Author: Mojav3 Development Group

Harvard Classics

July 25 – Poetic Edda: LAY OF BRYNHILD

A Goddess and Her Mortal Lover
Brynhild, Woden’s daughter, carried the dead heroes to Valhalla where they could feast and fight without dying; until a sin divested her of divinity, and she fell in love with Sigurd.
Read: LAY OF BRYNHILD Vol. 49pp. 391-395

“Edda” (/ˈɛdə/; Old Norse Edda, plural Eddur) is an Old Norse term that has been attributed by modern scholars to the collective of two Medieval Icelandic literary works: what is now known as the Prose Edda and an older collection of poems without an original title now known as the Poetic Edda. The term historically referred only to the Prose Edda, but this since has fallen out of use because of the confusion with the other work. Both works were written down in Iceland during the 13th century in Icelandic, although they contain material from earlier traditional sources, reaching into the Viking Age. The books are the main sources of medieval skaldic tradition in Iceland and Norse mythology.

The Poetic Edda, also known as Sæmundar Edda or the Elder Edda, is a collection of Old Norse poems from the Icelandic medieval manuscript Codex Regius (“Royal Book”). Along with the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda is the most expansive source on Norse mythology. The first part of the Codex Regius preserves poems that narrate the creation and foretold destruction and rebirth of the Old Norse mythological world as well as individual myths about gods concerning Norse deities. The poems in the second part narrate legends about Norse heroes and heroines, such as Sigurd, Brynhildr and Gunnar.

It consists from 2 parts. The first part has 10 songs about gods, the second one has 19 songs about heros.

The Codex Regius was written in the 13th century, but nothing is known of its whereabouts until 1643, when it came into the possession of Brynjólfur Sveinsson, then the Church of Iceland’s Bishop of Skálholt. At that time, versions of the Prose Edda were well known in Iceland, but scholars speculated that there once was another Edda—an Elder Edda—which contained the pagan poems Snorri quotes in his book. When the Codex Regius was discovered, it seemed that this speculation had proven correct. Brynjólfur attributed the manuscript to Sæmundr the Learned, a larger-than-life 12th century Icelandic priest. While this attribution is rejected by modern scholars, the name Sæmundar Edda is still sometimes encountered.

Bishop Brynjólfur sent the Codex Regius as a present to King Christian IV of Denmark, hence the name Codex Regius. For centuries it was stored in the Royal Library in Copenhagen but in 1971 it was returned to Iceland.

Brunhild, also known as Brunhilda or Brynhild (Old Norse: Brynhildr, Middle High German: Brünhilt, Modern German: Brünhild or Brünhilde), is a female character from Germanic heroic legend. She may have her origins in the Visigothic princess Brunhilda of Austrasia.

In the Norse tradition, Brunhild is a shieldmaiden or valkyrie, who appears as a main character in the Völsunga saga and some Eddic poems treating the same events. In the continental Germanic tradition, where she is a central character in the Nibelungenlied, she is a powerful Amazon-like queen. In both traditions, she is instrumental in bringing about the death of the hero Sigurd or Siegfried after he deceives her into marrying the Burgundian king Gunther or Gunnar. In both traditions, the immediate cause for her desire to have Sigurd murdered is a quarrel with the hero’s wife, Gudrun or Kriemhild. In the Scandinavian tradition, but not in the continental tradition, Brunhild kills herself after Sigurd’s death.

Richard Wagner made Brunhild (as Brünnhilde) an important character in his opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. The majority of modern conceptions of the figure have been inspired or influenced by Wagner’s depiction.

Brunhild has been called “the paramount figure of Germanic legend.” The Nibelungenlied introduces her by saying:

Ez was ein küneginne gesezzen über sê.
ir gelîche enheine man wesse ninder mê.
diu was unmâzen schoene. vil michel was ir kraft.
si schôz mit snellen degenen umbe minne den schaft.

There was a queen who resided over the sea,
Whose like no one knew of anywhere.
She was exceedingly beautiful and great in physical strength.
She shot the shaft with bold knights — love was the prize.

The name Brunhild in its various forms is derived from the equivalents of Old High German brunia (armor) and hiltia (conflict). The name is first attested in the sixth century, for the historical Brunhilda of Austrasia, as Brunichildis.

