Tag Archives: literature

Satire

Jonathan Swift. One of the perks of being a pamphleteer was you got to wear big wigs.

Satire : a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc.

Many pamphleteers commented on social conditions or criticized the government. Jonathan Swift used satire to make his points—‘Swiftian’ is still an adjective for a particularly dark sense of humor. In 1729 Swift published  A Modest Proposal to transform poor Irish children from a burden to society instead to being a benefit. His pamphlet caused a howling, righteous uproar (click on the link to read it)—just as it would today on Instagram or Twitter. Daniel Defoe’s satirical The Shortest Way with the Dissenters got him arrested for sedition.

Then, as now, the ruling class had no sense of humor and wouldn’t tolerate criticism. The British government censored and arrested pamphleteers for expressing politically incorrect opinions. The idea that writers should have the liberty to write about whatever they choose and have their work printed and distributed is called freedom of the press. This was a new concept. John Milton defended freedom of the press in a pamphlet that he had to publish anonymously. He was revealed as its true author only a couple of years ago.

https://www.britannica.com/art/pamphlet
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pamphleteer
https://collections.libraries.indiana.edu/lilly/exhibitions_legacy/defoe/pamphlets.html
https://www.amazon.com/Jonathan-Swift-As-Tory-Pamphleteer/dp/0295978708
https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/milton-9781608193783/
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/satire

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

The pamphleteers

Daniel Defoe

If you were a young writer just starting out during Brit lit’s Augustan Age (late 1600s – early 1700s), pamphlets were the way to build an audience. Pamphlets can be as short as 4 pages. Lots of them don’t even have covers. They’re cheap and easy to produce—and plenty of people could read by then—so you could sell bunches of ‘em. They were the social media of those days. If you had something on your mind, a topic to rant about, you wrote an essay and printed it up as a pamphlet. You became a pamphleteer.

You may recognize the names of some pamphleteers—Daniel Defoe (he wrote Robinson Crusoe), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Tom Paine (his pamphlets were made into a collection titled Common Sense), John Milton (Paradise Lost).

https://www.britannica.com/art/pamphlet
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pamphleteer
https://poemanalysis.com/movement/augustan-age/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

The Odyssey in one sentence

Odysseus had himself tied to the mast so he could listen to the Sirens without jumping overboard (of course there’s a link to the song below).

If you read The Iliad, you may remember Odysseus, one of the Greek commanders in the Trojan War. That was 20 years before this story, The Odyssey, which is about Odysseus trying to get back home to Ithaca where he left his wife and son. Homer, the blind poet who wrote it, starts the story in the middle—or, say it with me, in medias res (you need to know this or they won’t let you graduate from college).  Okay, here we go—

Polyphemus the cyclops

We join our hero Odysseus wasting time on the island Ogygia with the demigoddess Calypso who is a real cutie while his wife and kid patiently wait for Odysseus to come home where a bunch of guys hang around Penelope (his wife) hoping she’ll marry one of them she tells them to get lost but they won’t go away and every night they throw loud parties at Odysseus’ house and eat all the food the goddess Athena says this is not good so she sends the messenger-god Hermes to tell Odysseus to quit stepping out on Mrs Odysseus and go home Athena gives Telemachus (Odysseus’ son) courage to stand up to the creeps pestering Penelope so they start thinking about how to murder him Odysseus finally waves goodbye to Calypso and sails until he lands at Phaeacia and falls asleep on the beach Princess Nausicaa finds Odysseus who looks like a beach bum she introduces him to mom and dad Odysseus tells them about his adventures like how the Cicones punished Odysseus’ men for being greedy and how the Lotus Eaters got everybody high on flowers and how Odysseus blinded the one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus which wasn’t such a hot idea because Polyphemus’ dad is the sea-god Poseidon Odysseus tells them about that old bag of wind Aeolus and the Laestrygonians who eat people and the witch Circe who turned his men into pigs and the irresistible Sirens who sing to sailors until their ships crash and the monsters Scylla and Charybdis and how finally Odysseus and his crew landed on the Island of the Sun the crew were really hungry so they barbecued the Sun-god’s cows which cheesed off Zeus who killed every man except Odysseus with a bolt of lightning so Odysseus floated on a raft to Calypso’s island and stayed put for seven years Odysseus finally wraps up his story and the king gives him a ship so Odysseus sails home to Ithaca he dresses like a beggar so nobody will recognize him and meets up with Telemachus and a pig-farmer they all go to Odysseus’ house to beat up the creeps Odysseus’ old dog Argos recognizes him so does his old nurse but not Penelope the creeps give Odysseus some flack because they think he’s just some beggar now after 20 years Penelope figures Odysseus ain’t coming back so I’ll marry one of these idiots whoever can win an archery contest but you have to use my husband’s bow and shoot an arrow through a row of axes that have holes in them none of the creeps can even get a string on Odysseus’ bow so then the old beggar comes up strings the bow and shoots an arrow through the axes now everybody knows who he is Odysseus and Telemachus kill all the creeps Odysseus and Penelope are together again and everything in Ithaca is back to good ol’ normal.

