Sunday, 25 September 2016

How To Think About the Great Ideas Project

I've been having some wonderfully deep conversations with friends lately about life, but have been frustrated because I've felt that I've lacked the depth of understanding to communicate certain ideas and insights to them.  Pablo Neruda says in one of his love poems:  "Between the lips and the voice something goes dying," and I've felt very much this way.  Somehow inside I know what I want to say, only when I attempt to articulate it, I'm left with a discouraging feeling of the inadequacy of my communication.  So with these experiences in mind, I've decided to resurrect a project that I've had on the back-burner for some time now.



Drawing from Mortimer J. Adler's classic TV series, How to Think About the Great Ideas takes 52 great ideas ---- ideas that stem from the ancient world ---- and examines them from a philosophical viewpoint.  Adler, a philosopher and educator, taught that we are all philosophers and to ignore that which stimulates our minds, diminishes us to the level of ants; ants do not require the medium of choice but humans do, and, therefore, it is important to always choose "in terms of ideas."  In the world of ideas there are always new frontiers to explore and I think I'm ready to take that journey.

There are 52 ideas in all, so I'm thinking of posting one idea each week for one year. The first idea is "How To Think of Truth".  Yikes, not a light topic to start with but here I go, adding another project to my set of unfinished ones.  Wish me luck and please feel free to join me if the impulse so moves you!!



Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Faerie Queene - Book II (Part I)



The Faerie Queene

Book II

Contayning
The Legende of the Sir Gvyon
Or
Of Temperaunce

Canto I
Guyon by Archimage abusd,
The Redcrosse knight awaytes,
Findes Mordant and Amauia slaine
With pleasures poisoned baytes.

Temperance
Giotto
source Wikiart

As soon as Archimago discovers that Redcrosse has departed, he uses secret means to escape from the dungeon.  There is nothing he likes better than tricking people and making them miserable and so he endeavours to ruin another life.  Coming upon a goodly knight, Guyon, accompanied by an old Palmer, Archimago leads him to a woman with rent clothes and dishevelled hair, and with his prompting, she reveals her rapist as the Redcrosse knight!  Guyon is astounded as he knows Redcrosse as an honourable knight, but there is nothing to it but to wreak revenge on his licentious behaviour.  He does not know, however that the woman is false Duessa who was found wandering by Archimago after Arthur had defeated Orgoglio.  

Yet as Guyon goes to attack Redcrosse, he has second thoughts upon seeing the cross on his shield, and begs his forgiveness.  He explains why they were almost foes, whereupon the Palmer approaches and blesses Redcrosse in his endeavours.  Plighting their goodwill, the knights go their own ways, Guyon and the Palmer meeting many challenges, until one day they come across a lamenting mother and child, but even more astounding, a bleeding woman with a baby playing in her lap and a corpse of a knight at her feet.  Removing the knife from her body and repairing her wounds, he inquires of her plight.  Her name is Amavia, and her husband Mordant left her pregnant to pursue exploits, but he is captured by the enchantress Acrasia, who lives in the Bower of Bliss and tempted him with immorality and pleasure.  Dressed as a pilgrim, she seeks her husband but he knows her not when she finds him.  They escape but not before Acrasia places a fatal curse on the man.  As Amavia finishes her story, she dies of grief and Guyon and the Palmer bury the couple, plotting revenge for the waste of these two lives.


Canto II
Babes bloudie hands may not be clensd,
the face of golden Meane.
Her sisters two Extremities:
striue her to banish cleane.

Allegory of Temperance (1685)
Luca Giordano
source Wikiart

Guyon, with compassion, attempts to wash the blood off the orphaned baby's hands, yet they will not wash clean.  The Palmer explains that fountains and pools may have different properties and there is a story behind this one.  At this particular well, a nymph met Faunus, and fleeing and having no escape, Diana transformed her into a stone. The stone is shaped like a maid and the waters flow around like tears.  The baby's hand cannot be cleansed by this well, but allows it to be a sacred symbol of his mother's innocence.

Arriving at a castle inhabited by three women with different mothers, Guyon is welcomed by the middle sister, Medina, who leads him to a lovely bower.  However, the news of his arrival reaches the sisters who are entertaining their knights, Sir Hudibras and Sir Sans-loy, the latter who had tried to kidnap Una.  Before they can attack Guyon, they fall into battle among themselves, leaving Guyon to inquire as to what is happening.  When they see him, they fall upon him, but he defends himself quite adequately until Medina attempts to separate them with pleas and recriminations.  Finally they bow to her wise arguments and agree to dine with her, but the two sisters are unhappy.  Elissa refuses to eat, feeling the entertainment base, yet Perissa enjoys all in excess.  But Medina, with strong grace and behaviour, keeps all in check and inquires of Guyon's purpose.  He is a knight of the Faerie Queene, on a mission with the Palmer to overcome false Acrasia. Then at Medina's behest, he tells the story of Mordant and Amavia, until it is bedtime.


Canto III
Vaine Braggadocchio getting Guyons
horse is made the scorne
Of knighthood trew, and is of fayre
Bephoebe fowle forlorne.

Maidens picking flowers by a stream (1911)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

Guyon names the orphaned child, Ruddymane, and leaves him with Medina to care for. Since his steed was stolen by a secret thief, he continues on foot to Acrasia.  But now the horse thief is revealed: Braggadocio, who comes upon a man, Trompart, and threatens him into becoming his servant, although we wonder if servant might be more clever than master?  They meet up with Archimago, who because of Braggadocio's bearing, thinks he may be able to assist him in his search for Redcrosse and Guyon.  

He asks Trompart why his master has no sword, but the servant swears that he is a doughty knight even with only a spear.  Archimago suddenly blurts out his vengeful plan and the two promise to help, although Archimago is still concerned with Braggadocio's lack of a sword.  In spite of Braggadocio's bragging of his conquests without one, Archimago promises him King Arthur's flaming sword, disappearing unexpectedly, severely scaring the master and servant.  With trepidation, they journey through a forest and discover a maiden, Belphoebe.  She is so astoundingly beautiful that to attempt to describe her would disgrace her beauty, and she is clad in lily white garments.  She inquires of Trompart if he has seen a deer which she had maimed, then seeing Braggadocio behind the bush where he'd crept in cowardice, thinking him game she moves to kill him yet is stayed by Trompart.  Braggadocio attempts flattery, asking why with her beauty she is not at court, yet Belphoebe instructs him that true honour is found in the woods doing honest labour.  When he tries to embrace her, she flees, and the two set off again, the poor horse disgusted with his ignoble burden.



Canto IV
Guyon does Furor bind in chaines,
and stops Occasion:
Deliuers Phedon, and therefore
by strife is rayld upon.


Temperantia (1872)
Edward Burke-Jones
source Wikiart

The Palmer continues to assist the horseless Guyon and lead him in the ways of temperance.  Together they approach a mad old man dragging a young man by the hair, and an old hag limping behind them shouting insults at the stripling and striking him with stones and her cane.  Her face was unpleasantly wrinkled and her hair hung down the front of her face, but a large bald patch was at the back.  Guyon is appalled and tries to free the youth, but the madman goes bezerk and the Palmer introduces him as Furor and the hag, his mother, as Occasion.  He cannot be killed by the sword, and it is best to subdue Occasion first, whereupon Guyon overpowers her, then binds Furor in chains.  

The captive man then begins to tell his story:  he once had a friend, Philemon, who betrayed him upon his pending marriage to Claribell, implying that his fiancée was not faithful.  He tricked him by setting up a scenario where Philemon seduced a maid, Pyrene, who was pretending to be Claribell (yes, this is the same plot as in Much Ado About Nothing). Enraged, the man killed Claribell, and when Pyrene confessed all, he also dispatched Philemon with poison.  The two find that the man's name is Phaon from the house of Coradin, and the Palmer begins to counsel temperance, when they are interrupted by a squire, Atin, who is looking for Occasion for his own master Pyrocles, who loves battle and war.  The Palmer is shocked that someone would look for an occasion to fight since occasion will find you without the looking. Guyon agrees, and the squire, in pique, shoots a dart at them before running off.



