Tag Archives: courage

Witchblade #02

It’s amazing what your mind can accept. Even if the toll of that acceptance will inevitably come due.

This quote from the second installment of the new Witchblade series really resonated with me. As someone who meditates and reads a fair amount of spiritual writings, I understand the importance of acceptance as a spiritual value. But I suppose there can be a dark side to acceptance, especially in cases of abuse where acceptance might lead to complacency and inaction. Too often people accept their suffering and come to see it as normal, and then fail to summon the courage necessary to make positive changes in their lives. I suppose that is why acceptance is only part of the Serenity Prayer. Acceptance must always be balanced with courage.

Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Odyssey” by Homer: Book VI – The Princess at the River

Painting by Michele Desubleo

Painting by Michele Desubleo

In this book, Odysseus awakens and encounters the princess Nausicaa and her handmaidens at the river. Nausicaa begins to fall in love with Odysseus and agrees to help him enter the city and gain an audience with her parents, the king and queen.

There are a few passages in this section that I found interesting and wanted to discuss. The first deals with beauty.

While Nausicaa is with her handmaidens, Athena bestows divine beauty upon her, “So one could tell the princess from the maids.” (Fitzgerald Translation: p. 102) The passage likens the differentiation between Nausicaa and the maids to the difference between Artemis and the nymphs. This made me think about the association between physical beauty and the divine. In fact, as Odysseus comes upon the young women, he asks Nausicaa: “Mistress: please: are you divine, or mortal?” (ibid: p. 103) It made me think that in this tale, beauty is in essence the divine made corporeal. And as I thought about this more, I began to wonder whether wisdom and courage are also divine qualities that manifest within certain individuals. Anyway, it’s certainly something I will keep in mind as I continue reading.

As Odysseus is coming upon the women, he makes a strange choice to rely upon words instead of actions to win their support.

In his swift reckoning, he thought it best
to trust in words to please her—and keep away;
he might anger the girl, touching her knees.
So he began, and let the soft words fall:

(ibid: p 103)

What struck me about this passage is the reliance on words. On one hand, words are tools of the Trickster, and Odysseus certainly embodies characteristics of this archetype. But words are also the tools of the poet, who uses words to express divine truth. It feels like there is a double entendre here, where words could be used both for expressing truth and deceit.

Odysseus concludes his supplication to Nausicaa by invoking the importance of family and home.

And may the gods accomplish your desire:
a home, a husband, and harmonious
converse with him—the best thing in the world
being a strong house held in serenity
where man and wife agree. Woe to their enemies,
joy to their friends! But all this they know best.

(ibid: p. 104)

This is worth considering because of Odysseus’ plight. He has been kept from his harmonious relationship with Penelope, and his strong house is being attacked by the suitors, who will no doubt become his enemies. One can sense the longing he must feel, to be reunited with the person who he loves, and to be back at home. It’s a very poignant image.

The last passage I want to discuss is when Odysseus bathes himself, away from the view of the women.

They left him, then, and went to tell the princess.
And now Odysseus, dousing in the river,
scrubbed the coat of brine from back and shoulders
and rinsed the clot of sea-spume from his hair;
got himself all rubbed down, from head to foot,
then he put on the clothes the princess gave him.
Athena lent a hand, making him seem
taller, and massive too, with crisping hair
in curls like petals of wild hyacinth,
but all red-golden. Think of gold infused
on silver by a craftsman, whose fine art
Hephaistos taught him, or Athena: one
whose work moves to delight: just so she lavished
beauty over Odysseus’ head and shoulders.
Then he went down to sit on the sea the beach
in his new splendor.

(ibid: pp 105 – 106)

I found this to be very symbolic. The bathing and anointing is a form of spiritual purification, where his soul is cleansed and he is again made holy. It seems very ritualistic in the description and the fact that he now appears in “new splendor” reinforces the image of Odysseus as a divine being. When we consider this in connection with the symbolic rebirth that Odysseus experiences in Book V, the symbolism becomes even more powerful, as the remnants of the past life are washed away and the newly resurrected hero appears in god-like glory.

So that’s all I have to say regarding Book VI. As always, please share any thoughts or comments. I’d love to hear from you. Check back soon for my thoughts on Book VII.

6 Comments

Filed under Literature

“In Another Country” by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway

This story was published in Hemingway’s second book of short stories: Men Without Women. It’s a first-person narrative about an American soldier in Italy who is undergoing out-patient treatment at a hospital for war injuries. He feels alone and an outsider in the country, like he doesn’t really belong there and he is not wanted either.

The protagonist had received medals as a result of his injuries. I confess, having never served in the military, I felt that earning a medal as a result of combat injury was a sign of valor. The narrator points out, though, that this is not really the case at all.

I was a friend, but I was never really one of them after they had read the citations, because it had been different with them and they had done very different things to get their medals. I had been wounded, it was true; but we all know that being wounded, after all, was really an accident. I was never ashamed of the ribbons, though, and sometimes, after cocktail hour, I would imagine myself having done all the things they had done to get their medals; but walking home at night through the empty streets with the cold wind and the shops closed, trying to keep near the street lights, I knew I would never have done such things, and I was very much afraid to die, and often lay in bed at night by myself, afraid to die and wondering how I would be when I went back to the front again.

He then has a discussion with a major who is also receiving treatment. It is a short dialog regarding marriage where the major stresses that a man should never marry.

“Why must not a man marry?”

“He cannot marry. He cannot marry,” he said angrily. “If he is to lose everything, he should not place himself in a position to lose that. He should not place himself in a position to lose. He should find things he cannot lose.”

As I read this, I considered what it is that a man may lose by getting married. Some of the possibilities I came up with were a man’s freedom, his vitality, and his sense of adventure; basically, what Hemingway would consider manliness. But it is then revealed that the major had a young wife who had recently died suddenly.

The doctor told me that the major’s wife, who was very young, and whom he had not married until he was definitely invalided out of the war, had died of pneumonia. She had been sick only a few days. No one expected her to die.

Essentially, it seems that the major had lost everything, except his will to continue living, because his wife has kindled that desire in him. But then upon her death, it appears that he had also lost that. Had he never married, he would have maintained the hope that one day he might fall in love, but having had his love torn from him, he now has nothing left. He has truly lost everything.

Hemingway was incredibly skilled at creating a powerful and moving story using very few words. This certainly falls into that category. It’s definitely worth reading.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

“Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin

GameOfThronesI have to confess that I watched the HBO series before reading this book. I really enjoyed the series and had heard great things about Martin’s books, so I figured I should grab one and give it a read. I was not disappointed.

As far as fantasy books goes, this one is outstanding and deserves a place along with the best in the genre. There are several sub-plots going on at the same time and Martin employs a nice technique for managing these. Instead of numbering his chapters, he labels each chapter with the name of the key character whom the chapter focuses on. When I was nearing the end of the book, I couldn’t help thinking that it would be interesting to restructure the story and read just one character’s chapters sequentially. If I had more free time, I would do that and see how that works.

One of the recurring motifs in the book is that “winter is coming.” The realm has experienced a prolonged summer and people are expecting a long, dark winter to follow. Winter becomes a metaphor for death and desolation, as well as the end of the realm as it is known. There is also a dark magic associated with winter, embodied by the white walkers, bodies of the dead that rise and roam the frozen forests of the north. The image of winter creates a somber and fearful mood that permeates the story.

Politics plays a major role in the book and most of the political players are decidedly Machiavellian. For example, there is a part where the king’s council is discussing killing Daenerys and her unborn child. While Eddard Stark is vehemently opposed, most of the council supports the idea. Varys explains the political logic behind the decision:

“It is a terrible thing we contemplate, a vile thing. Yet we who presume to rule must do vile things for the good of the realm, however much it pains us.” (p. 295)

There is another great political quote later in the book: “why is it always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones?” (p. 531) As I read this, I couldn’t help thinking about our Congress. As I watch the political happenings in Washington, it is essentially the same. Political leaders are more concerned about re-election and about which party is gaining the most power. It’s become a game with the media providing play-by-play analysis. And who are the people left suffering? The working class, the children, the elderly. Again, it is the innocent people who suffer as a result of the political games.

There is one other aspect of the book I would like to talk about, and that is courage and bravery and their association with duty. This plays out in numerous scenarios throughout the book, where individuals are faced with difficult choices and how concepts of duty, honor, and bravery influence those decisions. There is one passage that I think sums up this inner conflict best:

A craven can be as brave as any man, when there is nothing to fear. And we all do our duty, when there is no cost to it. How easy it seems then, to walk the path of honor. Yet soon or late in every man’s life comes a day when it is not easy, a day when he must choose. (p. 553)

If you are a fan of fantasy and you have not read this book yet, I recommend that you do so. Also, if you have not yet seen the HBO series, I’d say it is worth watching. The story line is true to the text. Of course, the book goes into more detail, which makes it that much more interesting. Anyway, I will definitely be adding the second book to my reading list.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature