba scripsit primo in libro Aeneidos de Didone, regina urbis Carthaginis. ~ "A woman was the leader of the deed." Publius Vergilius Maro wrote these words in the first book of the Aeneid about Dido, the queen of the city of Carthage.

Every Monday, Dr. Ramos would have each of his classes pick a "verba sapienti" sign from his shoebox stuffed with cards displaying various Latin phrases. "Verba sapienti" means "words to the wise." He taught us the translation and origin of many of the Latin phrases that come up in everyday conversation such as, "vice versa" or "et cetera." One of my favorite verba sapienti was "Dux femina facti." The story of Dido's bravery and strength as told by Virgil (whose real name was Publius Vergilius Maro) inspired the commonplace phrase embodying the spirit of Dido's leadership and courage. Dido founded and led an entire city into prosperity at a time when women were expected to "walk behind the men." At the time it was always a man who was the "leader of the deed," Dido showed that women could be and achieve so much more when she broke all constraints and limitations that the men of Greek society placed on them. I think "Dux femina facti" needs to make a comeback within everyday conversation for no other three word phrase better expresses the power women can possess.

The Duke of Chou

In Norton's translation of the Analects, we had a rather inexplicable reference to the Duke of Chou.  Mrs. Quinet explained that he was viewed as a model of courtesy and wisdom, and Confucius wanted to make sure that he was constantly measuring himself against the Duke.  I looked him up in some more depth, and I think the reasons for his fame are somewhat revealing.

The story goes that when King Wu died, his heir, King Cheng, was very young, so the Duke of Chou seized power as regent.  This act was viewed as a sort of coup d'état by the other powerful people of China, so they started an uprising against him.  The Duke promptly crushed the uprising, and then proceeded to actually give up the reigns to the true King when he came of age.  There are some other elements of the story, recounted in detail here and here, but the main point on which he was revered was establishing the legitimacy (the Mandate of Heaven) of the Zhou dynasty, as the Duke had supposedly helped King Wu overthrow the Shang dynasty.  The fact that he had the clear ability to keep power, but recognized the recently-enthroned Zhou kings as the rightful holders of sovereignty, established them as holding the Mandate of Heaven, and thus kept the Zhou dynasty from dissolving in its infancy.  The Duke's actions seem to have been targeted at ensuring the stability of the kingdom: he took the regency to keep China under competent leadership, but gave it up when that would avoid a conflict.

This sort of political philosophy would definitely have appealed to Confucius and his successors.  The decay of the Zhou dynasty and the Warring States Period emphasized the need for stability and a single legitimate government, and the need for individual sacrifice and humbleness to make it so.  It makes a lot of sense that Confucius would view the Duke of Chou as both wise and practical.

On the other hand, there is a sharp contrast with the politics of Virgil.  Virgil, if we take his work to be propaganda for Augustus Caesar, was all in favor of one man taking power and making himself by right of conquest the legitimate state.  This attitude, as Mr. Williams described, led to a lot of conflict in Rome, as a series of generals degraded the legitimacy of the state by declaring themselves its rightful heads again and again.  Rome, it seems, had quite a bit to learn from the Duke of Chou.


I don't know if anybody els has looked at the reading on Islam due next week, but it includes a collection of stories called One Thousand and One Nights or sometimes The Arabian Nights.  The frame story is that Schariar, a Persian Shah, married a series of women and killed each of them on the next day.  However, one of these women, Scheherazade, convinced him to allow her to tell a story, which she ended with a cliffhanger, and by telling him a story each night she managed to postpone her execution for the titular thousand and one nights and, finally, to get him to allow her to live.

The reason I bring the plot up is that it forms the basis of one of my favorite pieces of music, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (1888).  It is a commonly-performed piece, and I recommend trying to find a local performance of it (the LPO and Loyola Symphony both performed it last year), but short of that here is a YouTube video of a very good performance (Gergiev is probably the most prominent living conductor, and the Vienna Philharmonic is pretty generally considered the most reputable orchestra):

If you listen to and/or watch the video, you'll probably realize that it says little to nothing about Islamic literature.  I just included it here because it's a convenient time to put it and I'm a Rimsky-Korsakov fanboy.

