Showing posts from May, 2015

Don't Shoot the Elephant or You'll Kill Education

The Asian parable of the blind men and the elephant is as potent as Plato's myth of the cave. I don’t usually touch on hot button issues on this blog, preferring instead to focus on perennial wisdom that can benefit us all. To my mind, too much bloggery deals with narrow, sectarian rants (of the right and the left), radiating heat but very little light. I prefer to try to preserve a space in which we can put cant aside and try to contemplate truth, as it can be seen refracted and reflected in literature, history, philosophy, art, and the other liberal arts.  You see, I have this funny idea that if we all look toward the light, from whatever direction our perspective may take, we can all be illuminated and, in that way, united, even if we disagree about the things we see. Perhaps we will even recognize the limitations of our own personal perceptions, like the proverbial blind men who each grasped a different part of the elephant. Individually they had their own (equally limite

Tradition, Truth and the Literary Epic

Were Homer's epics inspired by ancient tales of Gilgamesh? Yesterday, by a piece of serendipity, I discovered that there's a revised edition of Charles Rowan Beye’s Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil , which now contains a chapter on Gilgamesh. I want it! I read the earlier edition years ago when I was in graduate school at the University of Dallas, and it made an indelible impression on me, as well as my teaching. The key idea I took away from it was an understanding of what it means to be “literary.” I mention this now because it has a bearing on my reading of the flood accounts I’ve been discussing, particularly the ones in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Metamorphoses . What does it mean to be “literary”? As the original edition of Beye’s book points out, Homer’s epics are regarded as marking the beginning of the Western literary tradition because they were the first great stories in fixed, written form to survive and influence later poets. Scholars

Zooming in on Ovid's acount of the Great Flood

Second installment on the Great Flood in Ovid's Metamorphoses Ovid artfully wove telling details into his poem. It is up to us to notice them, if we would understand the poem. (If you haven't read the first installment, find it here. ) Reading, like so much of life, is all about seeing what is to be seen — not only what is visible in a cursory glance, but also patterns that lie beneath the surface to give meaning to the words, not to mention all sorts of little hints and clues “hidden in plain sight,” which provide an extra level of enjoyment and meaning to the attentive reader.  So now that we've looked at Ovid's general poetic purpose in writing Metamorphoses , it’s time to take a close look at the episode in which he describes a great flood that destroyed all living things in the ancient world, to see if we can discern the details that can tell us the meaning of this episode within the poem as a whole. I frequently walk along the shore of the lake shor