Black Panther has made a huge splash in recent months as an excellent superhero movie that has spurred complex discussions of race, identity, and African culture. Interestingly, it seems to have acquired a literary and theatrical dimension: it has been calleda “Shakespeareantragedy,” and it is true that Black Panther resembles Hamlet, in its emphasis on a son contending with the legacy of his father.
As we turn to the plays of ancient Greece and Rome, I’d like to suggest that what makes Black Panther particularly tragic (in a dramatic sense) is its use of a narrative pattern that comes to us from the mythological family sagas of Classical tragedy: the crimes and sins of previous generations build up overtime, come to a boiling point, and erupt into violent conflict, often based on the desire for power or revenge.
The following contains plot details from ‘Black Panther.’
It can be easy to think of ancient stories like the Iliad and the Odyssey as unconnected to our modern world because they come to us from a distant time and mythological reality. But a recent — and uncomfortable—parallel between the Iliad and today’s politics has caused me to re-evaluate my view of the text in light of my own personal experiences. (more…)
The new ‘Wonder Woman’ movie provides a goldmine of opportunities to discuss the influence of Classical mythology on modern media. Diana of Themyscira is an Amazon, part of the mysterious tribe of women warriors described in Greek mythology, and the backdrop of the Amazon origin story in the film is a clash of divine proportions between the Greek gods.
It is this battle between divine forces that I would like to explore, especially the portrayal of Zeus, the king of the gods, and his son Ares, the war god. Although the film relies heavily on many elements of ancient Greek mythology, it does not align very well with the themes of those myths, and instead relies on a more Christian perspective to inform its narrative.
The following contains spoilers from ‘Wonder Woman.’
The essential conflict of STARZ’s American Gods is between the Old Gods, who are being weakened as fewer people worship them, and the New Gods of modernity and technology who are rising to dominance. To retain relevance and a source of worship in this rapidly-changing world, Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, adapts himself to American culture by “franchising” his faith and transforming from the god of fire into the god of firearms.
The following post contains potential spoilers for “A Murder of Gods” (season 1, episode 6 of American Gods).
In the article, I discuss the decision of game developers Firaxis to portray Alexander as the leader of Macedon, rather than Greece, in the newest iteration of the Civilization series and how it ties into ancient and modern debates over Macedonian identity. Here’s a short preview:
The debate over Macedonian “Greekness” is complex; it stretches back to ancient arguments and continues in the form of discussions among scholars. It has the potential to inflame intense passions among modern-day Greeks and Macedonians, with real consequences in the political sphere. Therefore, the portrayal of Alexander and the Macedonians in Civilization VI as part of a non-Greek civilization becomes particularly stunning when we realize that Firaxis is stepping into such a complicated debate.
I highly recommend Eidolon. It is an excellent blog featuring unique perspectives on Classical topics and is notable for dealing with current, topical issues and intersections between the modern and ancient worlds. I appreciate how Eidolon seeks, while still being of interest to scholars, to make the ancient world more accessible for a general audience.
It does this by using a less academic and more informal style; it also removes the requirement for peer-review and extensive bibliographies, which works well for formal academic journals but makes it hard to produce timely content and respond to current events. It may take months or years for a peer-reviewed article to be published, whereas Eidolon can publish on immediately relevant issues: my article went live only a few weeks after Firaxis released Alexander as a new leader for Civilization VI.
As we’re wrapping up 2015 and heading towards a new year, it’s time for an update about the status of this blog and what the future has in store.
First off, here’s a quick look at the content coming up in the near future:
I will be posting the last few parts of my series on Euripides’ Medea, as well as the final part of my series on snake images in Vergil’s Aeneid.
My cousin, Maithy Vu, has come out with her first book, a two-act play written in verse called Wounded Wisteria. I will be writing a review that will be up soon, but for now, please check out the book on Amazon, and also be sure to visit her website.
Beyond that, as we head into 2016, you’ll see a slight shift in content. The focus of this site will remain stories, words, and the power of literature, with an emphasis on the ancient Greeks and Romans. But the form of that content will, I hope, become more appropriate for a blog. It will be more accessible and more easily digestible. I will try to write in a succinct way that makes a bit more sense for a general audience.
While in school, it is difficult for me to consistently produce new material for this site. To compensate for that, I’ve been reworking school essays into bloggable material. The problem is that academic papers are filled with the analysis of minute details, and as a result are generally too long or too complex on a blog. Cutting up the essays into pieces doesn’t help either: I just end up posting many articles about the same thing over and over.
