Month: February 2022

Coyote vs. The Pebbles and the Rabbit

The coyote is a famed figure in Native American storytelling. The sly animal can represent some qualities such as selfishness and craftiness. Because of these qualities associated with this animal, the coyote plays an important part in Native American trickster tales. Going over the similarities and differences in the ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’ and, ‘The Coyote and the Rabbit’, studying these examples of Native American stories can help the readers come to a better understanding of the ‘trickster’ motif.

Starting with the ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’, this story aligns with many other ‘trickster’ stories that contain a coyote character. But in these other trickster stories, the coyote is not the trickster character and instead the ‘trickster’ takes the form of another animal such as a raven or a raccoon. Each of these stories contain a different conflicts but the trickster theme stays the same. We read in the ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’ that the Great Mystery grants a request from the animals (which are mostly nocturnal) who ask for more light. The Great Mystery gives the animals pebbles so that they can place in the sky which would then appear as stars. The other animals try to fulfill this duty however, Coyote becomes distracted and spills the pebbles which end up in the sky. The other animals become upset with Coyote because he did not follow the Great Mystery’s directions.

The role of the trickster and the Coyote in this story is ironic in a way. Most likely without having any prior knowledge of what a a trickster would be, you would assume a trickster’s character traits would be crafty or sly. They are self-serving and they know how to work an outcome in their own best interest. But in this story, the Coyote made a mistake and did not purposely mess up the Great Mystery’s plan and the other animals’ request for more light in the sky. He made a simple mistake and Coyote regrets his actions. The other animals are frustrated and want nothing to do with Coyote. They shun him and because of this, the common characteristic with a coyote is that they are lone and independent creatures. ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’ give a superficial view to the coyote’s characteristics as an animal and also a view on how the sky came to be.

Moving onto, ‘The Coyote and The Rabbit’, this story comes from Navajo origin. The author or possibly several authors of ‘Coyote and The Rabbit’ might have been inspired by other Native American trickster stories. The dynamic between   these two animals is quite interesting and gives a different take on the term ‘trickster’. The story starts with a coyote that chases a rabbit into a hole. The coyote starts talking to the rabbit trying to coax it out of its hiding hole however, the rabbit is one step ahead of the coyote’s seemingly sly talking.

 

“You will kill me. I do not eat pinyon pitch,” said Rabbit .
Coyote was happy.
He ran from pinyon tree to pinyon tree .
He gathered pinyon pitch . .
He put the pinyon pitch in the hole .
He set the . pinyon pitch on fire.
He bent low. He blew on the fire.
” Come closer,” said Rabbit .
“Blow harder.”
Coyote come closer.
He blew harder.

I’m nearly dead,” said Rabbit ..
“Came closer’

Blow a little harder’”
Coyote come closer.
He blew harder.

He shut his eyes.
He blew harder.
Rabbit turned.
He kicked hard .
The fire flew in Coyote’s’ face .
Rabbit ran away.
He was laughing very hard.”

“The Coyote and the Rabbit” 

(https://navajopeople.org/blog/coyote-tales-coyote-and-rabbit/)

The interaction between the coyote and the rabbit is unexpected because we would expect the rabbit to have very timid and docile qualities and the coyote to have the intellect to persuade the rabbit to leave its hole. This story is reminiscent of the Three Little Pigs folktale [at least in the translation/version that I am personally most familiar with] where the pigs outsmart the big bad wolf and the wolf falls down in a chimney into a boiling pot of water. In this case, the rabbit would be considered the trickster but for good reason. It was a matter of life and death.

“Rabbit and Coyote”  

(http://slumberlandbyday.blogspot.com/2013/03/rabbit-coyote.html)

Another example of a trickster story is called, “Raven the Trickster”. Unlike the other two trickster stories mentioned in this post, ‘Raven the Trickster’ does not have a coyote character at all and the sly qualities are associated with a bird.

In this story, “Raven tricks a whale to open his mouth, he flies in and has a minor adventure inside the beluga. Then, when he messes with a lamp he’s supposed to leave alone, the fire goes out and the inside of the whale is left in darkness.” Once the fire in the lamp goes out, the whale dies and Raven flies out of the whale when its body reaches the shore. Soon, Raven sees that men come to the dead animal and intend to take the whale’s blubber. Raven see this as an advantage and decides to have a little fun with them. Raven asks the men if they saw something swift and black come from the dead whale. Then Raven says that it was a dark spirit. The men receive this information and come to the conclusion that they do not want anything to do with a dark spirit and they leave the dead whale behind which was Raven’s master plan all along. The crafty bird then gets the whale all to itself.

