Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Introduction to Egyptian Mythology

Ø      Egyptians wrote their history and mythology using hieroglyphics, a language of pictograms that we've learned to read because of the Rosetta Stone, a stele granting king Ptolemy V the status of a god.

Ø      The Rosetta Stone was written in 196 BC in Memphis, Egypt. In Medieval times, the temple was ruined, and the stone was used in the building of Fort Julien in the town of Rosetta, Egypt. It was discovered in 1799 and translated by Jean-François Champollion.

Ø      Egyptian mythology is confusing for several reasons. Egyptians were polytheistic, meaning they believed in many gods. And, some gods have more than one name.

Egypt's ancient towns and temples

Ø      Second, Egypt had different towns and cities, each with its own patron gods and myths. Joining them all together was hard, and had a lot to do with politics - the most important cities wanted to have the most important gods.

Ø      Sometimes, they'd take different gods, like Ra, Ptah, and Amun, and join them together. And, they had different wives, so how does that work? Another example, when Osiris died, he became god of the underworld. But there was already a god of the underworld named Ptah, so they joined into one god.

Ø      And then, people came from other lands, like Mesopotamia, Canaan, Nubia, and Greece, and brought their gods with them. So, Egyptians had to add them in somehow.

Ø      Finally, the Egyptian pantheon is confusing because there's no agreement on which gods were parents to which children. The texts don't agree with each other. So, making a family tree is very hard. Basically, instead of organizing this whole mess, ancient Egyptian priests all shrugged their shoulders (mykali plecami) and said, "Let's have lunch."

Ø      Another strange fact is that Egyptian gods didn't always need parents. Some of them simply made themselves, and one god, Horus, actually gave birth to himself over and over.

Ø      The most important belief in Egyptian Mythology was in maat, which means order and balance. Egyptians believed they had to maintain order, because all around them was the chaos of the desert and seas. Foreign armies came from these lands of chaos and were evil. The pharoah's job was to protect maat.
Ø      Egyptians also believed that a person's soul contained five parts:

  Ren (your name)
            Ba (your personality)
            Ka (your lifeforce/spirit)
            Shent (your shadow)
            Ib (your heart)

Ø      An important symbol in Egyptian mythology is the ankh, representing eternal life.

an ankh

Ø      Oh yeah, there was one pharaoh named Akhenaten (1350-1335 BC) who didn't like polytheism, so he changed the official religion, and made people worship a sun god named Aten. This new religion was monotheistic. As soon as Akhenaten died, his son reinstated (obnovil) all the old gods, and people tried to forget Akhenaten ever existed.

Bust of Akhenaten, 1353–1336 BC

Virginia Woolf Biography

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

v     Virginia Woolf was one of the most famous modernist writers, and was also an important member of the Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals.

v     Her most famous novels are Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando. Each of these stories focus on a kind of personal crisis which characters think about, while doing mundane (boring) things, in the midst of family problems and life during war time.

v     In 1938 she wrote Three Guineas, an essay that suggests fighting fascism with feminism, giving women more equality, thereby changing society as a whole. The idea is, Virginia asked, How can there be an end to fascism in the world, when there is fascism in every home?

v     In 1941 she wrote her last work Between the Acts, a novel written in verse. It's about an amateur play produced in an English village, representing a parody of English history and literature, from Shakespeare to the present.

v     She's also famous for her essay A Room of One's Own, in which she said "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

v     Virginia Woolf is considered a modernist because she wrote using stream of consciousness, as well as focusing on the emotional motives of her characters. Stream of consciousness is when you enter the mind of a character and see what he or she is thinking, often randomly going from one idea to another.

"Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives myriad impressions - trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel . . . Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit?"

Personal Life:

Virginia Woolf, by her sister Vanessa Bell
Virginia Woolf came from a large family in Kensington, London. Her father was a historian, and his mother was a model for famous Pre-Raphaelite painters, like Edward Burne-Jones. She was educated by her parents. Her brothers went to a formal school, which Virginia resented, but the family had a large library, so she read a lot, and her house also received visits from famous writers like Henry James. Every summer her family visited St. Ives in Cornwall, which was a great influence on her writing.

Virginia began writing at eighteen, for the Times Literary Supplement. She married Leonard Woolf in 1912. Although happy with her husband, Virginia also experimented a bit with a lady named Vita Sackville-West, whom Virginia portrayed in her novel Orlando.

Virginia suffered from bipolar disorder, a psychological illness in which your mood changes quickly and suddenly, from happy to sad, and calm to angry. She suffered a series of nervous breakdowns following the deaths of family members - her mother when she was thirteen, her sister Stella when she was fifteen, and then her father when she was twenty-two. Adding to the depression, she was sexually abused by her step brothers. She was put in psychiatric care numerous times. Life became unbearable for her during World War II, when London was Blitzed. She wrote a biography that no one liked, about her friend, the artist Roger Fry. So, she committed suicide, filling her coat with stones and walking into the River Ouse, where she drowned, age 59. Her last note reads,

"Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. V"

Virginia Woolf, by Roger Fry

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Huck Finn by E. W. Kemble

v     This book, written in 1884, is the sequel to the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

v     Although it was written after the Civil War in 1860, the events take place before the war happened.

v     This book is far more controversial than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, because it deals with the subjects of slavery and racism. This book is a satire of American society.

v     This book makes use of vernacular English - the characters speak in strong dialect. Many critics have complained about this, as well as the use of racial stereotypes and slurs, for example, the 'N' word.

v     One example of the vernacular is the first sentence which Twain changed repeatedly: He first wrote, "You will not know about me", which he changed to, "You do not know about me", before settling on the final version, "You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'; but that ain't no matter."

v     Twain mocked his critics. When the Concord, MA, public library banned his book, he said, " Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as 'trash and only suitable for the slums.' This will sell us another twenty-five thousand copies for sure!"

The Plot:

v     The story begins with Tom helping Huck sneak out at night, from the home of Widow Douglas, and her strict sister Miss Watson, whom Huck doesn't like. Miss Watson owns a slave named Jim, and the boys have to be quiet so he doesn't hear them.

v     The boys go out to play, but Huck's father finds them, and takes Huckleberry back to his cabin in the woods.

v     Huckleberry fakes his own death while his father is out, and sneaks off for Jackson's Island, where he and Tom had played pirates in the last book.

v     There he finds Jim, who has also run away. Miss Watson had wanted to sell him to some brutal slave owners who live down river. Jim plans to escape to the north, to Cairo Illinois, a free state. There he can work to buy his family's freedom.

v     At first Huck feels bad for helping Jim, a runaway slave, but they become friends, and the older Jim becomes his protector.

Jim & Huck on the Raft, by Achille Sirouy

v     The Mississippi River floods, so Huck & Jim get on a raft for safety. The see an old house floating down along the river and check it for food. Jim finds a dead body, and won't tell Huck who it is.

v     Huck returns to town, dressed as a girl, to learn what the town thinks happened to him. Everyone thinks he was killed, either by his dad, or Jim, and the promise of a reward has prompted a manhunt. A posse plans to check Jackson's Island that night, so Huck & Jim pack up their raft and leave down the river.

v     After various adventures, Huck & Jim are separated, after their raft is hit by a steamboat, and Huck ends up in Kentucky. There, he is taken care of by a kind family called the Grangerfords. They are rich, and they have a boy named Buck who is Huck's age. They quickly become friends.

v     The Grangerfords are feuding with another family called the Shepherdsons, similar to the families in Romeo & Juliet. When Buck's older sister elopes with a young Shepherdson boy, the families fight, and all the male Grangerfords are killed, including Buck. Huck goes to find Jim, who has fixed their raft. Jim thought Huck had died, and is shocked to see him.

Jim and the Ghost, by E. W. Kemble

v     Near the Arkansas border, Huck & Jim join two grifters (con artists) who pretend to be royalty from Europe. One claims to be the long lost son of the Duke of Bridgewater, while the older man pretends to be the son of Louis XVI of France. He calls himself the Lost Dauphin.

The Grifters, by Achille Sirouy

v     These grifters run a number of scams in different towns, using Huck & Jim in various ways. They sell tickets for a play, which only lasts a few minutes. Then they go to a funeral, where they claim to be long lost brothers of a dead man, to get his inheritance.

v     When Huck steals the money to give it back to the rightful family, the Duke and Dauphin sell Jim. Huck decides, "Alright, then, I'll go to hell!" and goes to find Jim and free him.

v     Jim is being held on Silas Phelp's Plantation. Silas was expecting a young nephew named Tom to visit, so Huck pretends to be him. Then, as luck would have it, their nephew is none other than Tom Sawyer, who finally arrives. Huck tells Tom everything, and Tom decides to help Jim too. Tom pretends to be his half-brother Sid.

v     Huck warns the town about the Duke & Dauphin, so when they come to town, they are tarred and feathered. This was a common punishment in these times:

v     Tom plans Jim's escape, but when they try it, Tom gets shot in the leg. Jim won't leave him, and takes him to a doctor, who helps Tom, but takes Jim back to the plantation.

v     Before Jim is punished, Tom's Aunt Polly comes to the farm. She gives the news that old Miss Watson is dead, and, in her will, she freed Jim! He was really free the whole time! And Tom knew too, but he thought escaping would be much more fun. And, it turns out the dead man in that floating house at the beginning, was actually Huck's father, so Huck is free too. Sally Phelps wants to adopt him, but Huck wants to run away to Indian territory.