So, I’ve decided to re-adjust things. I won’t attempt to turn massive essays into bite-sized pieces anymore, although brief summaries might work. Instead, I’ll try to create content suitable for a blogging format and specific for this site. Things will be cleaner and easier to absorb, but I will still maintain a certain level of intellect and complexity. I’m sure you all can handle it.
The topics I discuss may become more eclectic. So far, I have written mainly about ancient literature, but focusing solely on it is restrictive, not to mention that it may start to feel esoteric and arcane if I overdo it. That is why I’ve also written a few posts about film, TV, and modern novels–to expand the scope of this site and mix things up. To show how the power of stories is as important to the modern world as it is to the ancient, I will bring in more content of that sort, which will hopefully make this site more accessible.
Finally, I have updated this website’s “About” page. I’ve removed the quotations from Robert Fagles’ translation of the Odyssey and replaced them with my own translation, since I can now read the original Greek for myself. I have added a few sections about my disability, as that is an important to who I am and why I am doing this. I’ve also fleshed out my interest in stories and the ancient world and how exactly it came about.
Right now, I am considering my options for the future, when I have earned my degree at Santa Clara University. One path I am definitely thinking about is graduate school. I’ve spent the past few years of my life learning Greek and Latin and immersing myself in the ancient writings of these languages, but I still feel as if I have not yet learned enough. It feels like I am only now getting started. So a part of me thinks that it’d almost be a waste of the knowledge I’ve gained to stop at the undergrad level. I have earned unique skills at the SCU Classics department, and I think I should try to continue making use of them.
Of course, there are other considerations to make. With my living situation and disability, will I be able to handle grad school? Which school works best in terms of geography? How far do I want to go: just an MA, or a PhD? Is teaching my goal? Right now, it looks like Stanford’s MA program is the best fit for me, but I’ll have to see what makes sense.
The deadline for applications is in December, so I will not be able to submit in time to begin a graduate program in fall of 2016. But I will be able to submit by December of 2016, so wish me luck as I begin working on my application!
Another option is to start writing a book. If were to go with non-fiction, I might write about the Odyssey or other myths and find ways to connect them to the world we live in today or my own life experiences. If I write fiction, I might attempt to write a novel of some sort, perhaps a fantasy story based on the classical world or a reinterpretation of mythical Greek material. Just some ideas.
The future is open. It is a bit nerve-racking to think about what will happen. But I have hope that no matter what happens I’ll find something positive, enjoyable, and productive to do with my knowledge, skill, and experience.
This summer, I decided to re-read the entire Odyssey in preparation for my senior thesis project, and I have written several posts containing some thoughts on what I read. As the summer comes to an end, please enjoy the last post in this series, with comments on Books 21-24, the final sections of the Odyssey. Let’s begin with a summary of plot events.
Book 21: Penelope takes Odysseus’ bow out from storage and sets up a contest for the suitors. Whoever can string the bow and fire an arrow through a series of iron axes will be her husband, she tells them. Telemachus tests himself and nearly strings the bow himself, but Odysseus signals to him to stop. All the suitors, however, are unable to use the bow.
Meanwhile, Odysseus reveals himself to his loyal servants, the swineherd Eumaios and the cowherd Philotios. He commands them to lock up the doors so the suitors cannot escape. Then, as the beggar, he asks for a chance to try the bow, and Penelope agrees, despite the suitors’ protests. Telemachus tells his mother to return upstairs. Odysseus then strings the bow and shoots an arrow through the axes. The suitors are astonished.
Book 22: Odysseus shoots the leader of the suitors, Antinous, and kills him. He then reveals his identity and states his desire for vengeance against the suitors for their crimes. The suitor Eurymachus offers a repayment of vast wealth, but Odysseus refuses.
Odysseus, Telemachus, Eumaios, and Philotios arm for battle and then fight the suitors. Although the suitors have no weapons or armor (because Telemachus and Odysseus have put them into storage), Melanthios the goatherd sneaks out to find some for them. The second time he leaves, Eumaios and Philotios catch him and tie him up.
Athena appears disguised as Mentor and aids them in battle. She keeps them safe from the suitors’ spears and ensures their spears hit their targets. Odysseus and his allies kill most of the suitors. Some supplicate Odysseus and beg to be spared. Odysseus kills Leodes, a seer who aided the suitors, but he leaves alive the bard Phemius, who was forced to sing for the suitors, as well as the good herald, Medon.
After the battle, Odysseus has his female servants clean up the mess of blood. Then, the disloyal handmaidens who aided the suitors and slept with them are killed.
