Author Archives: bdfleagle

“Mother” by Joon-Ho Bong

1. How does your view of the main character change throughout the course of this film? What does this movie say about its the themes of motherhood and justice? And what do you think the mother’s small tin of acupuncture needles symbolizes?

"Mother" or "Here She Comes".  Well known for her passion for her son Do-joon, few realize how deep the passion of motherhood runs.  Photo from

“Mother” or “Here She Comes”. Well known for her passion for her son Do-joon, few realize how deep the passion of motherhood runs. Photo from

In the beginning of the film, “Mother” is almost a-typical of the many women I met when I was in Korea.   Her way of talking, her mannerisms and assurances, her expressions, were all very much the same as the older generation women that peddled food in the market-place and in the restaurants.     This familiarity was especially present whenever the character was stressed over her son, getting upset when he was heading off on the town, when he was leaving dinner before he had eaten as much as he needed.   When I was in the street market in the village outside the Camp my squadron was staying at you seemed to hear a lot of such calling and noise going on.   A very different world than the one I grew up in.   “Mother” is a little high strung, a bit of a nag on the boy, and doting on him constantly.   Always trying to hide his little quirks from others sight, as if they didn’t know he was different.

We never learn "her" name.  She is "Mother".  Photo by

We never learn “her” name. She is “Mother”. Photo by

As the film progresses, I don’t think this changes a great deal.   She is still the same, but the viewer looks deeper into what drives Mother and how her love for her son has had very deep, painful moments.   The wail that comes from her as Do-joon confronts her with the past is as emotion laden as when she cries out as he is hit by the Benz.   Love for this boy drivers her.   When she moves to kill the junkman, its not denial we are witnessing, but fear of the truth being brought to light.   She has weighed the value of the junkman vs. the value of her son and found the junkman (perhaps because of his link to the rice-girl) to be “not worth the dirt under my son’s toenails”.   Again I don’t think we are seeing anything different than we did in the innocent beginning just before the wealthy golfer’s Benz “whatever it is” screams by.   We are witnesses to the depth of the same emotions.   A mother whose sole purpose is to preserve her son.   So my view of her does not really change, although I found it interesting that as she woke to the realization she could not easily hide the junkman’s murder, she calls to her own mother, just for a brief moment.   A crack in an other wise formidable willpower.

She certainly isn’t the first parent to act viciously out of protection and she seems to see that her own advice to Do-joon, to strike back when taunted, has come full circle and “struck” back at the pair of them.   Throughout her amateur investigation, she is on track to seek justice for her son, until she meets the junkman.   The junkman’s story makes too much sense and he describes Do-joon in such a way that the tale rings true; Mother can verbally, but not mentally deny it.   “Mother” acts decisively, all guesswork gone.   She strikes for her son.   In the end, as she weighs the life of her son a second time, with the life of the jailed “JP”, she asks him if he has parents, “don’t you have a mother?”   His answer to her seals his fate.   She knows her son is guilty, as she now is as well.   But since JP has no mother to mourn for him, she keeps quiet and lets him take the wrap.   Her grief on his behalf is still present, even here, as a mother, it pains her a great deal to “cheat” justice with “JP’s” life.

Her box of needles.  A tin of memories.

Her box of needles. A tin of memories.

The tin of needles is like a little magic box.   Its a difficult thing to really “pin” down.   This woman who is apparently not taken very seriously seems to actually know a little about a lot of things.   Do-joon says, “what do you know?”, mocking her in child-like frustration and she acquiesces a reply saying in a mothering tone, “Yes, what does a mother know?”.   But she does.   She knows a lot and is able to bring the pieces together to keep her son from paying from the crime.   The box of needles is power to her. Serving as a source of income, it also serves to hide the unpleasant things in life.   It eases painful memory, it perhaps hid the truth from Do-joon about her attempt at dual suicide.   In the end of the story, as she realizes that Do-joon knows more than he lets on, it pulls her out of the shock she has had.   She is then able to participate in the community around her.   So the tin box is perhaps like Mother’s keeper of memories, of painful things best kept under the rug.

14 – The Yellow Woman, Speaking Out for a Price, and Death

1. In Silko’s “Yellow Woman,’ what do the stolen beef and the Jell-o have in common? How do these elements break the prevailing mood?

Laguna Skyline.Norma Bassett Hall.1931

A Laguna Pueblo skyline, painted in 1931 by Norma Bassett Hall. Anyone who has dwelt for a brief moment in New Mexico has seen such sights.

To be honest, the jello slipped my attention.   But then again I guess it didn’t.   The image of looking through the screen door and the jell-o discussion she encounters reminded me (along with the whole Southwestern feel) of hot summer days and the only slight relief from the day’s heat found in entering a house.   I guess it brought the story back around to familiar things.   The meat was also a tie to reality.   If Silva was simply a mountain spirit, why the rifle?   Why the stolen meat?   Why the fight with the white cowboy?   Was this really her imagination taking hold while she hung out with a mountain dweller/cattle rustler? Like all of the stories in this section, there were disjointed parts that I found hard to track and understand.

2. After reading Saadawi’s “In Camera,’ how do you feel about Leila Al-Fargani’s father? Upon what evidence do you base your judgement?

"What did I say?...You said what you shouldn't have said! ..But I was supposed to say that...Yes, but you should not have said it..Don't be stupid!"  Photo of Middle Eastern Politicians in the 1950's.

“What did I say?…You said what you shouldn’t have said! ..But I was supposed to say that…Yes, but you should not have said it..Don’t be stupid!” Photo of Middle Eastern Politicians in the 1950’s.

How do I feel?   I’m grateful to have lived in America.   That’s how I feel reading these stories.   Leila’s father is a product of his world, as I am of mine.   In pointing out the plight of women in the man-oriented world, Saadawi and especially Devi also illuminate the miserable existence of men who are trapped between what their hearts speak of as honorable and valid and how they find themselves in reality.   Leila’s father is such a man.   You can see by the way he thinks to himself that he should really stand up and take credit for being her father, that this is what “men like us” wait for their whole lives.   The sad thing is although it is mentioned that he has suffered “pain and torture with her”, his deepest grief is for his own honor.   He cannot breathe as a man, hold his head up, in spite of her achievement in the court room because she is defiled.   He wanted to stand up and take in some reward, but all that is set aside as he covers his ears, he cannot bear to hear what the people are saying.   He cannot know, that her own values are rested even deeper than her womanly virtue, but in her right to speak out.   This is beyond his understanding, like Mr. Haldar, living in a mind formed in the time of the British Raj, he cannot comprehend such ideas.

