I recognize that I am privileged to be able to do this. So I would like to share some of the most beautiful things I get to learn with you. Therefore, this year, I would like to do something different and offer a free course through Youtube, Free Life Lessons from Myth and Legends
I have uploaded six videos on youtube, each of them will contain a mythological story and what lessons we can take away from them.
I find the story of the Pandava brothers to be very liberating. Their weaknesses are lessons for the rest of the world and, if even the great heroes are not perfect, who am I to demand perfection from myself and the world?
Semar is is a rather unattractive, short man with breasts, a great sized butt, and uncontrollable urge for farting. However, underneath his peculiar appearance, Semar plays a major part in the Indonesian creation myth as the elder brother of the supreme god Batara Guru.
Heroism is much more than just punching monsters. We know that. But it seems that we get somewhat preoccupied with this part and forget all the other parts of being a hero, such as sincerity, independence and fortitude. Luckily, we have ancient heroines to remind us of this.
Because to Christianity’s prominent inﬂuence in Western society, the book of Genesis have left a lingering demonization of snakes in the Western culture. However, serpents act as important symbols in many world cultures and not all of them symbolize evil. In Ancient Greece, nonpoisonous snakes often roamed freely in temples dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine as they interpreted snakes’ ability to shed their skin as a type of regeneration and thus a symbol of healing. The Norse god Jormungand, known as the Midgard Serpent, is also considered a cosmic serpent as he circles the world with his body. In the Hindu tradition, Shesha is a cosmic serpent and the king of all Nagas. Shesha holds the universe in his hood. Nagas occur in Buddhist lore too. One story tells of a Naga named Mucalinda sheltering Buddha from a storm as he meditates in a forest.
Chinese mythology is endearing as every story tells us that all things may grow and change. A stone may become a plant. A plant may become an animal. An animal may become a human. A human may become a god. The Legend of Madam White Snake is counted as one of China’s Four Great Folktales, the others being Lady Meng Jiang, Butterfly Lovers and the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. The Legend of Madam White Snake has expanded all throughout China and many other surrounding countries such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam, even parts of India. In fact, t is easily one of the biggest legends to come from China.
The earliest attempt to fictionalize the story in printed form appears to be The White Maiden Locked for Eternity in the Leifeng Pagoda by Feng Menglong, which was written during the Ming dynasty. The story propelled Lei Feng Pagoda to fame – it continues to be one of the most popular tourist sights in China.
Lu Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals, disguises himself as a man selling tangyuan at the Broken Bridge near the West Lake in Hangzhou. A boy named Xu Xian buys some tangyuan from Lu Dongbin without knowing that they are actually immortality pills. After eating them, Xu Xian does not feel hungry for the next three days. He therefore goes back to the old man to ask him why. Lu Dongbin laughs. He carries Xu Xian to the bridge where he then flips him upside down and causes him to vomit the tangyuan into the lake.
Swimming in the lake is a white snake spirit who has been practicing magical arts for centuries in the hope of becoming an immortal. She eats the pills and gains 500 years’ worth of magical powers. She feels grateful to Xu Xian and, from that moment on, their fates become intertwined. There is also a tortoise spirit training in the lake who did not manage to consume any of the pills. He becomes very jealous of the white snake.
One day, the white snake sees a beggar on the bridge who has caught a green snake to wants to dig out the snake’s gall and sell it. The white snake transforms into a woman and buys the green snake from the beggar, thus saving the green snake’s life. Grateful, the green snake regards the white snake as an elder sister.
Eighteen years later, during the Qingming Festival, the white and green snakes transform themselves into two young women called Bai Suzhen and Xiaoqing respectively. They meet Xu Xian at the Broken Bridge in Hangzhou. Xu Xian lends them his umbrella because it is raining. Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen fall in love and are eventually married. They move to Zhenjiang, where they open a medicine shop.
In the meantime, the tortoise spirit has accumulated enough powers to take human form, so he transforms into a Buddhist monk called Fahai. Still angry with Bai Suzhen, Fahai plots to break up her relationship with Xu Xian. He approaches Xu Xian and tells him that during the Duanwu Festival his wife should drink realgar wine. As realgar wine is associated with the Duanwu Festival , Xu Xian give the wine to Bai Suzhen who unsuspectingly drinks it and reveals her true form as a large white snake. After seeing that his wife is not human, Xu Xian dies of shock. Bai Suzhen and Xiaoqing travel to Mount Emei, where they brave danger to steal a magical herb that restores Xu Xian to life.
After coming back to life, Xu Xian still maintains his love for Bai Suzhen despite knowing her true nature. Fahai tries to separate them again by capturing Xu Xian and imprisoning him in Jinshan Temple. Bai Suzhen and Xiaoqing fights Fahai to rescue Xu Xian. Bai Suzhen uses her powers to flood the temple. However, despite drowning many innocent people, she fails to save her husband. Xu Xian later manages to escape from Jinshan Temple and reunite with his wife in Hangzhou, where Bai Suzhen gives birth to their son, Xu Mengjiao. Fahai tracks them down again, defeats Bai Suzhen and imprisons her in Leifeng Pagoda. Xiaoqing flees, vowing vengeance.