In the context of the heroic tradition, the first element of her name may be connected to Brunhild’s role as a shieldmaiden.

In the Eddic poem Helreið Brynhildar, the valkyrie Sigrdrífa from Sigrdrífumál is identified with Brunhild. This name consists of the elements sigr and drífa and can be translated as “driver to victory”. It could simply be a synonym for valkyrie.

Fragments of the Lay of Brynhild


What hath wrought Sigurd
Of any wrong-doing
That the life of the famed one
Thou art fain of taking?


To me has Sigurd
Sworn many oaths,
Sworn many oaths,
And sworn them lying,
And he bewrayed me
When it behoved him
Of all folk to his troth
To be the most trusty.


Thee hath Brynhild
Unto all bale,
And all hate whetted,
And a work of sorrow;
For she grudges to Gudrun
All goodly life;
And to thee the bliss
Of her very body.

Some the wolf roasted,
Some minced the worm,
Some unto Guttorm
Gave the wolf-meat,
Or ever they might
In their lust for murder
On the high king
Lay deadly hand.

Sigurd lay slain
On the south of the Rhine.
High from the fair tree
Croaked forth the raven,
“Ah, yet shall Atli
On you redden edges,
The old oaths shall weigh
On your souls, O warriors.”

Without stood Gudrun,
Giuki’s daughter,
And the first word she said
Was even this word:
“Where then is Sigurd,
Lord of the Warfolk,
Since my kin
Come riding the foremost?”

One word Hogni
Had for an answer:
“Our swords have smitten
Sigurd asunder,
And the grey horse hangs drooping
O’er his lord lying dead.”

Then quoth Brynhild,
Budli’s daughter;
“Good weal shall ye have
Of weapons and lands,
That Sigurd alone
Would surely have ruled
If he had lived
But a little longer.

“Ah, nothing seemly
For Sigurd to rule
Giuki’s house
And the folk of the Goths,
When of him five sons
For the slaying of men,
Eager for battle
Should have been begotten!”

Then laughed Brynhild—
Loud rang the whole house—
One laugh only
From out her heart:
“Long shall your bliss be
Of lands and people,
Whereas the famed lord
You have felled to the earth!”

Then spake Gudrun,
Giuki’s daughter;
“Much thou speakest,
Many things fearful,
All grame be on Gunnar
The bane of Sigurd!
From a heart full of hate
Shall come heavy vengeance.”

Forth sped the even
Enow there was drunken,
Full enow was there
Of all soft speech;
And all men got sleep
When to bed they were gotten;
Gunnar only lay waking
Long after all men.

His feet fell he to moving,
Fell to speak to himself
The waster of men,
Still turned in his mind
What on the bough
Those twain would be saying,
The raven and erne,
As they rode their ways homeward.

But Brynhild awoke,
Budli’s daughter,
May of the shield-folk,
A little ere morning:
“Thrust ye on, hold ye back,
—Now all harm is wrought,—
To tell of my sorrow,
Or to let all slip by me?”

All kept silence
After her speaking,
None might know
That woman’s mind,
Or why she must weep
To tell of the work
That laughing once
Of men she prayed.


In dreams, O Gunnar,
Grim things fell on me;
Dead-cold the hall was,
And my bed was a-cold,
And thou, lord, wert riding
Reft of all bliss,
Laden with fetters
‘Mid the host of thy foemen.

So now all ye,
O House of the Niblungs,
Shall be brought to naught,
O ye oath-breakers!

Think’st thou not, Gunnar,
How that betid,
When ye let the blood run
Both in one footstep?
With ill reward
Hast thou rewarded
His heart so fain
To be the foremost!

As well was seen
When he rode his ways,
That king of all worth,
Unto my wooing;
How the host-destroyer
Held to the vows
Sworn beforetime,
Sworn to the young king.

For his wounding-wand
All wrought with gold,
The king beloved
Laid between us;
Without were its edges
Wrought with fire,
But with venom-drops
Deep dyed within.

Thus this song telleth of the death of Sigurd, and setteth forth how that they slew him without doors; but some say that they slew him within doors, sleeping in his bed. But the Dutch Folk say that they slew him out in the wood: and so sayeth the ancient song of Gudrun, that Sigurd and the sons of Giuki were riding to the Thing whenas he was slain. But all with one accord say that they bewrayed him in their troth with him, and fell on him as he lay unarrayed and unawares.

Religious Studies

2 Kings 4: 42-44 vs John 6: 1-15

2nd Kings 4:42-44


A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing the man of God twenty barely loaves made from the first fruits, and fresh grain in the ear. “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said.


But his servant objected, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha insisted. “For thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.'”


And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the LORD had said.

John 6: 1-15


After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (of Tiberias).


A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.


Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.


The Jewish feast of Passover was near.


When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”


He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.


Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages 5 worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little (bit).”


One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,


“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves 6 and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”


Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.


Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.


When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”


So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets 8 with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.


When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”


Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

Harvard Classics

July 24 – Charles Darwin: Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter 14

Indian Sorcery Blamed for an Earthquake
Darwin visited a South American city ruined by an earthquake. There he heard the superstitious account of the phenomenon. The ignorant people accused Indian women of bewitching the volcano. But Darwin has another explanation.
Read from Darwin‘s VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE Vol. 29, pp. 306-316

Simultaneous eruption of Osorno, Corcovado, Aconcagua (borderline inactive), and Coseguina (dormant 26 years) volcanoes.

1 nautical league = 3.45 miles

Periagua is the term formerly used in the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of North America for a range of small craft including canoes and small sailing vessels. The term periagua overlaps, but is not synonymous with, pirogue, derived through the French language from piragua.

adjective FORMAL
holding firmly to an opinion or a course of action.
“he worked with a pertinacious resistance to interruptions”

A bad earthquake at once destroys our oldest associations: the earth, the very emblem of solidity, has moved beneath our feet like a thin crust over a fluid;—one second of time has created in the mind a strange idea of insecurity, which hours of reflection would not have produced.

Charles Darwin

Natives observed the relationship between suppressed volcano activity and subsequent earthquakes; however, blamed the suppressed activity on witchcraft.

Harvard Classics

July 23 – Sir Francis Bacon: Essays, Of Friendship

Friendship Above Love?
There are styles in friendship as well as in clothes. The mode of friendship of Bacon’s time went out with plumed hats and long hose. But Bacon knew the true test of a friend.
(Francis Bacon knighted, July 23, 1603.)
Read from BACON‘S ESSAYS Vol. 3 pp. 6572

Francis Bacon begins “Of Friendship” with an anthropological statement of Aristotle i.e
“Whatsoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.”
It is humans’ nature that whenever they come across solitude, they act as wild beasts due to ‘natural and secret hatred’ and ‘aversation towards society’. There are however, examples of few men like ‘Epimenides the Candian, Numa the Roman, Empedocles the Sicilian, and Apollonius of Tyana’, all these men tried to sequester themselves for a higher conversation. Bacon calls their attempt ‘false and feign’ without supporting his argument, he leaves it to the reader’s evaluation to decide whether they were ‘false and feign’ or righteous in their pursuit.
Bacon further demonstrates that solitude may also prevails in company; faces may be nothing more than ‘a gallery of pictures’; conversation may be ‘tinkling cymbal’ where there is no love. As a Latin saying clearly supports Bacon’s point,
“Magna civitas, magna solitude”.
Great cities are great solitudes.The reason behind this very statement is that in greater cities, friends are scattered and there is no fellowship. Bacon says it is the miserable solitude that compels a person to make friends and a person wills to want true friends without which the world is not other than a place of wilderness.
In second paragraph of his essay, Bacon describes the utilitarian approach of friendship. He elaborates utility of a friend in life.

The principal fruit of friendship is the ease and discharge of the fullness and swellings of the heart, which passions of all kinds do cause and induce. The diseases of stoppings and suffocations are the most dangerous in the body, so, a true friend helps to unload emotional burden. A person may take ‘sarza to open the liver, steel to open the spleen, flowers of Sulphur for the lungs, castoreum for the brain’ but there is no dose to open the heart except a true friend. A true friend can be utilized to impart griefs, joys, hopes, suspicions, counsels, and whatsoever lies upon heart to suppress it.

In the third paragraph, Bacon tells some bitter realities of friendship. He luminates some examples from the history where friendship took place between emperors and their servants. The rulers rose their servants or subordinatives so high that later on they caused immense inconvenience for them. Those subordinatives knowing the weakness of their royal friends, made attempts to make them their own subordinatives. Firstly, he gives example of L. Sylla, the commander of Rome, who raised the general of his forces, Pompey to great height. Afterwards, Pompey vaunted himself for Sylla’s overmatch.

Brutus had slowly made his way to Ceaser’s heart. He was Ceaser’s closest confidant and advisor. As a reward of the enduring companionship provided by Brutus, Ceaser in his will had made Brutus his heir after his nephew. Brutus had cast a spell over Ceaser, an influence the latter never suspected as wicked. This was to become Ceaser’s nemesis later. Ceaser had all but dismissed the senate because some ill omen portended a calamity. His wife’s deadly dream about an impending danger strengthened Ceaser’s desire to do away with the senate. Brutus stepped in at the last moment to prevail upon Ceaser to hold back his decision of discharging the senate until Culpurina (Ceaser’s wife) dreamt something better. So great was Brutus’s sway on Ceaser that in one of Antonius’ letter, mentioned by Cicero in his speech, Antonius has disparagingly called Brutus ‘venefica’– a witch, who had ‘enchanted’ Ceaser for evil designs.

Augustus elevated Agrippa high up in the royal hierarchy despite the latter’s mean birth (not from a noble family). Agrippa’s clout in the royal court had soared ominously. He was enjoying enviable privilege and power. When Augustus consulted the royal counselor Maecenas about the marriage of his daughter Julia, the counselor proffered an awkward advice. He suggested to Augustus to give his daughter in marriage to Agrippa. There was no way anyone else could win her hand with Agrappa around. If this was not agreeable to the emperor, he would have to eliminate Agrippa. There was no third option.

In the same way, Bacon gives some more examples of Tiberius Caesar and Sejanus, Septimius Severus and Plautianus etc. All these men tasted a bitter fruit of friendship.

All the characters described above were not novices. They were not soft-hearted and noble-minded like Trajan, or Marcus Aurelius. In fact, these eminent members of Rome’s royalty were hard-nosed pragmatists. They took no major decision relating to governance without enough care, caution and confabulation.

Yet, why did all of them fawn over their friends in such bizarre manner? This is explained by the fact that these powerful persons craved for friendship in their quest for worldly happiness.

Bacon reiterates his contention by saying that all these eminent men had access to all pleasures of life, had families, wealth and power. They failed to draw a line in their relation with their chums. Later, the same adored friends brought them defeat, disaster and even death.

Bacon shares the parable of Pythagoras; Cor ne edito; ‘Eat not the heart’. It may seem dark but it is true that those that want friends to open their hearts are killers of their own hearts.

The communication of a man’s self to his friend, works two contrary effects; first, it redoubles his joys and second, it cuts his griefs in halves. Because, there is no doubt when a person imparts his joys to his friends, he joys more than others. However, when he imparts his griefs, they become less. It is a fact that, bodies become healthier upon natural actions such as joy and happiness. Whereas, they are weakened and become dull on sad and violent impressions, same is the case with the mind.

As the first fruit is for the affections, the second fruit is for understanding of things under different perspectives. It makes ‘daylight in the understanding out of darkness and confusion of thoughts’. Moreover, a friend is undoubtedly, a witty counselor. He helps in different tough circumstances for making a way right out of trouble. Sharing one’s problems with a friend is far more fruitful than a day’s meditation. A friend’s counsel always works when a person himself is not clear with his thoughts. It is need of wisdom to think critically on a situation, hence , two minds can think more excellently than a single one. Bacon says, ‘ the help of good counsel is that which setteth business straight’. However, only that friend is legitimate for counsel who is wholly acquainted with a man’s estate. Otherwise, his counsel ‘will rather distract and mislead, than settle and direct.

First two fruits helps for peace in the affections and support of the judgement. The last fruit is like pomegranate, full of many kernels. It helps in several ways and has manifold fruits in itself.There is an ancient saying,

‘ A Friend is another himself; for that a friend is far more than himself ’.

There are many things which, a man cannot do himself, and then a friend is an appropriate alternative. Undoubtedly, the death is inevitable, so if a man dies, a true friend is highly suitable to do his unfinished work.

A man owns a single body that is confined to a single place, but where there is friend, ‘ all offices of life are as it were granted to him, and his deputy.For he may exercise them by his friend’. A man cannot speak to his child except as a father. On the other hand , his friend can fulfill his job in a better way. A man has many proper relations that he doesnot want to put off. So, a friend can be helpul in handling his public and personal relations.

At the end of this essay, Bacon encloses with a rule, ‘where a man cannot fitly play his own part; if he have not a friend, he may quit the stage’.

Harvard Classics

July 22 – Homer: The Odyssey

Trapped in a Cave with a Frenzied Giant
Odysseus was wrecked with his men on an island inhabited by one-eyed giants. Trapped in the cave of a giant who gobbled up some of the crew for supper, the cunning Odysseus blinded the giant and rescued the survivors of his crew.
Read from Homer‘s ODYSSEY Vol. 22, pp. 120-129

Reluctantly, Odysseus tells the Phaeacians the sorry tale of his wanderings. From Troy, the winds sweep him and his men to Ismarus, city of the Cicones. The men plunder the land and, carried away by greed, stay until the reinforced ranks of the Cicones turn on them and attack. Odysseus and his crew finally escape, having lost six men per ship. A storm sent by Zeus sweeps them along for nine days before bringing them to the land of the Lotus-eaters, where the natives give some of Odysseus’s men the intoxicating fruit of the lotus. As soon as they eat this fruit, they lose all thoughts of home and long for nothing more than to stay there eating more fruit. Only by dragging his men back to the ship and locking them up can Odysseus get them off the island.

Odysseus and his men then sail through the murky night to the land of the Cyclops, a rough and uncivilized race of one-eyed giants. After making a meal of wild goats captured on an island offshore, they cross to the mainland. There they immediately come upon a cave full of sheep and crates of milk and cheese. The men advise Odysseus to snatch some of the food and hurry off, but, to his and his crew’s detriment, he decides to linger. The cave’s inhabitant soon returns—it is the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. Polyphemus makes a show of hospitality at first, but he soon turns hostile. He devours two of Odysseus’s men on the spot and imprisons Odysseus and the rest in his cave for future meals.

Odysseus wants to take his sword to Polyphemus right then, but he knows that only Polyphemus is strong enough to move the rock that he has placed across the door of his cave. Odysseus thus devises and executes a plan. The next day, while Polyphemus is outside pasturing his sheep, Odysseus finds a wooden staff in the cave and hardens it in the fire. When Polyphemus returns, Odysseus gets him drunk on wine that he brought along from the ship. Feeling jovial, Polyphemus asks Odysseus his name. Odysseus replies that his name is “Nobody” (9.410). As soon as Polyphemus collapses with intoxication, Odysseus and a select group of his men drive the red-hot staff into his eye. Polyphemus wakes with a shriek, and his neighbors come to see what is wrong, but they leave as soon as he calls out, “Nobody’s killing me” (9.455). When morning comes, Odysseus and his men escape from the cave, unseen by the blind Polyphemus, by clinging to the bellies of the monster’s sheep as they go out to graze. Safe on board their ships and with Polyphemus’s flock on board as well, Odysseus calls to land and reveals his true identity. With his former prisoners now out of reach, the blind giant lifts up a prayer to his father, Poseidon, calling for vengeance on Odysseus.

Books 9 through 12 are told as flashbacks, as Odysseus sits in the palace of the Phaeacians telling the story of his wanderings. These books thus give background not only to Odysseus’s audience but to Homer’s as well. Providing some of the richest and most celebrated examples of Odyssean cunning, they speak as much to the resourcefulness of the poet, who uses Odysseus’s voice to render a more complete picture of his hero’s wanderings, as to that of the hero himself. The foreboding that Odysseus feels as he heads toward the cave, which seems to prompt him to take the wine along, foreshadows his upcoming encounter with Polyphemus and the need for trickery to prevail. Once Homer establishes the conflict between Odysseus and Polyphemus, he unveils Odysseus’s escape plan slowly and subtly: the significance of Odysseus’s blinding of Polyphemus becomes clear when Polyphemus lets his sheep out to graze the next morning; similarly, Odysseus’s curious lie about his name seems nonsense at first but adds a clever and humorous twist to the necessity of keeping the other Cyclops from rescuing Polyphemus.

Odysseus’s eventual revelation of his identity to Polyphemus ultimately proves foolish, and, because it embodies a lack of foresight, stands in stark contrast to the cunning prudence that Odysseus displays in his plan to escape from the cave. Though his anger at Polyphemus for devouring his shipmates is certainly understandable, and though Polyphemus’s blind rock-throwing fury eggs him on, Odysseus’s taunts are unnecessary. By telling Polyphemus his name, Odysseus pits his mortal indignation against Poseidon’s divine vengeance. This act of hubris, or excessive pride, ensures almost automatically that Odysseus will suffer grave consequences. Indeed, his eventual punishment costs him dearly: Poseidon’s anger wipes away the very thing that he gains by cleverly obscuring his name—the safety of his men.

The form that Odysseus’s revelation of his identity takes is interesting, as it represents the cultural values of ancient Greece. Odysseus doesn’t simply utter his name; rather, he attaches to it an epithet, or short, descriptive title (“raider of cities”), his immediate paternal ancestry (“Laertes’s son”), and a reference to his homeland (“who makes his home in Ithaca”) (9.561–562). This manner of introduction was very formalized and formulaic in Homeric Greece and should seem familiar to readers of The Iliad. Odysseus is here going through the motions of confirming his kleos (the glory or renown that one earns in the eyes of others by performing great deeds). He wants to make sure that people know that he was the one who blinded Polyphemus, explicitly instructing Polyphemus to make others aware of his act. Like the heroes of The Iliad, Odysseus believes that the height of glory is achieved by spreading his name abroad through great deeds.

For all of his stupidity and brutishness, Polyphemus strikes some commentators as vaguely sympathetic at the end of Book 9. They point to the pitiful prayer that he offers to his father, Poseidon, and his warm treatment of his beloved sheep, who are soon to be devoured by Odysseus and his men. He caresses each wooly back as it passes out of his cave, and it is difficult not to pity him when he gives special attention to his faithful lead ram. Homer notes that, “[s]troking him gently, powerful Polyphemus murmured, / ‘Dear old ram, why last of the flock to quit the cave?’” (9.497–498). The juxtaposition of “gently” and “powerful” and the poetically stated question illustrate that, despite his monstrousness, Polyphemus is somewhat tenderhearted. Additionally, in pondering why the ram is the last to leave the cave, Polyphemus attributes a human capacity for sympathy to him (“Sick at heart for your master’s eye” [9.505]). His tenderness is all the more endearing for his ignorance—he is wholly unaware of Odysseus’s cunning. Though Homeric culture praised Odysseus for his characteristic cunning, others have criticized him for this quality, perceiving his tactics as conniving, underhanded, dishonest, and even cowardly. Dante, for example, in the Inferno, relegates Odysseus to the Eighth Pouch of the Eighth Circle of Hell—the realm reserved for those guilty of Spiritual Theft—because of his treachery in the Trojan horse episode that enabled him to slaughter the unwitting Trojans.

Harvard Classics

July 21 – Robert Burns: Selected Poems

Scotland’s Own Poet
The songs of Burns are the links, the watchwords, the symbols of the Scots. He is the last of the ballad singers. In his works are preserved the best songs of his people.
(Robert Burns died July 21, 1796.)
Read from BURNS‘ POEMS Vol. 6, pp. 7079

Robert Burns’s poem, Death and Doctor Hornbook, 1785, tells of the drunken narrator’s late night encounter with Death. The Grim Reaper is annoyed that ‘Dr Hornbook’, a local schoolteacher who has taken to selling medications and giving medical advice, is successfully thwarting his efforts to gather victims. The poet fears that the local gravedigger will be unemployed but Death reassures him that this will not be the case since Hornbook kills more than he cures. Previous commentators have regarded the poem as a simple satire on amateur doctoring. However, it is here argued that, if interpreted in the light of the exoteric and inclusive character of 18th century medical knowledge and practice, the poem is revealed to have a much broader reference as well as being more subtle and morally ambiguous. It is a satire on 18th century medicine as a whole.