This story is another example of how portraying human qualities onto an animal is quite effective story telling. Especially when there is a lesson or moral to be taught. However, I personally think that associating anthropomorphic qualities to an animal can be damaging especially if the character traits being utilized are misused. If the calculating, sly, or craft qualities are associated with a fox or coyote, then it can be misleading in other stories or folk tales when that animal is portrayed otherwise.

“Book review: “Trickster: Native American Tales, a graphic collection,” edited by Matt Dembicki”

(Reardon, Patrick T, and Name. “Book Review: ‘Trickster: Native American Tales, a Graphic Collection,” Edited by Matt Dembicki.” Patrick T Reardon Writer Essayist Poet Chicago Historian, 27 June 2018, https://patricktreardon.com/book-review-trickster-native-american-tales-a-graphic-collection-edited-by-matt-dembicki/)

In conclusion, ‘Coyote and The Pebbles’, ‘The Coyote and the Rabbit’, and ‘Raven the Trickster’, are all examples of Native American trickster stories. Each of them have a message to go along with the story as well as a lesson to be taught. Coyote and Rabbit and Raven’s story dealt with trust and Coyote (and the Pebbles) dealt with being othered and how your own actions can directly and indirectly affect others.

 

Huge Rat

Out of all of the selected poems we read from the Classic of Poetry, “Huge Rat” was the one that I felt had the most obvious and notable political message. The poem tells the tale of a huge rat who keeps eating food provided by the narrator yet not returning any favors to benefit the narrator. The narrator, therefore, swears to leave and go to a happier place. The author writes:

“I swear that I will leave you

and go to a happier realm.

A happy realm, a happy realm,

there I will find what I deserve.”

In this passage, the narrator feels that they are not getting what they deserve to earn for feeding and taking care of the rat. This can be connected to real life politics, as people often feel as if the people in leadership roles in their countries take more from the citizens than they give back.

Later, the author writes:

“I swear that I will leave you

and go to happy meadows.

Happy meadows, happy meadows

where none need wail and cry.”

The final line is particularly interesting: the narrator seems to imagine a sort of utopia in which no one suffers. The “rat” in this poem seems to have taken so much as to cause harm and suffering to others, which many political figures in history have been known to do.

This can be connected to a modern example we are likely all familiar with: the United States government. The United States, despite being a highly developed first world nation, does not have an affordable healthcare system like many other developed nations do. Yet, according to findings by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, our military expenditure was higher than that of any other nation.

Image 1: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Why is it that the United States needs to spend such a large amount on the military rather than allocating those funds toward helping the citizens? Why should taxpayers give the government our money if it is not going to benefit us? Political cartoonist Paresh Nath drew the following political cartoon entitled “Global Military Spending.”

Image 2: Paresh Nath

This cartoon portrays several nations lined up to feed more money into the already stuffed man whose shirt reads “Global Military Spending” while a much smaller man labeled as “Social Spending” stands off to the side, receiving nothing. This is commentary on the trend amongst some large nations, including the United States, to use taxpayer dollars to spend far more than is necessary on the military rather than putting that money toward social programs that would directly benefit the citizens of the nation.

The author of “Huge Rat” seemed to have a similar issue with the government: the citizens gave more than they got back, and the leaders seemed to benefit from the citizens’ work without giving back to their country. It is interesting that this would still be a theme with governments so many years after the commentary made in “Huge Rat.” In this way, we can relate our own modern experiences to those of people who lived hundreds and even thousands of years ago, including the author of “Huge Rat.”

References:

Image 1: “Military Expenditure.” SIPRI, https://www.sipri.org/research/armament-and-disarmament/arms-and-military-expenditure/military-expenditure.

Image 2: Nath, Paresh. “Global Military Spending.” 2019.

 

Sappho

To what do we owe to artists besides the world? Thousands of years in the making, their very existence serves as the foundation of human connection. Artists of love and loss, depicting their emotions through physical pieces such as clay or canvas and of fleeting beauty in dance or song. Some of the deeper stories, however, culminated over years of dedicated ink and paper don’t survive as easily as other forms of art may. Structures can be erected and maintained for centuries, but pages are subject to time far more easily.

The ancient Greek poet, Sappho; revered for her lyrical prowess and inspiring song, Sappho constructed a gorgeous legacy to leave in her wake. She was regarded highly amongst fellow artists and non-artists alike in her time as well as centuries after, even considered to be the “Tenth Muse”. Sappho wrote countless lines of powerful poetry, over 10,000 at least, and commonly wound herself around the ring fingers of young lovers to be their matrimonial songstress.

