Tag Archives: resurrection

“Odyssey” by Homer: Book VII – Gardens and Firelight

Phoenix

In this book, Athena disguises herself as a young girl and guides Odysseus to the palace of Alkinoos, Nausicaa’s father and king of the Phaeacians. Odysseus is awestruck by the splendor of the palace. When Odysseus meets the king and his wife Arete, Alkinoos questions whether Odysseus is a god, to which he replies that he is mortal. Odysseus then tells the story of how he came to Phaeacia while withholding his true identity. Alkinoos agrees to help Odysseus return home and also offers Odysseus Nausicaa’s hand in marriage.

This is a fairly short book, and much of it is description of the palace and gardens, and Odysseus recounting his journey from Calypso’s island. One passage stood out for me, though.

He moved, then, toward the fire, and sat him down
amid the ashes. No one stirred or spoke
until Ekhineos broke the spell—an old man
eldest of the Phaiakians, an oracle,
versed in the laws and manners of old time.
He rose among them now and spoke kindly:

“Alkinoos, this will not pass for courtesy:
a guest abased in ashes at our hearth?
Everyone here awaits your word; so come, then,
lift the man up; give him a seat of honor,
a silver-studded chair. Then tell the stewards
we’ll have another wine bowl for libation
to Zeus, lord of the lightening—advocate
of honorable petitioners. And supper
may be supplied our friend by the larder mistress.”

Alkinoos, calm in power, heard him out,
then took the great adventurer by the hand
and led him from the fire. Nearest his throne
the son whom he loved best, Laodamas,
had long held place; now the king bade him rise
and gave the shining chair to Lord Odysseus.

(Fitzgerald Translation: pp. 115 – 116)

So in this section, we have Odysseus placing himself by the fire and sitting in the ashes. He is then raised from the ashes and given a seat of honor beside the king’s throne. I found this to be a symbolic association between Odysseus and the Phoenix. The Phoenix is one of the most recognizable symbols of rebirth and regeneration, dying in fire and then resurrecting from the ashes. But what I find the most interesting about this is that Odysseus seems to be going through a series of rebirths, with each one being associated with a different element. So in Book V, Odysseus experiences a rebirth through the element of earth, as he is buried beneath the leaves. In Book VI, he is reborn again and this time the rebirth is associated with the element of water, as he is cleansed and purified in the river. Now, in Book VII, we see Odysseus reborn through the element of fire. Homer draws on the various symbols of resurrection, connects them to the elements, then weaves them all together into the hero myth. In my opinion, this is nothing short of poetic genius.

I really have nothing else to say about this book. I’m still in awe. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and comments. Cheers!

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book V – Sweet Nymph and Open Sea

N.C. Wyeth

N.C. Wyeth

This is the first book in the epic where we actually encounter Odysseus. After Athena convinces Zeus to intervene on Odysseus’ behalf, Zeus sends Hermes to Calypso’s island and instructs her that it is Zeus’ will that Odysseus is released. Calypso helps Odysseus build a raft and give him provisions. After leaving the island, Odysseus spends 18 days at sea (18 being 2×9; remember the importance of the number 9 in Book III). Poseidon then creates a storm that strands Odysseus on the island of Scheria.

So for this post, I want to focus on the final passage in this section:

A man in a distant field, no hearthfires near,
will hide a fresh brand in his bed of embers
to keep the spark alive for the next day;
so in the leaves Odysseus hid himself,
while over him Athena showered sleep
that his distress should end, and soon, soon.
In quiet sleep she sealed his cherished eyes.

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 95)

This passage was the most interesting for me. I interpret this as a symbolic rebirth of Odysseus. The ember is the spark of consciousness that continues to live after one’s physical body dies. Odysseus is then buried under leaves, which represents death. Even the fact that Athena “sealed his cherished eyes” implies something more than just normal sleep, adding a sense of permanence to his state. But the spark of the divine consciousness remains, and when the new day dawns, it will reignite Odysseus’ consciousness and resurrect him from his grave beneath the leaves.

The symbolic rebirth of the hero is not uncommon in epic literature, and I would not be surprised if this theme presents itself again further on in the text. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts, and have a blessed day!

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“Sonnet 12: When I do count the clock that tells the time” by William Shakespeare – Reference to the John Barleycorn Myth

Barleycorn

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silver’d o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defense
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

This sonnet is another one of the “fair youth” poems where Shakespeare entreats an unnamed young man to fulfill his duty by procreating and becoming a father and husband. Most of the metaphors in this poem employ images of nature to contrast youth and old age, such as “brave day” and “hideous night,” or the barren trees as opposed to the leafy, shade-giving ones. But there is one symbol that Shakespeare uses this poem that I found particularly interesting: barley.

Barley is not overtly mentioned in this sonnet, but it is implied in the following two lines.

And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,

Barley was an important crop in the British Isles. So much so that it became associated with the resurrection myth of John Barleycorn. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this myth, here is a short summary.

John Barleycorn is a British folksong. The character of John Barleycorn in the song is a personification of the important cereal crop barley and of the alcoholic beverages made from it, beer and whisky. In the song, John Barleycorn is represented as suffering attacks, death and indignities that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting.

Kathleen Herbert draws a link between the mythical figure Beowa (a figure stemming from Anglo-Saxon paganism that appears in early Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies whose name means “barley”) and the figure of John Barleycorn. Herbert says that Beowa and Barleycorn are one and the same, noting that the folksong details the suffering, death, and resurrection of Barleycorn, yet also celebrates the “reviving effects of drinking his blood.”

The idea of a grain god who dies, is buried, and is reborn as the current year’s crop dates back at least to dynastic Egyptian myths of the god Osiris. In the Coffin Texts, the deceased person states: “I am Osiris. I have come forth and entered into thee, I have flourished in thee, I have grown in thee, I have fallen into thee, I have fallen on my side. The gods live by me. I live and grow as Neper [Corn], whom the august gods bring forth that I may cover Geb [the earth], whether I be alive or dead. I am barley, I am not destroyed…” Elsewhere in the Coffin Texts, the formula of Becoming Barley of Lower Egypt states that the deceased “is this bush of life [barley] which went forth from Osiris to grow on the ribs of Osiris and to nourish the common people, which makes the gods divine and spiritualizes the spirits…”

(Source: Wikipedia)

So essentially, Shakespeare is using the resurrection myth popular in England to encourage the young man to have children. Just as the grain god is reborn through the burial (planting) of the seed, so must humans sow the seeds of rebirth to continue the cycle of life, both physically and spiritually.

I have to say that I really like this sonnet, much more so than the previous eleven, mainly because of Shakespeare’s use of folklore and mythology. To conclude, I will add a musical interpretation of the John Barleycorn myth that is one of my all-time favorites. Enjoy, and thanks for stopping by.

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“Sonnet 7: Lo, in the orient when the gracious light” by William Shakespeare

SunriseStonehenge

Image Source: Wikipedia

Lo, in the orient when the gracious light
Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,
Serving with looks his sacred majesty;
And having climb’d the steep-up heavenly hill,
Resembling strong youth in his middle age,
Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,
Attending on his golden pilgrimage;
But when from high-most pitch, with weary car,
Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,
The eyes, ‘fore duteous, now converted are
From his low tract and look another way:
So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon,
Unlook’d on diest, unless thou get a son.

This sonnet uses the cycle of the day as a metaphor for the importance of procreation. It is pretty straight-forward and does not require much interpretation. Sunrise represents the birth of the fair youth; noon symbolizes the height of his strength as an adult; and sunset the impending time of physical decline leading to death. There is one aspect of this poem, though, that is worth exploring a bit.

Throughout the sonnet, Shakespeare never uses the word “sun.” Instead, he uses metaphors such as gracious light and burning head. But the very last word of the sonnet is “son,” which I feel is very important. Although the previous six sonnets also deal with procreation, none of them use the word son. Anyway, the obvious connection between son and sun leads me to wonder whether Shakespeare was tying in other symbolism. It could be argued that he was drawing on the mythology of the fertility king, as explored through Frazier’s The Golden Bough. He could also be making a reference to Christ as the son of God and the light of the world. In fact, if you consider the abundance of mythology associated with resurrection cycles of gods and their connection with the sun, then it seems likely that Shakespeare was incorporating these myths and symbols. One last connection to support my interpretation, just picture an image of Helios racing toward sunset as you reread the line that mentions the “weary car.”

As is often the case with poetry, it can be deceptively simple and yet include profound and complex symbols beneath the surface. I think that this sonnet falls into that category. Hope you enjoyed the post and feel free to share your thoughts. Cheers!

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“The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe

Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley

Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley

This falls into the category of classic Poe stories. I’ve read it several times, but it had been quite a few years since I last read it. Reading it this time, I discovered some interesting things.

The story opens with juxtaposition between the common and the supernatural. This sets a tension between the two views of reality: the actual and the perceived.

For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not — and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburden my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified — have tortured — have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror — to many they will seem less terrible than barroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place — some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.

The next thing that struck me was the name of the black cat: Pluto. Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld who is also a judge of the dead. This is important since the narration is presented as a confession for the narrator’s sins.

Pluto — this was the cat’s name — was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.

The narrator describes his slip into alcoholism. This leads to a degradation of character until he reaches the point where he is fascinated with engaging in evil for evil’s sake. He essentially revels in doing that which he knows is wrong. This is the ultimate manifestation of sin, rebelling against what is good in spite of knowing better. It is intent that constitutes an evil or sinful act.

And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart — one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself — to offer violence to its own nature — to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only

After first gouging the cat’s eye and then later hanging it in dual acts of cruelty, the narrator gets another cat to try to ease his guilt. The new cat only serves as a reminder of his cruel acts and it is implied that the animal is the resurrected version of the first cat. As his perception of the animal shifts, he sees the animal differently, as the second cat becomes a symbol of judgment for his actions.

This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil — and yet I should be at a loss how otherwise to define it. I am almost ashamed to own — yes, even in this felon’s cell, I am almost ashamed to own — that the terror and horror with which the animal inspired me, had been heightened by one of the merest chimæras it would be possible to conceive. My wife had called my attention, more than once, to the character of the mark of white hair, of which I have spoken, and which constituted the sole visible difference between the strange beast and the one I had destroyed. The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees — degrees nearly imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject as fanciful — it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline. It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name — and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared — it was now, I say, the image of a hideous — of a ghastly thing — of the GALLOWS! — oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime — of Agony and of Death!

He then attempts to kill the resurrected cat with an axe, his wife attempts to stop him. He then turns on her and in a drunken rage, kills her with the axe. He seals the body in a wall in the basement and is content that the cat is gone.

The ending is a masterpiece in both horror and short fiction. In an act of hubris, while the authorities are investigating the wife’s disappearance, the narrator taps on the wall where his dead wife is entombed, which solicits a screeching howl from within. The officers open the wall to uncover the god of the underworld sitting in macabre judgment.

Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to the opposite wall. For one instant the party upon the stairs remained motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the next, a dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!

This is a great piece about morality and can be interpreted in an number of ways: as a treatise against alcohol abuse; as a piece addressing animal abuse; as a statement against domestic violence; or as a warning against hubris or engaging in cruel behavior for the sake of folly. The story works on so many levels for me, and of course, it is perfect to read during the Halloween season.

Cheers!

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 18

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

This is the final episode and is a long internal soliloquy depicting Molly Bloom’s thoughts as she is in bed after Leopold returns home. The episode is comprised of eight long sentences and is all stream of consciousness. Much of Molly’s thoughts are sexual: memories of past affairs, her current liaison with Blazes Boylan, her suspicions regarding Leopold Bloom’s clandestine sexual encounters, and her early days with Bloom. The language is beautiful and should really be read to be felt. I am not going to attempt to analyze the text from this episode; instead, I will discuss the structure of the episode, its symbolism, and how it ties in to the overall structure and larger theme of the book. I will preface this by saying that these are my interpretations. Feel free to use them, just include me in the citation.

The first thing to note about Episode 18 is that it opens and closes with the same word: “Yes.” I see this as symbolic for a circle, implying that there is an eternal cycle associated with the episode. Considering that Joyce employs the same technique in Finnegan’s Wake, where the book begins mid-sentence and ends with the first half of the sentence, I would argue that he is doing the same here. In fact, I would take this a step further and assert that Episode 18 is a circle within a circle and that the entire book is intended to be viewed as cyclical. Remember back to the beginning with the large S. The letter S is also the last letter in the book. I feel that Joyce structured the book to represent the eternal circle of existence: birth, life, death, rebirth. There are certainly an abundance of references and allusions throughout the text hinting at this, whether it is all the talk about metempsychosis or the circles cast upon the ceiling as Bloom and Molly lay together, or the circles of stars. Images of circles and cycles permeate this book.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

The myth is eternal. The story which Homer put forth in the Odyssey is one that has been repeated throughout history and will continue to be repeated as long as humans exist. It is an archetypal story and Joyce knew that. With that in mind, he made his version a modern interpretation of the myth.

In addition to the cyclical structure of the book, I believe that Joyce also included number mysticism within the structure of the book. Let’s break this down a bit. The book is split into 3 sections and contains 18 chapters. First we will consider the importance of the number 3. Obviously, 3 would represent the trinity. It also represents the three stages of life: birth, life, death. It symbolizes the father (Bloom), mother (Molly), and child (Stephen). In addition, each section begins with a large letter: S, M, and P, respectively. I see here another mystical trilogy: Spirit, Mortal, Psyche (although, some scholars have also associated with the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Poldy [nickname for Bloom]). I could go on like this for a long time, but I think you get the idea.

Now let’s think about the number 18. First off, if we were to apply kabbalistic numerology to this (and remember, Bloom is Jewish), we get 1+8 which equals 9, which in turn is 3×3, or a double trinity. At this point you may be thinking that this is a stretch, but stay with me, because it gets deeper. In the Jewish faith, the number 18 has another important aspect. It is the numeric representation of the Hebrew word chai (pronounced “hi”). The English translation for chai is “life.” I believe that Joyce consciously chose to make Ulysses 18 episodes because the book is the perfect representation of life, with all its recurring themes.

I have to say that I feel somewhat sad that I am finished. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Bloom and Stephen personally. I also really got a lot more out of the book reading it a second time. So will I read it a third time? Maybe. I’ll certainly keep my copy. I hope you enjoyed the posts and if you haven’t read along, I encourage you to spend the effort and read it one day. I personally think it is worth it.

Cheers!!


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15

Episode 16

Episode 17

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“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 2 of 4: East Coker

FourQuartets

In my previous post, I looked at the first of the Four Quartets: “Burnt Norton.” The second poem in the collection is much darker than the first and offers a bleak view of modern society.

The poem is structured in a circular style. The first and last lines of the poem are mirror reflections of each other. The poem begins with “In my beginning is my end” and concludes with “In my end is my beginning.” So from a basic structural view, Eliot is challenging the reader to read the poem over multiple times, but I also see deeper symbolism. In the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, when you are born, your consciousness is separated from the Divine Consciousness and your connection is severed. Likewise, when you die, your consciousness is reunited with the Divine until it is time to be reborn again, as part of the eternal cycle.

The overall theme of the poem is that modern humans, with all our science, technology, and money, are essentially destroying ourselves and the world in which we live. It really doesn’t seem like there is much hope for us. In the poem, Eliot offers only one possible path by which to save ourselves, and that is through Christ.

In the opening stanza, Eliot sets the tone for the poem, evoking images of a crumbling society while incorporating references to Ecclesiastes, thereby letting the reader know that our world is in decline and the only chance for salvation is through biblical wisdom.

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur, and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.

As the poem continues, we are provided with a view of life during a simpler time, before we became slaves to science and technology.

On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie

A dignified and commodiois sacrament,
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,

(Lines 25 – 34)

The imagery here makes me think of a pagan ritual. Villagers are gathered together and partake in rituals celebrating the union of man and woman. I would even venture to suggest that Eliot is likely depicting a Beltane ritual, where the symbolic sexual union of man and woman evokes a sympathetic type of magic resulting in the fertility of the earth. I also love the shift in language to an “Olde English” style. It is almost like reading Chaucer.

The Dance by Matisse

The Dance by Matisse

After this pastoral section, the poem takes a darker turn. We are presented with a prophecy, one in which astrological signs and omens point toward the inevitable destruction of humanity.

Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.

(Lines 58 – 67)

The following lines impacted me the hardest. Here, Eliot describes the root of our demise, the rich and powerful who view the world as theirs and seek to exploit the planet and all those who dwell upon it, dragging us along with them on the path to destruction.

O dark dark dark. They all go dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.

(Lines 101 – 111)

These lines terrify me. They could have been written today. As I look around at what is happening to our world, I see a handful of people taking the rest of us along with them to the grave. And when we reach that point of collapse, there will be no one left to bury the dead. We will decay along with all our creations and everything that we built. Ultimately, we will succumb to ourselves.

But Eliot sees one chance for us to save ourselves, and that is through the acceptance of Christ’s teachings. He sees Christ as a healer, able to cure our societal ills and disease.

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fevered chart.

(Lines 147 – 151)

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Near the end of the poem, Eliot writes: “As we grow older the world becomes stranger.” This is true on two levels. On a personal level, as we mature we no longer live the lives of simplicity that were ours as children and youth. On a societal level, our culture and society changes as it ages. Technology and science have replaced our wonder at the mysteries of life and existence. As a result, we find ourselves strangers in a strange land, in a world that becomes stranger and less recognizable with each passing day. It is a sad possibility that one day we may awaken into a world which is completely unrecognizable to us. I hope that day does not come.

Look for Part 3—“The Dry Salvages”—soon.

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