Book 23: The nurse Eurykleia goes upstairs to awaken Penelope and tell her that Odysseus is back and the suitors are dead, but Penelope, although overjoyed, still seems skeptical that her husband has really returned. She comes down and tests Odysseus by asking Eurykleia to remove the bed from their chambers for him to sleep in, but he responds angrily, saying that the bed was built by him from an olive tree, that it is rooted down and cannot be moved.
Only they and one servant know this secret. Penelope now sees that this is truly Odysseus, and husband and wife joyfully reunite. They sleep together and spend the whole night telling each stories about what they experienced while apart from each other.
Book 24: Hermes, the god who guides the dead, brings the suitors’ souls to the underworld. The suitors recount the destruction brought against them by Odysseus to the ghosts of Agamemnon and Achilles, who praise Odysseus for his good fortune and faithful wife.
Odysseus goes to his father Laertes’ farm out in the country and tries to test him with more false tales. But his father’s anguished response proves too much and he quickly reveals himself. Odysseus, Telemachus, and their allies have a meal with Laertes.
Meanwhile, the suitors’ families hear of their sons’ deaths and plot vengeance. They arm for battle and approach Laertes’ home. Grandfather, son, and grandson prepare to fight together, and Laertes kills one man, before Athena stops the battle, declaring that peace has arrived and that the bloodshed is over.
Here are a couple of things I noticed about these sections of the Odyssey:
1) Although the Odyssey seems to end happily and affirm the strength of domestic life, Homer still leaves Ithaca in a state of unease at the end of the poem.
The hero Odysseus successfully returns home. His enemies, the arrogant suitors, have been punished for their crimes. He has been reunited with his faithful wife and his son, who has started along his own path of maturation. He is now allowed to rule over Ithaca until his peaceful death in old age. All signs point to the success of peace and domesticity.
Yet there is a hint of trouble: Odysseus’ killing of the suitors have stirred up the anger of their families. To sate his own desire for vengeance, he has ruthlessly slaughtered an entire generation of young men, without regard for consequences on society. Indeed, civil war would probably have torn Ithaca apart without Athena’s intervention.
Left to their own devices, humans would continue to perpetuate the cycle of revenge and death. The happy ending of the Odyssey could only have happened through divine action.
In Homer’s Iliad, we actually see that the opposite is true. In this epic of death, the destruction of war rushes inexorably forward. Divine will has guaranteed Troy’s fall. The heroic protector of the Trojans, Hector, is dead. Yet, despite this darkness, there is a glimmer of light as Achilles and King Priam of Troy recognize their common humanity.
2) Odysseus and Penelope, as husband and wife, seem to be a perfect match for each other. Penelope has shown that she is as cunning and intelligent as her husband. She has fended off the suitors for years with a clever trick: she told them that she would marry as soon as she finishes weaving a funeral shroud for Laertes, all while unweaving the shroud at night.
Also, if it is true that she is perceptive enough to know who the beggar is, perhaps she is actively trying to aid her husband in his plan for revenge by allowing him to handle the bow.
Not only that, but she is given a chance to match her wits against Odysseus. While disguised, her husband has been “testing” people with his crafty lies, probing Eumaios and Penelope to determine their loyalties, but now in a final affirmation of her fidelity, Penelope gets to be the cunning “tester,” checking to make sure that this man is really Odysseus. It is fitting that their intellects are what determine the strength of their marriage.
Finally, both Odysseus and Penelope are both storytellers and crafters of words. Their reunion not only occurs through love-making but also through an exchange of tales.
3) The ending of the Odyssey appears to mirror the ending of the Iliad. Book 22 in both epics features a terrible slaughter, as Achilles brutally slays Hector and as Odysseus mercilessly takes down the suitors. In both cases, the glory of heroic combat is distorted, whether by Achilles’ inhuman rage removing all semblance of honor in war or by the inglorious deaths of the suitors amid the spilled food and wine, upon which they are glutting themselves.
The final moments of both epics feature a meal with a father-figures with sons: Odysseus shares a meal with his son and his father, while Achilles shares a meal with Priam. The fearsome, raging Achilles puts aside his anger and returns Hector’s body to Priam. Odysseus too must cease from his rage: he is about to storm into battle against the suitors’ families, but Athena stops him and ensures a restoration of peace.
So, that’s it! I have finished re-reading all of Homer’s Odyssey, and now I’m going to move on by continuing to read some secondary scholarship on the epic, in order to see what interesting ideas come up for my senior thesis project. I will keep you updated on all of that, and thanks again for reading.