How do I feel..Part of me wants to kick such weak men to the curb.   But the realist in me knows that I have not walked in his shoes.   I dislike cultures that turn their backs on those who are dealt brutal fates.   But in our culture we make excuses for those who bring sad fate’s unto themselves and those they love, making hardship for everyone.   Which is more humane?

3. What is the importance of the title of the story “Death Constant Beyond Love’? What does it tell us about the stories central thematic concerns?


Emilio Zapata, the great rebel leader, who in spite of charisma, being well liked, and generally a powerful man, died anyway. He and his contemporary and sometime partner Pancho Villa, both ruthless men, died the way they lived. Death comes to us all.

Death is the constant in all things.   All of creation, on earth and in the Universe pass away.   So though I am not sure of the political intention of Marquez’ writing, (other than to highlight corrupt political office) it is clear that in spite of whatever power a man possesses, or whatever passion he bends to his will, death will still find him.   I wasn’t all that impressed with this story.   I didn’t find it earth shaking or particularly enthralling.   If the point of the story was that death is constant, then it did not have much time to make any other points before the primary one won out.     You meet the senator, he does his little show, walks through town, meets Laura and dies.   That’s it.   Death is the winner.   It did have the feel of a seedy Mexican town along the western coastline, like something out of a Clint Eastwood movie.   The story also reminded me of the Poncho Villa and Zapata era, when revolution swept the countryside.   Turmoil and death were frequent as blood thirsty “leadership” replaced one corrupt politician with another.   We American’s sometimes have a difficult time understanding that corruption is the way of the world.   We go here and there, crusading to rid the earth of corruption, while our own politicians sit back chuckling to themselves.   The world doesn’t understand us or our effort to   be free of corruption.   We are an “anomaly”..


The Cockroach, A Protest, …and Apollo’s Parts..

1. What is the relationship between Gregor and his family? What clues in the story suggest that his relationship with his family, particularly his father, is unsatisfactory?

"Die Verwandlung" or "the Transformation".

“Die Verwandlung” or “the Transformation”.

Even though Gregor is a grown man, served in the army as an officer, and has carried the load for the family for several years, he is evidently not highly regarded.   He is inconsequential except for his labor.     His mother of course feels love for him, his sister, appreciative initially, but his father seems to take him entirely for granted.   The biggest clue is the discourse his family has after they are resolved to see what savings they have accumulated from their failed business, but also from the money they had been skimming off his pay.   He learns that not only did they possess some money when he thought they had been completely destitute, he also realizes that they had enough from his money to invest and earn a small increase.   He sees the wisdom in handling money like this, but doesn’t see as quickly, that they have not been honest with him, considering he was earning the family livelihood.

2. Discuss the central events in each of the three sections of The Metamorphoses. In what ways do these events suggest that the weakening of Gregor results in the strengthening of the family as a whole?

There is an interesting transition as Gregor gets weaker and weaker from a lack of food.     In the beginning the family is entirely reliant on Gregor to provide   for their well being.   After his change, his sister is attentive and concerned for him, his mother mourns his situation and his father wants to crush him.   Once backed into his room, he really never leaves it again in a significant way.   In the second part, as time goes by, his life is transformed as he is treated like the caged creature he has become, but his heart is wounded, for he is still Gregor.   No one understands this but him.   By the third part, Gregor is not eating and his family has begun a dramatic change.   His sister is confident and enjoying her position in the family with Gregor no longer her guide, imprisoned in his sell.   His mother, once pleading for his life, is unable to defend him any longer, and secretly wishes the agony over.   She is ready for a change.   His father, reeemerges, aggressive, fond of his old uniform, pushing his weight around and more than ready for Gregor to be gone.   He is not a son, he has become a cockroach and he must go.   Gregor’s passing is barely a moment in the story.   His family, by this time has become independent from his labor and he is simply in the way.

3. How effective do you find Akhmatova’s Requiem as a political protest? Requiem was not published until well after the purges were over and Stalin was dead; is it, then, totally lacking in influence?

“When Joe the Georgian” gets here, we will dance, dance, dance…”   — Al Stewart

Joe the Georgian.  Not always on top, Joseph Stalin as a anti-czarist revolutionary.  Mugshot from 1911.  He was known as a killer even then.  Photo public domain.

Joe the Georgian. Not always on top, Joseph Stalin as a anti-czarist revolutionary. Mugshot from 1911. He was known as a killer even then. Photo public domain.

“Requiem” is a stunning piece.   As I have mentioned before, I struggle with poetry.   For example, I do not think much of Rilke’s works as entertainment.   But Akhmatova’s, “Requiem” is altogether different.   A tragic life makes for good poetry, but a tragic Russian life always seem to be an epic.   Akhmatovka’s work is no different, especially for one like myself who enjoys world history.   The saga of Russia’s past is never really happy and dwells in bleak places, descending into tragedy and suffering on a frequent basis.   Stalin’s era was most likely the very worst.   My personal opinion is that he was as evil as Adolf Hitler and every bit as murderous.

The haunting image of Maria Tchebotareva who was sent to the Gulag in 1933. Her crime was trying to feed her children from a field she had formerly owned.  She was accused of taking 3 pounds of rye.  For this, she was imprisoned until after Stalin's death and she never found her children...Photo by

The haunting image of Maria Tchebotareva who was sent to the Gulag in 1933. Her crime was trying to feed her children from a field she had formerly owned. She was accused of taking 3 pounds of rye. For this, she was imprisoned until after Stalin’s death. She never found her children…Photo by

“Requiem”, may have been a very effective protest at the time, for even though Stalin was gone, his legacy lasted for a long, long time.   Leadership takes time to grow new roots.   Leadership is taught, from the leader, to the follower.   A follower must be courageous and individualistic in their mindset in order to change course and alter the lessons learned.   These are not things that were acceptable then.   “Requiem”, even in the 1960’s would have been a poignant reminder of what “the people” had been through; what it had cost them.   So, no, I think it carried greater influence in the decades after Stalin’s death.   But that is hard to assess.   Akhmatovka’s narrative painfully recreates the suffering of so many people who waited for some word, for reprieve, for relief from loss.   I think even as politics change, those memorial words continue to be effective.   For are we so far from this ourselves?   Are we “free” to speak?   Do you ever really hear tales of the Communist atrocities against their own people?     No, you don’t.   You see the evil Nazi’s in movie after movie.   Why not the horror of the Soviets?   Stalin murdered far more people than Hitler.   I think “Requiem” may still have a place in protest.


4. How should we interpret the famous command at the end of Archaic Torso of Apollo?

Rainer M. Rilke.  Photo shamelessly pinched from the web.

Rainer M. Rilke. Photo shamelessly pinched from the web.

