Thursday, September 29, 2011

Know Your English Literature Part. II

Frankenstein: Gothic novel by Mary Shelly, wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, published in 1818. The title character, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, makes a man like monster from parts of corpses, and brings it to life by electricity. Horrible to look at but capable of human emotion, the creature is eaten up by loneliness and begs for a mate. When Frankenstein refuses, it unleashes vengeance.

· The monster itself is often incorrectly referred to as Frankenstein.

Gulliver’s Travels: Satire on human folly by Jonathan Swift published in 1726. Lemuel Gulliver is shipwrecked on the island of Lilliput, where the inhabitants are just six inches tall but take themselves and their petty squabbles very seriously- a satire on contemporary English politics and self importance. Gulliver then travels to Brobdingnag, a land of giants, and to Laputa where the professors are so involved with projects such as extraction sunshine from cucumbers that practical matters are quiet forgotten. His last encounters are with noble, intelligent horses called Houyhnhnms and brutish, degraded men called Yahoos. Gulliver finally returns home and finds him unable to tolerate even his own family.

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’: First line of one of William Wordsworth’s best known poems. Wordsworth did not give the poem a title, but it is often referred to as ‘Daffodils’. It begins:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high, o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils.

Know Your English Literature Part. I

‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’: first line of Endymion, a long verse ALLEGORY by John Keats, dealing with the quest for beauty in art and in life.

The Beggar’s opera: Satirical low life opera in ballad form by the 18th century English playwright John Gay. It tells the story of the highway man Macheath who marries Polly Peachum, the daughter of one of his criminal clients. Mr. Peachum, furious at the bad match, informs on Macheath, who is arrested and taken to Newgate prison where he falls for the Warder’s daughter Lucy.

· In the 1920s the German playwright Bertold Brecht and composer Kurt Weill collaborated on a modern version called The Three penny Opera

‘Come live with me and be my love’: Opening line of The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, by the 16th century poet Christopher Marlowe. The shepherd paints a sensuous picture of rustic pleasures in order to woo his lady.

· The poet Jon Donne wrote a pastiche of Marlowe’s poem called The Bait, which exposes the snares that could lie in wait for an unwary maiden.

Great Expectations: Novel by Charles Dickens published in monthly installments from 1860 to 1861. The story concerns a young man, Pip, who develops grandiose ambitions when he starts to receive anonymous gifts of money. Pip is in love with the beautiful Estella but she has been brought up by her aunt Miss Havisham to break men’s hearts. Pip left his friends and embarked on a new life in London. However, when he discovers that the source of his money is the ex-convict Abel Magwitch Whom Pip helped many years before, Pip returns home mortified and repentant.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Exploring World Religions -4

Agnosticism: Agnosticism claims that it is impossible to know something, particularly whether or not God exists. The world was coined by the 19th century British philosopher Thomas Huxley from the Greek a ’not’ and gnosis ‘knowledge’. It is logically possible for an agnostic to believe in God, if he admits that his belief is a matter of faith and not of knowledge.

Determinism: Belief that the way events occur is fixed in advance, either by some supernatural plan of God or by the laws of nature. The concept appears to undermine ideas such as free will, morality, justice and responsibility. Many philosophers, however, have tried to find ways of reconciling human freedom with the belief that there are causes for our behavior. The problem is difficult for religious believers who maintain that God knows everything, including the future, since this implies that the future is fixed. On the other hand, they also want to say that people are responsible for their actions and are free to choose between good and evil. Modern physics ceased to be deterministic in the early 20th century, with the development of quantum mechanics, which suggests that, at the most fundamental level, the behavior of matter cannot be predicted with any certainty.

Epicureanism: Philosophy developed by the Greek thinker Epicurus and his followers. It was based on the belief that the greatest good is pleasure- in the sense of cultivated enjoyment of life, especially the joys of friendship, rather than sensual indulgence. Epicurus was an atheist, and taught that there is nothing to fear in death, which is merely a disappearance, a state of nothingness.
The word epicure now means one who enjoys good food and good living.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Know Your World Literature Part. I

Comedy: Type of literature which treats its subject matter humorously and which usually has a happy ending. The plot is often unbelievable and the characters are usually ordinary people rather than the kings and heroes of Tragedy. Western comedy grew out of ancient Greek Fertility rituals in which certain well known people were publicly ridiculed. Later is became unacceptable to mock individuals and instead stock characters or ‘types’ were used. In modern times, Satire, black comedy, Farce and Theatre of the Absurd have tended to dominate the comic form.

Black Comedy: Type of cynical humor developed in the 20th century, particularly in the Theatre of the Absurd. It represents a view of life in which human striving is futile, beliefs and values are arbitrary, and events are governed by chance. Samuel Beckett’s waiting for Godot and Joe, Orton’s Loot are black comedies.

Catharsis: Term used by Aristotle to describe the purifying effect of releasing the emotions of pity and terror which he believed was the purpose of Tragedy.