Twenty years later, Xu Mengjiao earns the zhuangyuan (top scholar) degree in the imperial examination and returns home to visit his parents. At the same time Xiaoqing, who had spent years refining her powers, goes to Jinshan Temple to confront Fahai and defeats him. Bai Suzhen is freed from Leifeng Pagoda and reunited with her husband and son, while Fahai flees and hides inside the stomach of a crab. However, instead of being reunited with her husband and son, Bai Suzhen attained immortality and ascended to the heavens.
Madam White Snake is commonly interpreted as a reflection of the tension between social norms and individual desires. Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen’s love affair was one that did not conform to social norms at the time and Fahai represents the force that attempts to uphold social hierarchy and maintain social norms. Fahai’s attempts and eventual success in separating them implies the priority of society over individuals. A contrast is provided in the story by Bai Suzhen’s son who emerged as the top scholar in the imperial exams. He represents individuals who are rewarded when they confirm to social norms. As a result, Bai Suzhen was rewarded through her release from the Lei Feng pagoda but the social norms continued to prevail – she was rewarded with immortality but remain separated from her husband and son.
As is the case for any stories with the kind of legacy that the Legend of Madam White Snake seem to have, where they started to be told orally until they were written down some hundred years later, characters and plot points have been added, altered and erased as the story moved from one culture to another. In a version written by Philostratus in 2nd-century Greece, the White Snake character introduces herself as a common Phoenician woman, while in a version recorded in Kashmir she is the daughter of a Chinese king. Some might consider such narrative inconsistencies and the tale’s unwritten beginnings problematic, especially when trying to locate an authentic text or ascribe artistic value to recorded retellings. But the absence of an authoritative text is perhaps one of the reasons for its perpetual value.
One of the earliest recorded ancestors of the White Snake story found in China appeared in an anthology of classic folk tales published in 981 CE. The story is categorized as a late period Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) romance and titled “Li Huang” after its main character. In this version, Li is a married man who comes to Chang’an, the Tang capital, to find a job. He meets a “fairylike” lady dressed in white by a vendor cart, buys clothes for her and follows her home for a repayment. He eventually marries and spends three pleasurable days with her. When he returns to his home, Li Huang becomes ill and his body melts into his sheets. His servant leads his family toward the lady in white’s house, but when they arrive, they find only an empty garden with a locust tree bearing checks to repay Li. Locals report that a white serpent was commonly seen by the tree.
Originally the early Latin goddess of vegetation, a patroness of vineyards and gardens, Venus became deliberately associated with the Greek Goddess Aphrodite and assumed many of her aspects. The name of Venus then became interchangeable with Aphrodite as most of the tales of these two goddesses are identical. However, like every Roman gods with their Greek counterparts, there were differences. Venus arguably became more popular in ancient Rome, and became more ingrained in the city life. She took on the aspect of a gracious Mother Goddess full of pure love as well as assuming the divine responsibility for domestic bliss and procreation.
Venus was also the ancestress of the Julian family of Rome which included great men such as Julius and Augustus Caesar. Anchises, a prince from Dardania and ally to Troy, was seduced by Venus who disguised herself as a Phrygian princess, only revealing her divine identity nine months later as she presented Anchises with their son Aeneas. Guided by his divine mother, Aeneas was fated to found Rome. Aeneas’ son Ascanius was credited as the ancestor of the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus along with the Julian family.
In 217 BCE, the Sibyline oracle suggested that if Rome, which at that time was losing the Second Punic War, could persuade Venus Eyrcina (Venus of Eryx) to change her allegiance from the Carthagian Silician allies to the Romans, the war would be won. Rome then laid siege to Eryx, offered the goddess a magnificent temple and took her image back to Rome. It was this foreign image that eventually became Rome’s Venus Genetrix (Venus the Mother).
At the end of the Roman Republic, some Romans laid claim to Venus’ favor and competed for it. Sulla adopted the name Felix (“lucky”) and accredited Venus Felix to his divine favor, Pompey dedicated a temple to Venus Victris (“Venus of Victory”) in 55 BCE and Hadrian dedicated a temple to Venus in 139 CE, making her the protective mother of the Roman state.
Roman theology presents Venus as the yielding, watery female principle which is essential to the generation and balance of life. Balanced by the more active and fiery Vulcan and Mars, Venus absorbs and tempers the male essence, thus uniting the opposites of male and female in mutual affection. She embraces several otherwise quite disparate functions such as military victory, sexual prowess, good fortune and general prosperity.
