Scripture Sunday (19)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”

“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.”

-1 Samuel 12:19-25

Why I chose it:

What I love about this passage is that even though the Israelites have been REAL DISOBEDIENT LATELY, they’ve realized and repented and Samuel, their mentor/advisor/priest/judge guy, encourages them to look toward future choices, not past ones. They can’t think, “Wow, we’ve made all of these mistakes and probably made God hate us…we might as well run from Him and find some other god or thing to serve who can take care of us since we clearly aren’t worthy.”

Even when I make one mistake, or ten more in a row, that doesn’t mean I should just keep on making more because “it’s too late.” Now is always a good time to try to do better and do the right thing.

Myth Monday: The Bacchae

Last week on Myth Mondays: meet Dionysus, god of wine and madness! See other Myth Monday posts here.

I ran out of time for a proper post today, so I will leave you with a quote, or rather a monologue. This is from The Bacchae, an ancient Greek play by Euripides. As we will see later on, theater is a huge part of the worship of Dionysus. In this monologue, Dionysus goes over his backstory (which we talked about last week) and announces his modest goals of world domination. Translated by Gilbert Murray. I put some words in bold – they’re important names or motifs in Dionysus’ myths.

Behold, God’s Son is come unto this land
Of Thebes, even I, Dionysus, whom the brand
Of heaven’s hot splendour lit to life, when she
Who bore me, Cadmus’ daughter Semelê,
Died here. So, changed in shape from God to man,
I walk again by Dirce’s streams and scan
Ismenus’ shore. There by the castle side
I see her place, the Tomb of the Lightning’s Bride,
The wreck of smouldering chambers, and the great
Faint wreaths of fire undying—as the hate
Dies not, that Hera held for Semelê.
Aye, Cadmus hath done well; in purity
He keeps this place apart, inviolate,
His daughter’s sanctuary; and I have set
My green and clustered vines to robe it round.
Far now behind me lies the golden ground
Of Lydian and of Phrygian; far away
The wide hot plains where Persian sunbeams play,
The Bactrian war-holds, and the storm-oppressed
Clime of the Mede, and Araby the Blest,
And Asia all, that by the salt sea lies
In proud embattled cities, motley-wise
Of Hellene and Barbarian interwrought;
And now I come to Hellas—having taught
All the world else my dances and my rite
Of mysteries, to show me in men’s sight
Manifest God.
And first of Hellene lands
I cry thus Thebes to waken; set her hands
To clasp my wand, mine ivied javelin,
And round her shoulders hang my wild fawn-skin.
For they have scorned me whom it least beseemed,
Semelê’s sisters; mocked my birth, nor deemed
That Dionysus sprang from Dian seed.
My mother sinned, said they; and in her need,
With Cadmus plotting, cloaked her human shame
With the dread name of Zeus; for that the flame
From heaven consumed her, seeing she lied to God.
Thus must they vaunt; and therefore hath my rod
On them first fallen, and stung them forth wild-eyed
From empty chambers; the bare mountain side
Is made their home, and all their hearts are flame.
Yea, I have bound upon the necks of them
The harness of my rites. And with them all
The seed of womankind from hut and hall
Of Thebes, hath this my magic goaded out.
And there, with the old King’s daughters, in a rout
Confused, they make their dwelling-place between
The roofless rocks and shadowy pine trees green.
Thus shall this Thebes, how sore soe’er it smart,
Learn and forget not, till she crave her part
In mine adoring; thus must I speak clear
To save my mother’s fame, and crown me here
As true God, born by Semelê to Zeus.

Coming up on Myth Monday: more Dionysus, Percy Jackson, and reviews!

Scripture Sunday (18)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

Next Abimelech went to Thebez and besieged it and captured it. Inside the city, however, was a strong tower, to which all the men and women—all the people of the city—had fled. They had locked themselves in and climbed up on the tower roof. Abimelech went to the tower and attacked it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull.

Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me,so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him.’” So his servant ran him through, and he died. When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they went home.

Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also made the people of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them.

-Judges 9:50-57

Why I chose it:

Tag yourself; I’m the millstone.

In all seriousness, though, every time I read Judges it’s like I’m reading it for the first time, and I am completely blown away by how wild and dark it is. A few people make good choices but mostly it’s just a long series of bad choices. Even Gideon, famous for routing an enemy army with only 300 men because the Lord is with him, winds up (accidentally???) leading his people into idolatry and then one of his sons (Abimelech) murders all of his other sons.

So like, make good choices, and if you wind up in a tower surrounded by a murderous army, don’t lose hope!

Myth Monday: Dionysus’ Fun Beginning

Last week on Myth Monday: book recommendations of myth retellings

This is the first of a few posts I will be doing on Dionysus, Greek god of the vine&wine, fertility, madness, and other similarly fun things. Why did I pick this guy to focus on?