Scheherazade is a good example of programmatic music, which means that it represents a story or mood.  The initial trombone part, for example, represents the Shah, while the concertmaster's (first violin) solo is Scheherazade's theme.  Both parts invoke the feeling and texture that Rimsky-Korsakov wanted to associate with those characters.  If you actually watch the entire piece, you'll see that it starts with the Shah's theme, and then Scheherazade is introduced, and it begins a series of episodes depicting stories from the Nights, thus reflecting the plot of the original story.  The dream-like ending conveys a sense of extraordinary tiredness, and the end of the piece is supposed to be Scheherazade falling asleep after hundreds of anxious nights of telling stories.  Meanwhile, the piece is also an example of orientalism, the fashion in the West for imitating Eastern culture (which remains in modern times most saliently in the form of Persian rugs and imitation Chinese designs on porcelain).
The tonality (relations between the notes; scales or chords) of the piece, and moreover the ornamentation and rhythm, convey a vaguely Middle Eastern feel.  I find that especially clear in the oboe solos, which sort of make me think of a snake charmer.

The reason I really love the piece, though, is the combination of inventive orchestration (Rimsky-Korsakov is remembered mostly as a master orchestrator) and clear, memorable melodies.  For example, if you listen to the section beginning around 14:17, you get a very clear sense of energy, both from the tense, syncopated melodies in the first violins and from the frantic, high-pitched effects of the pizzicato (plucked, as opposed to bowed, strings) second violins, piccolo, and flutes.  I don't know of any other composer that can achieve that kind of effect simply with orchestral colors.  I've listened to the finale over and over again, and I am still amazed by the symmetrical closure that he brings to each thematic group (each set of elements based on a single melody).

Anyway, I think that Scheherazade is an interesting and worthwhile, if loose, rendering of One Thousand and One Nights.

Modernized Mythology

There are countless references to Greek/Roman mythology in the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series. Honestly, Miranda and I were hardly containing ourselves whenever we discovered one of these references during class these past two weeks. The more I think about it, the more I realize entire aspects of the plot are simply modernized mythology. For example, just like Aeneas, Percy and his friends enter the Underworld- but through the Hollywood sign. Mt. Olympus is located on the Empire State Building. And land of the Lotus Eaters (from the Odyssey) appears as the Lotus Casino in Las Vegas.

Percy, aka the epic hero, is a "demigod," meaning one of his parents is a god/goddess. Just like Aeneas mother is Venus. In Percy's case, his father is Poseidon. More than a few times Poseidon comes to Percy's rescue to help him fulfill his prophecy, just as Venus does for Aeneas.

Some might say that that Richard Riordan, the author of the series, does a disservice to the mythology he incorporated and modernized his novels. However, I would have to disagree. Let's face it, I don't know all that many people, besides various teachers and Joey, who are completely familiar with Greek/Roman mythology. By taking mythology and creating it into something that interests kids of the 21st century- Riordan, J.K. Rowling, and other authors are preserving these epic tales in the most creative of ways. Miranda and I read this series and had no idea until recently just how much knowledge we actually had on Greek and Roman mythology.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Spring and Autumn Annals: and Other Miscellaneous Observations

I tried to find a complete English translation of the Spring and Autumn Annals online, but I could only find a few fragments and some commentary. The annals themselves are almost absurdly concise and, from what I could tell, completely devoid of context or explanation. On average, only about 65 words were recorded each year. By comparison, I have reached exactly 65 words right here. To demonstrate this terseness, the first entry says only: "ORIGINAL YEAR. SPRING. KING’S RECTIFIED MONTH."

