The Pillow Book

229. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (994-1002) – chronolit About the Author

Sei Shonagon lived in Heian Japan between  966-1017.  It is believed that her real name was Kiyohara Nagiko.  Her father, Kiyohara no Motosuki, was a provincial governor who was also known for his waka poetry. Her grandfather, Kiyohara no Fukayabu, was also a waka poet.  While her father had an appointment in the provinces, Sei lived most of her life in the capital which was the seat of the imperial court.  She served under the Empress Teishi between 993-1000 who was a consort of Emperor Ichijo.  There is a lot of speculation about her life.  We are only offered a glimpse with her writings in The Pillow Book.  She does not mention being married or having children in her writings but other sources say she was married and had a child.  Sei had a rival in court named Murasaki Shikibu.  According to Norton’s Anthology, Murasaki saw her as conceited and her writings left much to be desired.

Chikanobu (1838 - 1912) Sei Shonagon at the Imperial Palace | Japanese woodblock printing, Japanese painting, Japanese

About the Heian Court and the Heian Period

Sei Shonagon lived in the middle of the Heian period.  According to our anthology, the capital was Heian-Kyo, the “Capital of Peace and Tranquility”, which is now present day Kyoto.  The Heian period is known for its art and literature, especially poetry.  Buddhism, Daoism, and other Chinese influences were important in this period.  The Heian Court followed a complex aristocratic system with the symbolic figure of the emperor as the center.  There was a strict hierarchy based on rank and education focused on the Chinese classics.  Sei had an excellent education in the Chinese classics but was forced to write in vernacular Japanese.  In court, men and women were segregated which meant letters had to be exchanged in order to communicate.  Women were hidden behind paper doors and rarely seen.  The only outlet women had in the Heian court was writing.  Daughters were used as pawns in political marriages.  The Fujiwara clan controlled the succession by ensuring their children married into the imperial family and the court. Being a courtier had its ups and downs in this period. Also, beauty was extremely important in this period. This is the period where women painted their skin white and wore long flowing robes. It was a graceful period and known as Japan’s Golden Age.

Sei Shonagon | Lapham's Quarterly

About The Pillow Book

I don’t feel that I can give The Pillow Book the accurate description which it deserves.  Historians look at The Pillow Book as a glimpse into the Heian Court and the lives of courtiers in this period.  Her uncanny views and her strong feminine voice inspire her readers.  She never writes about her life as a mother or a wife.  The Pillow Book is not a diary.  The Pillow Book is a more of a journal with miscellaneous information that she thought was important.  She wrote about nature.  She wrote about Teshi.  She wrote about politics.  She wrote about what was happening in her life and at court.  Our Norton Anthology summarizes it as “The Pillow Book chronicles with wit and humor the moments of glamour and ennui, the obsessions and trivia, of Heian court life.  Over the course of The Pillow Book, as Shonagon expounds on why some kinds of carriages should move faster than others, why priests should be handsome, or how a lover should make his good-byes, she emerges as an impatient and imperious figure.  She is every inch the aristocrat, whose fastidious standards brook no slipshod behavior.  So deft is she at homing in on human foibles and skewering the offender that the effect of her sharp sallies can be shattering.  We chuckle at her delicious wit, but we are glad we are not objects of her scrutiny.  The Pillow Book is written in a compact and forceful style, which favors brevity and compression and produces surprising effects by means of unusual juxtapositions.  Shonagon’s literary persona favors witty repartee, sly self-promotion, and occasional cutting insults.  Her candor in admitting her hypercritical nature, and her display of ruthless honesty toward others and herself, gives her an irrepressible, magnetic voice. She is a presence.” (1216-1217)

The Pillow Book - Wikipedia

In Heian court, receiving and passing astute judgement was highly desirable. Sei Shonagon used the term okashi over four hundred times.  The term okashi has different definitions according to how it is being used.  The Pillow Book focuses on beauty but doesn’t hesitate to discuss the ugliness she sees.  An example of this would be fleas dancing under ladies’ skirts.  There is some debate about when The Pillow Book was written and also whether she wanted it read by the public.  So, what exactly is The Pillow Book? Teshi’s brother had brought paper as a gift and it was given to Sei.  She bundled it up, wrote on it, and would keep it by her pillow.  One day she had a visitor who saw the manuscript, kept it, and eventually published it.  Her brush changed history and gave us a glimpse of a life that we would have never known had it remain hidden.

Sei Shonagon (@ThePillowBot) | Twitter

An Excerpt from The Pillow Book

71. Rare things-A son-in-law who’s praised by his wife’s father.  Likewise, a wife who’s loved by her mother-in law. A pair of silver tweezers that can actually pull out hairs properly.  A retainer who doesn’t speak ill of his master.  A person who is without a single quirk.  Someone who’s superior in both appearance and character, and who’s remained utterly blameless throughout his long dealings with the world.

I liked this excerpt.  This is our life.  We are not perfect.  There are ups and downs and you just have to live with it.  You cannot be afraid to be quirky.

Sei Shonagon by Toyohara Chikanobu, 1885, from the series Setsugetsuka (the beauty of four seasons) | Pintura japonesa, Japon, Ukiyo e

Another Excerpt from The Pillow Book

68.  Things that can’t be compared-Summer and winter.  Night and day.  Rainy days and sunny days. Laughter and anger.  Old age and youth.  White and black.  People you love and those you hate.  The man you love and the same man once you’ve lost all feeling for him seem like two completely different people.  Fire and water.  Fat people and thin people.  People with long hair and those with short hair.  The noisy commotion when crows roosting together are suddenly disturbed by something during the night.  The way they tumble off their perches, and flap awkwardly about from branch to branch, squawking sleepily, makes them seem utterly different from daytime crows.

When I read this the old adage that you can’t compare apples and oranges comes to mind.  The image of the crows squawking made me wonder if she had been seeing women in the court gossiping that day and she was trying to be polite about it.  I do like her message about comparing others and we just should not do it.

A Few Last Thoughts

In conclusion, I have not done this beautiful work justice so please read it.  Enjoy a glimpse into the past.  Meet a woman who is composing about life with the strokes of a brush.  On a side note, I have not read it but The Peach Pit has made an anime series about Sei Shonagon’s life if you like anime.

Mighty Relevant Women: Murasaki Shikibu - Mighty Fingers - Facing Change

Sources and Images Used

Puchner, M., Akbari, S. C., & Denecke, W. (2018). The Norton anthology of world literature Volume B. New York ; London: W.W. Norton et Company.

Sad Boy Hours by Li Bo

Sad Boy Hours consist of a large time slot of a male’s expression of his sad feelings. This is common over a relationship or hidden depression stage for men to encounter this time. Although this is a modern term, old Chinese Poets have encountered this time slot as well. One of the biggest examples of Sad Boy Hours during the Tang dynasty is Li Bo (also commonly known as Li Bai or Li Po).

Li Bo hit the jackpot in my eyes of career opportunities. Bo used his connections of higher officials and gained life experiences.

His first experience was accepting a post at the Hanlin Academy, an institute founded by Emperor Xuanzong to support unconventional intellectuals and literary talents. This inspired his own work but was short-lived due to his drinking habits. His next experiences of joining a cause with a rebellious prince ultimately led to his downfall, resulting in exile for his participation. During his exile, Li Bo wrote poetry that projected his views and life. His poetry is relative to the Tang time period, which treats the world at hand. His work was renown and often showed the literary strengths of bold and colloquial language. An amazing poem that stands out to me is Drinking Alone with the Moon. This poem by the title can reflect a relatable sense of drinking and loneliness. Poetry often exhibits strong emotions, and Bo does this in his poetry by his topics and his word choice.



A pot of wine among the flowers.
I drink alone, no friend with me.
I raise my cup to invite the moon.
He and my shadow and I make three.

The moon does not know how to drink;
My shadow mimes my capering;
But I’ll make merry with them both—
And soon enough it will be Spring.

I sing–the moon moves to and fro.
I dance—my shadow leaps and sways.
Still sober, we exchange our joys.
Drunk—and we’ll go our separate ways.

Let’s pledge—beyond human ties—to be friends.
And meet where the Silver River ends.

    The poem begins with the acknowledgment of his loneliness. Where that stems from, is not specified but controls the whole mood of the poem. His feelings can go beyond his own, reflecting on a worldly view of loneliness and despair. His continuous mood, and his drunken state, lead him to question the divine power above the moon. He asks for companionship from something that he knows cannot welcome him that feeling, “moon does not know how to drink” with him. He sulks at the idea of his shadow being his companion, which is another figure that cannot reflect his feelings. There is no real change in mood or tone in Bo’s poem, beginning and ending on a sorrowful note. Bo expresses his anguish and clings on to it till the end, as he is drunk and sad. The internal emotions are heightened from his drunk state, resulting in a sense of wild and despaired speech. He feels this about his world and the loneliness that it brings.

However not only does this poem exhibits loneliness, but there is also artistry in his words. The relationship with the moon is vivid and sad. He uses metaphors to compare his sad surroundings. The need for a connection, a human connection, can make a person very vulnerable. This can be seen in the line of ‘He and my shadow and I make three’ Bo is counting his shadow to make up for the friends he does not have. Although this is problems Bo’s doing as he was exiled in his later years, he has able to reflect that loneliness in a world view that doesn’t even seem like exile. If I wouldn’t have known he was exiled, I would have just assumed he was a lonely man. His despair is transformative through modern times.

Many modern poets have done translations of his work. Famous poets like Ezra Pound, create their own version of Bo’s poems to reflect his emotion through modern time. The translations of Bo’s works allow the literary influence to be continuous through time.

The modern feeling of loneliness is very prevalent now as the pandemic of our time has felt like isolation for some. Isolation can cause a person to try to find another connection of some type. Drinking alone combined with being isolated can lead to that same vulnerability that Bo experienced with the moon as well. I know we all have had a drink and thought about the things in our life that eat us up inside. If you have not then you are very lucky. If you have then you are not alone. Even legendary poets feel the same way as we do now after hundreds of years. Emotions are transcendent and poetry will always be an outlet for writers to express themselves in every way.  That is the joy in creativity, but also the pain in the butt of our troublesome lives. Hopefully, we can move on and not cling to those sad boy thoughts, unlike Bo. 


Works Cited

Puchner, Martin, et al. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.


A Day With Tao Qian at Happy Hal’s History Emporium

"Three Kingdoms" depiction of Tao Qian

Greetings Patron!

Howdy Historic Adventurer! If you are reading this, then that means you have purchased a ticket to the only theme park of historical figures: Happy Hal’s History Emporium! This brochure is meant to help you better understand your chosen historical figure to converse with: TAO QIAN.

TAO QIAN is a wonderful choice for those who enjoy SELF-SUFICENCY and RELAXING and

WINE! But, there are still some things you must know about your new friend! The following is a short summary of your historic figure’s back story and life’s work! Please take a few moments to read over the provided material.

And remember: Fun is a thing in the past, present, and future at Happy Hal’s History Emporium!

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Summative Background

Tao Qian lived between the Han and Tang Dynasties in what is called the Period of Disunion. His great grandfather was famous general and government official, and it is believed this man’s legacy is what drove Tao Qian into the political field where he held multiple small and overlooked jobs in the government sector for thirteen years. Until, 405 when he suddenly left his job as the magistrate of Pengze to return to his family farm. He held that position for eight days. He left the life he knew and traveled to the south for the promise of real freedom from monotony and opportunity for self sufficient living. This is where he lived out the remaining two decades of his life creating poetry, the pastime that would define his foot print on history today.

The environment in which you will spend time with Tao Qian has been modeled after historic accounts of what a small southern Chinese village would have looked like complete with simulated weather, animals, and townsfolk (NOTE: the townsfolk are not interactable). Feel free to lounge in the sunshine or under the shade of a serene Dove Tree while sipping perfectly aged (non-simulated) wine.

Life’s Work

As previously stated Tao Qian has become one of the most influential Chinese poets in the history of the world. His poetry, much like the man himself, is concerned with gardening, joy of creating poetry, wine, relaxation, friendship, and playing the zither (NOTE: Zither classes taught by Tao Qian are available as an extra charge, contact your travel agent for more details). The two largest themes in his poetry by far are the desire for freedom to accomplish one’s own inclinations from societal pressures, and the return to the natural self. However, history is still puzzled as to how far Tao Qian was willing to go to return to his natural state. It is clear that he renounced fame and official recognition in favor of his garden and wine, BUT he seemed to be very proud of his family history and somewhat disappointed in his son’s lack of accomplishment. One surprising aspect of Tao Qian’s work is that the peasants of his society (his neighbors) were able to read and write, talents reserved for the elite. Historians don’t know what this means exactly, but he may have wanted to make his neighbors look more sophisticated to his elite audience since the townspeople all share his literary interests.

The duality of Tao Qian continues when one learns that he despised worldly ambition but he wrote about himself a lot. This is a good thing however because we here at Happy Hals have an easier time in decoding his poetry and creating the best simulacrum of this amazing man. One of his works titled “Substance, Shadow, and Spirit” is a structed debate between three characters named Substance, Shadow, and Spirit all debating what is the best way to live life. These characters are believed to represent parts of himself.

Substance advocated for enjoying wine and forgetting about death: “Earth and heaven endure forever, / Streams and mountains never change.”

Shadow stressed the importance of doing good and not forgetting one’s self: “No use discussing immortality / When just to keep alive is hard enough.”

Spirt argued that one should forget about the body and mind and simply give into the waves of change: “The Great Potter cannot intervene- / All creation thrives of itself.”

The main body of his work is lighter than this, for example, “On Moving House” is a poem that captures the magic of the simple life of the south. The poem begins with a simple claim that forms the message of the poem: “For long I yearned to live in Southtown.” He then goes on to explain the lure of the south as a place full of “simple-hearted people,” and he has planned to move there for a long time. Then he compares his life in the political sphere to the quiet country of his dreams by saying: “A modest cottage does not need be large / To give us shelter where we sit and sleep,” thereby denouncing the frivolity of the court.


Thank you for taking the time to read this guide to interacting with Tao Qian on your history-hoping adventure. Here are a few points to think of when communicating with Tao Qian:

  • Don’t rush anything, take your time as it comes.
  • Relax and enjoy the wine and zither playing.
  • Don’t be afraid to expound on a person’s nature and how it is either suffocated or nurtured by their surroundings.
  • If at all possible, stress your love for simple life and dis like of complicated government issues.
  • And have fun!

By reading this brochure and signing on the line below the patron acknowledges that all possible loss of property, theft, and bodily harm are the patron’s responsibility and not Happy Hal’s History Emporium or Happy Hal’s History Emporium affiliates. The patron has also read the attached rules for the park and made carful consideration of the rule 23-c that states: no visitor to the park may touch an animatronic under any circumstance, and visitors will not use any of the black listed words  or phrases when communicating with animatronics or talking around animatronics; words and phrases include: history, your timemy time, the current year according to the Gregorian calendar, what about your family? do you like it herecan you leave? (for full list please visit

By signing this document the patron agrees that they have read the disclosure agreement above and are willing to follow the park’s guidelines.

Sign and bring to park, will not be admitted entry without signed brochure.


Bhāvakadevī – women poet in Classical Period of Sanskrit

History of Sanskrit Literature

The classical period of Sanskrit literature dates to the Gupta period and the successive pre-Islamic middle kingdoms of India, spanning approximately the 3rd to 8th centuries CE. Hindu Puranas, a genre of Indian literature that includes myths and legends, fall into the period of Classical Sanskrit.

Drama as a distinct genre of Sanskrit literature emerged in the final centuries BCE, influenced partly by Vedic mythology. Famous Sanskrit dramatists include Shudraka, Bhasa, Asvaghosa, and Kalidasa; their numerous plays are still available, although little is known about the authors themselves. Kalidasa’s play, Abhijnanasakuntalam, is generally regarded as a masterpiece and was among the first Sanskrit works to be translated into English, as well as numerous other languages.

Works of Sanskrit literature, such as the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali, which are still consulted by practitioners of yoga today, and the Upanishads, a series of sacred Hindu treatises, were translated into Arabic and Persian. Sanskrit fairy tales and fables were characterized by ethical reflections and proverbial philosophy, with a particular style making its way into Persian and Arabic literature and exerting influence over such famed tales as One Thousand and One Nights, better known in English as Arabian Nights.

Poetry was also a key feature of this period of the language. Kalidasa was the foremost Classical Sanskrit poet, with a simple but beautiful style, while later poetry shifted toward more intricate techniques including stanzas that read the same backwards and forwards, words that could be split to produce different meanings, and sophisticated metaphors.


Importance of Sanskrit

Sanskrit is vital to Indian culture because of its extensive use in religious literature, primarily in Hinduism, and because most modern Indian languages have been directly derived from, or strongly influenced by, Sanskrit.

Knowledge of Sanskrit was a marker of social class and educational attainment in ancient India, and it was taught mainly to members of the higher castes (social groups based on birth and employment status). In the medieval era, Sanskrit continued to be spoken and written, particularly by Brahmins (the name for Hindu priests of the highest caste) for scholarly communication.

Today, Sanskrit is still used on the Indian Subcontinent. More than 3,000 Sanskrit works have been composed since India became independent in 1947, while more than 90 weekly, biweekly, and quarterly publications are published in Sanskrit. Sudharma, a daily newspaper written in Sanskrit, has been published in India since 1970. Sanskrit is used extensively in the Carnatic and Hindustani branches of classical music, and it continues to be used during worship in Hindu temples as well as in Buddhist and Jain religious practices.

Sanskrit is a major feature of the academic linguistic field of Indo-European studies, which focuses on both extinct and current Indo-European languages, and can be studied in major universities around the world.

Erotic Poems from the Sanskrit

Classical Sanskrit literature boasts an exquisite canon of poetry devoted to erotic love. Erotic Poems from the Sanskrit seeks to represent the breadth of Sanskrit poetry through the ages and to present a cohesive, thematically unified selection when read as a whole. The works in this volume depict licit and illicit love, speaking to the joys and sorrows of consummation and separation and a broader cultural celebration of the pleasures of the flesh. Often sexually explicit, they are replete with recurrent scenarios and striking tactile, visual, and olfactory images, whose resonance and use as motifs across eras are expertly explained.

Erotic poetry


About Bhāvakadevī

Bhāvakadevī probably belonged to the middle of the classical period of Sanskrit poetry, but we can surmise even less about her life or personality. Her literary name indicates that she was prized by her contemporaries and successors for her emotional sensitivity. In “At first our bodies knew,” Bhāvakadevī memorably evokes her bitterness in marriage by referring only indirectly to its source in her husband’s unfaithfulness.


Bhāvakadevī, [At first our bodies knew a perfect oneness]

At first our bodies knew a perfect oneness,

But then grew two with you as lovers

And I, unhappy I, the loved.

Now you are husband, I the wife,

What’s left except of this my life,

Too hard to break, to reap the bitter fruit,

Your broken faith.

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“Erotic Poems from the Sanskrit: An Anthology” by R Parthasarathy


Aka-xcuse me, Have you read Akam Poetry? By Payton Milner

Where did it all start?

Akam poetry dates all the way back to the 1st century BC, and each poem is within the perimeter of 13 to 31 lines. Historians believe that they were means of persevering traditions and were passed down orally.

Shots fired

in the midst of Jain and Buddhist leaders slowly losing power, many writings took it upon themselves to pounce on their newfound freedom letting the flood gates drop for their own creativity and agendas. Akam poetry was no exception to this, and it began to include Hindu gods while at the same time casting the other two dominating faiths aside and even making them seem less appealing.

Shall I compare thee to a summers day?

While Akam Poetry has nothing to do with Shakespeare, I would assume Shakespeare and many others followed in Akam’s poetry’s footsteps regarding love and nature’s beauty. Akam poetry, in terms of romantic love, is typically cast into three different category. Time and place (mudal), natural setting (karu), and their actions (uri).

Can I get a wingman, please?

Akam poetry was the original wingman. Many of the romances or relationships in the writings were ushered along with a wingman’s help, such as a maid or another character whose central importance is predicated on them being the wingman to the two lovers. These characters also have more will to be fixable in the poems because they are not confined to another character, specifically like the two lovers are.

A Picture. Painted. Perfect.

When we look at “The Kurunthoka,” an Akam piece S. Ramachandran in their article, points out that it is better to read the poetry as a play being put on a stage performed for our eyes, a picture painted perfect, just as it was meant to be seen. The kurunthoka is also a poem riddled with metaphors that might not be easy to grasp, especially those who might try and take the poems for face value. Many of the metaphors have layers that need to be peeled back like an onion to get the work’s true meaning. Ramachandran again points out that when the poems start, it paints pictures of nature that are so beautiful that they set the entire play’s tone. Pictures filled with waterfalls, rainbows, gods, goddesses, and bright sunshine. It is important to note how much nature plays a role in the poem because when one can grasp the role it plays in the poems, they realize that it is the driving force behind all Akam poems.


Forest Waterfall Stock Illustrations – 2,920 Forest Waterfall Stock  Illustrations, Vectors & Clipart - Dreamstime

No, this picture has nothing to do with Spongebob, but it conveys the same happiness level that the artwork of sponge bob aims for. I believe this is the picture that Akam poetry would paint in many readers’ heads as long as you include the mythical and romantic aspect into the picture painted on the stage.

Another comparison that I thought of that one could create a parrelle with is

The Wizzard of Oz Trees!

Pin by Diana Foster on *The Wizard of Oz | Wizard of oz, Wizard of oz  movie, The wonderful wizard of oz

The reason I brought the Wizzard of Oz trees up is because Ramachandran again points out that the nature in Akam Poety are much more than just objects that set a tone or setting, they themselves play a bigger role in the grand scheme of things. The nature in Akam poety play roles much like characters in other story! He even goes as far as to point out that the nature in Akam Poetry act as narrators to the story quoted saying “The travails and fortunes of the young lovers are played out by these actors in nature.” Nature plays a major role in Akam’s poetry and for one to over look any metapohore specifaly related to nature would be directly avoiding themes, motifis, and symbols the poems were meant to convey.

Ramachandran, S. “Love And Landscapes In Sangam Poetry.” Swarajyamag, 5 Mar. 2011,

The Subtle Art of Interweaving Stories in The Arabian Nights

“If you’re going to perform inception, you need imagination. You need the simplest version of the idea in order for it to grow naturally in the subject’s mind. Subtle art.”
― Christopher Nolan, Inception

Have you ever read a story with one storyteller at the heart of the work and many characters within this work telling their own stories? If so, you’ve encountered a frame tale or a nested story.

Nested storytelling in The Arabian Nights (or the Thousand and One Nights) represents a large framework of individual stories written by unknown authors, scattered over different corners of the Middle East.

The multilayered narrative takes a story to another level, and as Norton Anthology points out: “The frame tale is an open-ended genre, in which an outer story or “frame” provides a structure within which other, shorter stories can be told.”

The overall frame centers on a good king who became a tyrant. After discovering the secret promiscuity of his wife, King Shahrayar decided that he will avoid the deception of women forever by taking a new bride every night and putting her to death in the morning. The deaths rapidly mount, the kingdom is filled with mourning parents – and to the horror and despair of the faithful royal vizier, his daughter, Shahrazad, volunteers to marry the king. He tries to dissuade her, but Shahrazad has a plan. By telling a story to the king every night, each one more marvelous and entrancing than the last, Shahrazad will continually defer the doom that awaits his bride (The Norton Anthology of World Literature, 598-599).

Concealing the true purpose of her narrative in the form of the fairy tale allows Shahrazad to talk about the issues that worry her. Nested storytelling in this case works perfectly because it doesn’t directly accuse the society of their sins, it instead allows them to judge for themselves.

The theme of all the Arabian Nights is the oppressor and the oppressed.

We see this tension play out through powerful Djinns locked in bottles, kings and their servants, parents, and children–but mostly through women’s battle for survival in a world ruled by men. This is why the women of the stories are so wily: because cunning and trickery are the first recourse of the weak. These female characters become cunning to overcome the men who oppress them. They fight to make their own choices and live according to their beliefs about freedom, sexuality, and love (Fassler).

The Arabic literary work the Thousand and One Nights involve Shahrazad narrating a series of stories to King Shahrayar for 1,001 nights, with each night ending on a cliffhanger in order to save herself from execution.

Some stories use the framing device of a dream, hence the quote from Christopher Nolan’s iconic movie Inception, because the concept of planting an idea in someone’s subconscious mind is very similar to what Shahrazad was doing every night. The classic film The Wizard of Oz uses the same framing device. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is another example of several stories joined together by a larger story.

Among the tales that Shahrazad tells her husband is The Fisherman and the Genie.

In Andrice Arp’s adaptation of the fisherman’s story, there is an interesting perspective on the way these tales are framed within one. When Andrice shifts from the frame narrative the font and squares get smaller and smaller. They get bigger as soon as we return to the main story. I would compare it to pulling smaller Russian dolls out of bigger ones. Here a smaller story nests inside a larger story, and a smaller one within that. This type of narrative is captivating and like pulling out the smallest doll – very rewarding.

The fisherman tells the genie a story involving a king, who tells a story involving a parrot, who has a little story of its own to relate.

Perhaps you’ve recognized this literary device in some of your favorite movies or books? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear what examples of a frame tale you know. 


Works Cited


  • InceptionDirected by Christopher Nolanperformance by Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2010.
  • Fassler, Joe. “The Humanist Message Hidden Amid the Violence of One Thousand and One Nights.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 25 Mar. 2020,
  • “The Frame Story.” The Arabian Nights – Home,
  • Kick, R. (2019, April 02). The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons. Retrieved November 07, 2020, from
  • The Norton Anthology of World Literature,4th edition, vol. B. W. Norton & Company, 2018. p. 598-599.





Petrus Alfonsi: Angel Cortez

A Man of Three Worlds


Pertus Alfonsi (1062 – after 1116) was born a Sephardi Jew under the name of Moses. The date of his birth and death are largely unclear. He was bilingual knowing both Hebrew and Arabic. There are some theories that he was a doctor and involved in Spanish courts (al-Andelus at the time). Petrus has made a huge impact in scientific, literary, and astronomical history. He translated astronomical tables into Latin which helped many to be able to understand the rotations of the planets and out solar system.


St. Peter


Petrus converted to Christianity in 1106 while he lived in the capitol of Aragon. It is unclear why he decided to convert but it was likely because he moved to a more catholic dominated country and worked under catholic reign. This is when he took the Christian name of St. Peter and the second name of his grandfather, King Alfanso I. In the following decade he moved to England which is when he began the journey leading him to make such a large impact on scientific, literary, and astronomical history.





Petrus lived in both England and France. It is believed that he worked under the court of King Henry I and the Duke of Normandy. Because of Petrus’s status and location, he was well connected to various scientists and philosophers all of whom would set a foundation for scientific learning and a revival of Aristotelianism. Petrus’s location and history gave him an advanced level of knowledge in Christianity, Judaism, and the Muslim faiths which


Major Works


The Diciplina Clericalis and the Dialogi Contra Ludaeos (Dialogues against the Jews) were Petrus’s most major works. The Dialogi Contra Ludaeos is written as a dialogue between Petrus and his “old self” Moses before he was converted to Christianity. The dialogue covers three religions: Christianity, Judaism, and the Muslim faith and which is the better faith to be. Petrus displays a high amount of knowledge of all three.


The Scholars Guide



Diciplina Clericales (The Scholar’s Guide) is also a dialogue. This dialogue is between a father and a son. It is more of a warm and wise mood as oppose to the confrontational mood of the previous work. The relationship of the father and son is a lot like a student and teacher.

This was also the first frame-tale narrative to make its way through the Indian, Persia, and Arabic people. This work is full of fanciful animal tales, wisdom, and humor. And creative settings like Baghdad, Babylon, and Mecca. Also, more mundane settings like a home or a store.


Diciplina Clericales has been translated into many different languages. There are medieval versions and prose versions. There are also versions in French, Spanish, Catalan, Gascon, Italian, German, English, and Icelandic. The reason these stories were so well liked and thus translated into many different languages and forms is because they could appeal to many readers. They gave illustrations of morals, could be used in preaching, or just enjoyed as a story. Some of these stories were even put into tale collections like Aesop’s Fables.




Two complimenting pieces in Petrus’s Scholars Guide are The Parable of The Half Friend and The Parable of The Whole Friend. The Parable of The Half Friend is a dialogue between the father and son. The father asks the son how many friends he has. The son says he has hundreds to which the father responds he has no real friends if he thinks he has this many. The son is perplexed and asks how he can find out if his friends are true or not.


The father gives the son the advice to stage a crime of murder and ask his friends to help him hide the body. One by one he goes to each of his friends with a bloody bag and they all turn him away. The son asks his father if there are any true friends to which the father says, “He who helps you when the world fails you is a true friend.”.


I think this fable can apply to many of us today in the world of social media. For example, on Instagram I have 500 friends but how many came to my aid when I was going through a hard time? Only a handful and only about three out of those opened their homes to me. You can have many, many half friends but only a true friend would go as far as to give you all they have which brings us into the next fable, The Parable of The Whole Friend.

The Parable of The Whole Friend is the parable the father tells the son next to explain what a whole friend would do for another. In this parable there are two friends who try to accept the blame for a horrible crime which would result in them getting killed. The fact that they would accept punishment of death just to save the other shows how true of friends they are. When I read this tale even, I struggled to think of who I might do this for. The only person that came to mind is my own broth

Make Room for Rumi


What do you think of where you hear the name Rumi? Many think of him as the poet that he is, some think of a spacious area, or “roomy” area because they miss the context, and some do not think of anything because they have never heard of him. Regardless of if you’ve heard about him or not, Rumi is a name definitely worth looking into. This article is my attempt to convince you to read his poetry. Why you may ask? Because Rumi, although very old and very dead, adds some incredible things to our reading experiences and to our lives in general! First, to love a poet, it is always best to know the poet. So here I introduce to you… Rumi.


Rumi, short for Mowlānā Jalāloddin Balkhi, was a poet that lived from around 1207-1273, making him..yes, very old and very dead. He was born in the Balkh Province in Afghanistan and came from a long line of Islamic mystics and theologians (“Jalal al-Din Rumi”, Rumi was going to follow in his fathers footsteps, but then was transformed by his friendship with mentor and friend Shams-e-Tabrizi, whom inspired his poetry concerning the fusion of the divine and human soul, something he experienced and wanted to vocalize (The Norton Anthology of World Literature, 381). Rumi, within his life as a poet, would go on to write endless poems detailing this spiritual connection to and love for the divine. Some of his notable works include the Masnavi and the Divan for reference.

So here’s this guy that likes to talk about divine love…so what? Why does it matter, here and now? One big, fat reason Rumi’s poetry, although written in context about specific criteria, is that it has been interpreted widely across many cultures around the world. It seems to be a common thread across many cultures and millions of people, connecting us all by two main ideas, one of which is in his original context and one outside of it: love and spirituality. I will be going into more depth about these two themes and giving examples from Rumi’s poems to cushion my points! Let’s do this!


Love is a universal language, and Rumi perfectly embodies this in his poetry. People around the world have read Rumi as a guide to healthy love. So much so, that Rumi is considered to be “the Middle Eastern poet most widely read in the Western world” (381). Rumi’s poems are focused on the love of God and the divine, but his poetic verses about love can be attributed to any context: spiritual love, friendship, romantic relationships, familial love, and even a love of things such as a hobby or pet (seriously, it’s true!) Although these are not the original contexts implied by Rumi himself, the interpretation is one reason I believe that his work is so popular.

In his poem “O Amazing Love”, he very clearly states the impact that love has on us as readers and as human beings. “If you can’t wrap this love / around you like a cloak at midnight, / don’t put on something else, / go back to bed. / Let this love run spinning / through your brain. / It’s what holds everything together, / and it’s the everything too!” (d2L). Rumi is stating here (based on out-of-context interpretation) that love, whatever it may look like (spiritual, romantic, etc), will be experienced in it’s own time and to wait in rest until it comes. A huge factor, especially in Western culture, that appeals to this interpretation is the idea that everyone must have love. Movies are made about it and it’s the primary focus of today’s pop hits (cue Justin Bieber!). The popularity of Rumi, it seems, in the Western world may be attributed to this idea gained from his poetry out of context. We all crave love and his poems share wisdom about this mortal love, regardless of what it looks like! Another example of his attention to love and the decontextualization of love is further into this same poem: “Every day / we come and gather / a hundred blossoms / here to scatter / among you. / Don’t worry, there are / no hidden motives, / just too much / love blooming / to keep for ourselves.” (d2L).

Rumi was a wise man when it came to love, something that people all over are seeking to dive into within their own interpretation of his texts.


Being a son of an Islamic scholar and teacher, Rumi had a passionate spiritual life with God, which was the original context for his poetry. Although this can be lost in translation and popular ideas (kind of like what I discussed above), his poetry is beautiful to be read in this original context, whether you are spiritual or not.

Taking the same lines from “O Amazing Love” used above, I am now going to contrast using Rumi’s original context, or the fusion of love and the divine. “If you can’t wrap this love / around you like a cloak at midnight, / don’t put on something else, / go back to bed. / Let this love run spinning / through your brain. / It’s what holds everything together, / and it’s the everything too!” In its original context, Rumi is referring to our pursuit of God’s divine love; if we cannot attain it, he is telling us to remain patient. To keep this love “spinning through your brain” means to hold onto God’s love because everything flows from Him and abides by His love. This paints a beautiful picture of Rumi’s spirituality, even if you aren’t spiritual yourself.

It also lends a great and insightful perspective of how Rumi viewed divinity within his religion: Islam. There is so much social stigma surrounding Muslims; especially in America, they are viewed are terrorists and aliens. Rumi’s poetry is clearly in relation to his Islamic religious affiliation, something that a lot of readers do not know or tend to ignore because of that negative stereotype surrounding Islam. His poetry shows an abundant and beautiful love of and for God and the divine, when most stereotypes within Westernized cultures (again, America is a huge factor in this) assume that Islam is a violent spiritual relationship with the divine. This beauty and serenity is also shown in this line of the poem: “Every day / we come and gather / a hundred blossoms / here to scatter / among you. / Don’t worry, there are / no hidden motives, / just too much / love blooming / to keep for ourselves.” The imagery of the blossoms give a peaceful image of God’s love spreading amongst individuals, with no negative emotions getting in the way.

Rumi was and still is a prolific poet in our world. He uses the themes of love and spirituality to make a connecting thread throughout so many different cultures in our world today. There is a great importance to reading his poems, and other texts, both in its intended context and in our own interpretations, as I demonstrated above. So although he is very old and very dead, his passion has brought passion into the hearts of millions, and I believe that is something to definitely look into as a reader.


“Jalal Al-Din Rumi” .

The Norton Anthology of World Literature,4th edition, vol. A. W. Norton & Company, 2020. p. 381.

*Quotations of poetry come from PDF under Rumi in the content section of D2L
*photos have links below

How the Children of Lir had the Evilest of all Evil Stepmothers

The evil stepmother trope is very common, and you probably know of at least one story that includes a stepmother that has some sort of vendetta against her stepchildren. The stepmother in the Irish Myth “The Children of Lir” makes Lady Tremaine, the evil stepmother in Cinderella, look like a saint. Before I explain how this tale’s stepmother is possibly the worst stepmother in all of literature, I am going to give a little context to help you better understand this story. The tale “The Children of Lir” is one of many stories that make up The Irish Invasion Myths which includes many tales of the early history of Ireland. The stories in The Irish Invasion Myths are folklore that has been passed down from generation to generation and consists of tales of gods, goddesses, magic, fairies, and even evil stepmothers. Now that you have a little background knowledge of The Irish Invasion Myths lets dive into the story of “The Children of Lir”.

Image from Disney’s Cinderella

You might be asking yourself “Who is Lir?” this is a story about his children after all so it might be helpful to know who he is. Lir was a Danaan divinity or god who was the father of the sea-god Mananan (Mananan is not one of the children mentioned in this story). Lir married two sisters, the second being Aoife (pronounced Eefa) who is the infamous evil stepmother I have been raving about. Aoife did not have any children but Lir’s former wife had four children, one of them being a girl named Fionuala, and Aoife was extremely jealous of these four children. Lir loved his kids so much and devoted a lot of attention to them and Aoife did not like this at all.  Here is the first red flag with Aoife and a common characteristic of evil stepmothers, being jealous of your stepchildren for their father loving them. This jealousy isn’t what makes Aoife special, but I wanted to note it because I find this concept to be absurd, can adults stop being jealous of children it’s a little ridiculous. I digress. Because of this insatiable jealousy that Aoife was experiencing, she decided that in order to get the attention she wanted from her husband she would have to destroy her stepchildren.

We’ve all been jealous of someone and if you say you haven’t your lying, but deciding that you must destroy the person or people that you are jealous of seems a little extreme right? So, Aoife decides that she has to take the children away from their father so she can destroy them. She takes them to a neighboring Danaan king, Bōv the Red, and orders her attendants to kill the children. KILL THEM! Aoife tries to kill her four stepchildren because she is jealous of them, that is pretty evil if you ask me. Well the attendants refuse to kill the children so you think they are safe right? Wrong. She decides to take matters into her own hands, this is where things take an interesting turn, and tries to kill them herself but “her womanhood overcame her”. There are obviously a lot of issues with this statement so I’m not going to get into it but what I am going to say is that it is a little disappointing. I mean yes, it’s good the children aren’t being killed but for Aoife to have all of this disdain and resentment towards her stepchildren just for her “womanhood” to be what stops her from killing them is a little misogynistic if you ask me. Even though Aoife spares the four children’s lives that doesn’t mean she just let them run back home to their father. No, she casts a spell on the children turning them into white swans and says that they must spend 300 years on Lake Derryvaragh, 300 years on the Straits of Moyle (between Ireland and Scotland), and 300 years on the Atlantic by Erris and Inishglory.

Image from The Names Upon the Harp Illustrated by P.J. Lynch        

Just to recap Aoife’s wicked ways, she is jealous of her four stepchildren because of the love they receive from their father, so she tries to kill them and when that doesn’t work, she turns them into swans and forces them to remain that way for 900 years. I would say that the children of Lir would trade Aoife for Cinderella’s stepmother in a heartbeat. When the children do not arrive at Bōv’s palace he questions Aoife about their whereabouts and when he learns what she did to them he turns her into a demon of air and flies away shrieking. What is a demon of air? Your guess is as good as mine but what I do know is that is the last we hear about her in this tale. So, after Aoife ruined four children’s lives and probably Lir’s life she is just turned into some demon and allowed to fly away. For all we know she could be out there torturing every stepchild in Ireland. If you’re a stepchild that lives in Ireland, I am sorry. Because of all of these horrendous things she does to her stepchildren Aoife should win the award for the evilest evil stepmother whose story has ever been told.

Even though Aoife’s story stops here I am going to tell you the rest of the story because I couldn’t leave you wondering how it ends now could I? Now that Aoife has been turned into some sky demon Bōv and Lir set out to find the children. As we know they are in Lake Derryvaragh, where they will be for 300 years, but they are not normal swans. The children/swans are capable of human speech and still have the characteristic Danaan gift of making beautiful music (Danaan deities were known for their musical skill). The time at Lake Derryvaragh was not bad to the children, people came from all parts of Ireland to hear the music and it was a time of peace for the land. These 300 would be the best of their time spent as swans and the worst was yet to come. After the first 300 years was over, they had to move on to the Straights of Moyle. Here they suffered immensely of loneliness, the cold, and storms. At times their feathers would freeze to the rocks on the cliff and they would be separated during storms. It is safe to say that this trial had a lot more hardship than the first. Once the second set of 300 years was finished the children/swans moved to the shores of Mayo where they also suffered greatly, in this place is where they met a farmer named Evric who is said to be the one who told and preserved their story. The story takes a very odd turn here, but it is basically over. In this place they meet a hermit who essentially converts them to Christianity, and they sing the offices of the Church together. Under the Hermit’s care a man tries to steal the children/swans for his soon to be wife because she had her of their great beauty and song. During this attempted kidnapping is when they change from their swan form however, they do not change into Danaan divinities but withered, very old humans on the brink of death. The Hermit baptizes them then they die and are buried together in the same grave and that is the end of this tale.

The next time you watch Cinderella or any other story that involves an evil stepmother, before you feel sorry for the stepchildren ask yourself “Has this evil stepmother tried to kill her stepchildren then turn them into swans to face 900 years of suffering just to be stripped of your deity status and die a shriveled old human?” If the answer is no then they are probably better off with their stepmother than the children of Lir were with theirs.

Apu Ollantay

Inca Theatre

Theatre and stage performances are used to act out a real-life or imaginative act for an audience; the idea of theatre is to provide entertainment for others through art performances. These types of setting in entertainment are commonly found in all sorts of ancient cultures. The Greeks, the Japanese, and even The Romans used this style of art to give a performance. This style was very broad in other cultures and was commonly used as you can tell. As for the Quecha Indians, this was not different for them. The uprise of stage performances and theatre all started after the Incas celebrated their territorial defeat. The plays that they acted out gave symbolized comedies and tragedies throughout Cusco, Peru. These plays were also a way to remember past ancestors and tell stories about heroes (Apu Ollantay).

I chose this image to put in my blog to show how a theatre would have looked like back then during that period. The spiral seating that rises higher and higher gives off an arena like seating. This makes it easier for people to see the stage theatre back then.

I chose this image to put in my blog to show how a theatre would have looked like back then during that period. The spiral seating that rises higher and higher gives off an arena like seating. This makes it easier for people to see the stage theatre back then.

 The dramatic plays were driven by the Incas, and dramatic performances were acted out before the Inca period. The way of interconnection established between the Incas and Western Amazonian societies are still unknown in studies interested in the Pre-Columbian history of South America. The Incas had two types of genres they would generally stick with which was wanka and aránway. The wanka genre consisted of a memorable and historical character, while aránway had a broader genre that dealt with the everyday lives of an Inca person in their performances.

Apu Ollantay background:

Apu Ollantay was first originally written in Quechua and was first published in 1853 by the author names of J.J. Von Tschudi. After this was published, many more variations started to come along in other languages such as Spanish and French.

The story of Apu Ollantay:

The piece of literature tells the story of Ollantay. Ollantay was a heroic and faithful warrior from Antisuyu who fell in love with Cusi Coyllur, who was an Inca princess. Cusi was the daughter of the emperor Inca Pachacuti. While reading more into the story, the approval from Cusi’s mother was accepted but the father of Cusi was in denial of the relationship. This was very interesting to read because this can now be like a modern-day love story; you have the protective father over the daughter and the mother’s approval. In the story, Ollantay was even more despised because he did not have any royal blood in him. Ollantay was in very much denial and sadness when the emperor kept rejecting over and over. Ollantay began to rebel against his words and war began to erupt. Ten years had passed, and the father of Cusi forgave Ollantay and gave him a hand as an Incan representative. In the end, the two lovers Ollantay and Cusi Coyllur are together and they had a baby before all this mess and war had happened. Now they can peacefully be united as a whole.

Parental Love Symbol and Other Symbols:

Apu Ollantay symbolizes parental love and the bond that should be made. This symbol has been important in many past down stories teaching about good morals and practices. The idea of parental love is a strong symbol of an unbreakable strength between two important people. This being said other symbols and themes of Apu Ollantay were manifesting and manipulating oneself. An example was when Ollantay claimed his spot in front of Pachacuti as the new king of the country.

Works Cited:

“APU OLLANTAY.” Apu Ollantay,