Canto V
Pyrochles does with Guyon fight,
And Furors chayne vnbinds
Of whom sore hurt, for his reuenge
Attin Cymochles finds.

Two Knights Fighting in a Landscape (1824)
Eugene Delacroix
source Wikiart


Pyrochles makes an appearance, riding a blood-red horse and he summarily attacks Guyon.  Guyon is fortunate enough to wound the horse, whereupon Pyrochles must fight him on foot.  The two exchange staggering, intense blows until Guyon brings his foe to his knees, then lays him out until he cries mercy for his life.  Using temperance, Guyon mediates his rage until he concedes to spare his life if he will be loyal to him.  Pyrochles is embarrassed but Guyon says he need not be, only control his rage and lust for war as it does not benefit anyone, either friend or foe.  Pyrochles frees Occasion who wants him to fight Guyon again but Furor, when freed, begins battle with Pyrochles.  When he calls on Guyon for help, the Palmer stays him, saying Pyrochles deserves his fate, but Atin thinks his master is slain and runs to tell Pyrochles' brother, Cymochles, who is known for his feats in battle and whose lover is Acrasia, keeper of the Bower of Bliss. Finding him being petted and tended by women in the bower, Atin taunts him to embarrassment and he rushes off to avenge his brother.



Canto VI
Guyon is of immodest Merth,
led into loose desire,
Fights with Cymochles, whiles his bro-
ther burnes in furious fire.

Young Woman in a Boat (1870)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
source Wikiart


Inflamed with rage, Cymochles comes to a river where a little boat adorned with boughs and arbours lies.

And therein sate a Ladie fresh and faire,
     Making sweet solace to her selfe alone;
     Sometimes she sung, as loud as larke in aire,
     Sometimes she laught, that nigh her breth was gone,
     Yet was there not with her else any one,
     That might to her moue cause of meriment:
     Matter of merth enough, though there were none
     She could deuise, and thousand waies inuent,
To feede her foolish humour, and vaine iolliment.

She agrees to ferry Cymochles across the river, but refuses Atin in spite of her passenger's entreaties. Phædria, for that is her name, continues her frivolous behaviour by placing flowers in her hair and generally acting silly.  When questioned by him, she reveals they both serve Acrasia and finally she lands him on an island in Idle Lake.  With Cymochles lulled to sleep, she returns and picks up Guyon, (less the Palmer, to whom she refuses passage) who is at first polite to her, but when she begins her immodest merriment, "her dalliance he despised".  When they land on the island, Guyon is frosted because he did not want to come there.  Cymochles awakes, finds the pair, and he battles Guyon, yet Phædria finally assuages their rage, entreating love and romance instead of war.  Guyon returns to shore and spies Atin, who soon sees a knight running for the lake.  It is Pyrochles, who thinks he is burning with fire though none can see it, and he launches himself into the lake. Atin jumps in to save him from drowning and they are both captured by the muddy waters and have to be rescued by Archimago.  Then with herbs, balms and a spell, Archimago quenches Furor's fire.


Spell Fire
Konstantin Vasilyev
source Wikiart

There is a curious echo of appearance versus reality at Idle Lake.  The lake itself appears different to each of the characters and while Pyrochles claims he's burning, no one can see the flames.  Is there an element of illusion that comes with intemperance?

✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ 

It's a relief to pick up The Faerie Queene again and resume my posts.  For some reason, it seems like less effort this time.  

Phew, what drama!  The lessons of Temperance are quite easy to spot in these cantos. We'll see how Books VII- XII progress and if Guyon is eventually tempted to intemperance.  He's done quite well so far, better than Redcrosse I would judge, but the book is yet young.  And does Guyon ever regain his horse?


⇦  The Faerie Queen - Book I (Part II)   The Faerie Queen - Book II (Part II)  ⇨


Other Reading:




Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

"Inside the great building of the Law Courts, during the interval in the hearing of the Melvinsky case, the members of the judicial council and the public prosecutor were gathered together in the private room of Ivan Yegorovitch Shebek, and the conversation turned upon the celebrated Krasovsky case."

Wow!  My last Tolstoy novel read was War and Peace over two years ago and I'd forgotten the depth that Tolstoy could create within his stories with a clear, straight-forward narrative.  The Death of Ivan Ilyich appears to be merely a tale of the last days of a Russian court judge, yet Tolstoy brings the human condition into vivid and startling colours.

Ivan Ilyich has a typical Russian childhood, becomes a respected and accomplished young adult who manages to climb the social strata with aplomb and an admirable acuity.  He takes a wife who, though a nag, through his very avoidance of her, manages to give him a sharper focus to his work, and therefore her very shrewishness assists him in his social ascension.  They have the average and respectable number of two children, a girl and a boy, along with the typical infant deaths of that period, and Ilyich's life is complete.  Except for one problem.  He is dying.

With Tolstoy's astute and penetrating acumen, the reader shares Ivan Ilyich's last days as he slowly sinks into the realization of his approaching demise.  In life, Ilyich was able to focus on the impermanent: his career, the appearance of a normal family life, his status in the community.  All his worth was embodied in these transient things, but suddenly in illness, these symbols fade into obscurity and death forces him, almost against his will, to view his life in stark reality.

Initially, Ivan is confused, and cries out to a God whom he had previously seen only as a inconvenient afterthought:

"Why has Thou done all this?  What brought me to this?  Why, why torture me so horribly?"

Yet slowly a "strange idea" begins to form in his mind.  He does not want to suffer, yet live.  But how does he wish to live?

"As you used to live before --- happily and pleasantly?" queried the voice.  And he began going over in his imagination the best moments of his pleasant life.  But strange to say, all these best moments of his pleasant life seemed now not at all what they had seemed then.  All -- except the first memories of his childhood .....  As soon as he reached the beginning of what had resulted in him as he was now, Ivan Ilyitch, all that had seemed joys to him then now melted away before his eyes and were transformed into something trivial, and often disgusting ........  And the further he went from childhood, the nearer to the actual present, the more worthless and uncertain were the joys .....  

He was living ....

".... as though I had been going steadily downhill, imagining that I was going uphill.  So it was in fact.  In public opinion I was going uphill and steadily as I got up it life was ebbing away from me .....  Can it be I have not lived as one ought?"

Death brings echoes of truth to him, but instead of accepting this burgeoning enlightenment, Ivan chooses to hang on to the mirage of the life he has lived and dismisses the idea.  The reader wonders if Ivan will die as he'd lived, merely existing, and if the true meaning of life itself will elude his grasp?

Death and Life (1908-16)
Gustav Klimt
source Wikiart


In spite of the title, much of the story is about Ivan's life and through his life, we view his death.  With each sentence Tolstoy drives home the futility and meaninglessness of Ilyich's daily actions, that brought material success but failed to feed the soul within the man.  It is only at the very end, with the touch of his son's hand and a kiss, that Ivan experiences an epiphany that expands his whole world.

The universality of the story echoes with a profound yet practical resonance.  Drawing from the narrative, Ivan's life, though complete with success in business, a (on the surface) contented family life, and respect of his peers, it is really bereft of human relationship in all areas.  Tolstoy himself says Ivan's previous life "was the simplest, the most ordinary, and the most awful."   Ivan could be you or I and with his novella, Tolstoy prods us to examine the purpose of our existence.  We need to evaluate our lives ..... not only just skate on the surface, but to dig deeply.  What is truly important in life? What genuinely gives us life as soulful beings and not simply as materialistic creatures who live only for pleasure and business?  And a question that has been on my mind often lately:  How do we struggle against societal pressure to conform to the latter and find a meaningful existence, to live in the "now" yet reach beyond it?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XX, XXI & XXII