In April 1, Veneralia was held in honour of Venus Verticordia (“Venus the Changer of Hearts”) and Fortuna Virilis (Virile Good Fortune) whose cult was probably by far the older of the two. Venus Verticordia was invented in 220 BC, in response to advice from a Sibylline oracle during Rome’s Punic Wars when a series of prodigies was taken to signify divine displeasure at sexual offenses among Romans of every category and class, including several men and three Vestal Virgins. Her statue was dedicated by a young woman, chosen as the most pudica (sexually pure) in Rome by a committee of Roman matrons. At first, this statue was probably housed in the temple of Fortuna Virilis, perhaps as divine reinforcement against the perceived moral and religious failings of its cult. Venus Verticordia was given her own temple in 114 BCE. She was meant to persuade Romans of both sexes and every class, whether married or unmarried, to cherish the traditional sexual proprieties and morality known to please the gods and benefit the State. During her rites, her image was taken from her temple to the men’s baths, where it was undressed and washed in warm water by her female attendants, then garlanded with myrtle. Women and men asked Venus Verticordia’s help in affairs of the heart, sex, betrothal and marriage.
In April 23, the ancient Romans celebrated vinalia urbana, a wine festival shared by Venus and Jupiter, the king of the gods himself. While Venus was patron of “profane” wine, for everyday human use. Jupiter was patron of the strongest, purest, sacrificial grade wine, and controlled the weather on which the autumn grape-harvest would depend. At this festival, men and women alike drank the new vintage of ordinary, non-sacral wine in honour of Venus, whose powers had provided humankind with this gift. Upper-class women gathered at Venus’s Capitoline temple, where a libation of the previous year’s vintage, sacred to Jupiter, was poured into a nearby ditch. Common girls (vulgares puellae) and prostitutes gathered at Venus’ temple just outside the Colline gate, where they offered her myrtle, mint, and rushes concealed in rose-bunches and asked her for “beauty and popular favour”, and to be made “charming and witty”.
In August 19, they celebrated another wine festival called vinalia rustica, a rustic Latin festival of wine, vegetable growth and fertility. This was almost certainly Venus’ oldest festival and was associated with her earliest known form, Venus Obsequens. Kitchen and market-gardens, as well as vineyards were dedicated to her.
A festival of Venus Genetrix (September 26) was held under state auspices from 46 BCE at her temple in the Forum of Caesar in fulfillment of a vow by Julius Caesar who claimed her personal favour as his divine patron and ancestral goddess of the Julian clan. Caesar dedicated the temple during his quadruple triumph. At the same time, he was pontifex maximus and Rome’s senior magistrate; the festival is thought to mark the unprecedented promotion of a personal, family cult to one of the Roman state. Caesar’s heir, Augustus, made much of these personal and family associations with Venus as an Imperial deity.
A Maori legend tells us about Niwareka, daughter of a tohunga ta moko(tatooist) as well as the princess of the underworld. Niwareka wanted to explore the world above and while she was there she met Mataoroa. Niwareka fell in love with Mataoroa and married him. As knowledge of ta moko did not exist in the world above, Mataoroa simply wore designs painted on his body, rather than being chiselled as a real ta moko supposed to be. Ta moko is different from tattoo in that the skin is carved by uhi (chisels) instead of being punctured with needles. This leaves the skin with textured grooves, rather than the smooth surface of a normal tattoo.
One day, Mataoroa mistreated Niwareka. Refusing to put up with this, the princess of the underworld returned to her father in the underworld. Seeking her forgiveness Mataoroa pursued his wife into the underworld, enduring many trials and obstacles to reach her. But when he finally found her, the paint on his face was smeared from the sweat of his exertion. Upon seeing him, Niwareka’s people, who had actual chiselled faces and permanent designs, laughed at Mataora.
Ashamed of his appearance, Mataoroa asked his father-in-law to teach him the art of ta moko. Impressed with his commitment, Niwareka later forgave her husband, and they both returned to the world above, with Mataoroa taking with him the knowledge of ta moko.
Ta moko is a core component of the Maori culture and an outward expression of commitment and respect. It is customary for men to wear moko on their faces, buttocks, thighs and arms. The women usually wear ta moko on the chin and lips.
For the Maori people, ta moko was a rite of passage, which meant it was highly revered and ritualised. The actual tattooing would usually begin during adolescence.
Having a Maori tattoo applied was a very painful experience. Deep cuts were incised into the skin. Then, the chisel was dipped into the pigment and tapped into the cuts. Another variation on this process involved dipping the chisel into the jar of pigment and inserting it into the skin by striking the end with a mallet. This manner of tattooing leaves the skin with grooves after healing, instead of the usual smooth surface left after needlepoint tattoos. Understandably, this was once a very long and labour intensive process. As it was very painful, only a few parts of the body were tattooed at a time to allow healing.
The great thing about the ta moko is that no two tattoos are alike. The practice of ta moko is a tapu(sacred) ritual. The design of each moko is unique to the wearer and conveys information about the wearer, such as their genealogy, affilliations, status and achievements.
Ta moko was traditionally performed using chisels made from materials such as Albatross bone. An assortment of chisels was used, some with a straight edge, others with a serrated edge. However, today most are performed using modern tattoo machines (and therefore leave the skin smooth). The inks that were used were made from all natural products. Burnt wood was used to create black pigments; while lighter pigments were derived from caterpillars infected with a certain type of fungus, or from burnt kauri gum mixed with animal fat. The pigments were then stored in ornate containers called oko, which became family heirlooms. The oko were often buried when not in use.
