Sir Francis Bacon

Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.

--Of Studies--

The Valkyrie Tragedies

~ 800 words

indigent - adj - lacking the neccessities of life because of poverty; needy; poor; impoverished

interlocutor - noun - a person who takes part in conversation or dialog

duplicity - noun - decietfulness in speech or conduct; double dealing.

So I finished the Poetic Edda over the weekend. I must say, it is an excellent book in all respects. I'm on to Pride and Prejudice now. Never thought I'd see the day when Austen made it to the top of my list, but a friend of mine was rather insistent. I'd like to take a few moments and mention a couple of the really interesting characters that dwell in the Poetic Edda.

The heroic tragedies are divided into two discrete units. First you have Helgi Hundingsbani, who is likely the older archetype on which other variants were based. The second is the Volsung saga, which follows several characters, all related to each other somehow.

Helgi Hundingsbani is a hero, whose auspicious birth was overseen by the Norns (female spirits connected with fate) and who was ready for battle at the age of one day (similar to the god Hod, born to avenge the death of his brother Baldr). It depends on which version you adhere to, as a couple versions of each story are contained in the book, but Helgi falls in love with a valkyrie named Sigrun. Valkyries are interesting, and there is a great deal of modern adaptation of the term to things that have little to do with the actual function of a valkyrie. Valkyries were semi-divine women who determine who falls in battle and serve mead in Valhall, Odin's hall where the spirits of great warriors gather for the final fight of Ragnarok. These are often human women who forgo mundane life for the life of a valkyrie. Helgi falls for Sigrun, but he must first thwart her suitors. Being hand forged from pure awesome, he wins handily, but is subsequently surprise-attacked by Sigrun's brother to avenge their father whom Helgi apparently killed at some point.

More interesting to me are the Volsungs. These more or less start with Sigurd, purportedly the most heroic hero ever to rescue damsels. He is the only hero in the entire book to slay a dragon. The dragon's name is Fafnir, he slays him to reclaim the rightful inheritance of the dragon's brother (who is a dwarf by the way). He finds the dragon's drinking pond, digs a hole over the dragon's tracks, and scores a direct hit when the dragon comes to have a drink.

The sword he uses, which the dwarf brother forged for him, is so sharp, if you dip the tip into a stream and allow unspun wool to float across it, it will part the wool as if it were water.

At any rate, he subsequently saves the valkyrie Brynhild from Odin's wrath (she allowed the incorrect combatant to win in battle), and promises himself to her (for keeps). He subsequently (and conveniently) drinks the ale of forgetfulness, forgetting that he promised to marry Brinhild, and marries another swingin' gal (and valkyrie) Gudrun. Brynhild persuades Gudrun's siblings to kill Sigurd, which they do, and Gudrun is out a husband. She is then fed the ale of forgetfulness and married to Brynhild's brother, none other than Attila the Hun. Brynhild sort of says "Oh, he's dead now isn't he..." and kills herself and a dozen servants.

Attila is beset by Gudrun's brothers, whom he summoned to his court. He intends to steal Fafnir's treasure, which passed to Gudrun's brothers after the death of Sigurd. He murders them mercilessly, cutting the heart out of one and throwing the other in a snake pit. Gudrun is at this point rather peeved with Attila, so she murders their children and feeds them to Attila and his men. She then kills him and burns down his hall and everyone in it.

Gudrun then throws herself into the sea, trying to drown herself, but ends up with still another king. She has two sons who own magic armour, and who set out across the land to avenge the death Svanhild, Gudrun's daughter by Sigurd. They go, knowing it's their doom. They meet their half brother on the road, who is full of wisdom, but also rather annoying. They kill him a few stanzas after meeting him and proceed to the enemy's hall. Though hopelessly outnumbered, their magic armour serves them well. They cut off the king's arms and legs, but the king tells his warriors to use stones to kill the two of them. Apparently the magic only deflected iron, so they say to themselves, "Oops, I guess we shouldn't have killed whats-his-face thirty stanzas ago.

You heard it here first. A brief summary of Old Norse tragedy complete with dragon fighting and child cannibalism.

Reflections on Crime and Punishment

~ 1300 words !!!Major Spoilers!!!

bravura - n - a display of daring, a brilliant performance

sacrosanct - adj - sacred or inviolable

conspectus - n - a general or comprehensive view, survey

I finished Crime and Punishment this week, and I have to say it is definitely one of (if not the) best book(s) I have read.

In the first place the ending was fantastic. This man, crippled by ambition, intelligence and circumstance, finds redemption. If you've read the book this comes as no surprise, and you might even have thought it a bit corny. Love saves him in the end. Well, I'd just like to point out that love is not what saves him. At the end of the book (after going to prison), Raskolnikov falls ill, a sort of lack of will or purpose in life. Psychosomatic illness occurs frequently throughout the book. He misses his visit from Sonya (who followed him all the way to Siberia) because she is ill (notable because it is one of only two occurrences of illness caused externally in the book. The other is Katerina Ivanova's tuberculosis). She has a cold. At this point he realizes how much he relies on her for emotional support, he had been snubbing her up to that point, more or less. Of course, realizing his love for her is only the first step. On her next visit, when none of the guards are looking, he throws himself on her feet. In the end, he overcomes his pride, which up to that point had prevented him from making public (or any) displays of emotion. I thought that was a very good ending. Raskolnikov learns that just because you have an idea, that doesn't make it a good idea, even if you can rationalize it. It takes him the murder of two innocents, incarceration in Siberia, and him causing the death of his mother for him to realize this. Lots of people, young people in particular, could benefit from this wisdom I think.

I would also like to share with you a paragraph that appeared near the end. It really stuck in my mind for some reason.

He lay in the hospital all through the end of Lent and Holy Week. As he began to recover, he remembered his dreams from when he was still lying in feverish delirium. In his illness, he had dreamed that the whole world was doomed to fall victim to some terrible, as yet unknown and unseen pestilence spreading to Europe from the depths of Asia. Everyone was to perish except for a certain, very few, chosen ones. Some new trichinae had appeared, microscopic creatures that lodged themselves in men's bodies. But these creatures were spirits, endowed with reason and will. Those who received them into themselves immediately became possessed and mad. But never, never had people considered themselves so intelligent and unshakable in the truth as did these infected ones. Never had they thought their judgements, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions and beliefs more unshakable. Entire settlements, entire cities and nations would be infected and go mad. Everyone became anxious, and no one understood anyone else; each thought the truth was contained in himself alone, and suffered looking at others, beat his breast, wept and wrung his hands. They did not know whom or how to judge, and could not agree on what to regard as evil, what as good. They did not know whom to accuse, whom to vindicate. People killed each other in some sort of meaningless spite. They gathered into whole armies against each other but, already on the march, the armies would suddenly begin destroying themselves, the ranks would break up, the soldiers would fall upon one another, stabbing and cutting, biting and eating one another. In the cities the bells rang all day long: everyone was being summoned, but no one knew who was summoning them or why, and everyone felt anxious. The most ordinary trades ceased, because everyone offered his own ideas, his own corrections, and no one could agree. Agriculture ceased. Here and there people would band together, agree among themselves to do something, swear never to part--but immediately begin something completely different from what they themselves had just suggested, begin accusing one another, fighting, stabbing. Fires broke out; famine broke out. Everyone and everything was perishing. The pestilence grew and spread further and further. Only a few people in the whole world could be saved; they were the pure and chosen, destined to begin a new generation of people and new life, to renew and purify the earth; but no one had seen these people anywhere, no one had heard their words or voices.

The first time I read this I thought, this is Dostoevsky's vision of a world consumed by the philosophical forces he sought to counter. As I read this again, however, I'm not so sure. Certain elements certainly have an anti-rational lean (such as the epidemic having the ability to reason), but in general it's almost like the tower of babel all over again. For those in my listening audience unfamiliar with the story of the tower of babel, it occurs in the Bible after Noah's flood. Essentially, a bunch of people band together after Noah's flood to design and build a gigantic tower that would protect them from another great flood. In punishment for their insolence, God makes it so that no person can be understood by any other. To a person "love" may mean "hate", and "war" may mean "peace". Stymied by their inability to communicate with each other, they all sort of meander off and went back where they came from, and that explains why all sorts of different languages exist in the world.

Among Biblical stories, this one (in my humble estimation) is extremely influential. Off the top of my head, "babble", our word for incoherent nonsense, bears striking resemblance to "Babel". The organism that slips into your ear and translates for you in the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the Babel Fish. In Final Fantasy II, one of the core environments is the tower of Babel, which supposedly reaches all the way to the moon. It's an interesting game, what with the whole walking on the moon thing, but final fantasy almost doesn't count in this regard. It seems to me as if the people who make those games actively pursue world mythology to integrate into their content, no matter how obscure the source. Granted the old testament isn't exactly obscure, but I've seen references to Homer's Odyssey (in the form of Scylla).

Here is a picture:

Not exactly congruous with the description in the Odyssey (something about seven heads), but undeniably final fantasy material.

Oh, and while I have you here, I'd just like to mention that my good friend Jeff Chapman (his blog) has a short story in an anthology up for preorder! The anthology is The Midnight Diner Volume 3 and the story is "The Princess and the Vampire", which I believe I mentioned actually. Jeff has a sample of his story up on his blog, so check it out if you have a taste for astounding tales!

Also, he has had another short story accepted, "The Master and the Miller's Daughter". I haven't read it myself, yet, but Jeff given the quality of Jeff's fiction (and the fact that it was accepted after all), I have reason to believe that it is very good. Check it out if you get the chance!

The image today came from a pop art blog if you can believe it. It's unfortunately been derelict for more than a year, but still has an interesting archive of pop art. I don't know if it's really art, I'm not exactly an expert, but here's the link anyways.

Necrology 2

~ 700 words

New Interesting Words!

salutary - adj - favourable to or promoting health.

solecism - n - a breach, error, impropriety or inconsistency, esp. in grammar or etiquette.

inimical - adj - unfriendly, hostile, adverse in tendency, harmful.

This post, as one might gather from its title, is the second in my Necrology series, based on a series of essays contained in "Death and Dying: Challenge and Change", edited by R. Fulton, E. Markusen, G. Owen, and J. L. Scheiber. Today's blog post is based on the essay "Life and Death in the USA" by Melvin Maddocks.

Let me preface by saying that I am not American in the traditional sense. That is to say, I'm Canadian. Thus, some of the more regional themes were not readily apparent to me as I read this essay, but thankfully the majority of the article is not of regional interest.

Maddocks' purpose for this article is mainly taxonomic, as he is almost exclusively interested in segregating people into groups based on their views and beliefs about death. While such systems beg for exceptions, it is interesting to note the author's perception of general trends in society. This article was originally published in 1974, so one might argue that the 70s were an entirely different time and place. I would stipulate that the 70s were the last social revolution I'm personally privy to, and much of what was decided forty years ago is still relevant in today's society (not only because people who lived through the seventies now run things. Scary thought?). We still make references to hippies, though they have long been extinct, or at least, the only surviving specimens are kept in captivity.

He groups people into three categories.

1) The Pragmatist.
These are people who act to thwart death wherever it occurs. Immortality is possible if you try hard enough, or at least, death can be managed out of existence. Hence you get a plethora of how-to books, guides, handbooks, pamphlets etc. all espousing their particular theory on death and the grieving process (which you pay for of course, they are pragmatists after all). Maddocks calls this politicizing. Here's one of those how-to books for free.

manuscript: How to Die for the Incurable Imbecile

-Step 1-

Stop breathing.

end manuscript

2) The Optimist
These are interesting folk who hold that death "could be the best thing that ever happened to you". Death is not a disease, it is the natural course of life. You are going to die anyway, you might as well embrace it. Life's end can be a beautiful experience, as beautiful as life's beginning. These are the sorts of people who tend to pull the plug on people on respirators. Why would you suffer, they might say, when you could simply die and end your sufferings. It is from this mode of thought that power of attorney came into being. You should make your wishes known. You should have the right to choose the manner of your death.

3) The Existentialist
This group, comprised primarily of young 'uns (according to Maddocks) are melancholics. Suffering is to be honoured, case by case, and death gives meaning to life. Death, therefore, is authentic, and kids these days crave validation. Hence, Maddocks neatly explains his theory of teen suicide. I think kids still crave validation, correct me if I'm wrong. I die, therefore I am. To these sorts of people, if they are authentically depressive by nature and not simply lured in by the lethargy of melancholy, the possibility of living forever would be philosophically castrating.

The extrapolation of this, as seen by Maddocks, is that you get one of two futures. You either get a society advanced enough (remember, this was in the seventies, when resources were limitless and science would advance indefinitely) to create the "Anti-Death Machine", or you get a society sensitive enough to extract death's sting, the "Age of Compassion".

Anti-Death Machine? Unlikely. We are no closer to immortality now than we were forty years ago when the article was written. It all seems a bit like science fiction to me.

Age of Compassion? More likely. At the very least there's much less overhead. It could arise as a natural consequence of religious (specifically Christian) beliefs. Compassion is undeniably espoused in the Bible, and Maddocks says that "imitation of Christ [is a habit] that post-Christians have inherited in spite of themselves."

I would like to close with a little verse that closed Maddocks' article.

Xerxes the great did die,
And so must you and I.

Youth forward slips,
Death soonest nips.