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Archive for October, 2010

Medea

[Disclaimer: I had never heard of poisoned garments/clothes before reading Medea and watching Prince of Persia. I wonder if that’s where the PoP writers got the idea?]

Welcome to The Tragics. I read Oedipus four years ago, but as interesting and twisted as that tale was… I’d rather focus on the story of Medea; new material for me. And boy, is this tale TRAGIC!!

The tale of Medea is filled with betrayal, false trust, and murder most foul. Jason, the power-hungry husband of Medea, bails on Medea and kin in order to advance his social status or “station” in society by marrying King Creon’s beautiful daughter. Such betrayal stirs deep emotion in Medea, causing her to fly off the handle and go mad with rage. Jason’s wicked deed led Medea to do very wicked things. First, she lured Jason into a false sense of security and as soon as he was comfortable, she would pull the wool over his eyes.  In an effort to hurt Jason as much as he had hurt Medea, she determined to extinguish the lives of their two children. She felt that the joy of punishing Jason would outweigh the guilt and sorrow she felt for murdering her beloved two children. But before committing this hanous act… Medea’s first target is the new young wife of her ex-husband. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” could not ring more true than in this story. Medea proceeds to poison a dress and coronet and presents them to the young princess of King Creon aka Jason’s new wife. Upon seeing his daughter’s life slip away from poison, he tightly embraces her lifeless/poisoned body in an attempt to join her in the afterlife. [That’s a pretty intense reaction to divorce, eh?] Because of Jason’s wicked deeds, he can be considered our villain. Sure, he wasn’t the one doing all the elaborate murder planning and whatnot like Medea, but it was his selfishness and need for power that got him into this mess in the first place. He lost his new wife, father-in-law, and two beautiful children in a short period of time because he acted selfishly. This is not a trait of a hero.

Medea, however, is our protagonist. She has been scorned in the worst possible way (in her mind) through the betrayal of her husband. But was murdering people worth it in the end? Was infanticide the only way to punish her ex-husband, Jason? Of course not… but she had to punish Jason in the worst possible way as to match the humiliation of their separation. What better way to destroy a man’s pride than to kill the fruit of his loins?

Medea, though spiteful and vindictive towards her ex-husband, is a hero in many respects. She fights for what she believes in (which, in our case, would be fidelity and loyalty to family.) Medea also sacrifices a major part of herself (her children) in order to prove her point. [Note: I’m not condoning Medea’s actions because infanticide is not heroic, but the reasons behind her actions proved to be mostly sound.] Medea wanted a happy, healthy, and loyal family… but she was stuck with a power-hungry husband who traded her/her kids in for a royal beauty. These actions would piss any sane person right off. Another heroic quality of Medea’s is dedication. She stuck to her words 100%, which makes her more honorable, in my view. Following through with one’s plans isn’t always easy… but it can receive heroic merit. All in all, Medea got what she desired by eliminating what Jason cared for most, as he destroyed the beating of her loving heart.

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So far throughout our journey into the hero world, we have discovered two distinct types of heroes: The Fighter and The Thinker. The former faces trials and tribulations in the physical realm, whereas the latter focuses his energy on overcoming mental turmoil. Is one brand of hero more effective than another? And by “brand” of hero I am not referring to the epic rivalry between Marvel and DC comics. (Though that is a fun and potentially heated debate one can spark, but I digress… because I love Ironman AND Batman.) By brand, I am referring to how a hero deals with his/her atmosphere and situation. According to Newton’s Law, “for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.” Though we’re not strictly speaking of scientific studies and laws of motions, Newton was definitely right about one thing: actions inspire reactions.

It is through the reaction of a character that we begin to learn more about them and ultimately determine their role in a hero quest. Thus far, I have assembled two generalized types of reactions to a chaotic environment. The first deals with brawn and physicality. All of The Fighters would fit nicely into this category. In our readings and class activities, we’ve come across several fighters, including: Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Beowulf, Buliwyf, Herger the Joyous, and Rama. Though the men dealt with unique circumstances in their respective stories, each had to demonstrate their physical worth in some way or another, whether it be at the lethal jaws of a dragon, the sexual advances of a goddess, or the rath of a beauty-loving kidnapper.

Conceptualizing and understanding the methods of The Thinkers is a little more tricky because their decisions are nearly always internalized and reflected upon. Before diving into this sect of heroes, the class examined the principles of Taoism and the importance of achieving enlightenment or finding “The Way” during the course of the human condition. Despite the hippy-esque style of peace, love, and serenity… when it comes down to it, it really is difficult to overcome one’s own mental anguish and turmoil. The thinkers included: Giō, Sharahazad, Kumagae, and Neo. Each character had to overcome mental strain in extreme situations, which nearly drove them to the brink of insanity. However, these heroes stuck it out til the end in their respective stories. Overcoming fears, doubts, curiosity, and hate are difficult tasks for any human being. Because of this, many believe that mental battles are far more complex and heroic than physical ones. Which brings me to the question… does a hero HAVE to be one or the other, or can it the term hero refer to a few “brands” of heroes? What does it mean to be a hero? Do they wield a sword and slay beasts? Do they aspire to achieve enlightenment by following The Way? Do they overcome their fears in order to get the job done and save the day? Does the demi-god have more power than the reserved monk? In my research, both brands of heroes are equally important in the quest for heroism. I believe that a demi-god and monk can BOTH be heroes, but in their own ways. Perspective often comes into play when dealing with the hero who saves the day.

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The Matrix Mercenary

Disclaimer: After watching The Matrix again after a full decade, I now have a new appreciation for the movie and concept. I once had a discussion with a friend about the idea of The Matrix. She asked me, “Ever wonder if The Matrix is real?” I could see it in her eyes that she was serious about the matter. Of course, I looked at her like she was high. (Let’s be honest… she probably was.) But when re-examining her question, it is not totally without merit. The world we live in is merely the perception of our reality, or our “ideal.” Because we have not been exposed to other worlds/realities, we are confident in saying that this earthly world in 2010 is real. This life/world is all we know, therefore… how can it be an illusion? The Matrix is really just a modern twist on the story of The Cave.

  • Plot-points (The Cave): Prisoners are held captive inside a dark cave, facing a wall for an indefinite amount of time. A fire is lit behind them, casting shadows on the wall they face. All they’ve ever seen are shadow figures, dancing on the wall and therefore perceive these shadowy images to be the reality of their world. [ex. The shadow of the dog walker & canine = a dog.] However, when said prisoners are introduced to daylight, they cannot handle the fact that the dog walker & canine are two separate entities. Being introduced to this alternate reality was too much for the prisoners to handle and therefore, they revolted and killed their captors. Lesson: Sometimes ignorance is bliss??

In relation to The Matrix, both stories introduce the concept of an alternate reality and a human’s ability or lack of ability to accept their surroundings at face value. The prisoners in The Cave acted as most people would in such a scenario: with fear and violence. For example, if a stranger came out of nowhere and tried to convince me that the sky is red, I would laugh in his face. There is no way, in my mind, that the sky could be red (because of scientific knowledge and the concept of MY reality). The sky is blue. Sticking with the color theme… The Matrix‘s main character was given a choice between a red & blue pill, which brings us to our cast…

First, let’s establish the roles in the hero quest of some of the characters:

  • Hero: Neo “the One”; unique past (awesome computer hacker & wants to know the meaning of The Matrix)
  • Guide: Morpheus (older, more experienced figure; believes in Neo to the point of no return)
  • Prophet/Guide #2: The Oracle; tells Neo what he “needs” to hear before the hero can advance/be successful on his own
  • Trainer: Computer Programs, Morpheus & crew help
  • Chief Adversary: Mr. Smith & his Agents; Neo “descends into the Underworld” when fighting the machines/agents

So, with The Thinkers it’s all about mind over matter. Because The Matrix deals with virtual realities and computer programs, Neo must use his internal judgment to decide what the right/most heroic thing to do is. His journey began by choosing the red pill over the blue pill. “Alice tumbled down the rabbit hole” as it were… instead of returning to the world of the blue sky. Morpheus and Trinity traveled to Neo’s reality in order to retrieve him because they believed him to be “The One.” He was reborn into a futuristic world of machines and computer generated monsters. After his rebirth, Neo was trained in combat through software programs in order to have the strength to fight the evil Agents of Mr. Smith. On the brink of death, Neo finally masters himself and finally “defeats” the Agents of chaos.

But is Neo a hero without any real physical feat being done, outside of The Matrix? Absolutely. Not all heroes are club swingers and sword wielders. Neo demonstrated heroism by overcoming his lack of belief in himself and performing the tasks that would ultimately save some of the teams’ lives. All in all, it was a pretty great flick after 10 years… but I’m too stubborn to consider anything too outlandish outside of my own reality. My ideal is nice, let’s keep it that way.

[Note: Jess, you must really be a Hugo Weaving fan… since he’s one of the main guys in both The Matrix & V for Vendetta, yes? Love it!]

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Save Us, Shahrazad!!

 

King Shahrayar & Shahrazad

 

Is Shahrazad our heroine in 1001 Nights? Yes. Can I consider her a personal hero of mine? Absolutely. She demonstrates several admirable qualities which firmly place her in the “Hero” category, for me. First, I admire her lack of hesitation. Unlike the aforementioned heroes of blogging past like Gilgamesh (who almost allowed the fear of mortality ruin his life –ha, irony), Shahrazad does not question herself, nor her motives throughout her journey. In an effort to dissuade the bitter King Shahrayar from continually “wedding, bedding, and beheading” (Jess McCall) his flavor of the day “wife”, Shahrazad offers herself to his highness. This decision wreaked of bravery! Though Shahrazad knew there was a chance of utter failure (off with her head!) she believed taking the chance was worth it. She wanted to either change the king’s outlook on life/women or die trying. Though this greatly disheartened her father the vizier and her younger sister, Dunyazad, she felt it was her duty to the people (mostly women) of her community to attempt to halt the king’s actions. Inevitably, King Shahrayar (hater of women) accepts the vizier’s daughter as his bride. But before he can dismiss his wife and force her into the afterlife, she concocts a clever plan.

King Shahrayar is an avid listener of stories. Fortunately, his latest bride, Shahrazad, is a master teller of stories. Each night for one-thousand and one nights, Shahrazad postpones her judgment day by captivating the king with wondrous fables and imaginative tales. Shahrazad’s use of storytelling to distract the royal is ingenious. Much like fellow hero Odysseus, Shahrazad utilizes her cunning and imagination to outsmart her foe. Maybe if I can distract him with magnificent tales of other worlds, I can buy enough time to change the heart of the woman-hating king? This proved that Shahrazad could think on her feet, which is another attribute of a heroic character.

Also, with the girl’s choice to marry the king, she demonstrates pure selflessness. Many of the aforementioned heroes throughout this blog establish some form of selflessness throughout their quests, but Shahrazad acts in such a manner immediately and without question. Sacrificing herself for the sake of saving lives is completely worth it to her. And every night she spent with King Shahrayar, another virgin was saved from the murderous marriage bed. However, by the end of the one-thousand and one nights, Shahrayar’s frozen heart begins to thaw. He discovers that he has three children with his wife (she kept those pregnancies hidden well, don’t you think?) and that her stories are heart-warming. With a cloud of guilt lowered over his head, King Shahrayar does not have the heart to dispatch the mother of his three beautiful children.

In addition to her compassion for others, Shahrazad (eldest daughter of the vizier) displays total and complete purity. As described by the king himself, “I loved you in my soul because I found you pure, holy, chaste, tender, straightforward, unassailable, ingenious, subtle, eloquent, discreet, smiling, and wise” (471). The only other hero that could match Shahrazad’s pure qualities would be that of Sita in Sita Sings the Blues. Both women give themselves entirely to their cause. One, surrenders herself to Mother Earth; Sita. And the other abandons any trace fear and lives with the cruel king in order to save her people. Both women are pure and chaste, which shows extreme devotion to their loved ones. In my book, the culmination of these qualities defines a hero.

In a funny way, this story reminds me of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Our Belle (Shahrazad) lives locked away with a menacing Beast (King Shahrayar) in exchange for the lives of her loved ones; i.e. Belle’s father (Maurice) or Shahrazad’s fellow women. During their stay, both women tell incredible stories that warm the hearts of their “beasts” and inevitably, the once hesitant captives become amorous lovers to the newly awoken spirits of the once rigid men. When the bitter layers are torn away, we are left with a handsome prince and a loving paternal king.

[I wonder if Beauty and the Beast is based off of this tale?? Which would be strange… since Aladdin stemmed from another of the Arabian Nights.]

 

Belle & the Beast

 

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