The black pigment that was made from burnt wood was reserved solely for facial tattoos; while those made from bugs or burnt gum was used for outlines and other less revered tattoos. Before the beginning the tohunga ta moko would study the persons facial structure to decide on the most appealing design.
All Maori design is made up of a number of essential design elements. Manawa Lines are the skin looking lines in the tattoo. Manawa is the Maori word for “heart” and represents your life, your journey and your time spent on earth. The main Korus coming off the Manawa Lines are used represent people and people groups. Korus are based off the tiny new growth shoots on the New Zealand Fern plant and represent new life and new beginnings. When you add a korus in your Manawa line, you can also be adding the important people in your life journey such as mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, siblings , friends and so on.
As the Maori people consider the head to be the most sacred part of the body, the most popular kind of ta moko was the facial tattoo, which was composed of curved shapes and spiral like patterns. Often this tattoo covered the whole face and was a symbol of rank, social status, power and prestige.
Due to the sacred nature of ta moko, those who were undergoing the process, and those involved in the process, could not eat with their hands or talk to anyone aside from the other people being tattooed. Those who were receiving tattoos made it a point to not cry out in pain, because to do so was a sign of weakness. Being able to withstand the pain was very important in terms of pride. There were other rules and regulations around being tattooed, particularly while undergoing a facial work. Many had to abstain from sexual intimacy while undergoing the rite, and had to avoid all solid foods. In order to meet these requirements, the person who recently got a facial tattoo had to be fed from a wooden funnel to prevent foodstuffs from contaminating the swollen skin. A person would be fed in this manner until the facial wounds had fully healed. Because the face was often bleeding and very swollen, the leaves of the karaka tree were often used as a balm that was applied after the session had finished, to hasten the healing process. The tattooing was often accompanied by music, singing and chanting to help soothe the pain.
The focal point of Maori tattooing was generally the face. Men had full facial tattoos, while women only had their chin, lips and nostrils tattooed. Some Maori also had other parts of the body tattooed, such as their back and legs. Women were more often known to tattoo their arms, neck and thighs.
For men, their face tattoo showed their accomplishments, status, position, ancestry and marital status. It is considered highly insulting to be unable to recognise a person’s power and position by his moko.
The male facial moko or tattoo is generally divided into different sections of the face: the ngakaipikirau (the centre of the forehead) designated a person’s general rank, ngunga (the area under the brows) designated his position, uirere (the area around his eyes and nose) designated his hapu, or sub-tribe rank, the uma (the area around the temples) served to detail his marital status, raurau (the area under the nose) displayed the man’s signature that was once memorised by tribal chiefs who used it when buying property, signing deeds and officiating orders, taiohou (the cheek area) showed the nature of the person’s work, wairua (the chin area) showed the person’s mana or prestige, and the taitoto (the jaw area) designated a person’s birth status
It can also be noted that a person’s ancestry is indicated on each side of the face. The left side is generally the father’s side and the right side the mother’s. A noble or note-worthy descent was a primary requirement before a moko was undertaken as, if one side of a person’s ancestry was not of rank, the corresponding side of the face would not have any design tattooed on it. And if the person undertaking the moko has no rank, or is not heir to anything of note then the centre of the forehead would be left without design.
In South Australia, a tribe in Encounter Bay tells this story: In remote time an old woman, named Wurruri lived towards the east and generally walked with a large stick in her hand, to scatter the fires around which others were sleeping, Wurruri at length died. Greatly delighted at this circumstance, they sent messengers in all directions to give notice of her death; men, women and children came, not to lament, but to show their joy. The Raminjerar were the first who fell upon the corpse and began eating the flesh, and immediately began to speak intelligibly. The other tribes to the eastward arriving later, ate the contents of the intestines, which caused them to speak a language slightly different. The northern tribes came last and devoured the intestines and all that remained, and immediately spoke a language differing still more from that of the Raminjerar.
According to one Hindu myth, there was once a very tall tree that grew out from the very center of the earth. It was called the “World Tree” or “Knowledge Tree”, and grew so tall that it almost reached the heavens. The tree decided that it would keep growing so that its head would be in heaven and its branches on the earth, so it could make all humankind gather under it and prevent them from ever separating. The god Brahma discovered the tree’s intentions and as punishment for it being so proud, he cut off all of the tree’s branches and scattered them all over the earth. Where each branch fell a Wata tree began to grow, and with it a new language and culture for humankind.
The need for the ability to communicate in multiple languages is as old as human history itself. In the Ancient Near East, Akkadian was the language of diplomacy. Centuries later, Latin became the dominant language of education, commerce, religion and government in much of Europe until it was mostly replaced by French, Italian and English by the end of the 16th century. Right now, more than half the people in the world are bilingual. Then, we have the polyglots, who are capable of speaking not one or two but at least five different languages fluently. Such a skill is widely looked upon with fascination, if not envy, inviting a wishful yet somewhat defeated sigh of “oh, I wish I can speak (insert language here)”.