A. He’s a personal fave

B. I’m reading this incredibly wild book called Dionysus: Myth and Cult by Walter F. Otto and I wanted to talk about it

C. He’s the patron of theater kids everywhere!

D. All of the above

Spoilers: the answer is D. Which stands for Dionysus. Obviously.

For this post, I’m going to talk a little about my sources, introduce you to Dionysus’ family, and go over his early life – both as a character in old stories and as a Greek cult.

Sources

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Source

Dionysus (or Bacchus) has been around for a bit – just how long is a matter of conjecture. He isn’t mentioned by name in Homer’s mainstream poems, although elements of his myths are (like the Maenads, his crazy band of girlfriends). He is also mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony, a real old Greek poem and a sort of Who’s Who of Greek gods and such. Dionysus pops up now and again in the Homeric Hymns as well, which are ALSO real old Greek poems that are dedicated to this that and the other Greek god. Dionysus has a big role in at least one play by Euripides. I’ll talk more about Euripides and Greek drama a bit later.

The books I’m drawing on from these posts are more of compendiums of all the old myths and songs and poems and plays. Primarily, they are:

  • Mythology by Edith Hamilton: This is my favorite mythology retelling collection so far. Hamilton does a good job of condensing everything but still telling a good story and telling it well, so that it’s entertaining and terrifying, but still getting across all of these random details and encompassing all of the many characters in Greek mythology.
  • The Age of Fable by Thomas Bulfinch: This does the same job as Edith Hamilton’s book, but his writing style isn’t as poetic or engaging. He includes details and stories that Hamilton doesn’t, though, and he tries to be as comprehensive (I was tempted to say “unbiased,” but no one ever manages that) as possible.
  • Dionysus: Myth and Cult by Walter F. Otto: Otto likes Dionysus. A lot. So much. It’s a little terrifying. Anyway, this book delves into the cult that worshiped Dionysus, the different rites and versions of Dionysus’ story, and the cultural and religious impact of the Greek god.

The Fam, The Birth, The Legacy

Dionysus is one of the twelve Olympians, the most powerful and important of the Greek gods. He’s the son of Zeus, king of the gods, god of thunder and, I don’t know, adultery probably. One of Zeus’ many girlfriends is Semele, a princess of Thebes. Hera, Zeus’ wife (and goddess of marriage, because the Greeks are just really ornery), finds out about Semele, because Hera always finds out about all of the girlfriends. Hera disguises herself and convinces Semele that her boyfriend isn’t really Zeus, king of the gods – Semele will have to prove it somehow. Semele, in a sort of Samson-and-Delilah adventure, persuades Zeus that if he really truly loves her, he’ll give her whatever she wants. He makes an unbreakable vow to do so, and Semele asks him to reveal himself in his true form. Zeus is like, “um, honey, but-” “YOU PROMISED.” Zeus reveals himself, and Semele is so lit she catches fire and burns to death because mere mortals can’t look at gods.

So that’s a fun story.

The part where it gets really weird is that Semele is pregnant, and to save their kid, Zeus pulls the baby out of Semele’s womb and puts him in his side. Then, a few months later, Dionysus is born! Because a dude’s side is exactly like a womb! I don’t know, maybe Zeus magically spawns a temporary womb for a while. Supposedly, since Dionysus spends some time in his human parent AND in his godly parent, that makes him more special than your average demigod (half-god, half-human) kid.

Roman_-_Sarcophagus_Depicting_the_Birth_of_Dionysus_-_Walters_2333.jpg
Source

In any case, Zeus isn’t sure he wants to bring this kid home – Hera might set him on fire, after all. So Dionysus is raised by the rain-nymphs of Nysa, otherwise known as the Hyades. Dionysus grows up in the wild, which might be important later.

However, Hera isn’t ready to let this go just yet. Hera finds him and curses Dionysus with madness, so he leaves Nysa and travels the earth as a lunatic. He is eventually found by Rhea, a Titan and queen of the earth, and also Zeus’ mom. So Dionysus’ grandma takes him in, cures his madness, and teaches him many helpful things about the earth and how to grow plants in it, including the grapevine. She may or may not throw in some helpful hints about fermentation.

TO BE CONTINUED on future Myth Mondays!

 

 

Scripture Sunday (17)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

-Deuteronomy 9:6

Why I chose it:

I like this verse because God knows how hard it is for us to stay humble. If I am successful in life, in big or small things, it is not as a reward for being righteousness or doing all the right things. It is important to obey God, and He will reward me for it, but it doesn’t mean that I get some good real estate it means I don’t have to worry anymore about being a sinner. We’re all sinners, regardless of good things we get or good things that happen to us, and none of us are better than another.