Ah, ….hmmm..Yes, well I think what is going on here is that Rilke’s poem is describing the “Torso” statue assumed to be all that’s left of the Greek god Apollo.   Poor Rilke seems to have taken it into his head that the god is somehow fascinating in its decapitated and armless, legless state and his focus ends up on the, “zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.”, which of course is slang for the statue’s private parts.   In all seriousness, I’m not sure what Rilke is getting at, however, he is apparently very moved at the end, and having had his awareness or soul, deeply affected by the headless Apollo, feels that this is a life changing event.   Some days are like that…He will not be the same afterwords.   Can’t say that I agree.   Seems a little odd.


Romantics and Realists

1. Is Felicite a saint or a simple-minded servant? Or is she both? Or is she neither? Outline your perspective of her character as compared to Mme. Aubain’s. How do they differ?

A French peasant girl offers drink to French Soldiers in 1914.  One hundred years earlier, Felicite would not have looked much different.  Photo public domain.

A French peasant girl offers drink to French Soldiers in 1914. One hundred years earlier, Felicite would not have looked much different. Photo public domain.

Felicite is certainly described as a simple-minded maid.   Perhaps Flaubert was imagining her as a saint, but I do not think so.   I enjoyed the story, it got right to the point and the descriptions really did give the reader a feeling of having been there.

Illustration from "A Simple Heart", by Gustave Flaubert.

Illustration from “A Simple Heart”, by Gustave Flaubert.

Felicite is what we would perhaps refer to as a simpleton.   Simpletons are not often referred to as saints.   Saints are somehow accorded some measure of sophistication, even though we are usually only using the word to describe a person’s character.   Felicite certainly possessed a good heart, but as a simple one, she was simply acting upon impulse.   That is someone different from being a person of giving heart and joyous service.   Felicite is doing what she was born into.   Being simple minded, she neither aspired to greatness or fortune and did not resent her position.   Neither did she see that it could have been different.   Enlightenment had not come to her and perhaps if it had, she would have been uncomfortable with it.

I think too, that Madame Aubain would have been also, though I’m stretching a bit here.   She might have found being a liberated or educated woman requiring more of her personal engagement then she would have been willing to give.   One can only speculate.   But we can also admire Felicite’s ability to draw people in with her kindnesses, whether due to her simple nature or a saint’s heart.   Madame Aubain is perhaps deeply affected by Felicite’s devotion and as best she can, moves toward it.   In a similar vein, due to her station and upbringing and the time she lives in, Madame is a simpleton as well.   Neither possessing the power or will to change.

2. How are women imagined and characterized in the poems you read? What attitude is implied? Is it dual or contradictory? Does Baudelaire give similar weight to the description of men? What definitions of womanliness are depicted, affirmed, or criticized in his work?

I didn’t enjoy reading Baudelaire much.   His poem “Her Hair” appears to delight in the beauty and honor of a woman, but then he seems to enjoy the descriptive choices he makes in the, “A Carcass”.   There is nothing flattering in this poem and is a complete flip of the former.   “A Carcass” seems to thrive on describing the type of characteristics a man dislikes about women who dwell in the street or grab at whatever they can get (the reference to the dog or fox dropping the morsel from the dead body).

On the other hand, Yeats describes a vibrant rebel in “Easter Rising, 1916”, with “shrill” voice, passionately debating the issue.   “What voice more sweet than hers when, young and beautiful, she rode to harriers?”   Here is a man admiring the woman who, being of privileged class, is well bred and accustomed to sport, “rode to harriers”, yet he remembers her voice being, young and beautiful then, not so now, filled with passion and “shrill” with emotion for the cause.

3. How are Chidam and Chandara distinct from Rama and Sita?

Perhaps Chandara is not far removed from the traditional Sita.  Resolute and devoted, inspite of what is best for herself.  Photo pinched of the web, artist unknown.

Perhaps Chandara is not far removed from the traditional Sita. Resolute and devoted, inspite of what is best for herself. Photo pinched of the web, artist unknown.

Rama and Sita complemented each other in honor and fidelity.   Chidam appears to be a bit of an idiot.   Chandara, raised to be obedient, remains so, unto death.   But she considers her duty fulfilled while awaiting execution.   Sita and Chandara are similar women in personal strength, but where Sita is high born and demonstrates such upbringing, Chandara is low born and in a realistic setting.   Life is what it is.   She didn’t ask to be Chidam’s wife.   Where Rama and Sita work together with established roles, Chidam blurrs the lines constantly, leaving Chandara to pick up the pieces.   I think this was a very poignant story in that I believe things sometimes do come about in such a contorted way in cultures where a man’s ego and standing in the small village setting overrule common sense and the women are frequently the bearers of the results.



4. Pick a Yeat’s poem and discuss what it communicates to you and why.

Irish Easter Rising 1916.   Patrick Pearse Oration at grave o Donovan RossaHistory is my favorite topic to discuss and chew on.   So I naturally gravitated to “Easter Rising, 1916”.   I enjoy the vague clues about such a poem, never really saying what its about, but if you know your history, it begins to ring a faint bell.   As you read on the names seem familiar and the story hidden in the poem takes its shape.   Not being a big fan of poetry, I’m not sure I see the meaning in the imagery of the horse in the stream, hooves and “hens to moor-cocks call;”, but the other stanza’s are fairly clear.   Yeats seems to have been very familiar with some of the rebels who paid with their lives or at least, he was well read about them from the press.   He mentions one in particular;

“This other man I had dreamed a drunken, vainglorious lout, he had done the most bitter wrong to some who are near my heart, yet I number him in the song;”

Tartuffe, Hugo and Some Poetry

1. Is Tartuffe in fact anti-religious, or does it only attack corruptions of religion?

"Tartuffe and Elmire"  during a 2011 production directed by Jim O'Connor.

“Tartuffe and Elmire” during a 2011 production directed by Jim O’Connor.

Moliere’s “Tartuffe” isn’t anti-religious in my understanding.   If it was taken so at the time, I would think that it was due to a tendency for the “religious” of the time to dwell on outward displays of pious faith.   I am of the opinion that Moliere is attacking the “corruptions of religion” or the hypocrisy found any time that we rely on our own “works” of piety to ensure us that we are saved from the fates of hell.   The play itself is merely a familiar story of a deceptive, scoundrel, swindling a dupe out of his wealth.

"The Musketeer", painted by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier in 1871.  A Romantic French artist, you can imagine the costume in the paining is accurate and one can almost imagine this as young Damis, ready to run Tartuffe through!

“The Musketeer”, painted by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier in 1871. A Romantic French artist, you can imagine the costume in the paining is accurate and one can almost imagine this as young Damis, ready to run Tartuffe through!

