Published May 27, 2011 Askmen.comRead
One thing that living at home entails is helping my brother with his homework and since he’s not the most academically minded means I have to do a lot of the work. So while he has been reading Hamlet and writing papers on it I have been rereading it. During this I remembered how much I loved this play and also how much I loved Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Now for those who don’t know Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two characters that are in Hamlet and subsequently die (go figure). This book then chronicles there “death” and the bizarre things that they run into during this journey.
This then has influenced my next blog post which is actually an essay I wrote back when I was a senior in high school in AP Literature. Now one might this study of a piece of literature isn’t exactly an anthropological topic but I think it is important to talk about since we can look at anything from the anthropological perspective. More than anything this book does a great job at addressing the issue of death and defining exactly what it, which is a very touchy subject among many people. Different cultures have their ideas of what death actually is and this book brings up explanations both plausible and symbolic.
In the book Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead one of life’s biggest questions is raised: What is death? This question is evident through the whole book as Ros and Guil hover in their plane of existence, contemplating death. These two characters search for some concrete answer to this ambiguous question.
The concrete answer is never reached; there is disparity between Ros and Guil as to what death truly is. In Act III when the two of them are on a boat traveling to England, Guil comments on the boat symbolizing freedom: “One is free on a boat. For a time” (101). This statement is somewhat paradoxical since when they are on the boat they are confined in a small space. Contrasting Guil’s thought of the boat symbolizing freedom; Ros interprets the boat to symbolize death: “Do you think that death could possibly be a boat?” (108). This interpretation stems from Ros having to attribute everything to something concrete in order to be able to grasp it, to understand it.
This could be a possible answer to the question. If the boat symbolizes both death and freedom, then could death possibly be freedom? Is death freedom from the trials and tribulations of life and therefore nothing to fear? Guil seems to think so as he states in his long tirade, “Certainly it is a release from the burden of life, and, for the godly, a haven, and a reward” (110). The reader might think this is Guil’s character finally having an epiphany of sorts, on the subject of death. This play is however, Theatre of the Absurd and Guil merely dismisses it, forgetting about it forever.
One thing that the two can agree on is that death cannot be staged: “I’m talking about death… you cannot act it. You die a thousand casual deaths – with none of that intensity which squeezes out life… because even as you die you know that you will get up after death – there is no applause – there is only silence and some second-hand clothes, and that’s – death –“ (123). Death in a play isn’t real; death is such a hard concept to grasp that to portray it on a stage is impossible. Guil basically is saying that death on stage can’t be believed because the actor gets up after the curtain closes. The concept of death is eternal; one doesn’t wake up from it. From this deduction Guil inadvertently comes up with an answer; death is indescribable. The answer he comes up with is that death is well, death.
What Guil fails to realize is that earlier in the book, he came to this same realization, “Death’s death isn’t it?” (89). Once again since this is Theatre of the Absurd he does not remember this statement. This simple answer comes up again at the end of the play, while the two of them are dying. Ros tries, as he does throughout the play, to tie death to something tangible: “So there’s an end to that – it’s commonplace: light goes with life, and in the winter of your years the dark comes early” (124). So in Ros’ mind dark symbolizes death, though Guil quickly retorts, before they both fade, “Not for us… no not like that… death is not anything… death is not… It’s the absence of presence… it makes no sound…” (124).
At the end of the play we only get one answer to the question and it is far from concrete. Instead they come up with an extremely redundant answer: death is death. It is nothing more, nothing less. This answer seems to go along with the book well despite itself. The answer ties into the theme of inconsistency in the book. Ros and Guil try so hard to find the concrete answer. Ros searches for a symbol to embody death while Guil looks for the answer on a more philosophical level which parallels how many cultures and religions feel on the subject. All the answers that they come up with along the way are forgotten. Nothing in this play can be remembered; epiphanies go unnoticed and Ros and Guil die without a true grasp of what is going to happen to them now that they are dying reminiscent of many people’s journey into death.
Image Courtesy of rosencrantzandguildenstern.wordpress.com
So as some of you might know I’ve been incredibly busy lately and haven’t had as much time to write blog posts as usual. First I’ve been interviewing for a job at a Cyber Security firm and I just found out on Friday that I got it! Second I have been working on the new exhibit for the Laurel History museum with the rest of the Exhibits Committee. This includes a lot of rifling through museum records and a whole bunch of research. Then thirdly and lastly I have been writing a new book in which I’m combining two of my short stories.
Needless to say these last weeks have been busy and will get busier especially when I start this job. That does not mean that I will abandon you all who read my blog, I love you all and appreciate all your support. This does mean that my blog posts will be fewer and also that I will mostly be recycling old papers that I have written over my college career (which in fact was what started the idea for this blog anyway as sort of a showcase of my work.
That being said, it brings us to the topic for today: Creation Myths. This was actually inspired by the interview that I had yesterday with the president of the company. We got completely off topic and started talking about world religions and how there are common threads run through all of them. I then brought up the topic about creation myths and “great flood” myths before we got back on track to the actual job interview.
Every religion has a creation myth and every religion has a “great flood” myth. This is yet one common thread that runs through every religion or religious practice. We all want to know where we came from, if someone, something or nothing at all created us. So I wanted to share with you all my re-creation of the Hindu Creation myth which is fact one of my favorites:
At the dawn of time there was nothing. No heavens, no earth, and nothing in between. A vast dismal sea washed upon the banks of nothingness, and caressed the outskirts of the night. A giant cobra sat in the deep sea – snoozing within its infinite spools lay the Lord Vishnu. And he was watched over by the omnipotent serpent. Everything was silent and empty and Vishnu slept unmoved and undisturbed (The Bhagavat Purana).
Suddenly from the depths, a humming sound began to rumble, Om. It spread threw the vast nothingness and throbbed with electrifying energize. The night was no more. Vishnu then awoke from his deep sleep. As the sun began to creep up the horizon, a lotus flower blossomed from Vishnu’s navel, and inside that blossom sat Vishnu’s servant, Brahma who awaited the Lord’s command (The Bhagavat Purana).
Vishnu said to his servant: “It is time to begin,” Brahma bowed to his master. Vishnu commanded, “create the world.” Then a great wind swept up the sea and the serpent vanished, as Brahma was still uncased in the lotus flower, in the pounding sea. Then Brahma lifted up his arms and the sea became calm, and wind stilled. Brahma then split the lotus flower into three parts, one he threw up to the heavens, another into the earth, and yet another he used to create the skies (The Bhagavat Purana).
But alas the earth was bare, so Brahma set to work creating grass, flowers, trees and vegetation of all kind. To them he gave feeling. Then he created the animals and the insects to live on the land. He put the birds in the air to fly, and the fish in the sea to swim. And to all these creatures he gave the ability to touch, to smell, to see, to hear, to move. The world was bustling with life and air was filled with the sounds of Brahma’s creation (The Bhagavat Purana).
So now that you have a better understanding of how the Hindus believed the earth was created let’s look at another one of my favorite creation myths. Now this one you might have seen earlier in my American Indian series. This is the Cherokee creation myth:
When the world was all water, as the Cherokee believed it was, the animals lived in the upper world but it become over crowded so the new world was created. The way the story went is that Beaver’s Grandchild water beetle dove into the water all the way down to see what the new world was like. When he reached the bottom water-beetle discovered soft mud which he then picked up and smoothed and spread it until it became the great island which is now earth. The Cherokee believed that this island was a literal island that was floating above the sea which was suspended at four points by cords of rock (Rochete 2010).
Over this island the Great Buzzard flew and when the earth was still soft and wet his wings struck the ground creating the valleys and mountains. The other animals stopped him though before he made the whole world mountainous (this is why the Cherokee land in the Appalachians was supposed to be so mountainous). Along with that the Cherokee believed that the first two Cherokee were Kana’ti and his wife Selu. These two are the fixtures of which the Cherokee hunting and farming came from (Rochete 2010).
The stories go that their sons let all the animals escape from the great vault which is why the people have to hunt them. Also Selu got pregnant and gave birth to both corn and beans overnight; because of her son believed she was a powerful witch and killed her. As a result of her death corn and beans sprouted from her blood but as a punishment Selu’s sons had to work to grow and produce it from then on (Rochete 2010).