Myth Monday: Retelling Recs

Last week on Myth Monday: Sea of Monsters, monster recap

You can check out all Myth Monday posts here.

Today I have two recommendations for myth-lovers. They’re both retellings of very old stories, from the perspectives of characters who are overlooked and mostly voiceless in the original. Both are beautifully written, and both made me cry.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (1956)

17343This book is a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. Quick premise of the myth, if you’re unfamiliar with it: Pysche is a beautiful princess who people start comparing to Venus, the goddess of love. Venus gets upset (as she tends to do) and tells her son Cupid to curse Pysche to fall in love with something horrible. Instead, Cupid falls in love with Pysche and through a complicated form of kidnapping, arranges for Pysche to wind up in his palace. Pysche visits him at night but never sees his face. Eventually, her sisters visit her and, jealous of her new life and status, make Psyche question why she never sees her husband. Is he a monster? Typical hijinks ensue.

Till We Have Faces tells the story from the perspective of Orual, one of Psyche’s sisters. In this version, Orual is possessive of her sister Psyche and loves her obsessively. She is both jealous of Psyche’s possible good fortune, but doesn’t believe that it could happen, and regardless she wants Psyche all to herself. We barely see anything of Psyche’s part of the story, so we, like Orual, have to decide if Psyche is brainwashed or making it all up.

Orual herself is a very tragic character. She isn’t valued by her father or other men because she’s a woman and not very attractive. She sets herself to learn everything she needs to in order to rule a kingdom, and also becomes a warrior. She becomes an excellent leader in her own right, but she remains cynical, and obsessed with bringing Pysche back to her. In spite of the fact that she loves Psyche, all of her actions toward her sister damage Psyche’s happiness, rather than support it. Orual’s journey to self-awareness lasts her whole life, and showcases the different forms of love, both healthy and sick, that people develop for each other.

Despite this, Orual is an extremely sympathetic character. She has to struggle against so many things during her life, and she is determined to be a good ruler, better than the ones before her. She wants love and friendship, and gains tremendous loyalty from those who know her. There’s a cast of supporting characters that help reflect Orual’s character and the core relationship between Orual and Psyche, including Fox, their Greek tutor, Redival, their other sister, and Lord Bardia, Orual’s friend and ally.

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin (2008)

2214574This book is a retelling of part of the Aeneid by Vergil. The Aeneid is focused on Aeneas, a prince who has escaped the fall of Troy and is searching for a land for himself and his people to settle. Aeneas discovers the land that will become Rome (according to the myth), and sets himself to marry Lavinia, the daughter of the local chief. Lavinia never speaks in the epic poem, but a war is fought over her between Turnus, her previous fiancé, and Aeneas. Spoilers: Aeneas wins.

Lavinia is Le Guin’s attempt to give this character a voice of her own. The story is unchanged from the six latter books of the Aeneid, but from the perspective of Lavinia, who wants to live her own life, and failing that, to save her people from war. When she is unable to stop the war (which is prophesied and therefore unchangeable), she sets herself to doing what she can to stop the infighting, even after Aeneas has won and married her.

Plot is a lot less important to this book than simple character exploration. Who is Lavinia? What did she want? What she did know, and feel, and discover, through the action of the poem? Lavinia explores all of those questions, almost as a loose, prose translation of Vergil’s poem. It adds a lot of complexity and depth to Vergil’s poem, and interacts with it as well on certain levels that I don’t want to spoil.

Aside from all other reasons to read it, Lavinia is beautifully written and a joy to read.

 

Coming up on Myth Mondays: more Percy Jackson, more book reviews, and some exploration of one of my favorite Greek gods!

 

February Reading Wrap-up

January Reading Wrap-up

Compared to last month, I had a lot less variety – I didn’t read any poetry or picture books, for example. I’m going to try to read more nonfiction and poetry in March. I’m also looking for good comics/manga recommendations.

I’m really enjoying participating in Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2017 challenge – she posts lots of booklists to help with the different categories and it’s fun to see all the recommendations for “viable” books.

Comics I read in February

Phantom Dream vol. 1 by Natsuki Takaya (3/5 stars)

Angelic Layer vol. 4 by CLAMP (3/5 stars)

Nonfiction I read in February

Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh and Others translated and edited by Stephanie Dalley (4/5 stars)

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (5/5 stars)

Fiction I read in February

Welcome to Night Vale: Mostly Void, Partially Stars by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night Vale: The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland (5/5 stars)

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (4/5 stars)

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (5/5 stars)

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente (4/5 stars)

Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig (4/5 stars)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (5/5 stars)

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (3/5 stars)