But the pious nature of the character “Tartuffe” could appear to be anti-religious if interpreted to an extreme.   But I read nothing in the text that attacks Christ or Christianity.   Even Christ himself attacked such hypocrisy.   It is the foundation of the Christian faith that one not live the kind of life that Tartuffe was pretending to live.   Christ called such men a “nest of vipers”.   Yet, they are found in power in every form of religion.   Religion is not faith.   It is man’s imperfect   response to faith and therefore can become corrupt.

What really impressed me was how the portrayal of such characters is so accurate.   No wonder the play was banned.   I think too that other French writers were influenced by Moliere’s opinion, or it was at least a widely held response.   Dumas’ arch enemy of D’Artagnan, the Cardinal of France is very much this type of man and represents all that Dumas felt was hypocritical of the Catholic power of the period.   Unfortunately Moliere’s portrayal of religious deception is still striking home today.

2. In what respects is Hugo’s Satan a heroic figure? How does Hugo’s account differ from Dante’s?

Victor Hugo, sketched by Auguste Rodin, 1840 - 1917.  A rebel himself, Rodin was known as the father of modern sculpture.

Victor Hugo, sketched by Auguste Rodin, 1840 – 1917. A rebel himself, Rodin was known as the father of modern sculpture.

To refer to Hugo’s Satanic figure as a “hero” in a literary sense is to me, a weak projection.   Yes, like a hero, there is a journey, namely a thunderous plunge into the “abyss” of Biblical fame.   Like a tragic hero, there is the immense loss and despair expressed as Satan realizes the extreme depth of the darkness that his rebellion has led him to.   The obstacles in his way are perhaps represented by the mountain peaks he has to cross and the endless distance between himself and the single spark of light he pursues.   Norton’s introduction refers to him as a “powerful rebel”.   And certainly in the short work, “Et nox facta est”, he is the central, tragic figure.   In this I agree, there is great tragedy as he is thrown down at God’s command, head first like a rocket, groping for something to stop his plunge.   He had no idea how dark, dark could be.   No concept of existence without the Creator present.   He shivers for the first time ever.   He desperation to reach the light defies his own rebellious nature, which is a common feature of defiance, I think.   I’m not sure it is clear where he is in the abyss.   Is it earth just after the creation? In Genesis, it says that after he willed Earth into being, “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:2).   Hugo, it seems, has borrowed this imagery.   Of course, in the days that followed, we know that God caused there to be light.   But what is a day to God?   Can a day be ten thousand years?   So, I find it difficult to reconcile whether Hugo is speaking of the original fall of Satan, ( It seems he is because he speaks of things yet to come in the life of Christ), but this place he plunges is not known to us, unless it is the earth, before light.   Interesting, but I don’t like to give that devil any more attention than is necessary, he thrives on it.

3. Discuss and compare the images in any two poems assigned for this week.

Artwork by Kathe Kollwitz in 1897, showing the 1844 rebellion as a group of weavers heads to the owner's property, bent on destruction.

Artwork by Kathe Kollwitz in 1897, showing the 1844 rebellion as a group of weavers heads to the owner’s property, bent on destruction.

Of the Heine and Leopardi poem selections in Norton, the two that attracted my attention the most are Heine’s, “Silesian Weavers” and Leopardi’s, “To Himself“.     All of their poems in the text seemed to run along similar lines.   But these two could easily run together, as the pain of poverty and hunger gives way to the last hope fading. Despair overtakes the hopeful revolutionary as rebellion is crushed and stamped out with violent reprisals.   Of course, I am taking some editorial license here, for while we know what the “Sileasian Weavers” was about, we do not necessarily know the background to Leopardi’s “To Himself”.   In “To Himself“, the line, “…the last illusion is dead“, sounds very much like a disillusioned revolutionary.   “…not only hope is gone, but the desire to be deceived as well.”   Such words speak volumes of life’s disappointments, that you had somehow convinced yourself would be different.   But in the end, you found that you were a fool to believe as you did and hope fades into bitter disillusionment.   In the Silesian Weavers, the despair that leads to revolution is seen in each stanza, “Grinding their teeth,”, “With cold in our bones, with hunger reeling”, and “Who wrings the last penny out of our hides and lets us be shot like dogs besides–“.   Heine’s poem is simple, yet powerful in its imagery.   The two make a good pair.


Discussion # 10 The Prince, A Woman’s Hair and the Aztec Warrior

1. Granted that Machiavelli’s own historical context is remote, how far does his pattern of contrasts between political ideals and concrete realities apply today?

Preface – My reaction to Machiavelli is somber and sad, because I see so much truth here.   I wish no offense to anyone and these are simply my thoughts.    

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good.”   (Norton, 1609)

"We want to be good."  A U.S. Marine stops to shake hands with a young girl while on patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan.  Photo by US Central Command.

“We want to be good.” A U.S. Marine stops to shake hands with a young girl while on patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan. Photo by US Central Command.

If we are good, all the time, with everyone, we are bound to be defeated by those who are not good.   This doesn’t sit well.   We don’t like that in this country.   It doesn’t fit our ethics, nor does it fit our self-image.   In spite of the evidence, we’d like to think of ourselves as a cut above the rest.   Then again, I think we are, but I digress…There is much in this that makes sense when we look at how our country has dealt with the assault on our nation since 9/11.   In an effort to bring about justice, to punish those who oppress, we have been harsh at times and this has produced results, while leaving a bad taste in our mouths.   Those of us who believe peace is not paid for with blood cry out against those who would swing the mailed fist in our defense.  A mother whose son has fallen to a road side bomb cries in agony.  Our resolve cracks.  Our nation’s conscience keeps us from striking as deeply and cruelly as is necessary in order to bring closure to the trial we find ourselves in.   Those we defeat bow and grovel and when we have shown mercy, they strike back.   Our allies gladly give us support when we lavish them with gifts, but as we do, they open the gate to let in the wolves.   We hate, but we want to be kind.   We overtake and bind those who hurt us, but release them in the name of our own love of freedom.   They grin.   We will see them again.   And so it is also with our own people.   Is it effective to give government welfare to the needy, taxing those who have to pay for those who do not?   Does this type of “liberality” serve us in the long run?   We have run up large debt with our liberal ways.   We have fought our wars with borrowed money.   Those who are taxed heavily by the Prince feel it sorely.   We are merciful and lenient in court, only to face the same criminal on the next day.

An Italian Patriot?  Perhaps no different than a John Adams or Thomas Paine.  Calling for leadership in a land longing to be led.

Niccolo Machiavelli.   An Italian Patriot? Perhaps no different than a John Adams or Thomas Paine. Calling for leadership in a land longing to be led.