Odysseus disguised as a beggar

Thanks to LitCharts https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-odyssey/summary
https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-trp-001&hsimp=yhs-001&hspart=trp&p=ray+harryhausen+cyclops#id=5&vid=71e2e8a5a17758c3b7fce1801e453164&action=click
The irresistible Annette Hanshaw—
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ao1LoDCr_4


Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

In case you hadn’t remember’d—

(Originally posted Oct 25, 2013)

Happy St Crispin’s Day!

But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.Spoken by Henry; from William Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act IV Scene 3

Gang, this beautiful language is our inheritance—a gift to us from people long gone. Here is the entire scene. More info here. If you saw the Queen Elizabeth movie that came out a few years ago, you’ll remember Cate Blanchett in armor giving a speech to her troops just before they battle the Spanish. I assumed the screenwriters had been inspired by the King Henry speech above. Silly me, I got it backwards—in fact it was Queen Bess’ speech that had inspired Shakespeare.

Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh subduing a lion who was probably minding its own business.

I decided Gilgamesh deserves his own post. It helps to get a handle on a culture by looking at its heroes and stories. Gilgamesh the king was an actual historical figure. Gilgamesh the hero of the epic was two-thirds divine and one-third mortal.

The story begins in Uruk, a city in Ancient Sumer (Mesopotamia) where Gilgamesh rules as king. Though Gilgamesh is known to be stronger than any other man, the people of Uruk complain that he abuses his power. The gods hear these complaints, and the god Aruru creates Enkidu, a man as strong as Gilgamesh. Aruru forms Enkidu out of water and clay, out in the wilderness. Enkidu lives in nature, in harmony with the wild animals.”

So Gilgamesh and Enkidu meet, wrestle, become best buds. They defeat the awful giant Humbaba. The goddess Ishtar proposes marriage to Gilgamesh—when he turns her down she sics the Bull of Heaven on him and Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeat him, too. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh works out his grief by searching for the meaning of life and the source of immortality.

I taught a unit on Gilgamesh to high-schoolers in Sunday school, just because there are so many echoes of Bible stories in Gilgamesh, particularly in Genesis. There’s a Great Flood; a guy who survives the flood by loading his family and animals into a big boat; a plant that holds the essence of Life (with a treacherous serpent hanging around nearby); Enkidu is a hairy strongman who is tamed by a seductress and loses his hair. My point in teaching Gilgamesh wasn’t to diminish the Bible stories, but to show how the Bible stories grew from a tradition of ancient MidEast literature into a narrative that tells the story of all us mortals, not just divine, semi-divine and immortal characters. The Bible is a radical departure from that tradition.

We get Gilgamesh from pieces of clay tablets that have survived through the ages. A library fire, which would mean a disastrous loss of literature today, actually preserved many ancient books by firing the clay they were written on. Gilgamesh is a fun read, although there are adults themes in there, so be warned.

Time to get serious

I’ve sorta-kinda joked on this blog about saving Western Civilization. Even my motto reads: “Saving Western Civilization through kid’s book illustration.” And I’ve honestly meant to get started on that. I have, in a modest way, been promoting Western Civ by teaching Sunday School and posting some historical stuff here once in a while. I haven’t been very serious about that motto, though. But it’s a new year; a good time to get serious.

Why does Western Civ need saving, anyway? We have Shakespeare and quantum physics and cell phones. We have crop rotation and the alphabet and Broadway. That’s good, right? Why can’t I just be happy?

The problem is: I meet very few people who understand how we got Western Civ. There are too many people who think Western Civilization is not such a good thing, and is maybe an embarrassment, or should be apologized for. That way of thinking saddens me, if only because it’s so easy to point to how much human beings have benefited from Western Civilization.

I think it’s important to understand how we’ve achieved all the things that we have. It’s important to recognize our incredible inheritance—gifts we’ve been given by amazing people who are long gone. Why were moveable type or symphonies or Greenwich Mean Time invented in the West? It’s vital for young people to understand how Western Civilization works, so that they may prosper in it.

This is my mission. If I can’t save Western Civ, at least I can document her glories. I like history, so I’m going to be writing a history of Western Civ—particularly a history of ideas. I’ll post the stuff I’m writing here on this blog, as a way of test-marketing. My goal is to write and illustrate a book that presents the history of Western Civ in a fun format. You must know by now that I’m a smart-alec, so of course it will be funny. Lots of gags. Lots of pictures. I expect to learn and discover new info as I do the research.

I invite you all to come with me.

John