Unfortunately, all art tends to have an expiration date sooner or later.

What was once over 10,000 lines of richly historical and ethereal content has been reduced to an upsetting 650. Imagine being revered for your inspirational poetic aptitude only to be survived by 6.5% of your life’s work. With what little we have left of Sappho, we can, however, make out chunks of her person as well as her surroundings; this one’s for the history buffs out there.

Despite having lost the majority of her works through the loss of the Library of Alexandria as well as multiple accounts of church-related public burnings, Sappho’s impact is still clear at the feet of artistry. When we consider her fragmented poems, there is much to be assumed about the gaps. Plenty of Sappho’s poems include her affairs of love and loss: although the later they span, it seems the more they focus on loss.


Fragment of a Sappho poem, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri: Part X.

In “Fragment 102” (Puchner), we see Sappho longing for another as Aphrodite has caused her to love once more.

102

Truly, sweet mother, I cannot weave on the loom, 
for I am overcome with desire for a boy because of slender Aphrodite.

In this poem, the speaker is fully enamored with another (it is not specified in the original translation whether or not the subject was a boy or a girl because Sappho, presumably on purpose, did not include a gendered article) and fails to complete her work as a weaver. Although it’s a short poem, the tone is clear and painfully longing. 

Aphrodite is mentioned by Sappho consistently throughout her work; usually as a (respectful) vessel of mockery or exasperation, since Sappho is often overwhelmed by the tumultuous feelings she bears. Aphrodite, though her source of agony at times, seems to respond whenever Sappho calls upon her, as in “Fragment 1,” and serves as a guiding presence for the poet’s despair. 

Fragment 130 is an excellent example of Sappho’s tonal focus: seductive, yearning, and almost self-deprecating in a sense.

130

Once again limb-loosening Love makes me tremble, that bittersweet, irresistible creature.

Respectfully, I will weep now. 

Sappho’s expression of choice in her writing is most obviously her ability to create a bridge between the reader and the writer that feeds emotion seamlessly. Her capitalization of “Love” insinuates Aphrodite yet again, this time as a concept, although her intent is clear. Her adoration of Aphrodite, in my opinion, could also be seen as love for the goddess herself. If you turn her poems in a different light, Aphrodite can be reflected as the love interest in Sappho’s work. This brings about the notion that, since Sappho’s love seems to be mostly unrequited, the ultimate sense of longing might find itself in the heart of an immortal who you cannot be with: a bittersweet, yet irresistible creature. 

Shying away from that revelation, poem 168B presents the epitome mortal solitude: communal loneliness. 

168B

The moon has set
and the Pleiades. It’s the middle
of the night and time goes by.
I lie here alone.

Instead of referencing Aphrodite, Sappho references the Pleiades, a star cluster located near the constellation Orion. In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were seven sisters born of Atlas, the titan cursed to hold the world upon his shoulders. Atlas was unable to protect his daughters from Orion, who wanted all of them for himself, so Zeus turned them into stars to be free of his seven-year chase. Unfortunately, Orion was also immortalized in the stars right behind the sisters, forever continuing his chase of them.

Sappho could be referencing her loneliness as unmoving and stagnant, like the state of the sisters cursed to the stars as their father was. Time goes by, and they still lie there alone. She could also be referring to her place in life; as the night changes, the moon sets as well as the stars, the is still where she was before, hopelessly aware of herself and her fleeting existence. She has a daughter, Cleis, who grows and changes constantly. Sappho herself, alone, depicts herself as her other poems have, assuming they reflect her identity, which ties in to the love and loss she’s experienced. 

Despite the overbearing lack of context provided for the majority of her pieces, Sappho’s impact is greater than we could have ever imagined. Fragments of her image have resurfaced recently, which gives hope to the future that there will be more to come (assuming any exhumed mummies have her page in the local paper they were wrapped with). Even though her remnants are scarce, her name is still spoken, still sung, still remembered by others who strive to keep her legacy alive.

As Sappho predicted centuries ago, a resurfaced line of hers perfectly encompasses said legacy:

Someone will remember us, I say. 
Even in another time.

 

References:

Poems, pictures, and information on Sappho:

Marguerite Johnson Professor of Classics. “Guide to the Classics: Sappho, a Poet in Fragments.” The Conversation, 24 Jan. 2022, https://theconversation.com/guide-to-the-classics-sappho-a-poet-in-fragments-90823.