We want leadership, but we also want our luxury.   Like Machiavelli’s Italian armies, we send our magnificent young people to fight a war, but the leaders we have elected are full of words and much misguided action.   We are needing a Prince who will lead our nation, but in order for him to succeed, we would have to surrender our freedom.   Abraham Lincoln was such a man.   He did what had to be done.   He was hated for it, but respected in the end, with his head on a bloody pillow.   Machiavelli points out that his homeland of Italy is in dire need of a strong leader.   One whose virtues mirror his model prince.   Good, but not too good, frugal in social security, not too loose with his funds, feared more than loved, merciful, yet harsh when necessary.   These are realistic traits of successful leaders in history.   They are the traits our own nation seeks when it votes for this smiling senator and that.   We rarely get what we have been promised.   When we do though, often we do not recognize it and we rage against it, like a crazed dog after a tick in its hind leg.   Our nation’s Christian conscience keeps us looking for a leader with virtuous traits.   I don’t think we’ll find one.   I don’t think Machiavelli did either.   “…I don’t doubt that every prince would like to be both; but since it is hard to accommodate these qualities, if you have to make a choice, to be feared is much safer…”

"Let 'er Rip!" Photo by Cpl. Ali Azimi.  Released USMC.

“To be feared is much safer than to be loved”. “Let ‘er Rip!” Photo by Cpl. Ali Azimi. Released USMC.

2. Sister Juana de la Cruz cuts off her hair to force herself to learn more quickly, although she knows that among young women, “the natural adornment of one’s hair is held in such high esteem.’ Finally, she enters the convent (where woman had their heads shorn). What other works have you read that emphasize the importance of a woman’s hair? Why does it seem to have so much symbolic value in such a range of cultures and times?

Della contemplates losing her long hair.  The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry.  Illustrated By Lispeth Zwerger.

Della contemplates losing her long hair. The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry. Illustrated By Lispeth Zwerger.

The story, “Gift of the Magi” is brought to mind.   The husband sells his pocket watch to purchase his wife a comb and brush for her beautiful long hair, she sells her locks for a watch fob to secure his beautiful time piece.   Each of them sacrifices a hallmark of their character in order to obtain a gift of great value for the other.   There is something about a woman’s long hair that is simultaneously a hallmark of womanhood, and something of the lion’s mane.   We grimace at a woman without hair and turn our eyes away.   It might be entirely a cultural thing, but a powerful one, nonetheless.   I am no expert, however, I will admit, I am entirely a man.   Along with countless others, I love my wife’s long hair and that of my daughters too.   I think that has a lot to do with it.   Men really like it.   So it offers praise, beauty, and even power.   For surely I will feel distressed if my wife threatens’ my daughter’s long hair with a shorter cut.   I   find myself scowling and feeling gloomy…

3. Bear in mind that the Aztec warrior’s highest duty is to bring home live captives for sacrifice. Give the Song for Admonishing a careful reading and decide–without researching the entire Cantares Mexicanos–what possible meaning might be assigned to the figurative terms “flower’ and “song.’

The capital of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, where the temple stood.  From

The capital of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, where the temple stood. Photo pinched off the net…

Its seems that the singer is a warrior, calling other warriors to rise to his drumbeat, or “song”.   This song is possibly the “call” for sacrificial captives.   Perhaps the song is the warrior’s duty or life and it is being used to rouse the “hearts” of those who are not inclined to go to war.   Flowers dripping down the side of the drum are perhaps the references to blood and triumph over enemies in the warriors call.   “Arrow deeds” are likely battle honors or actions which lead to capturing sacrificial prisoners.   These must be the flowers then.   The “flowers of the dawn are blooming”, perhaps is the capture of those sacrifices, to be given to the “eagle-jaguar princes” who seem to crave them.   So I’m thinking that this garden is where the God’s dwell and they feast on the flowers till they are drunk.   Confusing.   Better to just come right out with it.

A Country Holiday and A Nightingale..

1. The Tenth Story of the Tenth Day: Why is Griselda being tested?

"The spot in question was some distance from the road..." A Tuscan Country home.  Not quite a palace, but located south of Florence, could very well give us an idea of the region the Decameron takes place in.  Photo Public Domain.

“The spot in question was some distance from the road…” A Tuscan Country home. Not quite a palace, but located south of Florence, could very well give us an idea of the region the Decameron takes place in. Photo Public Domain.

Gualtieri suspected Griselda of “rancour”, hidden beneath her quiet patience.   Rancor, or “rancour” in the text, is to harbor bitterness or resentment, especially for a long time.   This suspicion is revealed at the end of the tale, just prior to Griselda’s restoration to her position as Gualtieri’s wife and Lady of his house.   But in the beginning of the tale, the reason for his hostility towards her and his cruel deceptions is unclear.   The reason given is simply, “Gualtieri was seized by a strange desire to test Griselda’s patience.” (Norton, 1359)   So we are left to accept that Griselda’s husband was not so much troubled by the grief he caused her, but was reacting to his own impulses.   Indeed, being “seized” suggests that it really wasn’t his fault.   This is perhaps a hint that the Decameron is written with intent to reinforce commonly held beliefs about the roles of men and women and their rights to act within these roles. Considering Gualtieri’s reluctance to marry in the first place, and considering he is a feudal lord, we can assume he is suspicious of her because she is exactly the opposite of what he is expecting in a woman who has been brought from poverty to wealth overnight.

Painted by an Italian with a similar name as the author of the Decameron, this Gypsy girl strikes me as a possible pass for Griselda.  Painting by Boccaccio Boccacino, ca. 1516-18.  Florence Italy.

Painted by an Italian with a similar name as the author of the Decameron, this Gypsy girl strikes me as a possible pass for Griselda. Painting by Boccaccio Boccacino, ca. 1516-18. Florence Italy.

One might expect all the attention, luxury and good living to go to one’s head, raised as Griselda was, in a peasant’s hut.   But what is the point of such a story?   Does it highlight the virtues of the woman of the Renaissance?   Does it try to quash the freeing spirit of the times?   Told as it is, not by the young female adventurer Filomena, but by Boccaccio, it is hard to see it as representative of the feminine viewpoint of the times.   I believe, like the Tenth Story of Nastagio and the woman torn apart by the hounds, this is an encouragement to young women to do the dutiful thing and comply with the standard.   The effects of the plague in Italy had obviously shook the status quo up to the point where Boccaccio felt the need to engage in this type of dialogue (Norton 1327).


2. Compare the frame tales in the Decameron, and The Thousand and One Nights. In each case, what is the reason for telling stories? Do the stories accomplish the purpose for which they are intended? How important is the relationship between the tale and the teller?

The Plague Doctor.  A sign of the times.  Photo unknown credit.

The Plague Doctor. A sign of the times. Photo unknown credit.

In The Thousand and One Nights, the stories are told to delay the inevitable, to stall for time.   Shaharazad is gambling her life on a chance that she can stay execution and therefore remain in place for yet another day, earning another girl in the kingdom more time.   By contrast, the Decameron is being told in order to pass the time by, awaiting either relief from the plague, or to be taken by it.   Pampinea’s suggestion is made in order to take the group away from the nightmare conditions they find themselves in where “…we linger for no other purpose, or so it seems to me, than to count the number of corpses being taken to burial…” (Norton, 1338).   So in the case of the Thousand and One Nights, the effort is made to forestall fate, in the Decameron, it is made to occupy time while fate either passes by or overtakes them.   In both stories, the telling of tales has the desired effect.   Clearly, the sparing of Shaharazad and the cessation of murdering innocent women is the desired goal.   As for the Decameron, we assume it has the desired effect as all present in the party eagerly seem to agree to the storytelling plan, or so we are told. Again, in the Thousand and One Nights, the story teller’s relationship to the tale is critical and different from that of the Decameron.   Shaharazad’s life and the lives of her fellow women are at stake.   In the Decameron however, with the editorial notes we have for the three tales, there is little to suggest a relationship between the tale and the teller.   For instance, what would Pampinea’s purpose be in telling the story of Ser Cepperello or of Filomena telling the story of Nastagio.   There seems little relationship at all.

3. In Laustic, what does the nightingale symbolize? Explain your answer.

The song bird at night seems to be a frequent theme in love stories.   "Ode to A Nightingale".

The song bird at night seems to be a frequent theme in love stories. “Ode to A Nightingale”.

It took a re-reading to really get a grip on the little bird and its role.   I thought I had perhaps missed the reference to it during the description of the knight and the lady at the window each night, but I didn’t.   The song bird is not mentioned of course until the lady must make an excuse to her husband for being up all night.   But the bird is naturally, more than an excuse, I think its clearly a representation of the unfulfilled love between the lady and the knight.

There are not many details in the story, but I think that the knight either takes the nightingale’s corpse as a token of love he cannot have, or perhaps the nightingale’s song at night was something he and the lady had shared during their nights by the window.   The story is set among two knights who both dwell in their own respective “fortified house”.   Most “forts” of the time came with some expanse of land, so I imagine seeing another person in a neighboring window at night was quite a feat.   However, the story gives the idea that somehow, the song bird either represents the lady’s love or their joint experiences by the window, and the knight understands this and intends to carry the bird in its casket, as his token or his love, unrealized.   One could say that he is carrying her broken heart in the “vessel”, made of pure gold and fine stones.

"Everyone likes a good knight's tale..."  Howard Pyle's illustration of Sir Gawain in his book King Arthur.  1903

“Everyone likes a good knight’s tale…” Howard Pyle’s illustration of Sir Gawain in his book King Arthur. 1903

I find it interesting that the story stops where it does.   You would expect a clash of foes, knights in combat to win the lady, etc.   Everyone likes a good knight’s tale.   Next time perhaps.


Dante and His Inferno

1. What do you think Dante learned on his journey through Hell? How does it differ from what you learned while reading about the journey?

Dante's Inferno, all 9 levels are bad enough.  But what if eternal damnation is simply seperation from God?  Since He is light, the opposite would be darkness, forever.  Something to ponder.

Dante’s Inferno, all 9 levels are bad enough. But what if eternal damnation is simply seperation from God? Since He is light, the opposite would be darkness, forever. Something to ponder.  Painting by D. Alighieri, “Hell”.

Dante’s tale is one that I have to admit I have a hard time grappling with. On the one hand, I can see Professor Mozzatta’s point, that the tale is one in which Dante is asking questions about life, politics, right and wrong, justice, agency, etc. A sort of ethics discourse. But on the other hand, the story seems to have shades of personal life to the point of being “heavy” with matters that seem to trouble Dante.  In the beginning, he awakes, lost and alone in life and this apparently is what the Dark Wood represents.  As he descends with Virgil into the various levels or Circles, he frequently begins to feel for the poor wretches he sees suffering.  If he valued them in life, then he continues to pity their plight, but if they were an enemy in life, his pity is severely limited.  Virgil quietly seems to urge Dante on, as he levels barbs and spite at enemies that he sees suffering.  Interesting.  I would think that this would land Dante in the hypocrisy level with those poor souls.  From the point at which the two travelers reach their descent into the Eighth Circle, the story seems to take on more of a “Lord of the Rings” aspect.  A constant leap from one adventure to another.  In each one of these adventures, it seems as though another “famous deceiver” or the like is fighting off whatever terror he must deal with, but is able to spend a moment talking with Dante and Virgil, getting attacked again or bursting into flame once they have made their point or received information about life back in Italy.

As time goes by, it I think it is as if the “Pilgrim” becomes more and more callous towards the “sinners”.  In the second to last Canto, he does not honor his promise to aid Friar Alberigo.  “To be mean to him was a generous reward.”  He turns away, even though he has uttered an oath, claiming the same punishment for himself if he fails to keep the oath.  This then clearly indicates that whatever history of betrayal Dante is referring to justifies his treatment of the victim, frozen in the ice.  This trend toward the trapped souls continues throughout the “Comedy”, starting with struggle in the boat, while crossing the river Styx.

Unlike the Pilgrim, I am not under any illusion as to my own worthiness.  I believe I qualify for hell on several levels.  I don’t know what hell is really like.  I do believe in it, and I do believe it is exactly what the Good Book says it is.  There is however, one point that I feel I can share an agreement with Dante on.  Early in the voyage, he encounters those that sense and long for God’s comfort and presence, but are utterly separated from His being.  Except for the “Lake of Fire” referred to in Biblical text, the only other description for Hell is seperation from God for eternity, …which is a very long time.



Now, I am not an expert and I am simply expressing opinion based on what I have understood, but God is light..pure bright light.  Away from Him is nothing.  So, when He says “Depart from me, I never knew you”…I think there is nothing but eternal darkness.  Call me cracked, but I just don’t think that humanity can even fathom what this must be like.  I guess that’s why I believe it to be so.  It is unfathomable, …just like God.


Shahrazad’s Tale and Dante’s Inferno

1. How are we to understand Shahrayar’s madness? Does it make sense to you? That is, are male egos in macho societies that frail, or is his a special case?

“By God, had I been in your place, I would have killed at least a hundred or even a thousand women.   I would have been furious; I would have gone mad…”   — King Shahrayar’s reaction to his brother’s tale of woe, a foreshadowing of future terror.

"Old Time Tales", by Charles Robinson.  The Fairy-tale quality may hide an unpleasant reality.

“Old Time Tales”, by Charles Robinson. The Fairy-tale quality the Western world has put on the “Nights” may hide an unpleasant reality.

Madness in pain and wrath?   I don’t think there is too much that is far fetched when it comes to King Shahrayar’s pain, rage or his ability to rationalize his behavior.     We still see shades of this type of thinking in the Middle East today.   Punishments are brutal and little in the way of rational thinking is involved.   (I’m thinking of cane whipping, lopping off hands, stoning, etc.)   These things existed there and still do, especially involving adultery.   Gaddafi and Saddam and their sons all delighted in such orgies of power and wrath.   So if we take into consideration the fairy-tale nature of Shahrazad’s story, its not too much of a stretch to take the kings natural hurt and anger and tip it over into the vengeful, fit of rage of a king given over to his wrathful bent.   But is it madness?   I think it is in a way, but only just so far.   Such a king would have been accustomed the power he possessed.   Like Henry VIII killing wives at a frightful pace, his wife is dispatched, almost like an anti-climactic after thought, his real rage being reserved for every young maiden, every night, for the unseen future.   Three thousand?   That’s a bit much…probably a result of intending to impress the listener of the tale with an imposing number.   Even vengeful wrath in the form of murder and rape will eventually burn itself up or require a greater rush for satisfaction.   But such a reaction in an irrationally powerful man, in a culture that celebrates the power and will of the man over the woman is not only to be expected, but is probably assumed just and warranted.   Anyone who has been betrayed in a marriage can attest to the damage and wounds it can cause.   The male ego is intense, like a lion’s, and as is typical of humanity, often irrational in its reaction to pain.   The very real pain of being shamed by betrayal suggests a mockery of the king’s powerlessness to protect his honor and his domain.   That is a very real male emotion, regardless of society or madness.

2. Both the vizier and his daughter, Scheherazade, tell tales that surround their human characters with important animals, but the animals play different roles in the imaginative worlds of father and daughter. Compare and contrast the powers attributed to the animal world in The Tale of the Ox and the Donkey and The Tale of the Merchant and His Wife with those described in The Story of the Merchant and the Demon. How may these differences reflect the contrasting visions of gender relations so central to The Thousand and One Nights?

In both the vizier’s and in Shahrazad’s tale’s animals share an unhappy lot.   To be an animal in, “The Thousand And One Nights” is not a blessing.   The Donkey and the Ox are at the will of the master, like slaves in a plantation pen and if the master wills it they are driven hard.   Likewise, the plight of animals in the story’s told by Shahrazad is similar.   Each animal is being led by the one who prevailed over the treachery the human-turned-animal has attempted.   Only in the “Master and His Wife” is the role of the animal beneficial and productive to the master.   And only in this tale, is there an animal whose personal lot is described as luxury (the rooster has many wives and does as he pleases).

Rhabari Shepherd in Rajasthan, India 2009 taken by Chris Beetles.

Rhabari Shepherd in Rajasthan, India 2009 taken by Chris Beetles.       The Master is wise, the Master is to be honored and given respect.   He will not be deceived.   The Master is merciful.  

Life as an animal is not to be desired and really, neither is a woman’s if the vizier’s version is accurate.   Whether animal or female, they are subject to the master.   In the vizier’s story however, animals speak so that their thoughts may be known, their treachery or wisdom revealed and their story’s purpose is illuminated.   In Shahrazad’s tales, they do not speak, but show misery through whimpering and crying out.   The power in each of the tales told to the king come from sorcery used initially to deceive, then as retribution on the deceiver or the perpetrator of wrong.   In these tales however, the emphasis is on the mercy given in the end, in spite of treachery and importantly, women can also be the source of healing.   In the first two tales, another sorceress acts honorably and is able to restore the victims to human form, likewise, the female Jinn saves the Merchant from his brother’s treachery.

3. Do you believe the penalties suffered are appropriate to the sins committed in Dante’s Inferno? Why or why not?

"I woke to find myself in a dark wood, Where the right road was wholly lost and gone" Canto I, Lines 2-3

“I woke to find myself in a dark wood, Where the right road was wholly lost and gone” Canto I, Lines 2-3

Is lying under the river Styx in a swill of slime an equal punishment for the sin of sloth?   And how is it that Dante’s wish to see Filippo dunked in slop not worthy of the same punishment that Filippo is already suffering?   The problem with Dante’s version of the punishments awaiting the sinful of this world is they are assuming that you are to be punished for a particular sin; the sin of slothfulness, lust, heresy, violence, failure to be baptized etc.   But for which sin of many are the sinful to be punished?   Is each man and woman to be punished only for one?   I don’t know anyone who struggles with only one.   At least, not the ones described in Biblical writing.   For instance, Ceasar and Hector, are armed and ready, and suffer no punishment other than limbo, but surely they were men of violence and should rightly be several floors down in a boiling lake of blood.   Additionally, I think Dante’s punishments are distributed in such a way as to punish particular people he has known or known of as he sees fit, judge and jury.   Biblical truth seems to lag or be completely irrelevant here.   Dante is supposedly describing hell as it was designed with the Christian God, but I see little of it.   The Bible reveals very little about these things, except for the Lake of Fire.   However it does help illuminate why it is impossible to reach a heaven reserved only for the worthy.   How could any of us ever qualify?   Which sins will we be punished for?   They are too many to count.

Rama and The ‘Gita

1. Every epic work defines heroism differently, and many heroes are great of stature without being moral paragons. As the headnote to the Ramayana points out, Rama is a virtually perfect man. Do you find him less interesting than other heroes on that account? What indications are there in this portion of the text that his perfection may not be totally innate, but a state of being that he must work to achieve? How would this mirror the efforts we see his mother, Kausalya, make to discipline her feelings? How would that be consistent with the Hindu religious beliefs that imbue this work?

The Raja of Faridkot.  A Nineteenth Century photograph.  Photo public domain.

The Raja of Faridkot. A Nineteenth Century photograph. Photo public domain.

The perfect man, Rama, is not entirely without blemish.   He lusted after the colorful deer as well, I think.   “In fact, Rama was curious, too!”   The way this is written, assuming the use of the word “curious” is the same in both circumstances, suggests that Rama is as smitten with the deer as his wife Sita is, though he is less vocal about it.   Like Adam in the Garden of Eden, he goes for the incognito mode, supporting the woman in folly instead of stepping right out in the line of fire.   “And so, he took Sita’s side and said to Laksmana: ‘It is beautiful…” (Norton, 742)   I can almost here the manufactured offhand tone, (well, she has a point I guess.   I do suppose I could go after it…).

