World Literature A study of tales from around the world. By: Mr. Fallon
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What kinds of stories do we tell? Three main types of stories can be found in almost any culture throughout any time period: • Non-Fiction – Historical, Political, Biographical • Fiction – Comical or Tragic / Dramatic • Mythological – Esoteric, Religious, Moral Please Note: these are not “all inclusive”, and if you feel that the stories of the world’s cultures are better arranged in different categories, feel free to come up with your own!
Why do we tell them? • There are any number of reasons to tell a story, some of which are: • To instruct – to communicate to the audience socially important concepts • To explain – provide an understanding of the world, its phenomena, or humanity • To entertain – to provide amusement or mental and emotional fulfillment Please Note: Just like the arbitrary categories, these can all be found in many stories, and stories may fit under more than one of these reasons!
Is there a Common Theme? • What concepts and characteristics are reflected about those cultures, time periods, and about Humanity? • How do these concepts appear and apply to us today? • What can they tell us about ourselves? • Are there common themes and concepts across different stories from different cultures? • Is “being Human” a universal, defined, and transcendent condition?
Where to Begin? • Oral Storytelling is present in every culture of the world, throughout history, but it cannot be tracked… • The oldest example of writing is generally agreed to have come from the Middle East, otherwise known as “Mesopotamia”. • This is not to say that this was the oldest culture in the world, but rather just the one we have recovered the earliest form of writing from.
And they called it the “Cradle of Civilization.” • The cities of Sumer were the first to practice intensive, year-round agriculture (from ca. 5300 BCE). • surplus of storable food created by this economy allowed the population to settle in one place instead of migrating after crops and grazing land. • population grew as a result • agriculture required an extensive labor force and division of labor • necessity of record keeping and the development of writing (ca. 3500 BCE).
Formation of City States • By the late 4th millennium BCE (c.3500), Sumer was divided into about a dozen independent city-states, whose limits were defined by canals and boundary stones. Each was centered on a temple dedicated to the particular patron god or goddess of the city and ruled over by a priestly governor (ensi) or by a king (lugal) who was intimately tied to the city's religious rites.
A Chronology of Ages… • Chalcolithic or Copper age: • Ubaid period (ca. 5900 BCE–4400 BCE) (Fine Pottery) • Uruk period (ca. 4400 BCE–3200 BCE) (Development of cuneiform writing) • Early Bronze Age: • Early Dynastic Sumerian city-states (ca. 2900 BCE–2350 BCE) • Early Dynastic II period: (2800 BCE – 2600 BCE) (Gilgamesh) • Akkadian Empire (ca. 2350 BCE–2193 BCE). (Sargon) • Middle Bronze Age: • First Babylonian Dynasty (1700 BCE to 1600 BCE) (Hammurabi) • Iron Age: • Neo-Assyrian Empire (900 BCE to 600 BCE) (Library of Ninevah) • Neo-Babylonian Empire (600 BCE to 500 BCE) (Nebuchadnezzar; Hanging Gardens, Tower of Babel) • Classical Antiquity: • Achaemenid (Persians) Assyria (500 to 400 BCE) (Cyrus the Great; Cylinder)
A Parallel History of Writing • The earliest known written language in Mesopotamia was the Sumerian. • Later a Semitic language, Akkadian, came to be the dominant language until the end of the Neo-Babylonian period. • Then Aramaic, which had already become common in Mesopotamia, became the official provincial administration language of the Achaemenid Persian Empire.
Sumerian Cuneiform • In Early Mesopotamia (around mid 4th millennium BC) cuneiform script was invented. Cuneiform literally means "wedge-shaped", due to the triangular tip of the stylus used for impressing signs on wet clay. The earliest texts come from Uruk. • Only a limited number of individuals were hired as scribes to be trained in its reading and writing, until widespread use was adopted under Sargon's rule.
Where do the stories come from? • In Babylonian times there were libraries in most towns and temples. • Women as well as men learned to read and write.
The Epic of Gilgamesh • There are many Babylonian literary works whose titles have come down to us. One of the most famous of these was the Epic of Gilgamesh, composed in twelve “books”, and arranged upon an astronomical principle. Each division contains the story of a single adventure in the career of Gilgamesh. The whole story is a composite product, and it is probable that some of the stories are artificially attached to the central figure.
Sumerian Gods: Anu • Important Deities (Annunaki) of Sumerian Pantheon: Anu (sky), Ishtar (sex), Tiamat (chaos), and Marduk (son). • In Sumerian mythology and later for Assyrians and Babylonians, Anu (also “An” from Sumerian *An = sky, heaven) was a sky-god, the god of heaven, lord of constellations, king of gods, spirits and demons, and dwelt in the highest heavenly regions. It was believed that he had the power to judge those who had committed crimes, and that he had created the stars as soldiers to destroy the wicked. His attribute was the royal tiara, most times decorated with two pairs of bull horns. • Anu was one of the oldest gods in the Sumerian pantheon, and part of a triad including Enlil, god of the sky and Enki, god of water. He was called Anu by the Akkadians. By virtue of being the first figure in a triad consisting of Anu, Enlil, and Ea, Anu came to be regarded as the father and at first, king of the gods. The goddess Inanna (or Ishtar) of Uruk may at one time have been his consort.
Ishtar • Ishtar is a goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. In the Babylonian pantheon, she "was the divine personification of the planet Venus". • “Thou has loved the lion, mighty in strength”, says the hero Gilgamesh to Ishtar, “and thou hast dug for him seven and seven pits! Thou hast loved the steed, proud in battle, and destined him for the halter, the goad and the whip.” • Her love is deadly, even for other gods: in her youth the goddess had loved Tammuz, god of the harvest, and caused his death. • She also descends into the Underworld in a significant mythological story (which I will tell you later).
Egypt: Pre-Dynastic Period and Unification of Egypt by Pharoahs • By about 5500 BCE, small tribes living in the Nile valley had developed into a series of cultures demonstrating firm control of agriculture and animal husbandry, and identifiable by their pottery. • In the Early Dynastic Period about 3150 BCE, the first of the Dynastic pharaohs solidified their control over lower Egypt by establishing a capital at Memphis. The increasing power and wealth of the pharaohs during the early dynastic period was reflected in their elaborate mastaba tombs which were used to celebrate the deified pharaoh after his death.
Lord of the “Two Lands” Egypt was known before the unification by the Pharaoh Dynasties as the “Two Lands”, symbolized by this hieroglyph: (technically “Lord of the Two Lands”)
Old Kingdom: Third Dynasty • The first notable pharaoh of the Old Kingdom was Djoser (2630–2611 BC) of the Third Dynasty, who ordered the construction of a pyramid (the Step Pyramid) in Memphis' necropolis, Saqqara. An important person during the reign of Djoser was his vizier, Imhotep. • It was in this era that formerly independent ancient Egyptian city states became ruled solely by the pharaoh. • Egyptians in this era worshiped their pharaoh as a god, believing that he ensured the annual flooding of the Nile that was necessary for their crops. • Egyptian views on the nature of time during this period held that the universe worked in cycles, and the Pharaoh on earth worked to ensure the stability of those cycles. • They also perceived themselves as a specially selected people, "as the only true human beings on earth".
When you think of Egypt, likely the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom • The Old Kingdom and its royal power reached their zenith under the Fourth Dynasty, which began with Snofru (2613–2589 BCE). Using a greater mass of stones than any other pharaoh, he built three pyramids: a now collapsed pyramid in Meidum, the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur, and the Red Pyramid, at North Dahshur. • Snofru was succeeded by his son, Khufu (2589 - 2566 BCE) who built the Great Pyramid of Giza. Later Egyptian literature describes him as a cruel tyrant, who imposed forced labor on his subjects to complete his pyramid. There is recent evidence to suggest otherwise. • After Khufu's death his sons Djedefra (2528–2520 BCE) and Khafra (2520–2494 BCE) may have quarreled. The latter built the second pyramid and (in traditional thinking) the Sphinx in Giza.
The significance of the Pyramids • The pyramids, quite simply, were massive tombs for the Pharaoh and noble families of ancient Egypt. • This shows an incredible emphasis on the concepts of “Death” and the “Afterlife”, and ultimately the matter of “Immortality” for the spirit.
Ancient Egyptian MythologyOsiris, Set, and Isis (part 1) • The original form of the myth states that Osiris was killed by a wooden sarcophagus secretly being made to his measurements by Set, who was jealous of Osiris's position as king, and so plotted to kill him and take his place. • A party had been held where the coffin was offered to whoever could fit inside. A few people tried to fit in, but to no avail. Osiris was encouraged to try, but as soon as he lay back, the lid slammed on him and was locked. It was then sealed with lead and thrown into the Nile. • Upon hearing that Osiris was gone, Isis set out to look for him. She later learned that the coffin had floated down the Nile river up to the coast of Byblos (now in modern day Lebanon) and got embedded in the trunk of a cedar tree. • She also learned that the cedar tree had been taken and used as a pillar to support a palace for the king of Byblos. After explaining the situation to the queen of Byblos and getting her permission, she managed to extract the coffin without harming the palace and took Osiris' body out into the desert and buried him back in Egypt.
Ancient Egyptian MythologyOsiris, Set, and Isis (part 2) • Again, Set found Osiris' coffin, took his body out, and dismembered him into 14 parts, scattering them across the land of Egypt. Each part represented one of the 14 full moons (each year has 12 or 13 full moons). • Once again Isis set out to look for the pieces and she was able to find and put together 13 of the 14 parts, with the help of Nephthys, Set's sister-wife, but was unable to find the 14th, his phallus, which was eaten by the oxyrhynchus fish (a fish with an unusual curved snout resembling depictions of Set). Instead, she fashioned a phallus out of gold and sang a song around Osiris until he came back to life. • Osiris was resurrected. So it was that Isis conceived Horus. Due to this experience, Osiris became Lord of the Dead, and the Afterlife
Ancient Egyptian MythologyOsiris, Set, and Isis (part 3) • Osiris then entered the underworld and became the ruler of the dead, while Isis eventually gave birth to his son Horus. Once grown, Horus fought and defeated Set to become king himself. Set's association with chaos, and the identification of Osiris and Horus as the rightful rulers, provided a rationale for pharaonic succession and portrayed the pharaohs as the upholders of order.
What does this Myth tell us about the Ancient Egyptians? • 1) Astronomical understanding: 13 full moon cycles, the approximate length of the year • 2) A death/resurrection cycle: involving a tomb, a tree, dissection, rebirth, etc. • 3) Connections with the seasons and agricultural cycles, inundation of the Nile • 4) Polytheism (but often portrayed in “Triads”), except in New Kingdom. • 4b) Aten and Ma’at both represent a “singular balancing, unifying force”, Aten being the One Sun God, Ma’at being the balance of all things before and through the Creation of the Universe, rising as a land out of the infinite waters in a renewing cycle of the year, pharaoh, and seasons.
The Myth of Ra • The sun god Ra was essential to life on earth, and was thus among the most important gods. In myth, the movement of the sun across the sky was explained as Ra traveling in a chariot, and the setting of the sun was regarded as Ra's entry into the underworld, through which he journeyed during the night. While in the underworld, Ra met with Osiris, who again acted as a god of resurrection, so that Ra’s life was renewed. He also fought each night with Apep, a serpentine god representing chaos. The defeat of Apep and the meeting with Osiris insured the rising of the sun the next morning, an event that represented rebirth and the victory of order over chaos.
Pantheon: Deity/Animal • Deity Animal • Ptah Bull • Thoth Ibis/Baboon • Amon Ram • Horus/Ra Falcon • Anubis Jackal/Dog • Sobk Crocodile • Hathor Cow • Sekhmet Lion • Ejo Vulture • Khepri Scarab Beetle • Geb Egyptian Goose
Representation of the Gods • The depictions of the gods in art were not meant as literal representations of how the gods might appear if they were visible, as the gods' true natures were believed to be "hidden" and "mysterious". Instead, these depictions gave recognizable forms to the abstract deities by using symbolic imagery to indicate each god's role in nature. • Thus, for example, the funerary god Anubis was portrayed as a jackal, a creature whose scavenging habits threatened the preservation of the body, in an effort to counter this threat and employ it for protection. His black skin was symbolic of the color of mummified flesh and the fertile black soil that Egyptians saw as a symbol of resurrection. However, religious iconography was not fixed, and many of the gods could be depicted in more than one form.
History of New Kingdom (1570–1070 BC) • The New Kingdom, sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Empire, is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt. • The eighteenth Dynasty contained some of Egypt's most famous Pharaohs including Ahmose I, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun. • Queen Hatsheput concentrated on expanding Egypt's external trade, sending a commercial expedition to the land of Punt. • Thutmose III ("the Napoleon of Egypt") expanded Egypt's army and wielded it with great success to consolidate the empire created by his predecessors. This resulted in a peak in Egypt's power and wealth during the reign of Amenhotep III. • Amenhotep III built extensively at the temple of Karnak including the Luxor temple which consisted of two pylons, a colonnade behind the new temple entrance, and a new temple to the goddess/force, Ma'at.
A New Religion • One of the best-known 18th Dynasty pharaohs is Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten in honor of the Aten and whose exclusive worship of the Aten is often interpreted as history's first instance of monotheism (and was argued in Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism to have been the ultimate origin of Jewish monotheism). Under his reign, in the 14th century BC, Egyptian art flourished and attained an unprecedented level of realism. • However, Akhenaten's changes contrasted with the syncretic tradition of earlier Egyptian belief, and this exclusivity alienated ordinary Egyptians. Thus, under Akhenaten's successors Egypt reverted to its traditional religion, and many of his creations were profaned, his new religious beliefs abolished and his major capital of el-Amarna abandoned.
Ramses II (r. 1279-1213 BCE)aka Ozymandias • Arguably Ancient Egypt's power as a nation-state peaked during the reign of Ramesses II ("the Great") of the 19th Dynasty. He reigned for 67 years from the age of 18 and carried on his immediate predecessor's work and created many more splendid temples, such as that of Abu Simbel on the Nubian border. He sought to recover territories in the Levant that had been held by 18th Dynasty Egypt. His campaigns of reconquest culminated in the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE, where he led Egyptian armies against those of the Hittite king Muwatalli II and was caught in history's first recorded military ambush. Ramesses II was famed for the huge number of children he sired by his various wives and concubines; the tomb he built for his sons, many of whom he outlived, in the Valley of the Kings has proven to be the largest funerary complex in Egypt.
History of Israelites/Hebrews (part 1) • The Book of Genesis traces the beginning (sometimes called pre-history) of the Israelites, who constituted ancient Israel and Judah, to three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (who was also known as Israel). • According to that source, Abraham was a nomadic leader who came from Mesopotamia and settled in Canaan, but continued to live a nomadic lifestyle. He stayed in the land for the rest of his life except for a short period when famine forced him to go to Egypt. • His son, Isaac, was born in Canaan, and never left it. • Isaac's son, Jacob, who on the other hand is called a "wandering Aramaean" in Deuteronomy 26:5, the grandson of Abraham, traveled extensively outside Canaan. • For example, he traveled to Haran, the home of his ancestors, to find a wife. Jacob had four wives: Leah and Rachel, and their maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah, and fathered twelve sons and at least one daughter. These stories locate the Israelites first on the east bank of the Jordan and then move to the west bank with the story of the sacking of Shechem (Genesis 34:1-33), after which the hill area of Canaan is assumed to have been the historical core of the area settled by the Israelites. • The patriarchs are said to have been buried at the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron.
History of Israelites/Hebrews (pt 2) • The Book of Exodus relates how the Israelites (who were called Hebrews by the Egyptians) became Egyptian slaves. • There are various modern explanations given for the circumstances under which this occurred. A few historians believe that this may have been due to the changing political conditions within Egypt. In 1650 BCE, northern Egypt was conquered by tribes, apparently a mixture of Semitic and Hurrian peoples, known as the Hyksos by the Egyptians. The Hyksos were later driven out by Ahmose I, the first king of the eighteenth dynasty. Ahmose I reigned approximately 1550 - 1525 BCE, founding the 18th Egyptian dynasty which ushered in a new age for Egypt which we call the New Kingdom. • The Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and its chronology are much-debated. It is believed by Kenneth A. Kitchen that the Exodus took place in the reign of Ramesses II due to the named Egyptian cities in Exodus: Pithom and Rameses. • Archaeological evidence for an Israelite presence in the area has been found from only six years after the end of the reign of Rameses II, in the Merneptah Stele.
The Twelve Tribes of Israelites • Following the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were divided into thirteen camps (Hebrew: machanot) according to importance with Levi in the center of the encampment around the Tabernacle and its furnishings surrounded by other tribes arranged in four groups: Judah, Issachar and Zebulun; Reuben, Simeon and Gad; Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin; Dan, Asher and Naphtali. • Judah, Issachar, Zebulun • Reuben, Simeon, Gad • Levi • Dan, Naphtali, Asher • Joseph (Menasheh, Ephraim), Benjamin
Hebrew Mythology • The Biblical prophets, including Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, had a concept of the divine that differed significantly from that of the nature religions. According to Jewish mythology, their lives were full of miracles, signs, and visions from Yahweh that kept Jewish mythology alive, growing, and distinct from the pagan mythologies of its neighbors. Instead of seeing Yahweh as their own tribal god, one god among others, these prophets saw Him as the one God of the entire universe. • The prophets condemned Hebrew participation in nature worship, and they refused to completely identify the divine with natural forces. In so doing, they set the stage for a new kind of mythology — a mythology featuring a single God (Yahweh) who exists beyond the natural world. Unlike Tammuz, who dies and revives along with the vegetation, the God of the Hebrew prophets is beyond nature and, therefore, isn't bound by the natural rhythms: • "Where the Babylonian gods were engaged in an ongoing battle against the forces of chaos, and needed the rituals of the New Year festival to restore their energies, Yahweh can simply rest on the seventh day, his work complete."
Hebrew Mythology (pt 2) • Through the prophets' influence, Jewish mythology increasingly portrayed God as aloof from nature and acting independently of natural forces. On one hand, this produced a mythology that was, in a sense, more complex. Instead of eternally repeating a seasonal cycle of acts, Yahweh stood outside nature and intervened in it, producing new, historically unprecedented events: • "That was theophany of a new type, hitherto unknown—the intervention of Jahveh in history. It was therefore something irreversible and unrepeatable. The fall of Jerusalem does not repeat the fall of Samaria: the ruin of Jerusalem presents a new historic theophany, another 'wrath' of Jahveh. […] Jahveh stands out from the world of abstractions, of symbols and generalities; he acts in history and enters into relations with actual historical beings." • On the other hand, this transcendent God was absolutely unique and hard for humans to relate to. Thus, the myths surrounding Him were, in a sense, less complex: they did not involve the acts of multiple, anthropomorphic gods. In this sense, "Jahveh is surrounded by no multiple and varied myths", and did not share in the "rich and dramatic mythologies" of his pagan counterparts.
Myth: Noah’s Ark and Flood • The Hebrew story of Noah's Ark and the flood has similarities to ancient flood stories told worldwide. One of the closest parallels is the Mesopotamian myth of a world flood, recorded in The Epic of Gilgamesh. In the Hebrew Bible flood story (Genesis 6:5-22), God decides to flood the world and start over, due to mankind's sinfulness. Noah is warned by God to build an ark, and directs him to bring at least two of every animal inside the boat, along with his family. The flood comes and covers the world. After 40 days, Noah sends a raven to check whether the waters have subsided, then a dove; after exiting the boat, Noah offers a sacrifice to God, who smells "the sweet savour" and promises never to destroy the earth by water again -and making the rainbow a symbol of this promise. • Similarly, in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the bustle of humanity disturbs the gods, who decide to send a flood. Warned by one of the gods, a man named Utnapishtim builds a boat and takes his family and animals inside. After the flood, Utnapishtim sends a dove, then a swallow, then a raven to check whether the waters have subsided. After exiting the boat, Utnapishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods, who smell "the sweet savour" and repent their choice to send the flood.