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Myths - "The Other Side of Wonder"
Like the empty sky it has no boundaries, yet it is right in this place, ever profound and clear.2
So run the lines from Cheng Tao, describing signifying, identifying myths - always there explaining existence and every facet of life, explaining the reason behind every man's actions:
For what is a myth? Lillian Hornstein3 describes it best. "A myth is the traditional tale common to the members of a tribe, race, or nation, usually involving the supernatural and serving to explain some natural phenomena. Given as an example is the tale of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, abducted by Hades and brought to the underworld but allowed to return to earth and visit her mother for six months. Thus, we have the varied alternations of the season on earth.
Shall we consider the social-cultural effects of myths positive or negative?
To the globalized man who through the years has been digitized, there is a scientific and rational reason for every season (alluding to Persephone) and Persephone and her abduction to the underworld and being able to come back and remain on earth for six months would be a tale you would unfold to a child's wondering question as to why the ice, the sleet, and the snow come after the leaves have fallen (in autumn) after a long stretch of warm, sunny days of summer and why does the earth turn green again and flowers burst in colorful blooms every spring.
A borrowed the phrase "the other side of wonder" because even an adult like me would also wonder. Yet the story of Persephone is a myth which has no basis on fact but it is a myth that stirs the imagination.
Let's go into more thoughtful and more acceptable provocation. How is the myth exemplified, for instance in King Lear of Shakespeare.
It is an accepted fact that tragic heroes have tragic flaws. It is their tragic flaw which lead to their destruction. King Lear's tragic flaws are his vanity and his allowing himself to be deluded by the flatteries and lies of his daughters Goneril and Reagan4. He believes himself to be a "compleat father" which he is not and so he deludes himself into believing Goneril's and Reagan's protestations of love and affection for him. Cordelia, the youngest daughter, will not fawn at her father's feet and be rewarded by a gift of property. To her it was like equating love with an award. Besides she knew that her sisters were not telling the truth. Their protestations are mythical - untruths.
There is usually a bond of love tying parents and children. That bond cannot be broken. That is a myth. Not all parents and children are bound by affection and filial loyalty. Look how the fool has virtually called King Lear a fool.5
Thomas Carlyle, British historian, once commented "just what I have but what I do is my kingdom." A kingdom presupposes a king and the real test of king is his ability to rule. Not his possession but his activity is the test of his sovereignty.6
King Lear disposes of his property, his kingdom and still wants to retain his authority over his vassals. But he is no longer king.
Samuel Johnson7 remarks on the improbability of Lear's conduct. If we consider the barbarity and ignorance of the age to which the story of Lear is referred it will appear as probable to happen. The preference of one daughter to another or the resignation of dominion would be credible.
The instances of cruelty8 in King Lear are too savage and shocking, and the intervention of Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester, destroys the simplicity of the story.
The predominant image in Lear's disordered mind seems to be the loss of his kingdom and the cruelty of his daughters. It seems likely that it is the cruelty of his daughters which is the primary source of his distress, and the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and subordinate evil.
Study of Moby Dick or the Whale9
The story of Moby Dick, the white whale, unfolds into a parable of Melville's new philosophical convictions. A great amount of reading underlay the writing: the influence of the Bible, Milton, Goethe, Byron, Carlyle, and Emerson is strongly evident.
Moby Dick may be interpreted in several ways. It can be an exciting adventure story, supposedly the world's greatest sea novel, composed of searching, pursuit, conflict, and catastrophe. It is a plot of endless search for revenge, it is a story of mystery and terror, filled with omens and forebodings from the insane Elijah's warnings to the prophecies of Fedallah. Clear throughout is a mastery of suspense and horror, of both subtle and broad humor, of exciting narrative in vigorous prose.
The characters are convincingly portrayed. Starbuck is a foil to Ahab. The three harpooners are also individualized. The characterization of the multi-autobiographical Ishmael and of Ahab are the most important and they are tied up with the book's meaning. Ishmael's name connotes the wanderer and outcast. He shares the malaise and the restlessness of the romantic hero.10 He alone recognizes the desire to kill Moby Dick as madness. Ishmael was first a philosophical anarchist, repudiating society and those in power, he grows to real democracy in deep respect for an insight into the secrets of human life. He is not an agnostic about the dignity of man and the great need for fellowship - and he alone on the Pequod in saved.
Melville's Ahab is inflicted with monomania. Isolation, pride, obsession with revenge, reliance on the unaided self and blasphemy make up his tragic flaw.
Commentators have never pointed out Melville's obsession for symbolism. He underscores the spiritual meaning of physical details. Some uncertain significance "lurks in all things. The rope tying Ishmael to Queeguey is the bond of brotherhood, loose and fast fish produce thoughts of the privilege of Russian serfdom and American slavery. The nine "gams" (conversation) with other ships are symbolic. The ship "Delight" has suffered humiliating defeat from Moby Dick, and Rachel, like her biblical namesake is in search of her lost children.
The white whale represents various forces and evils. It is the malicious agencies which eat away at the hearts of men. It is all evil, visibly personified against which he piled all the rage and hate felt by the whole race."11
But to Ishmael, it is Ahab who is insane in his quest for revenge.
From the pages of antiquity come the voice of provocative thinkers - their voices are capable of disseminating concepts valuable to the mind and to our work. The story of King Lear and that of Ahab in Moby Dick should provide opportunities for lessons on individualism, pride, social conformity, group cooperation - and most important, sublimation of pride, desire for revenge, self aggrandizement.
Myths are also vehicles for lessons on moral values, respect for others especially, self-discipline, curbing of anti-social behavior, stabilizing the social situation.
The superior man12 searches for the truth, investigates, asks critical questions and seeks answers. He is concerned with justice, is serene, not filled with anxiety, impatience, inevitably, is congenial, never vulgar, not arrogant. The superior man would accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative wherever he may be - at home, at sea or on land.13
Ahab in Moby Dick violated the rules of nature where he kept on a course of whale-hunt for Moby Dick. Moby Dick is the personification, the symbol of life's insurmountable forces. When nature and its minions, like the whale strike back, man is a puny victim of nature's might.
The great Aristotle, to counteract such evil propensities in King Lear and Moby Dick would advocate that a person should want to do the correct action, do…[continue]
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