After Confucius' death, the rumor spread that he, a native of the state of Lu where the Annals were kept, had edited the annals to subtly reveal some hidden wisdom. Historians agree that the Annals were written entirely by court bureaucrats; nevertheless, Zhou and Han scholars came up with intricate methods of extracting predictions and meaning from the rather vacuous record. The commentaries they came up with are sometimes hilarious. For example, the most famous such work, the Gongyang Zhuan, interprets the three words: "WINTER. LOCUSTS AROSE." as follows (the commentary is in the form of a question-and-answer dialogue):

"The text has never before noted the advent of locusts, why does it do so here?
The advent of locusts is not a thing recorded in the Annals. 
Then why does it record it here?
To indicate it was a lucky thing.
Wherein was it lucky?
The ruler altered what was old and changed what was constant; in response to this there was a disaster of nature. "

I think that this sort of mind-numbing over-interpretation illustrates the extreme deference later Chinese scholars paid to Confucian texts; it seems like Confucius was viewed as an all-knowing prophet.  From what I read in the Analects, though, it also seems to show how easy it is to overlook the obvious elements in search of hidden meaning.  Confucius directly says that people should find joy in the Way rather than simply intellectually interpreting it; the exact opposite happens here.  You can read some more excerpts from the Annals and commentaries here.

This kind of glossing-over of obvious elements of a philosophy reminds me of how people with all sorts of beliefs sometimes ignore elements of those beliefs that aren't convenient to them.  For example, take Matthew 6:5 and 6:6: 

'And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.'  (New Revised Standard Version)

How do Televangelists, among others, get away with so blatantly violating this section?  I think that they use verses to support their work spreading the Gospel as a sort of distraction, much like Chinese bureaucrats who were comfortable having memorized everything Confucius ever wrote and thus passing the civil service test used meaningless hermeneutics to cover up the broader meaning of his work.  I think this is a good historical example of how we need to keep the big picture in mind, and sometimes just take things at face value.

Confucius Says....

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.
Ignorance is a willful neglect or refusal to acquire knowledge. Having no ignorance means the perspective or consciousness has become one with all there is. An example of this would be considering yourself a genius, and not realizing that there are thousands of people smarter than you.

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. 

We have to experience something ourselves in order to really understand it. If we hear something, it must be interesting. If we see something, it must be beautiful. For example, picture yourself losing someone or something you love. Can you know this by hearing or seeing it? Or do you have to experience it yourself before you truly know it?

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

Confucius asks us to drop our way in which we see the world, usually distorted by our wants and beliefs. We must look at things as they truly are. If we are able to do this without judgment, we can see everything in nature as it should be. This natural state of perfection is beauty.

Archaic Art-- Lernaean Hydra

Below is a vase depicting Hercules slaying the Lernaean Hydra. The painter is thought to be called the "Eagle Painter". It was painted in the city of Caere, one of the larger cities of Southern Etruria. It was made in 525 BC, during the archaic period. This type of vase is known as a hydria. The hydria was used for carrying water, had three handles, and usually depicted Greek mythology that reflected moral and social obligations. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fluffy, The Three-Headed Dog

After reading parts of Aeneid, I couldn't help but recognize similar uses of mythological allusions in more recent novels, such as the Harry Potter series. It contains many different characteristics of mythology, such as centaurs, dragons, griffins, basilisks, phoenixes, and many more. Perhaps the most obvious is Hagrid's "pet," Fluffy. Basically the 20th century version of Cerberus, Fluffy embodies every aspect of the original Cerberus. Both are three-headed dogs, that much is obvious. They are the guardians of some "gate" (whether that be the gate to the Underworld, or the trapdoor leading to the Sorcerers Stone). In both stories they are, of course, "defeated" (lulled to sleep) through music - Fluffy through the enchanted harp, and Cerberus through Orpheus's lyre.

Creatures in the Aeneid

Since Joey knows all the backstories necessary to fully understand the Aeneid, stories the audience back then would have known as well, I thought I would do some research to "get on his level". Here is information on two of the many crazy creatures mentioned in the sixth book.