Learning languages, as the ancients tell us, is difficult but not impossible. In fact, it was and has always been necessary. Those ancient historians and mythologists would have learned other languages. Ovid, in compiling his Metamorphoses, one of the most complete work on mythological stories, would have combined his creativity and his knowledge of ancient Greek to be able to describe those mythological scenes in great details. At the time of its extinction, only a few educated Romans with antiquarian interests could read Etruscan language. The last person known to have been able to read Etruscan was the Roman emperor Claudius (10 BC – AD 54) who, in his youth, wanted to be a historian and authored a treatise in 20 volumes on the Etruscans, called Tyrrenikà and compiled a dictionary by interviewing the last few elderly rustics who still spoke the language.
The Roman historian and author Pliny the Elder credited Mithridates VI as the Empire’s most formidable of enemies. Under him, the Kingdom of Pontus – in modern-day Turkey – fought and defeated the late Roman Republic in several battles of the Mithridatic Wars. While he eventually lost, Mithidrates reputation would only grow over the subsequent years and centuries as a one of the greatest polyglots who ever lived. Mithridates made a point of learning the languages of the peoples his vast kingdom ruled over. Pliny noted in Volume 7 of his Natural History: “Mithridates, who was king of 22 nations, administered their laws in as many languages, and could harangue in all of them, without employing an interpreter.” He event went one step further: although his kingdom didn’t stretch that far, Mithridates was also fluent in ancient Persian. Contemporary accounts noted that he spoke the language with Persian prisoners – before he killed them, of course.
Descended from Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Cleopatra was part of a dynasty that ruled over Egypt for more than three centuries. In fact, she was the last Ptolemaic ruler of the north African state, reigning for 21 years. She was also highly intelligent, not least in her recognition that learning languages could help her consolidate and grow her power. As with all the Ptolemaic rulers, Cleopatra spoke Greek as her native tongue. But while none of her predecessors bothered to learn the language of the people they ruled over, Cleopatra was different. Either way, speaking the local tongue was what a modern-day politician would call an excellent PR exercise as it kept the populace on her side. This was most probably the reason Cleopatra learned to speak at least another six languages. As Plutarch noted in his history The Life of Anthony: “And her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with barbarians she very seldom had the need of an interpreter, but made her replies to most of them herself…whether they were Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Partians.”
Two thousand years ago, learning Latin just seemed to be the thing to do to progress. When the Romans ruled a vast empire whose inhabitants spoke all sorts of different languages, many of those inhabitants wanted to learn Latin as a second or third language. So they signed up for Latin classes, where they learned using textbooks with little dialogues about everyday life. These dialogues are similar to texts used today to teach foreign languages. The dialogues introduced learners to both Latin and the Roman culture. They illustrate how to use the public baths, the banks, the markets, the temples, the lawcourts and so on.
Ancient Latin learners, in fact, did most of the things modern Latin learners do. In addition to learning grammar, they translated Latin texts into their own language, and texts from their own language into Latin. They read Virgil’s Aeneid, although they usually didn’t get very far into the story, and Cicero’s Catilinarian Orations. When they had gained enough vocabulary to be able to cope with reading without a translation, they read monolingual Latin texts, using dictionaries and commentaries to decipher them and writing translations of the hard words into their copies of the text. And, like many modern learners, some ancient learners eventually became very good at the language and went on to read texts without needing to look up the hard words and write them down.
Before the 20th century, language teaching methodology went back and forth between two types of approaches: language use – that is, speaking and understanding, and analysis – learning the grammatical rules. The Classical Greek and Medieval Latin periods were characterized by a strong emphasis on teaching people to actually use foreign languages as they were used as lingua francas. Later, higher instruction was given in these languages all over Europe and they were also used very widely in religion, politics and business – making them necessary for everyone. Although the “educated elite” became fluent speakers, readers and writers of the appropriate classical language, merely using the foreign language was no longer special as even an uneducated shopkeeper could use them if he practiced enough. Then the ability to analyse the languages became the mark of the “educated” and the practical aspect of the languages gradually disappeared.
The focus in language study shifted back to utility rather than analysis during the 17th Century. Perhaps the most famous language teacher and methodologist of this period is Jan Comentius, a Czech, who published books about his teaching techniques between 1631 and 1658. He wrote a complete course for learning Latin, covering the entire school curriculum, culminating in his Opera Didactica Omnia, 1657. In this work, Comenius also outlined his theory of language acquisition. Some of the techniques that he used were very simple: use imitation instead of rules to teach a language, have your students repeat after you, use a limited vocabulary initially, help your students practice reading and speaking, teach languages through pictures to make it meaningful. – basically all the things one would do to teach a language to a very young child. Not surprisingly he also published the world’s first illustrated children’s book, Orbis sensualium pictus. Thus Comenius made explicit for the first time an inductive approach to learning a language, the goal of which was to teach use rather than analysis of the language being taught.
Comenius’ views held sway through most of the 18th Century; however, by the beginning of the 19th Century the systematic study of the grammar of Classical Latin and of classical texts had once again taken over in schools and universities throughout Europe. Based on the purely academic study of Latin, students of modern languages did much of the same exercises, studying grammatical rules and translating abstract sentences. Oral work was minimal, and students were instead required to memorize grammatical rules and apply these to decode written texts in the target language. This tradition-inspired method became known as the grammar-translation method.
The pendulum then swung back to practical uses of languages when businessman and scholar James Hamilton seemed to find the ancient Roman way of language teaching effective. He, in fact, believed that the Ancients knew how to study language better than modern day students. Hamilton popularized “interlinear translations,” an ancient method of studying Greek and Latin, and applied the system to French, Italian, and German as well. Interlinear translation made the study of texts the dominant focus of the teaching of foreign languages. “Reading,” Hamilton wrote, “is the only real, the only effectual source of instruction. It is the pure spring of nine-tenths of our intellectual enjoyments. . . . Neither should it be sacrificed to grammar or composition, nor to getting by heart any thing whatever, because these are utterly unobtainable before we have read a great deal.”
Then it became confusing. Innovation in foreign language teaching began in the 19th century and became very rapid in the 20th century. It led to a number of different and sometimes conflicting methods, each claiming to be a major improvement over the previous or contemporary methods. However, anecdotal evidence for successful second or foreign language learning is easy to find, leading to a discrepancy between these cases and the failure of most language programs. This tends to make the research of second language acquisition emotionally charged. Older methods and approaches such as the grammar translation mehod and the direct method are dismissed and even ridiculed, as newer methods and approaches are invented and promoted as the only and complete solution to the problem of the high failure rates of foreign language students.
Most books on language teaching list the various methods that have been used in the past, often ending with the author’s new method. These new methods are usually presented as coming only from the author’s mind, as the authors generally give no credence to what was done before and do not explain how it relates to the new method. It is also often inferred or even stated that older methods were completely ineffective or have died out completely, though in reality even the oldest methods are still in use. Proponents of new methods have been so sure that their ideas are so new and so correct that they could not conceive that the older ones have enough validity to cause controversy. This was in turn caused by emphasis on new scientific advances, which has tended to blind researchers to precedents in older work.
Dr. R.K Fisher andI discuss a lot more about the evolution of ancient languages and writings on “Time Maps: Evolution of Languages and Writings” – available through this link.
Out of all the millions of myths around the world today, I think we can agree that Greek mythology is arguably the most famous. A significant reason for this is that the ancient Greeks were very media-savvy. The Greek myths that we know today are known primarily from representations on visual media dating from c. 900 BCE to c. 800 BCE onward as well as from written literature.
The ancient Greeks also started what we roughly know now as “product placement.” In this case, the “product” was myths and legends. Mythical narration plays an important role in nearly every genre of ancient Greek literature. They covered their bases so thoroughly and entwined the gods into the mortals’ narratives so well that, although we have of course lost many ancient Greek writings and visual representations, we are still familiar with the gods and heroes as if they were members of our own extended family.
Among the earliest literary sources, and arguably the most famous, are Homer’s two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Any reader of Homer would recognize the close relationship between the gods and human destinies. The study of Homer is also one of the oldest topics in scholarship. The earliest preserved comments on Homer concerning his treatment of the gods which is not unlike the religious debates we see today. Hostile critics such as the poet Xenophanes of Calophon denounced Homer’s depictions of the gods as immoral. The allegorist Theagenes of Rhegium defended Homer by arguing that the Homeric poems are allegories and thus never meant to be taken literally. These kinds of debate only served to propel Homer and his work even further. As one American political consultant said, “If you’re not controversial, you’ll never break through the din of all the commentary.” In other words, any publicity is good publicity.
Hesiod, a possible contemporary with Homer, offers in his Theogony (Origin of the Gods) the fullest account of the earliest Greek myths, dealing with the creation of the world; the origin of the gods, Titans and Giants. He also includes elaborate genealogies, folktales, and etiological myths. Hesiod also includes the myths of Prometheus, Pandora and the Five Ages of Man in his Works and Days, a didactic poem about farming.
Both Homer and Hesiod are central to the history of ancient Greece. They received their greatest endorsement from none other than the “father of history,” Herodotus himself, who credits them with giving the Greeks their gods: “For Hesiod and Homer I suppose were four hundred years before my time and not more, and these are they who made a theogony for the Hellenes and gave the titles to the gods and distributed to them honours and arts, and set forth their forms: but the poets who are said to have been before these men were really in my opinion after them. Of these things the first are said by the priestesses of Dodona, and the latter things, those namely which have regard to Hesiod and Homer, by myself.”
Not much is known about the actual life of Hesiod. He started his working life as a young shepherd in the mountains. He says that his father left his home at Aetolian Cyme because his life of sea-trading was unprofitable; “he settled near Helicon in a miserable hamlet, Ascra, which is bad in winter, sultry in the summer, and good at no time.” Hesiod then moved on to be a small peasant on a hard land after his father’s death. While tending his flock on Mt. Helicon, he claims that the Muses appeared to him in a mist. It should be noted that this is a common claim. Two of the easiest way to distinguish oneself from the market these days is to be the first or the best. Leaders in the ancient world liked to distinguish themselves by associating themselves to the deities or ancient heroes. Hesiod, like many other epic poets, claims to have been inspired by the Muses and tells his audience that this happened “while he was shepherding his lambs under holy Helicon”.
The Theogony covers the beginning of the world with Chaos, followed by Gaia, Tartarus, and Eros. It then moves on to Gaia’s creation of Uranus, and their parenting of the Titans, Cyclopes and other giants. He tells us about Cronus’ castration of Uranus and the parenting of Cronus and Rhea of the Olympian gods. Cronus, as we know, ate his divine children as soon as they were born, with only Zeus surviving, who later forced Cronus to throw-up the other Olympians. Hesiod took great care to cover the story of Prometheus and his punishment by Zeus for giving fire to humans and the Titanomcahy, the great battle between the Titans and Olympians which Zeus won, casting the Titans and Typhoeus into Tartarus. He also devoted sections to Zeus and his many wives and the birth of Hercules.
The Works and Days, again, begins with an appeal to the Muses, but then goes on to address Hesiod’s brother, Perses, urging him to put aside their dispute, “Perses, lay these things in your heart, and do not let that Strife who delights in mischief hold your heart back from work…”. Hesiod dedicated Works and Days to his brother, giving him advice on life, farming, sea trade, as well as religious and social expectations. On a personal note, although Works and Days tended to be a little overlooked compared to the Theogony, this work appeals to me more due to its humanity and attempt at making the myths and belief that the brothers would have already known relevant to their day to day human existence.
Clown-like characters have been around for thousands of years. Jesters date back at least as far as ancient Egypt. Tracing back the figure of the Jester leads us to the mythological trickster. Tricksters are archetypal characters who appear in the myths of many different cultures. They cross and often break both physical and societal rules, violating principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis. They openly question and mock authority and usually fond of breaking rules and playing tricks on both humans and gods. Hermes plays this role in some Greek myths. He is the messenger of the gods, patron of thieves and the inventor of lying, a gift he passed on to his son Autolycus. The trickster is also unconstrained by form or gender. In Norse mythology, the trickster Loki is also a shape shifter who could move freely between genders. At one point, he even becomes a mare who later gives birth to Odin’s eight-legged horse .
In later folklore, the trickster is incarnated as a clever man or creature, who defends himself by using trickery to survive the dangers of the world. For example, typical fairy tales have the king who wants to find the best groom for his daughter through ordering trials. No brave and valiant prince or knight manages to win them, until a simple but clever peasant comes. Instead of fighting, the peasant fools the monsters and villains and dangers and win the hand of the princess.
This leads us to the elusive character of the jester. Early jesters were popular in Ancient Egypt, and entertained Egyptian pharaohs. The ancient Romans also had a tradition of professional jesters called Balatrones who moved freely in the company of the wealthy due to the general amusement they afforded. Perhaps the earliest antecedents of the European court jester were the comic actors of ancient Rome. Several Latin terms used in medieval references to jesters such as scurrae, mimi or histriones originally referred either to amusing hangers-on or to the comic actors and entertainers of Rome. If there was no formal professional jester in Rome, the comic actors fulfilled his functions.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, the title minstrel (“little servant”), was the name given to a wide range of entertainers, including singers, musicians, jugglers, tumblers, magicians as well as jesters. Both men and women were employed as minstrels and there is a record of a female jester called Adeline owning land in Hampshire in 1086. In the 12th century, the title of follus or “fool” began to be mentioned in documents, often when these jesters had been rewarded with land as payment for loyal service. A fool named Roland le Pettour was given 30 acres of land by King Henry II when he retired on condition that Roland returned to the royal court every year on Christmas Day to “leap, whistle and fart”.
By the 13th century, some talented jesters were beginning to achieve superstar status. In Europe and India the most eminent jesters were household names, as top-class comedians are today, and stories about their jokes and tricks circulated freely. In India there is even a kind of lentil soup named after Birbal. The star jesters of China may also have enjoyed this celebrity status, as Ban Gu’s biography of Dongfang Shuo suggests that Shuo’s jokes and sallies, his divinations and guesses, shallow and inconsequential though they are, were passed around among the ordinary run of people, and there was no stripling or cowherd who failed to be quite dazzled by them.
An individual court jester in Europe could emerge from a wide range of backgrounds: a university dropout, a monk thrown out of a priory for nun frolics, a jongleur with exceptional verbal or physical dexterity, or the apprentice of a village blacksmith whose fooling amused a passing nobleman. The recruiting of jesters was informal and meritocratic.
A dwarf-jester called Nai Teh (Mr. Little) at the court of King Mongkut of Siam (r. 1851-68), described by Anna Leonowens in Anna and the King of Siam, was similarly recruited: He was discovered by one of the King’s half-brothers on a hunting trip into the north and brought to Bangkok to be trained in athletic and gymnastic tricks. When he had learned these, he was presented to the king as a comedian and a buffoon.
Tenali Rama, one of the three superstar jesters of India, is said to have earned his position as jester by making King Krsnadevaraya laugh. According to one story, he contrived for the king’s guru to carry him around on his shoulders within sight of the king. Outraged at the humiliation of his holy man, the king sent some guards out to beat the man riding on the guru’s shoulders. Tenali Rama, smelling impending danger, jumped down and begged forgiveness of the guru, insisting that to make amends he should carry him on his own shoulders. The guru agreed, and when the guards arrived the guru was duly beaten. The king found the trick amusing enough to appoint Tenali Rama his jester.
Of at least equal importance with his entertainer’s cap was the jester’s function as adviser and critic. The jester everywhere employed the same techniques to carry out this delicate role, and it would take a really obtuse king or emperor not to realize what he was driving at. The Chinese records give us an idea of just how effective a jester could be in tempering the ruler’s excesses, as the occasions when his words of warning were either ignored or punished are heavily outnumbered by those when he was listened to and rewarded.
Perhaps the reason for this is that Jesters are generally of inferior social and political status and are not in a position to pose a power threat. They have little to gain by caution and little to lose by candor—apart from liberty, livelihood, and occasionally even life. They are peripheral to the game of politics, and this can reassure a king that their words are unlikely to be geared to their own advancement. The ruler can be isolated from his courtiers and ministers, who might conspire against him. The jester too can be an isolated and peripheral figure somehow detached from the intrigues of the court, and this enables him to act as a kind of confidant.
The jester could soften the blow of a critical comment in a way that prevented a dignified personage from losing face. Humor is the great defuser of tense situations. Among the Murngin tribe of Australia, it is the duty of the clown to act outrageously if men begin to quarrel. In making them laugh at him, he distracts their attention from their own fight and dispels their aggression
In the medieval period, being the personal jester of a king or nobleman came with a serious health warning; jesters were often required to go to the battlefield with their masters to carry messages between the leaders of warring armies, demanding that a city surrender to a besieging army or delivering terms for the release of hostages. Unfortunately for the jesters, the enemy did sometimes “kill the messenger” as an act of defiance and some used a catapult to hurl the unfortunate messenger, or his severed head, back into his own camp as a graphic illustration of what they thought of the message.
Jesters also had a vital role to play in the battle themselves. In the early Middle Ages their job was to wage psychological warfare, boosting their army’s morale the night before with songs and stories. When the two armies took up their opposing positions in preparation for battle, the jesters would cavort up and down on foot or horseback between them, calming the nerves of their own men by making them laugh at jokes, singing songs and calling out mocking abuse to their enemies in order to hearten their own soldiers and demoralise the opposition. Some even juggled swords or lances in front of the enemy, taunting and baiting them. With any luck, those in the enemy with the hottest tempers will break ranks and charge prematurely to avenge the insult and kill the fool, which would weaken their own defensive position.
Modern clowns are strongly associated with the tradition of the circus clown, which developed out of earlier comedic roles in theatre or Varieté shows during the 19th to mid 20th centuries. Many circus clowns have become well known and are a key circus act in their own right. The first mainstream clown role was portrayed by Joseph Grimaldi (1778 – 1837) who also created the traditional whiteface make-up design.
In the early 20th century, with the disappearance of the rustic simpleton or village idiot character of everyday experience, North American circuses developed characters such as the tramp or hobo. Examples include Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp (1914), and Emmett Kelly’s Weary Willie based on hobos of the Depression era. Red Skelton’s Dodo the Clown in The Clown (1953), depicts the circus clown as a tragicomic stock character, “a funny man with a drinking problem”.
Now the figure of the clown develops into something a little bit more complicated, The 1980s gave rise to the evil clown character, the attraction of clowns for small children being based in their fundamentally threatening or frightening nature. Batman’s the Joker is an evil clown character. He is known by a number of nicknames, including “the Clown Prince of Crime”, “the Harlequin of Hate”, “the Ace of Knaves”, and “the Jester of Genocide”. How did this happen? Tricksters and jesters may act strange and tell a nasty joke or two, but they were never considered evil and children don’t have nightmares about them. Why is the more colorful and child-friendly clown is so feared?
In recent decades, one of the great advances in the social sciences is the concept of evil as an evoked feature of social situations instead of a disposition of certain individuals. Specific situations were found that people engage in behavior that would be considered “evil,” and there are specific situations that facilitate pro-social behavior in others.
One of the most important factor that seems to predict anti-social behavior is deindividuation, a state in which one’s identity is hidden. For example, if you are online in an anonymous chat room, you and everyone you come in contact with are deindividuated. If you wear a face covering mask and never reveal your identity, you are deindividuated. Researchers have found that deindividuated individuals are more likely to hurt others, cheat, steal, lie, and even kill under such conditions. Although it was not a requirement of the tricksters and jesters (their “victims” always knew who played the trick on them), deindividuation is one of the hallmarks of clowns. They wear funny outfits, crazy wigs and full make-up with a fake nose. When one is in their clown outfit, their true identity becomes buried in the minds of anyone observing and their behavior is likely to change. From an evolutionary perspective, we can think of deindividuation as a tool individuals have often used during activities such as warfare. In battles across human history, soldiers have worn all kinds of costumes, uniforms and masks. These take away the individuality of any particular soldier, so they all “benefit” from the effects of deindividuation on social behavior, which leads them to be more OK with killing their enemies. When people are in a state of deindividuation, we can expect them to act at their worst.