A Nineteenth Century Marathi woman in a traditional sari.  Photo public domain.

A Nineteenth Century Marathi woman in a traditional sari. Photo public domain.

The shape changing deer incident, Rama’s harsh words to Laksmana after Sita has gone missing, and the struggle Rama goes through to contain his grief over Sita’s disappearance all suggest that Rama must work at achieving his state of “perfection” and divine beingness (creation of word, mine).   Rama’s family all show restraint throughout the story, the women being forgiven this “weakness” and the enlightened warrior king, Rama expects Laksmana to not stoop to this.   The efforts Rama makes according to his devotion to dharma do mirror the teaching in the Bahgavad-Gita.   Although he does not appear to suffer much hunger or grief over his animal skin clothing, his attitude is exemplary throughout most of the tale.   Actually, he seems to treat it like an English country gentleman might.   He demonstrates a man who is of “disciplined action” and strives to be the highly controlled man described in the Gita, “When these cannot torment a man, when suffering and joy are equal for him and he has courage, he is fit for immortality.” (Norton, 768)

English and Indian Officers of the 9th Bengal Calvalry in British service.  A relationship of mutual admiration which for some regiments, continues to this day.  Photo from Pinterest.

English and Indian Officers of the 9th Bengal Cav. in British service. A relationship of mutual admiration which for some regiments, continues to this day.

I found all of this both difficult to read, (its not really my thing) and yet, an interesting tale.   I was really irritated to find that we skipped a lot of the tale between the dead eagle and Rama’s battle with Ravana, who didn’t add up to much more than Goliath.   True to my own character, and all kidding aside, I liked Laksmana’s character best.   The whole thing reminded me of an Kipling adventurer with his Punjab sidekick, loyal to the last.   I wonder, did the people of India serve England so long, without too much complaint, because of these teachings?  In the time the British ruled India, there developed true affection between the men who served the British and the Englishmen who ruled over them.  (That is not to diminish or justify  the cruelty that took place in that era).  Or was it because the English gentlemen were similar in “good manners” to the ideal? Just thinking…

2. In The Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna speaks to Arjuna, a warrior afraid to fight: compare Arjuna’s dilemma with that of Achilles in the Iliad, or that of Medea as she struggles with her maternal emotions when she is about to kill her sons by Jason. Compare the code of behavior Krishna outlines to the view of violence in Homer’s poem or Euripides’ Medea. If appropriate, look for materials in other belief systems that reflect on these questions: consider “[The First Murder]’ (Genesis 4), the Beatitudes (Mathew 5), or “The Offering of Isaac,’ or the table (Sura 5 of the Koran).

“Be intent on action, not on the fruits of action” — Bhagavad-Gita

"When he sees identity in everything, whether joy or suffering, through analogy with self, he is deemed a man of pure discipline.

“When he sees identity in everything, whether joy or suffering, through analogy with self, he is deemed a man of pure discipline.”   Photo from an unknown source.   Known to be of bathers in Calcutta, during the days of the Raj.

Arjuna, the warrior, mindful of the dharma (spiritual duty) and also of the unpleasant conditions brought about by evil-based actions, (Kharma) is not so much afraid to go to battle as he is reluctant to engage kin in battle and have their blood on his hands. In other words, he is trying to reconcile having to make war upon his relatives and is asking, “how can this be?” How can a warrior, mindful of dharma, kill his relations in battle and not suffer bad kharma over it?  This is not the same dilemma that Achilles struggles with.  If anything, Madea and Achilles have more in common as both of them kill their relations, or allow their relations to suffer loss, based on their own vengeful pride and resultant anger.  Arjuna on the other hand is struggling only with what is right and wrong, in relation to his own destiny and as it applies to his heart.  At first reading, I felt that he was only concerned about his own future when it came to kharma.  But on re-reading the First Teaching, I realized he states quite clearly that he is loathe to cut down his kinsmen for all the normal reasons, he’d rather die himself.   “Krishna, I see no victory, or kingship or pleasures.  What use to us are kingship, delights, or life itself?  and “…I do not want to kill them even if I am killed, Krishna; not for kingship of all three worlds, much less for the earth!”   This too, is unlike Achilles and Madea, whose actions are entirely based on their own benefit, (except Achilles reaction to Priam).  Arjuna’s character is far more “heroic” in the classic sense than those of Achilles and Madea who arguably may or may not fit the hero context.

"When he shows no prefernce in fortune or misfortune and neither exults nor hates, his insight is sure.

“Be intent on action, not on the fruits of action;   avoid attraction to the fruits and attachment to inaction!”   Photo by Marc Riboud, Gange, India.   1956

The description of the man whose insight and thought are “sure”, is an appeal to function in life free from the guilt or fear of our own actions, especially when it applies to the role we find ourselves in our society.   Sin appears here as the failure to use action, when action is a duty, “he who fails to keep turning the wheel here set in motion wastes his life in sin, addicted to the sense, Arjuna.” (Norton, 773).   Krishna is advocating “action” as a means to keep the three worlds whole.   “there is nothing I must do, nothing unattained to be attained, yet I engage in action”.   (Norton, 773).   On the surface, Jesus’ appears similar.   He is teaching that actions, or “Good works” as they are known in the New Testament and in the Koran, avail a man “nothing”.   Its what is in the heart that counts.   Concerning killing, as in Arjuna’s dilemma, Christ states, “You have heard that it was said to the ancients:   You shall not murder.   He who murders shall be liable to judgement.   I say to you that any man who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; …”   (Norton, 891).   Christ is saying that murder is not only an action, but the thought behind the action, and even the thought without the action itself.   The heart is what is sinning and therefore no man is without sin.


“Good men eating the remnants of sacrifice are free of any guilt, but evil men who cook for themselves eat the food of sin.”   Per Krishna or Christ, this man may continue to hunger all his earthly life.   According to Krishna’s teaching, if he succeeds in rising above his suffering through action and discipline, then he will be free from sin.   In Christ, he need only accept Christ as God and his sin is forgotten, his eternity will be free from want or suffering.

The difference here is that the heart is sinning, the law is impossible to keep.   That is why Christ must die, to atone.   In Krishna’s version of things, the sin is the lack of “action”.   The law or teaching can be kept by a man whose “insight is sure” and who is a man of “discipline”.   That is why actions are separated from desire or pleasure.   So if my “duty” is to make men suffer, for what ever reason, I am able to do so, without fear of bad karma in life.   But if I fail to “act” on my duty, I am inviting it.   What a dilemma.   Arjuna does not want to kill his kin, but it is his duty as a man, whose station in life is a warrior.   Likewise if it is your duty in life to sweep cow dung in the streets, because that is what you were born to, you best keep doing it.