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Archive for December, 2010

I was kind of pleased with that phrase from the last post, and started thinking about how there might actually be a literal cult of Aaron Spelling characters someday, after we’ve all died from watering our plants with Brawndo and the cockroaches reach sentience and find tapes of Dynasty and Beverly Hills 90210.

It seemed to me that this would be the just fate for our current culture. It also seemed to me that there was one logical choice for the chief deity of this pantheon:

Alexis Colby from "Dynasty"

You could even address her Homerically: “Taut-browed love goddess, Alexis who weareth the turban”.

However, I have been beaten to the punch: she is already a cult figure elsewhere.

Poop.

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The Creation, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

Creation myths are like opinions: everybody’s got one. Every culture, anyway. I’ve been reading two of them in Hesiod’s Theogony and Genesis, which is the first book of both the Christian and Jewish bibles.

I’m thinking of starting a creation myths matrix for the books covered in this blog, since I know there are a lot more of them on the way. Also, it gives me a good excuse to go back through the previous titles (Gilgamesh, Book of the Dead) and see what they have to say about how all this… stuff… came to happen.

So I’ll get started on that, now that I’ve digested all of my Christmas cookies, and post that sometime in the new year.

Meanwhile, I have these two stories to compare.

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Here are a few fun links I’ve found related to books or reading recently:

Rare Book Room: A project that offers scans of old and rare books, including Shakespeare folios and illuminated manuscripts.

What Should I Read Next? An idea generator for your own personal reading lists, based on your input about books and writers you’ve enjoyed. Or you could browse the BOAT list.

World’s Most Beautiful Libraries: A three-year old post from BoredStop.com. Still, if you want some decorating ideas for your bookcase… actually, no, wait.

I Suwannee: Blog run by NC-based design consultant Jamie Meares (she has a real live meatspace shop called Furbish), who posts a “bookcase of the day” most days.

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The winter solstice is upon us, and Christmas is hard on its heels. So I’m skipping ahead in the list a bit to look at the first chapters of the Gospel according to St. Luke.

If you live in an English-speaking country and have watched any television at Christmas since 1965, you are most likely familiar with chapter 2, verses 8-14, which were popularized here:

Luke’s is the only one of the canonical gospels– the gospels that made the final cut of the Bible– to go into great detail about the nativity. Most of our images of Christ at Christmas, including the manger, the stable, and the shepherds surprised by angels, come from his version of the story.

Mark cuts right to Jesus being baptized by John. Matthew goes at it like a lawyer (or a tax collector, I guess), listing Christ’s forebears and mentioning, in passing, the Magi following the Star of Bethlehem: he’s building evidence to demonstrate Jesus’s divinity. Finally, John is prophetic, starting his account with the thunderous declaration that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” (I dig John; I feel my hair stirring in some divine wind when I read him.)

Only Luke gives us Mary and Joseph’s struggle to find lodging in Bethlehem, and Elizabeth’s child (John the Baptist) leaping for joy in his mother’s womb at the approach of Mary. Only Luke gives us the baby:

bronzino adoration
Adoration of the Shepherds, Angelo Bronzino (Florentine, 16th C.)

I am not interested in trying to prove whether or not the story given in Luke is “true”. I’m not a religious scholar or a biblical scholar. I’m just some lady, some bookworm with a blog.

I was raised Catholic, and even though I don’t practice anymore, I can understand that people of faith consider the Bible to be both sacred and literally true. Hopefully they will understand that I, as a de-churched Christian, feel differently.

Anyway: what do we know about Luke’s gospel?

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zeus and hera

Zeus and Hera

Theogony, as many helpful writers, critics, and professors tell me, means “birth of the gods”. I’m not entirely sure whether Hesiod thought up this title himself, or if it was given to him by the various copiers and transcribers who set his oral poem into writing (like Homer, who seems to have been more or less contemporary with him, Hesiod was an oral poet), but I am thinking that I should probably have read it before embarking on the Odyssey and the Iliad. It would have laid out many of the relationships among the gods and other supernatural players in both of those stories– while not crucial to understanding the plots of Homer’s work, a better grasp of those people and their origins might have helped me understand some more layers of allegory.

Still. I have a passing acquaintance with the various supernatural figures that populate Greek myths, having pored over a well-thumbed paperback copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology many times in my childhood, along with whatever picture books were available in my Catholic school’s small, but well-curated, library. (I remember checking out a book about Bellerophon and Pegasus many times. This is because, even more so than sparkly dresses and princesses, flying horses are little girl crack. That’s probably also how I came to read Hamilton’s book, now that I think about it– Pegasus is on the cover.)

Speaking of curating, that’s what Hesiod is all about in Theogony. He makes it pretty clear that he’s not inventing the characters or stories he relates, but reporting them. Theogony is partially a song/poem dedicated to Zeus and the Muses, and partly an epic detailing how the world and the gods came to be, and how the various gods struggled for mastery over the world until Zeus and his generation ultimately prevailed.

Inside this loose framework, Hesiod passes on a few other key myths– Pandora and her box, for one, and Prometheus stealing fire from the Gods. He’s our earliest source for these stories, which are part of the shared heritage of our species. (As I’ve said: Crows use tools, chimps make war, but only humans tell stories. It’s what makes us ourselves.)

He’s also one of the earliest writers with an actual personality we can detect. Unlike Homer– whose existence, as noted in an earlier post, is problematic– Hesiod takes some time to tell us about himself. It’s possible that what he tells us is invented, but still: there’s a human voice behind this story.

We learn where his father came from, and that he left Hesiod some land at the foot of Mount Helicon (traditionally the home of the Muses, the goddesses who inspire artists, musicians, and poets). We also learn that Hesiod has a brother, Perses, who’s something of a sad sack and gets into a legal fight with Hesiod over the inheritance.  But more about this in the coverage of Works and Days.

In the next installment, I’ll look at Hesiod’s account of the creation and compare it to the next work on the list: Genesis.

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It’s on my list for later in the project, but seeing as how we’re coming up to Saturnalia the feast of Sol Invictus Christmas, I’m planning to read the nativity story, as covered in the Gospel of Luke, later this month. Meanwhile, here is one of the more touching renderings of a passage from that story:

Gets me every time. And the music’s first-rate.

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