Chapter XX

Jane hears a blood-curdling wail in the middle of the night and then frantic calls for Rochester's assistance.  He comes to assure his guests, and Jane retreats back into her room, dresses and waits.  Somehow, she simply knows that she'll be needed.  Sure enough, Rochester fetches her to a room where Mr. Mason is lying in bed obviously injured, his blood-soaked linens nearby and a bandage covering his arm and shoulder. Rochester's request is for Jane to remain with the wounded man while he leaves to fetch a surgeon, and when Mr. Mason is finally patched up, he is dispatched ....... no, not killed but sent quickly away in a carriage at the break of dawn.  Rochester asks Jane to walk with him and then asks her obscure yet leading questions with regard to a mistake he may have made, and her judgement on it.  He then teases her about his impending marriage and departs.


The Scream (1910)
Edvard Munch
source Wikiart

Here begins Rochester's provoking teasing of Jane about his marriage.  Many dislike his actions, and I can sympathize.  We know that he is falling in love with Jane and has little interest in Blanche Ingram, but Jane is convinced of their impending nuptials.  His needling of her is based on an immature urge to draw out her feelings for him through jealousy and one cannot respect him for it.  However, I see it as one flaw amongst a number of them in Rochester's character, again making him very human.  One hopes Jane can amend such behaviour, or at least accept him flaws and all, for which one of us is wholly faultless?


Chapter XXI

"Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies; and so are signs; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity had not yet found the key.  I never laughed at presentimetns in my life, because I have had strange ones of my own.  Sympathies, I believe, exist (for instance, between far-distant long-absent, wholly estranged relatives asserting, notwithstanding their alienation, the unity of the source to which each traces his origin) whose workings baffle mortal comprehension.  And signs, for aught we know, may be but the sympathies of Nature with man."

Robert, a servant at Gatehead and Bessie's husband, arrives to announce the death of the dissipated John Reed and his mother's subsequent collapse.  Jane is wanted by her, although no one appears to know why.  Jane requests a week's leave, which Rochester gives most reluctantly.  Upon arriving at Gateshead, Jane meets the two Reed sisters Georgianna and Eliza, along with a flood of memories.  Mrs. Reed, bedridden, appears to regret her treatment of Jane, giving her a long-past letter sent by her uncle, yet Mrs. Reed's pride refuses to allow her to truly admit the error of her ways, and therefore she is unable to accept the forgiveness which Jane so freely gives her.  Stubborn and implacable in life, so she is as she is overcome by death.


The Linley Sisters (1772)
Thomas Gainsborough
source Wikiart


The two extremes of the Reed sisters are used to advantage in the story.  The dour, conservative, ultra-religious Eliza contrasted to the flighty, vapid, self-centred Georgianna perhaps is an illustration of how a lack of moral guidance and wanton self-will works on different personalities, rendering an extreme distortion of each, instead of each being tempered by principled and generous behaviour.


Chapter XXII

After a month's absence, Jane returns to a rather disgruntled Rochester.  He is waiting as she approaches Thornfield and admonishes her for the length of her stay, while also sending out "feelers" as to how much she missed him.  Again, his upcoming marriage is alluded to, but Rochester presents it with a rather vague and enigmatic manner.  In fact, his actions become mystifying as well, as he no longer visits the Ingrams, yet gives Jane even more consideration.
"Never had he called me more frequently to his presence; never been kinder to me when there ---- and, alas!  never had I loved him so well."


Haymaking (1895)
Camille Pissarro
source Wikiart


I love the complex, yet beautifully balanced relationship between Jane and Rochester.  On one hand, she is in his power:

".... the knowledge that I was nothing to him: but there was ever in Mr. Rochester ... such a wealth of power of communicating happiness, that to taste but of the crumbs he scattered to stray and stranger birds like me was to feast genially ......"

Yet even though those words appear to minimize her sense of self and place her under his spell, she never loses her self-worth, her sense of right, or her grasp on happiness, either inside or outside his influence.  Both speak of her ability to love deeply, yet with a strength of character that is quite astounding.  I just love it!

"Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness.  I am strangely glad to get back to you; and wherever you are is my home ---- my only home."



Thursday, 8 September 2016

Here I Love You (Aquí Te Amo) by Pablo Neruda



I anticipate summer every year because when it arrives I have weeks where I'm able to read, read, and then read again.  I usually get at least 7 books finished during summer. This summer I finished 2 books.  Usually this outcome would frustrate me but books were replaced with people this summer and everything was as it should be.  We made some wonderful new friends, re-connected with old ones, and hopefully helped everyone's summer be a little more meaningful, as they did ours.  It was one of the best summers in a long while.  However, now that the blissful time is over, and life is beginning again, the feeling of frustration is looming because I have so many books on-the-go, none nearly finished, and on top of it all, I feel unfocussed.  Not to mention, because of both situations, my reviews have been dwindling.

So today, I've decided to step back into the enchanted summer memories and share a poem, that I discovered on vacation, by the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.  So many of his poems bring in evocative images of the sea and nature, which are irresistible to me. And, of course, I spend most of the summer by the sea and nature, so it's no wonder I feel an affinity with his poetry.


Pine Forest in Vyatka Province (1872)
Ivan Shishkin
source Wikiart

Here I Love You by Pablo Neruda

Here I love you.

In the dark pines the wind disentangles itself.
The moon glows like phosphorous on the vagrant waters.
Days, all one kind, go chasing each other.

The snow unfurls in dancing figures.
A silver gull slips down from the west.
Sometimes a sail. High, high stars.

Oh the black cross of a ship.
Alone.
Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet.
Far away the sea sounds and resounds.
This is a port.
Here I love you.

Here I love you and the horizon hides you in vain.
I love you still among these cold things.
Sometimes my kisses go on those heavy vessels
that cross the sea towards no arrival.
I see myself forgotten like those old anchors.
The piers sadden when the afternoon moors there.
My life grows tired, hungry to no purpose.
I love what I do not have. You are so far.
My loathing wrestles with the slow twilights.
But night comes and starts to sing to me.

The moon turns its clockwork dream.
The biggest stars look at me with your eyes.
And as I love you, the pines in the wind
want to sing your name with their leaves of wire.


Pablo Neruda
trans. W.S. Merwin




Sunset At Sea (1853)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart


Aquí te amo by Pablo Neruda

Aquí te amo.
En los oscuros pinos se desenreda el viento.
Fosforece la luna sobre las aguas errantes.
Andan días iguales persiguiéndose.

Se desciñe la niebla en danzantes figuras.
Una gaviota de plata se descuelga del ocaso.
A veces una vela. Altas, altas, estrellas.

O la cruz negra de un barco.
Solo.
A veces amanezco, y hasta mi alma está húmeda.
Suena, resuena el mar lejano.
Este es un puerto.
Aquí te amo.

Aquí te amo y en vano te oculta el horizonte.
Te estoy amando aun entra estas frías cosas.
A veces van mis besos en esos barcos graves,
que corren por el mar hacia donde no llegan.
Ya me veo olvidado como estas viejas anclas.
Son más tristes los muelles cuando atraca la tarde.
Se fatiga mi vida inútilmente hambrienta.
Amo lo que no tengo. Estás tú tan distante.
Mi hastío forcejea con los lentos crepúsculos.
Pero la noche llena y comienza a cantarme.

La luna hace girar su rodaje de sueño.
Me miran con tus ojos las estrellas más grandes.
Y como yo te amo, los pinos en el viento,
quieren cantar tu nombre con sus hojas de alambre.



Sea View By Moonlight (1878)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart


I absolutely love the image of the wind disentangling itself.  Neruda uses so few words but conveys the intricacy and greatness of the ocean ........  the desolate feeling of not only the landscape, but of the absence of his lover.  Whom of us hasn't know the ache of either unrequited love or the anguish that comes from the separation of love?  Yet he doesn't leave the reader without encouragement:  still the night sings to him and he loves on.

My favourite line in this poem?  "Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet."  I can't describe it, but I can feel it.  Amazing.

So this lovely poem was part of my minuscule summer reading, and I thought I'd share it, wrapping up a memory of the past to take into the future .....


Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Oresteia ~ The Eumenides







The Eumenides by Aeschylus


"I give first place of honor in my prayer to her
who of the gods first prophesied, the Earth; and next
to Themis, who succeeded to her mother's place
of prophecy; so runs the legend; and in third
succession, given by free consent, not won by force, 
another Titan daughter of Earth was seated here. ....."


Time passes and Orestes arrives at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, still pursued by the Furies.  His conflict continues in tormenting unrelief and he appeals to Apollo for alleviation from his guilt.  He has avenged his father, but in doing so has murdered his mother.  Divine command has clashed with divine decree, and he is helpless to navigate his way through the maze of paradoxical possibilities.  The priestess, Pythia, is shocked to find him in the suppliant's chair with a sword dripping with blood and the sleeping Furies surrounding him.  A spell has been placed upon them by Apollo so Orestes can travel unhampered to Athens, which he does after Apollo absolves him of complicity in his murder of Clytaemestra. But now he must seek Athena for a possible resolution to his dilemma.

Aeropagus with the Acropolis in the background
source Wikimedia Commons

Yet the ghost of Clytemnestra awakens the Furies and they pursue their prey to Athens, where Orestes is suppliant, and at the Aeropagus the goddess Athena must intervene with a jury of men to pronounce sentence upon the tormented man.  Immediately Apollo is set up as Orestes' defence, while the Furies appear as the prosecution in support of Clytaemestra's ghost, yet in the end, by a tally of votes, Orestes is acquitted.


The Oresteia :  Agamemnon / The Libation Bearers / The Eumenides

This play is perhaps the most complex and difficult of the trilogy.  The Furies are older than both Apollo and Athena, and it is thought that they symbolize the old pre-democratic system of ancient Greece.  Their childish simplicity of pre-Hellenic times clashes with the more sophisticated Hellenism of Apollo, where reason, intellect and civility are emphasized; to the Furies, the reason why Orestes has blood on his hands is unimportant, only that it is there.  Yet while Apollo's reasoning is more refined, his advice and actions echo a similar cruelty to his counterparts.  Athena must intervene, reconciling man to woman, traditional to modern, and barbarism to culture.  To do this she surprisingly convenes a Jury of Athenian men, effectively entrusting the burden of judgement and the transformation to a more equitable society onto the shoulders of men, deeming certain situations and conflicts too complex to be judged by one individual.

In this case, we do no know if the jury has an odd or even number of members, and these numbers do affect our interpretation, as the votes are balanced and for a decision, Athena's vote is required.  Did she break a tie or did she make one?  In either case, Orestes is acquitted but what is the implication of each scenario?  If Athena's vote was needed to break a tie, it is implied that human justice still cannot resolve the dilemma; in the later case, it would appear humans are still drawn to the old ways and her vote is needed to push them towards a new order.  In either case, the gods are still necessary.

Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1921)
John Singer Sargent
source Wikiart


At the point of writing the play, the Greeks had a court system in place, but Aeschylus back-dates it into myth to weave together the old justice system with the new.  The Aeropagus council dominated Athenian government in the 6th century, but by 5th century their powers were curtailed, during the reforms of 462.  It is thought that Aeschylus' trilogy was addressing these reforms, however, there is dissension among scholars over whether he is admonishing the reformers for not respecting the old system or stressing its importance.  In The Eumenides, the Furies are not discarded, rather they are absorbed by the new order and changed into 'the kindly ones'.

Now that I've finished this play, I've read all of Aeschylus' surviving works with the exception of Prometheus Bound, which is attributed to Aeschylus, but just as likely a play written by another playwright, possibly his grandson.   Otherwise, I've read:


I'll move on to Sophocles next, but I think I might read Electra first, as she played a significant role in this trilogy, and Euripides also wrote a play about her, linking the three playwrights around a specific subject.





Thursday, 1 September 2016

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XVII, XVIII & XIX


Chapter XVII

Jane feels Rochester's absence keenly and disappointment bubbles up at the speculation he could be gone indefinitely.  But she gathers her senses and fights her emotions, bringing them under practical reign, and by the time they receive a letter from Mr. Rochester a fortnight later announcing his intent to return with a large party, she is composed.

As Rochester brings a houseful of guests, the reader is introduced to Blanche Ingram, a confident beauty who is attached to Mr. Rochester, as he appears attached to her.  Her disdain for everything and everyone below her social standing is apparent, and her haughty rancour leaves Jane with a poor impression of her character.  After hearing her imprecations against governesses, Jane attempts to escape to her room. Rochester waylays her, but none of his influence can induce her to return.


The Drawing Room at Townsend House (1885)
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
source Wikiart

In this chapter, Jane acknowledges that she is drawn to Rochester against her very will.

"{His features} were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me: they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me, --- that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his.  I had not intended to love him: the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the gems of love there detected; and now, at first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, green and strong!  He made me love him without looking at me ......"

It's as if their souls have spoken to each other independently of their actions or their wills, and the bond they have is out of both of their control.

Young Woman at Piano (1878)
Julius Leblanc Stewart
source Wikiart


Chapter XVIII

Mr. Rochester is the life of the house party ---- literally ---- and everything becomes alive in his presence.  We witness a game of charades between the guests, which appears to be designed to allow us to further sketch Blanche Ingram's character.  Jane is unimpressed:
"..... But I was not jealous; or very rarely; ---- the nature of the pain I suffered could not be explained by that word.  Miss Ingram was a mark beneath jealousy: she was too inferior to excite the feeling.  Pardon the seeming paradox; I mean what I say.  she was very showy, but she was not genuine; she had a fine person, many brilliant attainments; but her mind was poor, her heart barren by nature, nothing bloomed spointaneously on that soil; not unforced natural fruit delighted by its freshness.  She was not good; she was not original ...... she never offered, nor had, an opinion of her own.  She advocated a high tone of sentiment; but she did not know the sensations of sympathy and pity, tenderness and truth were not in her.  Too often she betrayed this ......"

Jane is distressed by the fact that Rochester seems to recognize these faults also, but still appears to keep to the matrimonial course with very little sentiment, an indication he is marrying for social reasons but not love.

As Rochester is gone to Millcote on business with a late evening return indicated, at dusk a visitor arrives, a Mr. Mason from Kingstown, Jamaica, to see the master of the house.  As he waits, a footman informs the guests of another visitor, an old gypsy woman who wishes to read their fortunes.  Miss Ingram goes first and later appears sour to what she has heard.  The other guests are amazed at the gypsy woman's perception with their fortunes.  Then Jane herself is summoned.

Gypsy Woman (1886)
Mykola Yaroshenko
source Wikiart

All the characterizations of the house guests, their behaviour and motivations are communicated through Jane's eyes, although she does exhibit acute perception and appears to be a good judge of character.  She does admit that Mr. Rochester's faults are becoming dimmer to her and blending more into his character as a whole.  I wonder if that is a good thing: does her "blindness" lead her to reject reality, or is it simply an accepting of him as a flawed person?  One wonders ......


Chapter XIX

Jane is suspicious, reluctant to be lead by the old gypsy woman's suppositions, even though her guesses appear quite accurate. When the gypsy reveals herself, she is Mr. Rochester in disguise.  Jane appears not especially surprised by this new charade, but has to support her master, as he reels in shock when learning of the arrival of Mr. Mason.  She does his bidding, fetching the unexpected visitor, and hears Rochester, in what seems to be good spirits, as she prepares for sleep.


Chopin Performing in the Guest-Hall of Anton Radziville
in Berlin in 1829 (1887)
Henryk Siemiradzki
source Wikiart