Classicism: In literature, any style of writing base on the principles and forms used by Classical Greek and Roman authors, such as those laid down by Aristotle in his Poetics. It is sometimes contrasted with Romanticism, which concentrates on imagination and feeling rather than form and style. Classicism flourished during the 17th and 18th centuries when writers such as Voltaire and Moliere in French, Swift and Dr. Johnson in English, and Goethe and Schiller in German all based their work on Classical models.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Exploring World Religions -3

Part. III Exploring World Religions

Existentialism: Movement in 20th century philosophy, theology and literature, based on the view that the people are entirely free and therefore responsible for what they make of themselves. With this responsibility comes anguish or dread. One of the most influential existentialist philosophers was the French thinker and writer Jean Paul Sartre, who summed up his views in the maxim, “Existence precedes essence”- that is, humans spring up in the world undefined and without a fixed nature or ‘essence’. There is no divine plan, nor any fixed values, by which they can guide themselves; they are ‘condemned to be free’.

Exorcism: The casting out of demons or evil spirits believed to have ‘possessed’ a person or place. Among the ancient Israelites, mental conditions such as schizophrenia and epilepsy were often considered to be a sign of demonic possession and were treated by ritual exorcism. Jesus Christ performed many exorcisms, and in the early Church there was a standard office of Exorcist. Exorcisms are still occasionally performed by Roman Catholic and some Protestant Churches

Iconoclasm: Rejection or destruction of religious images, often on the grounds that they are forbidden by the second commandment. In the 8th and 9th centuries many images and icons were destroyed with the blessing of the pope. During the Reformation, however, the Roman Catholic Church itself became a victim of iconoclasm, and lost many religious images. The world ‘iconoclasm’ comes from Greek words for ‘image breaking’.

Paganism: Term first used by early Christians to describe the beliefs of all non Christians. The world comes from the Latin for ‘country –dweller’. These days it is usually applied to beliefs that are not part of a world religion such as Christianity Judaism, Buddhism or Islam.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Exploring World Religions -2

Part. II Exploring World Religions

Hinduism: Indian religion that aims at liberating the spirit from the material world through the purification of desires and the surpassing of personal identity. Hindu writings go back to around 1200B, but there is no single founder, scared text or set of doctrines. Instead, emphasis is placed on right living, or dharma, and spiritual development throughout life. Although some Hindus believe in one God and some in none, most worship a number of deities, of who the most important are Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. All Hindus, however share karma and reincarnation. There are about 500 million Hindus in the world. Traditionally, Hinduism was linked to the Indian caste system, a rigid social hierarchy which governs every aspect of an individual’s life, from birth to death.

Idealism: In philosophy, any view that the material world is in some way dependent on the mind that perceives it. Idealist thinkers do not necessarily deny that material objects exist, but claim that they cannot be known to exist independently of the human mind. Berkeley, Hegel, and Kant were all idealist thinkers. Idealism is opposed by Realism and materialism.

Materialism: In philosophy, the position that nothing exists except physical objects and forces that are perceptible and measurable. Materials deny the existence of spirit, soul or mind as a separate type of reality, and they look for physical explanations of all phenomena- for example, by explaining thoughts or emotions in terms of chemical reactions in the brain.

Marxism is a form of materialism in which almost every aspect of culture is seen in terms of economic forces.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Exploring World Religions -1

Part. I Exploring World Religions

Apocalyse: Type of Jewish and Christian scriptures which claims to reveal secrets, especially concerning the future, and which generally gives hope to persecuted groups. The best known of these is St. John’s Book of Revelation in the New Testament, which prophesies the end of the world. The world comes from the Greek for “unveiling”.

Figuratively, an apocalypse is any cataclysmic event marked by violence and destruction, as in the title of the Vietnam War filmApocalypse Now.

Symbol of Atheism

Atheism: non belief in, or denial of the existence of a god or gods. Reasons for atheism vary from the view that the world is so full of injustice and suffering that it cannot be governed by a benevolent deity, to scientific arguments that the idea of a creator does not help to explain existence of the Universe. Many Greek philosophers were atheists, although this could be dangerous Socrates was forced to take poison because of his atheistic teachings. The Roman pagans accused the early Christians of Atheism, since they denied the traditional gods. Atheism was long suppressed in Christian Europe and North America but it was not a criminal offence.

Dalai Lama: Traditional ruler and Buddhist spiritual leader in Tibet and Mongolia, believed by his followers to be the reborn Bodhisattva. The current Dalai Lama, forced into exile in India after the Chinese suppression of Tibetan nationalism in 1959, continues to work for the freedom of Tibet.

Dogma: Unproved, often unprovable, theory or doctrine which has to be accepted as true without question. The term is often applied to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which are pronounced on by the pope and which all Catholics are bound to accept.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

History Mystery: Realm of Myths and Legends -16

Tantalus: King in Greek mythology who offended the gods by divulging their secrets to mortals. They punished him with everlasting thirst and hunger. He stood up to his chin in a river in Hades, but each time he bent to quench his thirst the water receded. Similarly the boughs above him, heavy with fruit, were always just out of reach. The ordeal of Tantalus is the origin of the word tantalize meaning to tease or torment by exciting a hope and then disappointing it, or to keep out of reach something that is much desired.