 

Puchner, Martin. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Volume A. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. Print.

 

Egyptian Love Poems

 

When you read the words “Ancient Egypt”, what images immediately come to mind? The richness of this vibrant culture is well known to most through the monumental tombs for pharaohs, the hieroglyphics, and the paintings that feature different aspects of life for gods and men alike. While all of those aspects of the culture are integral to learning about the Ancient Egyptians, the literary tradition has not received the same spotlight in the past. The literary tradition of ancient Egypt is one of the oldest ones in the world, and most of it has been lost to us due to the fragility of the papyrus some of it was written on and the lack of translations. Luckily the world has been graced with writings about several topics such as religion, adventure, and love from the point of view of those living in ancient Egypt.

Although these texts were written around five thousand years ago, the people of Ancient Egypt do not seem to be so far away when we read their poetry. Although there are differences between the delivery of modern and ancient Egyptian poetry, the themes are strikingly similar, and they highlight the similarities in human experience that have been explored by writers from thousands of different literary traditions.  Instead of the way that we normally experience poetry today, Ancient Egyptian love poetry was often set to music and performed aloud like many other ancient texts. Oral storytelling is a beautiful way for those that could not read the written language to enjoy these historical, religious, and romantic texts. Here is an example of a classical musician performing an Egyptian love poem with an ancient instrument and language to display what these performances may have sounded like. Peter Pringle has studied many classical instrument, and the one he is using here is the djedjet which has been featured in ancient Egyptian artwork. While we may never know what these poems sounded like with exact certainty, it is fascinating to make connections between these poems and modern love songs. (Click on the video to watch) 

When you take a look at the poetry of the Ancient Egyptians, the similarities between ancient and modern discussions of the ups and downs of love becomes apparent. A close examination shows you the depth and complexity of the feelings the pair has for each other. A stanza from [I wish I were her Nubian maid] reveals a man’s obsessive feelings towards the woman he loves, and [Am I not here with you?] discusses a woman’s desperation for her lover to treat her the way he used to.

[I wish I were her Nubian maid]

(Boy)

I wish I were the laundryman

Of my beloved’s clothes,

For even just a month!

I would be strengthened

By grasping the garments

That touch her body.

For I would be washing out the moringa oils

That are in her kerchief

Then I’d rub my body

With her castoff garments,

And she…

O how I would be in joy and delight, my body vigorous!

This poem illustrates the various ways that he would like to be involved in his lover’s life. Through his descriptions of service by being her maid, her laundryman, and the ring on her finger, he is trying to show that he wants to be a piece of every part of her day. The descriptions in this poem pour love from every word chosen, and the strength, joy, and delight that he gets from her presence is something that modern audiences can relate to.

[Am I not here with you?]
(Girl)
Am I not here with you?

Then why have you set your heart to leave?

Why don’t you embrace me?

Has my deed come back upon me?

If you seek to caress my thighs.

Is it because you are thinking of food

That you would go away?

Or because you are a slave to your belly?

is it because you are about clothes?

Well, I have a bedsheet!

Is it because you are hungry that you would leave?

Then take my breasts

That their gifts may flow forth to you.

Better a day in the embrace of my beloved

Than thousands on thousands anywhere else!

 

This poem is from the perspective of the woman this time, and the major difference between this poem and [I wish I were her Nubian Maid] is the desperation the woman has to cling to a love that she feels is slipping away. [Am I not here with you?] displays a woman trying to understand why her lover has been acting different around her lately. She wonders if he is more interested in food than her, or if his mind is somewhere else. Her confusion towards his changed feelings and her desperation to give him whatever she can think of to come back to her is a theme that can also be found in modern stories.

Although these poems were written thousands of years ago, the messages still ring true in the hearts of modern audiences. Ancient Egyptian culture is fascinating, and it is hard to approach their art with a sense of honor and reverence towards everything they had built. While there is value in this approach, it is also important to recognize the humanity of the Egyptians that were creating this art. Taking a closer look at literature from different cultures and periods of time than theirs forces the reader to recognize the similarities that exist between all people.

References:

Poems and information on ancient Egyptian culture and literature:

Puchner, Martin. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Volume A. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. Print.

Pictures:

Pyramids- https://www.google.com/search?q=ancient+egypt&rlz=1C1FHFK_enUS941US941&hl=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiT85Lw2Of1AhVsl2oFHXz_A4sQ_AUoAXoECAIQAw&biw=1536&bih=754&dpr=1.25#imgrc=1bGmBGW3JHozeM

Youtube video link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntnBuQAvFjA