Great Books of the Western World–The Plays of Sophocles (2)


1.  Introduction

In 1994, Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and Berg Professor of English at New York University, wrote The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, in which he argued for the more conservative viewpoint that literature should follow the “art for art’s sake” ideal and not have it be subservient to some program of social engineering or political correctness.

After I moved to Chicago last summer, I found that the local library, together with the interlibrary system that stretches across the libraries of the Chicagoland area, is a wonderful resource.   I re-read Harold Bloom’s book and decided to embark on a program of reading (and in some cases, re-reading) the Great Books of Western Literature, in particular as set forth by

  • The Great Books of the Western World series by Encyclopedia Brittanica
  • Harold Bloom’s book The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

The plays of Aeschylus, along with those of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, are contained in the second volume of literature in the Great Books of the Western World series.    There are seven extant plays of Sophocles  included in the Great Books, and yesterday’s post covers four of them:   AjaxElectraThe Trachiniae, and Philoctetes. Today’s post will cover the remaining three plays:   Oedipus RexOedipus at Colonus, and Antigone.

For a synopsis of the work, I ask that readers turn to the Wikipedia article on Sophocles and refer to the section on Synopsis.   I will focus on 5 themes of the these plays as I encountered it in my reading and listening to the work.

2.  5 Themes

to be continued tomorrow

Great Books of the Western World: The Plays of Sophocles (1)


1.  Introduction

In 1994, Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and Berg Professor of English at New York University, wrote The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, in which he argued for the more conservative viewpoint that literature should follow the “art for art’s sake” ideal and not have it be subservient to some program of social engineering or political correctness.

After I moved to Chicago last summer, I found that the local library, together with the interlibrary system that stretches across the libraries of the Chicagoland area, is a wonderful resource.   I re-read Harold Bloom’s book and decided to embark on a program of reading (and in some cases, re-reading) the Great Books of Western Literature, in particular as set forth by

  • The Great Books of the Western World series by Encyclopedia Brittanica
  • Harold Bloom’s book The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

The plays of Aeschylus, along with those of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, are contained in the second volume of literature in the Great Books of the Western World series.    There are seven extant plays of Sophocles  included in the Great Books, and today’s post covers four of them:   Ajax, Electra, The Trachiniae, and Philoctetes. Tomorrow’s post will cover the remaining three plays:   Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone.

For a synopsis of the work, I ask that readers turn to the Wikipedia article on Sophocles and refer to the section on Synopsis.   I will focus on 5 themes of the these plays as I encountered it in my reading and listening to the work.

2.  5 Themes

to be continued tomorrow

Great Books of Western Literature: The Plays of Aeschylus (2)


1.  Introduction

In 1994, Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and Berg Professor of English at New York University, wrote The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, in which he argued for the more conservative viewpoint that literature should follow the “art for art’s sake” ideal and not have it be subservient to some program of social engineering or political correctness.

After I moved to Chicago last summer, I found that the local library, together with the interlibrary system that stretches across the libraries of the Chicagoland area, is a wonderful resource.   I re-read Harold Bloom’s book and decided to embark on a program of reading (and in some cases, re-reading) the Great Books of Western Literature, in particular as set forth by

  • The Great Books of the Western World series by Encyclopedia Brittanica
  • Harold Bloom’s book The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

The plays of Aeschylus, along with those of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, are contained in the second volume of literature in the Great Books of the Western World series.    There are seven extant plays of Aeschylus included in the Great Books, and the previous post covers four of them:   The PersiansSeven Against ThebesThe Suppliants, and Prometheus Bound.   Todays’s post will cover the remaining three plays that coincidentally represent the only extant trilogy we have for any of the Greek tragedians.   The trilogy is called the Oresteia, and consists of AgamemnonThe Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides.

For a synopsis of the work, I ask that readers turn to the Wikipedia article on Aeschylus and refer to the section on Synopsis.   I will focus on 5 themes of the these plays as I encountered it in my reading and listening to the work.

2.  5 Themes

to be continued tomorrow

Great Books of Western Literature: The Plays of Aeschylus (1)


1.  Introduction

In 1994, Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and Berg Professor of English at New York University, wrote The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, in which he argued for the more conservative viewpoint that literature should follow the “art for art’s sake” ideal and not have it be subservient to some program of social engineering or political correctness.

After I moved to Chicago last summer, I found that the local library, together with the interlibrary system that stretches across the libraries of the Chicagoland area, is a wonderful resource.   I re-read Harold Bloom’s book and decided to embark on a program of reading (and in some cases, re-reading) the Great Books of Western Literature, in particular as set forth by

  • The Great Books of the Western World series by Encyclopedia Brittanica
  • Harold Bloom’s book The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

The plays of Aeschylus, along with those of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, are contained in the second volume of literature in the Great Books of the Western World series.    There are seven extant plays of Aeschylus included in the Great Books, and this post covers four of them:   The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants, and Prometheus Bound.   Tomorrow’s post will cover the remaining three plays that coincidentally represent the only extant trilogy we have for any of the Greek tragedians.   The trilogy is called the Oresteia, and consists of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides.

For a synopsis of the work, I ask that readers turn to the Wikipedia article on Aeschylus and refer to the section on Synopsis.   I will focus on 5 themes of the these plays as I encountered it in my reading and listening to the work.

2.  5 Themes

to be continued tomorrow

Great Books of Western Literature: The Odyssey


 

1.  Introduction

In 1994, Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and Berg Professor of English at New York University, wrote The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, in which he argued for the more conservative viewpoint that literature should follow the “art for art’s sake” ideal and not have it be subservient to some program of social engineering or political correctness.

After I moved to Chicago last summer, I found that the local library, together with the interlibrary system that stretches across the libraries of the Chicagoland area, is a wonderful resource.   I re-read Harold Bloom’s book and decided to embark on a program of reading (and in some cases, re-reading) the Great Books of Western Literature, in particular as set forth by

  • The Great Books of the Western World series by Encyclopedia Brittanica
  • Harold Bloom’s book The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

The Iliad, along with the Odyssey, is contained in the first volume of literature in the Great Books of the Western World series.    Along with the Odyssey, I read notes to the Odyssey by various scholars that were edited by Harold Bloom himself.    However, since the work was originally a work of oral poetry, I went and downloaded the LibriVox recording of the 24 books of the Odyssey to listen to them as well as read them.

For a synopsis of the work, I ask that readers turn to the Wikipedia article on The Odyssey and refer to the section on Synopsis.   I will focus on 5 themes of the work as I encountered it in my reading and listening to the work.

2.   5 Themes

a.   Post-Trojan Stress Disorder or the Perils of Peace

After reading the Iliad, one of the things you notice about the Odyssey is that it is not just an interesting work in and of itself, but it becomes doubly so if you compare and contrast it with the Iliad.

First of all, the Iliad is about the world of war, which we enter in its 10th year.   The Odyssey is the story of what happens to Odysseus, one of the leaders of the Trojan War, upon his return to Greece.   It takes him 10 more years to get back to Greece, however, and the Odyssey tracks his various adventures as he gets repeatedly thrown off course and sidetracked.   And yet, he always has the goal in mind to return to his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus and after a decade of perseverance, he finally manages to do so.    In all of the physical travels, you get the sense when reading the work that part of the journey that Odysseus goes on is the transformation of his whole being which has been bent on war and his role as a warrior, and now must focus on peace and his role as a father and husband–not, however, until he commits a final war-like act by slaying the suitors of his wife Penelope that are eating him out of house and home.

The stories of the return of the heroes of the Iliad are collectively referred to as the Nostoi, or the stories of the return, and all of them show the difficulties in the warriors who have faced 10 years of war in returning to a life of peace and domestic concerns.    Agamemnon returns to his wife Clytemnestra and is killed by her, because he sacrificed their daughter in order to obtain favorable winds from the gods on his way to the Trojan War.    (This is the subject of a trilogy of plays by the playwright Aeschylus, by the way, which comprise another one of the Great Books.)    So the passage from war to peace is not an easy one, and is fraught with peril.

b.  Reconciliation of the male and the female

One of the psychological shifts that has to go on in Odysseus’ mind is not just the shift from war to peace, but the way in which he interacts with women.    In the Iliad, women are, as they were in much of Greek culture, not the equal of men, but are considered as property and part of the “spoils of war.”   In fact, the opening of the Iliad starts with a quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon over that king’s taking the woman Achilles has won as one of the spoils of war.    We only see one real female character of consequence in most of the book, and that is Helen, and she is perhaps the largest spoil of war over which the entire Trojan War is being waged.

Odysseus has to come from that world to the world where he has to interact with women as a father to a daughter, as a husband to a wife, and a son to his mother.    The relationships he has with women such as Nausicaa, or with Circe, help pave the way to his ability to maintain once more domestic relationships with women.

c.  From War Epic to Science Fiction

If we were to consider the Odyssey from the standpoint of view of modern fiction, it would probably be more of a work of fantasy or science fiction, rather than the Iliad, which is more of a war epic.    This is because of the various fantastical adventures he goes on with giant Cyclops, singing Sirens that lure men mad with their songs, and other unusual creatures of mythological lore.    It lends an atmosphere of fantasy or “augmented reality” if you will, rather than the gritty reality of the Iliad.

d.  From Physical Hero to Mental Hero

Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, is strong, brave, and has a lot of positive qualities you would want in a leader during a war, although he does have the weakness of pride which almost proves his undoing.     The Odyssey, on the other hand, is a work which has Odysseus as a hero, and he has a lot of positive qualities that are more mental than physical, such as the ability as a storyteller and a liar, which are more needed against the supernatural foes he runs up against as opposed to the physical foes that Achilles faced in the Iliad.    He, like Achilles, has his weaknesses, such as the hubris or over-confidence that he sometimes displays, such as when he taunts the giant Cyclops after successfully leaving in a boat from their island.     The giant boulder the Cyclops throw at the boat almost causes it to capsize, showing that his boasting, a form of hubris, almost proved his undoing.

e.   From the Arrow to the Circle

The action of the Trojan War in the Iliad may start in Olympus and in Greece, but it ends with the Trojan War, and the attempt to destroy that city.    The action of the Odyssey, however, turns this arrow of action backwards and, after the peregrinations of Odysseus, finally returns him to the place where the adventure started back in Greece.   However, although he is returning in place to the starting point, he is returning to that point 20 years later, and much has happened in those 20 years, including the growth of his son from a boy into a man.    Luckily, there are some things that are constant, such as his wife Penelope’s faithfulness to him, and that is what causes the book to have, as we would say today, a happy ending.

3.  Conclusion

There is some debate as to whether Homer wrote both works, but I think those who think he did not write both are doing so because of they find it difficult to find that one man could write works of such contrasting themes.   But when you read the two works, you know that they are written by the same man, because the rhythms of the sentences, with their repeated words, phrases, or indeed entire passages (like the descriptions of animal sacrifices) leave one no doubt that the same genius is at work.

Of the two works, I must say that the Odyssey has a power over me that the Iliad did not, but that is probably because of my own penchant for science fiction, which escapes certain boundaries created by the rules of realism in order to tell larger truths about the world in which we live.   For that reason, it is one of those works I would enjoy re-reading. Just as Odysseus’ adventures made him a larger person because of the experience, reading about his adventures in the Odyssey also makes me a different person, a larger self, than I was at the beginning of the story.    That is why it is a Great Book of Western Literature.

 

Integral Theory and Interfaith Dialogue


At the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Park Forest, I gave a talk on Integral Theory and how it could be used to foster interfaith dialogue.

In the talk, I introduced the five elements of integral theory and gave examples of how an awareness of the theory could improve communications within the church itself, between the church and other religious institutions, and between church and the society at large.    This is not meant as an in-depth explanation of Integral Theory, which I explain in other posts, but rather its application towards the subject of using it as a tool to enable dialogue between church members and those who may have different perspectives, whether they be church members, members of a different church, or someone else in the community with whom the church member wants to converse about any given topic.

1.   Quadrants

The four quadrants represent the four different perspectives one can use when approaching reality, the intentional, the behavioral, the cultural, and the social.

Here’s an example of how using an awareness of quadrants helped in a discussion within the church.   At a different UUCC chapter in Orange County, CA, I had led a forum whose focus was on the obesity epidemic in America.   What were its causes, and what were potential measures that could be used to combat it?

One person said it was a matter of will power; people just needed to be stricter about dieting.    Someone else pointed out that all the intention in the world to diet doesn’t overcome the fact that restrictive dieting alone won’t help you lose weight because of the physiology of the body.    If you start restricting calories, you start your body craving food more and more until you gave into those cravings and ruin the diet.

Someone else said it was a problem of people buying too much junk food, and someone then pointed out that the reason why they do that is because there are so many commercials on TV encouraging people to engage in this unhealthful behavior.    Finally, someone said that the government was subsidizing agribusiness and not local farmers, which meant that the cost of junk food was artificially low but that the cost of healthful fruits and vegetables was so high that most poor people could not afford it.   They preferred junk food not just because of the commercials, but because government subsidies distorted the “free market” to the extent that it was cheaper for them to buy it.

When I heard this, I realized that all of the perspectives were valid according to Integral Theory.   The comment about will power had to do with intentions, and the physiology of the body shaped the behaviors of people when they were diets.    The culture affected people’s purchasing decisions, but so did the social structures just as the government’s policies towards giving subsidies to certain large corporations but not to small, family farmers.   The problem in such a discussion becomes when people think that their perspective has a monopoly on what the real truth is.   No, their perspective contains only a piece of the truth.    Understanding this concept is key to really being able to listen to the perspective of others.

2.  States

The basic states of consciousness are waking, sleeping, and dreamless sleep, with a potential fourth state called nondual occurring in situations where people have peak experiences.   For church members, I said the important thing for them to pay attention to there is the fact that if you go on a retreat and have a peak experience, it may give you a momentary higher state of consciousness, but if that higher state is not nurtured through continuous practices, it will fade away back to a normal state.

Also, when people have these peak experiences, they will interpret them through the lens of their own belief system, so if you talk to someone who believes in the existence of the Devil, you may have to translate that into your own belief system in order to understand where they are coming from.    This actually happened with someone out in California who I was networking with frequently.    I said, “sometimes I think I am getting an impulse from my ego rather than my larger self, and you talk about getting an impulse from Satan.”   I asked him, “do you think we might actually be talking about the same phenomenon?”   He considered this, and said, “maybe we are.”

3.  Lines

An important thing to remember about lines of development is that besides the cognitive line of development which is the thing measured by scholastic or IQ tests, there are other intelligences such as emotional intelligence, a moral sense, and other lines of development which are also important in the larger scheme of human interactions.    Here’s an example of three levels of development, and how a hypothetical person measures up to them along different lines.

The important thing for UUs to remember here is that just because you are developed along one line, doesn’t mean that you are going to be developed at the same level along another line.   Also, when putting together teams of people to handle a task, it is good to have a mix of people with different strengths along different lines of development.

4.  Types

Of course, the biggest type difference we encounter in daily life is that of gender, the sex with which we identify, and sexual orientation, which is the sex to which we are attracted.   Other types to be aware of are communication preference types.   If you are trying to give a talk or a sermon, you need to include elements for those people who have the preference of a) action, b) ideas, c) processes, and d) people when communicating.    Give takeaways of actions people can take for the people who prefer action, discuss ideas by using quotes and giving statistics or names of books, give a beginning, middle, and end to your sermon for people who like orderly processes, and tell emotive stories for the people who communicate in terms of relationships with other people.

5.  Stages

There are eight stages of development according to Spiral Dynamics, which Ken Wilber has incorporated into the Integral Theory model. These represent the “units of concern” that a person has starting out with the obvious egocentric levels.   Gradually, a person starts to care for more than him or herself and the immediate and/or extended family; the person learns to identify with a particular religion, race, ethnic background, and that is the ethnocentric level.    If you identify with the people of the country at large, you are at the sociocentric level.  Those who are concerned about all human life can be said to be at the worldcentric level.

These are the first tier stages, as contrasted with the second tier stages.    Those in the first tier usually identify those groups to be contended with as all of the other stages; however, those at the second tier recognize that those at lower tiers are just at different stages of development.    As a UU, you are going to encounter those who are at different stages, and I don’t mean to imply that you should use this to feel superior to them in any way.   I am saying this to let you know that you if you want to communicate with a person at a different stage, you need to adopt their language to get through to them.

For example, if you are at the green level and want to enlist the participation of someone in your campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, then you will need to get a sense of what stage they are in.   You are not going to be able to argue about global warming to someone at the orange level who thinks that the Keystone XL pipeline is going to bring in much-needed jobs to the country.   You will have to talk to that person in terms of economic pros and cons of a short-term nature, rather than the long-term, global consequences of that pipeline.   And you will have to deal with the self-interest of someone in the amber or red level in terms of the effect of that pipeline on the quality of their drinking water and how it affects them or their community personally.

6.  CONCLUSION

The purpose of gaining the ability to perceive multiple perspectives is essential in communicating with others, and Integral Theory provides a framework with which to do this.   The talk was well-received this morning at the church, and there was much discussion afterwards, which showed that it stimulated some thinking about how it could be used in practical situations involving communication both within the church and in the larger community.   For that reason, I call it a successful talk.

World Champion of Public Speaking Pres Vasilev: 10 Tips on Structuring your Speech


On Saturday, February 22nd, at the Toastmasters Leadership Institute held by District 30, the 2013 World Champion of Public Speaking Pres Vasilev gave a keynote speech about how to structure your speech to make it more effective.  He used famous speeches in history, plus his own speech “Changed by A Tire”, with which he won the International Speech Contest last year, as examples of the points he was trying to make.

1.   Repetition creates Rhythm

If you read the works the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, you realize that he repeats certain phrases such as “rosy-fingered Dawn” and even entire passages, such as when describing the ritual of an animal sacrifice.   In a speech, you have only 5-7 minutes to create an impression, so reinforcing your message through rhythm, which means repetition of phrases, becomes important.    Another element that contributes to rhythm is word order, which you can vary to draw attention to the words of your speech.

2.  Beginning Echo

One form of repetition is beginning echo, which is when the beginning of one sentence echoes the beginning of the preceding sentence.   An example from historical speeches is the phrase “I have a dream …”, which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to punctuate his famous speech in the nation’s capital.

3.  Ending Echo

If beginning echo is repetition at the beginning of the sentence, then ending echo is naturally the ending of one sentence echoing the ending of a the preceding sentence.   An example from historical speeches is the phrase “Yes we can!” which President Barack Obama used to punctuate his acceptance speech of the nomination for President at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

In Pres Vasilev’s own speech, he used the phrase

the jack collapsed,

my car collapsed,

my lungs collapsed”

as an example of ending echo.

4.  Full Circle

Combining the beginning echo and ending echo gives you the full circle, where the ending of the sentence echoes the beginning.    For example, in a previous World Championship of Public Speaking speech, someone used the phrase

“I had changed everything in my life,

but nothing had changed.”

This shows the word “changed” which occurs towards the beginning of the sentence in one context, and also at the end of the sentence in another contrasting context.

5.  Chain of Change

This is where the ending of one sentence echoes the beginning of the subsequent sentence, creating a chain of change.    He used the words of the philosopher Yoda from Star Wars I movie:

Fear leads to anger

Anger leads to hatred

Hatred leads to suffering.

6.  Sudden Twist

This is a chain of sentences, where the last sentence changes the level of discourse, usually from serious to comic.  He used an example from his own speech,

If you want a better voice, reach out to a singer

If you want better writing, reach out to a writer

If you want better tire-changing skills, reach out to me

Here there is a sudden twist from the serious (a better voice, better writing) to the comic (better tire-changing skills).

7.  Balanced Contrast

When you have two sentences that have parallel structure, they create an impression which is stronger than each of them individually by creating a balanced contrast.   From the words of Neil Armstrong when he became the first man to step on the surface of the Moon:

That’s one small step for a man

One giant leap for mankind

Notice the parallels in contrast:   “small” vs. “giant”, “step” vs. “leap”, and “a man” vs. “mankind.”   Each of these ties the one incident, that of a single man stepping on the surface of the Moon, with the larger framework of the entire history of man.

8.  Reversed Order

In this parallel structure, the second sentence has a structure which is the reverse of the first sentence.   For example, here’s an example of reversed order from a line from one of John F. Kennedy’s speeches:

Ask not what your country can do for you

Ask what you can do for your country

From Pres Vasilev’s own speech, he cited the line

I stopped to change a tire

Instead the tire changed me

and later on in the speech

I used to believed that to reach out was a weakness

But I discovered my weakness was refusing to reach out

9.   Sublime Rhyme

What was the one phrase that people remember from the trial of O. J. Simpson:

If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit

When you create a sublime rhyme at the end of your speech, you will give it a sense of finality and an echo of what came before during the entire speech.

10.  Pauses

One often overlooked element of creating rhythm in speeches was the use of pauses.   In terms of word count, Pres Vasilev’s speech was the shortest.   This allowed him to use pauses to contrast one block of the speech text with another.

Pauses are important because they give time for the audience to reflect, and for you to connect.

CONCLUSION

Even in this last sentence of his presentation “time for the audience to reflect, and for you to connect”, Pres Vasilev showed an example of the power of structuring the sentences in your speech to give them more resonance with the audience.   

The most amazing thing about Pres Vasilev is that he won the world championship of public speaking–and English is not his first language.   Originally from Bulgaria, he came here and decided to use Toastmasters as his way of helping him improve his communication skills in English.    If he can go all the way to the top in a language that is not his mother tongue, then I can say for certain that none of us for whom English is our first language have any excuse for not trying to improve!