Scylla was a monstrous sea goddess who killed any sailors that would come to close to the rocks she haunted. Homer describes Skylla as a creature with twelve dangling feet, six long necks and grisly heads lined with a triple row of sharp teeth. Her voice sounded like yelping dogs. The description of Scylla is probably derived from the imagery of words associated with her name. Skylax in Greek means dog and Skyllaros means hermit-crab. Late classical writers say that she was once a beautiful nymph but was transformed into a monster by a witch named Kirke.
Lernean Hydra was also a monster. However, she was a giant, nine-headed water serpent that haunted the swamps of Lerna. Hercules was sent to destroy her as his second labour, but for each of her heads that he decapitated, two more would grow. So with the help of Iolaos, his nephew, he applied burning brands to the severed stumps, cauterizing the wounds and preventing new head from springing forth.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Roman Holiday"

Fleming gives an interesting definition of "Roman Holiday": "To this day, the highest praise that can be given an elaborate public festival is to call it a Roman holiday"  (101).  I'm not totally sure whether that was meant ironically; here is the definition from Merriam-Webster: "1 : A time of debauchery or sadistic enjoyment;  2 :  A destructive or tumultuous disturbance: RIOT".   A lot of people have commented on how the Romans seemed to enjoy blood sports, and that is where the phrase comes from.  It is derived from Canto 4, stanza 141 of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, describing a gladiatorial fight:

He heard it, but he heeded not—his eyes
Were with his heart, and that was far away; 
He recked not of the life he lost nor prize, 
But where his rude hut by the Danube lay, 
THERE were his young barbarians all at play, 
THERE was their Dacian mother—he, their sire, 
Butchered to make a Roman holiday
 All this rushed with his blood—Shall he expire, 
And unavenged?—Arise! ye Goths, and glut your ire!

I don't really know where Fleming was coming from here, but that does not seem like high praise to me.

Roman Architecture

I really found the grand structures of the Romans quite interesting. I can see why they would transform the wooden wheel of the Greeks into a metal one. I still find their designs incredibly ingenious, like the aqueducts connecting to Trajan's forum to bring fresh water, or the use of pulleys to extend an awning over the spectators in the colosseum. Over the summer I went to Rome, and I got to see the Pantheon, Colosseum, Forum, and many other truly amazing structures.

As you can see, the Pantheon has the triangular and rectangular shape that many Greeks praised. Yet the true "inside" of the structure is circular. I feel that the Romans were in a way paying tribute to their influencers by creating a Grecian facade, while still maintaining their own identity by using the circular temple. Interestingly enough, the floor of the Pantheon rises to the middle, directly under the skylight. As Kincy said in class, the sun focuses on a particular god or goddess during times of the day. In this photo you can see part of the circle already making its way down to one of them.
This is the Roman Forum. My group discussed this, and as you can see, we weren't exaggerating on its grandeur. I was standing at about 2-3 stories when I took this picture, and the columns directly in front were a few stories higher than me. I can only imagine how amazing it must have looked during its heyday.

Perhaps one of my favorite structures, the Colosseum has definitely lost some of its grandeur. The facade has become blackened by the fumes of passing cars, and much of its original material has either been stolen or broken from earthquakes and vibrations. The small holes you can see on the outside are the pegs in which much of the marble would have been placed. 
However, the inside is completely awing. You can see the similarity between current stadiums and the original. If you look right above the solid platform to the left, a lone set of seats remain untouched. They are the only seats that remain in marble, and have been sitting there for hundreds of years. Of course, the coolest part of the Colosseum is the floor. The intricate paths and tiny chambers contained wild beasts as well as prisoners. The floor itself was sand-based to absorb the blood spilled during fights, as well as to hide the trapdoors for any surprise attacks. As Joey talked about in class, the Romans could also flood the flooring and have naval fights. For a society obsessed with blood-sport, the Colosseum definitely fulfilled their interests.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hellenistic history

Arts and Ideas doesn't really go into the history of Alexander the Great, which kicked off the Hellenistic period.  I know something about it from reading Peter Green's Alexander of Macedon last year, so here is a brief summary.  Alexander was a Macedonian king who succeeded his father Philip at the age of 20 and over the next nine years conquered everything between Greece and Pakistan, a feat that more or less overnight spread Greek culture farther east than it had ever been:

However, his empire lasted approximately three and a half seconds after his death.  According to one account, on his deathbed he bequeathed his empire "to the strongest", which is totally apocryphal but demonstrates the attitudes of his generals.  His empire was quickly split up between his most ambitious generals: Ptolemy was the first to formally break off, declaring himself Pharaoh and setting up the Ptolemaic dynasty, the 32nd and last, in Egypt.  Seleucus killed Perdiccas, who had briefly tried to rule the entire empire, and staked out his own claim in in Mesopotamia and Syria (his kingdom was really the last bastion of Hellenism against the Romans; it lasted until the 60s BC).  Meanwhile, Lysimachus took Thrace (northeast of Greece on the Black Sea) and parts of Asia Minor and Antigonus Cyclops made himself king of Macedonia.  These generals, called the Diadochi or successors, settled the borders amongst themselves in 320 BC, three years after Alexander's death.  I found a translation of a Byzantine summary of the agreement here, and you can see even from the fragment how completely the empire had collapsed.  The chaos didn't stop there, but the point is that Alexander's empire only lasted a few years, which makes the spread of Hellenistic culture all the more amazing.  Despite the political fragmentation, Greek styles of art and architecture quickly superseded their Achaemenid equivalents in the old Persian empire.  For example, the Pharos and Library of Alexandria are both thought to have been Hellenic-style works of architecture, and the Library contained mostly Greek texts.  The Acropolis of Pergamon (a formerly Persian city), which is described at length in Fleming, was built by the successors to Lysimachus.  Greek architecture would almost certainly never have come to dominate the city without Alexander.

Oedipus in The Odyssey

We mentioned that Tiresias appears in The Odyssey in class, and I looked up the reference (it's on lines 100-172, Book XI in the Fagles translation).  I didn't know, however, that Oedipus himself also makes an appearance in the same scene in the underworld, on lines 307-313:

"And I saw the mother of Oedipus, beautiful Epicaste [Jocasta?].
What a monstrous thing she did, in all innocence--
she married her own son...
who'd killed his father, then he married her!
But the gods soon made it known to all mankind.
So he in growing pain ruled on in beloved Thebes"

The Odyssey dates to around 700 B.C., and Oedipus Tyrannos to 429 B.C., so clearly this was an old legend.  I wonder if Sophocles himself changed the ending of the story to make it more of a tragedy, or if Homer just had a different version of the myth.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

As the Romans made progress in allowing more rights to women, they regressed in their obsession over blood game. We see much improvement in the rights of women between the Greeks and the Romans. The Romans allowed women to attend banquets, which we saw depicted in Roman art. However, the Roman’s form of entertainment didn’t mainly come from theatre and art, as did the Greeks. The Romans also sought entertainment through watching animals and men fight till death. I can’t imagine an entire society cheering on two men as they kill for fame. This whole idea of gladiators is repulsive to me…… I can’t even watch my blood being drawn without blacking out and feeling nauseous, much less could I ever watch an entire episode of Greys Anatomy without occasionally turning my head. I know that if I lived during the Romans, I’d be the one throwing up out the side of my seat. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lady Gaga: The Ancient Greek Playwright of the 21st Century

I was thinking about the ridiculous level of influence held by playwrights in Ancient Greece, so much that they were essentially politicians. As we see specifically in Medea, Euripides uses his plays to comment on social and political issues. Seriously, using plays to comment on and make changes regarding society and politics was absolutely brilliant. Even in the BC days people were obsessed entertainment and public (aka famous) figures. Plays to the Greeks were like Hollywood blockbusters to us and playwrights to the Greeks were like Oprah or Lady Gaga to us. Think what you may, but Lady Gaga has major influence over her millions (or billions?) of fans, and she uses her influence to comment on social issues like gay rights (Listen to "Born this Way" if you don't believe me).

Imagine you had Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader and a supporter of same-sex marriage, on one hand and Lady Gaga on the other. Harry is in a suit logically stating why there should be same-sex marriage. Lady G is dancing and singing in a bedazzled leotard about same-sex marriage. Which one would capture your attention?

Ancient Greece is no different. They would rather watch and learn from an entertaining play than listen to some guy in a stuffy toga.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Medea and Women

Medea is obviously all about gender. When Euripides wrote the play in the 400's BC, Athens was a heavily male dominated society, like most Greek city-states. Mr. Fitzpatrick talked to us about how playwrights were equivalent to politicians during this time in Greece because they would use their plays to send a message to the over 20,000 person audience their show was performed in front of. I believe Euripides uses Medea to point out the hypocrisy of the unjust life women were subjected to during this time.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reflection on Uber Period in the Theatre

Starting this year, the thought of being in one class for over two hours seemed really intimidating. I soon realized that the "uber" period, as Mrs. Quinet calls it, actually presents some pretty cool opportunites. The group projects we did a couple weeks ago were a great way to learn the material while experiementing with new technology. I also really enjoyed spending our super long period in the theatre. It was fun to play around with different techniques ranging from the Greeks to modern theatre. I had never realized how much effort went into the Greek productions. Pretending to be the chorus showed me just how much time and coordination must have gone into planning the chorus alone.

Agamemnon's Family

Atreus, as Mr. Kirkpatrick told us, was Agamemnon and Menelaus's  father. After he found out that his brother, Thyestes, stole the throne of Mycenae by seducing Atreus's wife, he decided to get revenge. He did this by cutting up Thyestes's children into small pieces, cooking them, and feeding them too their own father and then banishing him for eating human flesh. Interestingly enough, Thyestes and Atreus were the sons of Tantalus, who cut up his own children and tried to feed them to the gods to test their omnipotence. Tantalus was punished by being forced to spend an eternity in a pool of water that recedes whenever he tries to drink under a tree whose branches raise whenever he tries to pluck a fruit. So yeah, it was a pretty messed up family.

Some Background Info for Civilization vs. Barbarism Examples

Gods vs. Titans
Cronos received a prophecy that he would be defeated by his son, so he ate all his children. His wife, Rhea, didn't like that he was eating all their children, so she bore three children in secret. These children (Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon) came back after they grew up, freed their devoured brothers and sisters, and overthrew the Titans.
Lapiths vs. Centaurs
So the king of the Lapiths, Pirithous, was getting married to Hippodamia, and he invited the centaurs because he was related to them. The centaurs soon got drunk and tried to kidnap Hippodamia, so a battle broke out and the Lapiths won.

Problems with the Allegory of the Cave

Although I think the Allegory of the Cave is an interesting hypothetical much like Zhuang Zhou's dream of a butterfly, I'm not so sure about the leap to government by the philosophers.  Plato says that the man who has seen the outside the cave should return and try to influence those still in the cave to go out and see the light or, at least, to guide them as his new knowledge dictates.  Within the context of the hypothetical, this certainly seems reasonable.  However, where I don't really follow Plato is when he says that the man who has been outside the cave is comparable to a philosopher in real life.  The problem with this comparison as I see it is that the man who is released from the cave gains a tangible experience not available to anyone else--he has real information that nobody inside the cave has.  A philosopher merely uses experiences available to everyone to come up with theories about things.  It seems to me like Plato would be more like a particularly thoughtful person inside the cave, who is just as likely to think that he is merely a figure in a butterfly's dream as he is to realize that he is in a cave.  That is, in real life there is no clear, demonstrable delineation between people who have "correct" philosophies--i.e., those who know they are in a cave--and people who do not; we cannot leave the cave.  From this perspective, the conclusions of the Allegory (that philosophers like Plato are the only ones who see the world as it is and thus the only ones deserving of leadership) seem rather self-aggrandizing.  Besides, I have never really liked the idea of the tangible world being a shadow of some "more real" world--I think Occam's razor provides a much more practical and elegant way of thinking about things.

The Etymology of Plato's Forms

We spent quite a bit of time on Plato's forms this week, and Mr. Kirkpatrick talked about forms in a different sense yesterday. I think it is interesting that the Greek work Plato used for forms is ἰδέα, or "idea". In fact, I think if you think of his philosophy as the "Theory of Ideas", it takes away a lot of what seems to me, to be honest, like pretentiously obscure intellectualism.  If you think of them as ideas--that is, abstractions and, particularly, characterizations--the Theory of Forms becomes less of an odd theory or dualistic belief and more of a rational framework.  To me it recalls mathematical set theory, in that each form essentially consists of a group of things sharing that characteristic, and the two realms represent the abstraction, or the shared characteristics of the objects within each set, and the objects themselves, which seems to me like a more useful and less mysterious distinction than that between the "World of Being" and the "World of Becoming".  To return to the etymology itself, "idea" comes from the verb idein, "to see", meaning that it is the appearance of an object, as contrasted with the object itself.  We get the words "wit" and of course "idea" from the same root.

Blink and the Getty Kuoros

As I told Mrs. Quinet, I read a ton of nonfiction, self-help books this summer. My favorite was Malcom Gladwell's Blink, which was about the power of first instincts and the importance of not doubting your decisions. Gladwell spends the first chapter of the book talking about the Getty kouros. The Getty kuoros is a Greek kuoros like the ones we've been learning about in class. When the statue was first purchased by the Paul Getty Museum, several art experts "had a bad feeling" about the piece but could never actually point out why they felt that way or what was wrong. Extensive testing seemed to assure that the statue was authentic, but still experts only warned that "something was not right," without having any evidence to back up their intuition. Years later, however, the paper trail that at first authenticated the statue was found to be forged. To this day, the Getty kuros sits in the museum with a plaque stating that it could be an authentic Greek kuoros or an extremely accurate forgery.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Oedipus Rex: Fate vs. Free Will

I find the message of Oedipus Rex to be a very clear one: we as humans have no control over our ultimate fate. I think even if Oedipus hadn't learned of his destiny from the Oracle and Tiresias, he still would have ended up in the same situation. His attempts to avoid fate do seem to put him in the very situation he was trying to avoid, but in some ways, one could argue that the Gods new he would go down that path. So I guess the question is, did Apollo predetermine Oedipus' fate, or did he see the future/ the choices Oedipus would make and just layout to Creon the inevitable. Then we must take into consideration Tiresias' knowledge of Oedipus' fate. Tiresias, from what I understand, is not a God. So, how did he know Oedipus' destiny? I think it's safe to say that he didn't predestine Oedipus to his misfortune. Therefore, he either interpreted Oedipus' destiny from the Gods or had transcendent powers and could Oedipus' future.

The Role of Fate in the Aeneid.

During class today I kept having flashbacks to latin class when we would debate the role of the gods in the Aeneid. As we discussed the role of fate I kept on thinking how little power the greeks figured they had in determining the outcome of their life. In the Aeneid, Aeneas is continually hindered by Zeus's wife after he offended her. Juno would try to stop Aeneas's fate of establishing the roman race, but was unable to stop his fate. But his mother, Aphrodite, usually was able to counteract her actions. These goddesses would plead with zeus to determine his final fate. As you can see, the gods have a limited control over the humans' fate, since they are very similar to human's themselves. The three muses have the power to cut the strings of one's life, but do they determine a person's fate? Do the god's have to gain Zeus's approval to control one's fate? Or is fate above the god's powers and they are only able to read it. The more I think about how flawed and human like the gods were, the sorrier I feel for the greeks since they believed that they were completely under their power.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Grecian Figures A Few Hundred Years Ahead

As we compared the evolution of Grecian art, I couldn't help but remember a few iconic Greek figures sculpted a few centuries later. I know I might be jumping a few hundred years ahead, but I thought I'd share a few statues I found particularly interesting.

 Hercules Fighting the Centaur Nessus. For those of you who do not know the story, basically Nessus was a centaur who attempted to steal Hercules's wife. When Hercules shot an arrow at Nessus and killed him, Nessus told Hercules's wife that his blood would ensure Hercules's love for her. Instead, Nessus's blood poisons and kills Hercules. I found this statue to be an excellent representation of human "perfection." The melodramatic expression of utter terror and pain within Nessus's face, and the detailed muscularity of the bodies are great representations of Hellenistic art. The positions of the bodies greatly differ from the more geometric and archaic grecian art we've seen. Like the statue of Perseus, it contains much more movement. It is inspirational to those who looked up to icons like Hercules, and overall illustrates the Greeks transitioning view of art.

Perseus with the Head of Medusa. Although the statue was bronze, I noticed a few similarities to the Hellenistic art of the Greeks. The detailed muscularity on the body. The nakedness. The movement of the body, rather than a completely static stance. The emotional response of Perseus, and his dutiful expression. His eyes are closed, because as the myth goes, Medusa could turn one to stone with one look at her face. I would also like to point out the bodily "perfection" used to illuminate Greek icons. As in the later periods of Grecian art, I find that this piece embodies the "Grecian" view of human perfection.

(Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy. Both photos are mine.)

The Things One Finds on Youtube..

I have Mr. William's freshman World History class to thank for my all-consuming passion for "Three Minute Philosophy" videos on Youtube. Lucky for us, there's a video on Plato. The video describes everything from The Allegory of the Cave to Plato's views on Democracy to Plato's theory of Forms. Specifically, I think the video does a really great job of relating Plato's work with the modern world. Whereas we tend to laugh at the thought of majoring in Philosophy, Philosophers were essentially the Morgan Freemans of Ancient Greece. Meaning, everyone loved them and everyone listened to them.

I also found a rather, for lack of a better word, modern interpretation of The Allegory of The Cave. Beware, this video will either make you laugh or kill off a significant number of your brain cells. Or both. Surprisingly though, it does do a good job of visually connecting the physical interpretation of the  cave to its metaphorical interpretation.

Socratic Method

I looked up some examples of the Socratic method and the more I learned, the more annoying his style of arguing became. These arguments definitely would have flustered whoever Socrates would have been arguing against. He questions you about things that you think know, but then forces you to question your beliefs. Here is a summary of how to use the Socratic method:

.    1
Locate the statement that sums up their argument. Socrates would often elicit such a statement by asking the person to define something, like "What is justice?" or "What is truth?" You can employ the Socratic method using any declarative statement which a person sounds certain of, like "This table is blue."


.    2
Examine the implications of the statement. Assume that their statement is false and find an example where the statement is false. Can you provide a scenario, real or imaginary, that is inconsistent with their statement? Wrap this scenario in a question:

                  "To a blind person, is this table still blue?"
                  If the person says no, proceed to the next step.
                  If the person says yes, ask: "What makes it blue to a blind person, and not green, or pink, or purple?" In other words, if someone can't see, what makes the table blue? This question might stump some people who regard colour as only existing in the perception of the human experiencing it. If so, proceed to the next step.
.    3
Change the initial statement to take the exception into account.
 "So the table is blue only to those who can see."

Challenge the new statement with another question.
E.g. "If the table is in the middle of an empty room, where no one can see it, is it still blue?" Eventually, you should come to a statement that the person has agreed to but that contradicts their original statement. In this example, you might end up pointing out the subjectivity of the perception of color and argue (using questions, not statements) that color only exists in a person's mind as a result of their perception; it isn't actually a property of the table. In other words, the table is not blue. Your opponent's perception of it is blue.
If the person rejects existentialism as a presupposed truth however, they may still disagree with your final assertion.

All during class on Friday when we were talking about Socrates I kept on thinking about how Coach Coleman lectures her students. Whenever she tries to show me a different point of view, she asks me multiple questions and lets me find her reasoning myself. This reminded of the way Socrates lectured because they both guide their students to find answers for themselves, rather than just tell them.