We can see that there are similarities as well as differences in these stories but the general theme of creating something from very little or nothing is there. Now like I said every religion has a creation myth so there are tons of different takes on these ideas of creation and birth/rebirth.
2010. Anth 146 Lecture for September 20, 2010.
The Pennsylvania State University.
The Bhagavat Purana (English translation)
Image courtesy of symbolphotos.blogspot.com
So as many of you know there has been a ongoing “feud” among anthropologists and historians alike on what the cradle of civilization was. Many believe it was Mesopotamia (I’m among those people) and the others believe that it was Egypt. There are many parallels when it comes to these two regions especially when talking about technology, language and mythology. This feud had become so bad that these two regions are hardly ever studied together.
For example my Mesopotamian Civilizations class hardly ever mentioned the Egyptians when talking about the wars, kings, religion, etc. The only time my professor mentioned Egypt was to point out this split when it comes to the study of the Ancient World. Now usually I am on the side of Mesopotamia that they had more innovations and ultimately lead to how we live our lives (hell I even wrote my entrance essay for UMD on that) but today I’m going to touch on Egypt and the progression of language.
We’ll pretend for a second that I love the Egyptians more (and that they’re not egocentric idiots) to explain their development of their language. There development is actually quite ingenious and fascinating to study (and I can see my Mes. Civ. Professor rolling his eyes now). They had four stages of their language: First stage Hieroglyphics, second stage Hieratic, third stage Demotic, and fourth stage Coptic.
Hieroglyphics was one of the first writing systems developed by man, 5000 years ago. Hieroglyphics are phonetic (representing a sound). Hieroglyphic was the earliest script form of Egyptian. It was a recognizable forms that to represent a person, an object, or an idea. They could be combined with different signs to spell out the words of the spoken language. However, the hieroglyphic indicates consonants only. Hieroglyphic was used for formal inscriptions, and mainly found on stone, pottery, and ivory.
Hieratic was used until 650 BC. It was a more simple style of writing compared to Hieroglyphics. Hieratic was adopted from hieroglyphic script for a quicker record of non-monumental context. It was a more fluent form of script than Hieroglyphics. It was a script for administration and business use that to record literature, scientific, and religious documents. Hieratic was written in black ink with a brush made of reed or a reed pen. The scribes wrote on papyri and ostraca (fragments of pottery or stone used as writing surfaces). It was always written from right to left.
Demotic script was used from 650 BC - AD 450. Demotic comes from Greek, meaning popular script. It was simplified to use for daily purposes. Yet, it derived directly from hieratic, making it difficult to read and almost impossible to transcribe into any hieroglyphic counterpart. It was a cursive script with no more icons or pictures. It was maintained in horizontal lines and written right to left. Demotic texts were generally administrative, legal and commercial. A few are literary compositions, scientific and religious texts.
Coptic was used from AD 100 - AD 640. Coptic derived via Arabic from the Greek word Aiguptios, 'Egyptian.’ It was spoken by Egyptian Christians. It is considered the final phase of Egyptian language. Coptic script consisted with borrowings from Greek and different Semitic languages. It consisted of 24 letters from the Greek alphabet, each letter representing a single sound. There were also 6 signs from Demotic, for sounds not represented in Greek. It became a fully alphabetic script with vowels and consonants
The decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs was made possible by discovery of the Rosetta Stone, found in 1799 by Napoleonic troops fighting in Egypt. Although the stone was first the possession of a French officer, the victorious British demanded (and ultimately got) it, and it currently resides in the British Museum.
So what does this all boil down to? Well I have a very ingenious example that I came up with to further break down this progression:
Picture of someone walking through a door then coming back → Be right back →
brb → Someone saying the words “be right back”
Hopefully that puts it more in perspective so that you all can understand the progression and understand how language works. Now that I got that off my chest I can go back to my thoughts that the Mesopotamians were the better ones. I mean come on Ziggurats are awesome are they not? What about the fact that they carved everything into stone so we have long records of them? Okay, okay I’ll leave that for another day I guess.
Image Courtesy of fontriver.com