Tarot Cards: Elaborately decorated cards of unknown origin that are used for fortune telling or divination. There were traditionally 78 cards in the pack- 56 divided into four suits and 22 trump cards with symbolic pictures. There is no standard design for Tarot symbols, and there are many ways of interpreting them.

Sisyphus: In Greek mythology, king of Corinth, he offended Zeus, who condemned him to push a huge boulder up a steep hill eternally.

Sphinx: Monster of Greek and Egyptian mythology. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx had the head and breasts of a woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of a bird. In the story of Oedipus it waylaid travelers on the roads near the city of Thebes, carrying away and devouring anyone who could not answer its riddle: ‘what creatures walk on four legs in the morning, on two legs in the noon, and on three legs in the evening?’ Oedipus finally gave the correct answer: human beings, who crawl on all fours as infants, walk upright in maturity, and use a walking stick in old age. The Egyptian sphinx was usually portrayed as a lion with a pharaoh’s head, like the huge stone statue at Giza in Egypt.

History Mystery: Realm of Myths and Legends -15

Pied Piper of Hamelin: German folk tale from the Middle Ages about a town that was infested with rats, until a mysterious piper lured them into a river with his music. When the townspeople refused to pay the piper his fee, he used his strange music to lure their children away. The legend may be based on a folk memory of a medieval epidemic of ergotism, caused by a hallucinogenic fungus that grows on grain, which apparently caused crowds of people to dance from town to town until they were exhausted. However, a more likely basis for the legend is the children’s crusade.

Pluto: Pluto is the Roman name of Hades, god of the underworld and ruler of the dead.

The Planet Pluto is the ninth and normally the farthest known true planet from the Sun. However because of its elliptical orbit, Pluto will be closer to the Sun than Neptune until the year 2000.

Prester John: Legendry Christian monarch of the Middle Ages, believed to rule a kingdom in central Asia. His name means ‘Priest John” and he is thought to be descended from the Magi. In the Middle Ages many journeys were made to find Prester John’s country in the hope that he would help Europe’s kings to fight against Islam. From the mid -14th century the search focused on Ethiopia, a Christian country cut off from Europe

Valkyries: In the Norse mythology, fierce battle maids of the god Odin. The rode into battle and selected those who were destined to die, then conducted the souls of the heroes to Valhalla, the hall of the slain.

History Mystery: Realm of Myths and Legends -14

Druids: Priesthood of pre Roman Celtic religion in Gaul and Britain, whose rites are said to have involved human sacrifice. They seem to have had knowledge of astronomy, and claimed to have prophetic powers. They believed that the soul was immortal. It was once thought that the Druids built Stonehenge and other stone circles as their temples. However, although the Druids may have used Stonehenge, archaeology shows that the circle was finished around 1550 BC- some 1200 years before the earliest know Druids.

The druid means ‘knowing the oak tree’ and may refer to their rituals which took place in sacred oak groves.

Elysian Fields: In Greek mythology, the place where the soul of the righteous go after death. According to Homer, it is a beautiful region at the end of the Earth. Figuratively, the Elysian Fields are a place or condition of ideal happiness.

The French translation of Elysian Fields, ‘Champs Elysees’, is the name of the principal boulevard in Paris.

The Fates: Three Greek and Roman goddess who governed human fate. They are Clotho, the spinner of man’s destiny; Lachesis, the weaver of chance; and Atropos, who cuts the thread of life with her scissors when death comes.

Fairies: Supernatural beings found in the folklore of many countries; often mischievous, they are capable of assisting or harassing humans. Hundreds of kinds of fairies have been described, varying in size, character and magical powers. They are said to cover human babies, and cradle snatching is their chief vice. In place of the stolen baby they leave a changeling- a fairy child or a piece of wood carved to look like a child. The Christian church once thought that fairies were fallen angels, or the souls of babies who had died anabaptized.

History Mystery: Realm of Myths and Legends -13

World Tree: Tree of life and knowledge in Norse mythology, also known as Yggdrasil. An ever green ash tree, it bound heaven, earth and hell together with its roots and branches, the god Odin hung himself from the World tree for nine days in order to acquire wisdom.
Trolls: In Norse mythology, mischievous dwarfs or giant ogres who lived in caves and mountains. They were skilled at working metals and notorious for stealing.
Thor: God of thunder and lightning in Norse mythology who had three magic weapons; a hammer which returned to him after it was thrown, an iron gloves which helped him to throw the hammer, and a belt which increase his size and strength.
Poseidon: Greek name for Neptune, the god who ruled the sea. Poseidon could command the waves, provoke storms and cause springs to flow.
Penelope: Wife of Odysseus in Greek mythology. Penelope remained true to her husband while he was away fighting in the Trojan War, even though she was harassed by suitors pressing her to remarry. To stall for time, she promised to choose someone after she had finished weaving a robe for her father in law, but she unraveled her work every night. When her trick was discovered, she agreed to give herself to whoever could bend Odysseus’s might bow- a bow which only he could string. When a man she redid not recognizes accomplished the task, Penelope realized that her husband had returned, in disguise.