Harvard Classics

July 20 – John Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s Progress

A Cobbler in Jail
John Bunyan, imprisoned for preaching without a license, gave to the world “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the greatest allegory in any language, second only to the Bible.
Read from Bunyan‘s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS Vol. 15, pp. 5969

The narrator defends the story he is about to tell, which is framed as a dream. He explains that he fell asleep in the wilderness and dreamed of a man named Christian, who was tormented by spiritual anguish. A spiritual guide named Evangelist visits Christian and urges him to leave the City of Destruction. Evangelist claims that salvation can only be found in the Celestial City, known as Mount Zion.

Christian begs his family to accompany him, unsuccessfully. On his way, Christian falls into a bog called the Slough of Despond, but he is saved. He meets Worldly Wiseman, who urges him to lead a practical, happy existence without religion. Refusing, Christian is sheltered in Goodwill’s house. Goodwill tells Christian to stop by the Interpreter’s home, where Christian learns many lessons about faith.

Walking along the wall of Salvation, Christian sees Christ’s tomb and cross. At this vision, his burden falls to the ground. One of the three Shining Ones, celestial creatures, hands him a rolled certificate for entry to the Celestial City. Christian falls asleep and loses his certificate. Since the certificate is his ticket into the Celestial City, Christian reproaches himself for losing it. After retracing his tracks, he eventually finds the certificate. Walking on, Christian meets the four mistresses of the Palace Beautiful, who provide him shelter. They also feed him and arm him. After descending the Valley of Humiliation, Christian meets the monster Apollyon, who tries to kill him. Christian is armed, and he strikes Apollyon with a sword and then proceeds through the desert-like Valley of the Shadow of Death toward the Celestial City.

Christian meets Faithful, a traveler from his hometown. Faithful and Christian are joined by a third pilgrim, Talkative, whom Christian spurns. Evangelist arrives and warns Faithful and Christian about the wicked town of Vanity, which they will soon enter. Evangelist foretells that either Christian or Faithful will die in Vanity.

The two enter Vanity and visit its famous fair. They resist temptation and are mocked by the townspeople. Eventually the citizens of Vanity imprison Christian and Faithful for mocking their local religion. Faithful defends himself at his trial and is executed, rising to heaven after death. Christian is remanded to prison but later escapes and continues his journey.

Another fellow pilgrim named Hopeful befriends Christian on his way. On their journey, a pilgrim who uses religion as a means to get ahead in the world, named By-ends, crosses their path. Christian rejects his company. The two enter the plain of Ease, where a smooth talker named Demas tempts them with silver. Christian and Hopeful pass him by.

Taking shelter for the night on the grounds of Doubting Castle, they awake to the threats of the castle’s owner, the Giant Despair, who, with the encouragement of his wife, imprisons and tortures them. Christian and Hopeful escape when they remember they possess the key of Promise, which unlocks any door in Despair’s domain.

Proceeding onward, Christian and Hopeful approach the Delectable Mountains near the Celestial City. They encounter wise shepherds who warn them of the treacherous mountains Error and Caution, where previous pilgrims have died. The shepherds point out travelers who wander among tombs nearby, having been blinded by the Giant Despair. They warn the travelers to beware of shortcuts, which may be paths to hell.

The two pilgrims meet Ignorance, a sprightly teenager who believes that living a good life is sufficient to prove one’s religious faith. Christian refutes him, and Ignorance decides to avoid their company. The travelers also meet Flatterer, who snares them in a net, and Atheist, who denies that the Celestial City exists. Crossing the sleep-inducing Enchanted Ground, they try to stay awake by discussing Hopeful’s sinful past and religious doctrine.

Christian and Hopeful gleefully approach the land of Beulah, where the Celestial City is located. The landscape teems with flowers and fruit, and the travelers are refreshed. To reach the gate into the city, they must first cross a river without a bridge. Christian nearly drowns, but Hopeful reminds him of Christ’s love, and Christian emerges safely from the water. The residents of the Celestial City joyously welcome the two pilgrims. In his conclusion to Part I, the narrator expresses hope that his dream be interpreted properly.

Harvard Classics

July 19 – Sir Walter Raleigh: Discovery of Guiana

She Wanted Heroes All to Herself
The famous gallant who spread his gorgeous cloak so the dainty slipper of his queen would be unspotted, soon lost the high favor this action won for him. In spite of his glorious voyages, Raleigh condemned himself when he fell in love with another woman.
(Sir WaIter Raleigh imprisoned July 19, 1603.)
Read from Raleigh‘s (more) DISCOVERY OF GUIANA Vol. 33, pp. 311320

After enjoying several years of high esteem from Queen Elizabeth I, which stemmed in part from his previous exploits at sea, Raleigh suffered a short imprisonment for secretly marrying one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. In an attempt to bring himself back into favor, Raleigh sailed to Guiana in 1595, hoping to find gold and other material to exchange or extort. One modern scholar remarks of this journey, “Although the expedition itself was hardly a success—Ralegh conquered no lands, found no stores of wealth, and discovered little not observed by earlier adventurers—he created a triumph for himself by publishing The Discovery.”

He returned to Guiana one more time, in 1617, this time after a twelve-year imprisonment at the hands of King James I. Unfortunately for Raleigh, this adventure did not yield more gold, nor did it yield a published account, likely since he was arrested soon after returning, and sentenced to death.

There are gold deposits in Venezuela, but Raleigh appears to have exaggerated how easy it was for him to find gold there. Raleigh having promised Queen Elizabeth a “gold-rich empire more lucrative than Peru.” King James was probably a little more willing to temporarily forgive Raleigh’s charge of treason to see if he could find the place he had claimed to have found, and make it profitable. But the scholar argues that this came from Raleigh’s prodigious literary skill, wherein he was able to make it sound like he had found much gold, but without ever saying or relating the precise finding of it, or bringing anything back.

On the second voyage, Raleigh’s men, under the command of Lawrence Keymis, attacked the Spanish on the river Orinoco on 1617–18. At Raleigh’s subsequent trial, he was not only tried for treason against the crown for disobeying King James I’s orders to avoid engaging in combat with the Spanish, but, argues one scholar, also for essentially lying about the abundance of gold to be had in Guiana.

Harvard Classics

July 18 – Robert Browning: A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon

They Loved in Vain
“Browning’s play has thrown me into a perfect passion of sorrow,” wrote Charles Dickens of “The Blot in the ‘Scutcheon.” Like Shakespeare’s Juliet, Browning’s Mildred plays the role of a youthful lover in a tragic drama.
Read from Browning‘s BLOT IN THE ‘SCUTCHEON Vol. 18, pp. 359368

Thorold, Earl Tresham was a middle-aged, active man, the epitome of courtesy and honor, and extremely proud of his family’s record through the generations. So proud of that reputation was he that he resolved to keep it untarnished throughout his life, and to see that other members of the family bore themselves as honorably.

The earl’s parents had died many years before, leaving a younger sister in his care. Mildred was now fourteen years of age and ready for marriage. She was loved by her brothers and her more distant relatives, who regarded her as an innocent, guileless, and beautiful young woman.

Henry, Earl Mertoun, having seen Mildred, came one day to ask her hand in marriage. Tresham was at first hesitant, but when he had talked with the young man and looked over the Mertoun family record, he realized that no more honorable and personable young suitor could have sought Mildred as a wife. He therefore gave his consent to the marriage if the girl herself agreed. Mertoun left Tresham Castle after promising to return at the end of two days, during which time the Treshams and their cousin were to broach the subject of marriage to Mildred.

In the library, that same night, Tresham, his brother Austin, and their cousin Guendolen acquainted Mildred with Mertoun’s suit, but she seemed indifferent to the nobleman’s proposal. Later, in Mildred’s room, Guendolen continued the discussion, describing the personality and appearance of the young earl. The girl still remained hesitant. When Guendolen left the room she was confident, however, that her cousin would soon look kindly on so desirable a suitor.

Shortly after Guendolen’s departure the clocks struck midnight. Mildred placed a candle in her window. A short time later a man dressed in a long, flowing cloak and a slouch hat entered through the window. The hat and cloak were swept away, revealing Henry, Earl Mertoun. Mildred declared that she could not bring herself to agree to a marriage with him under the conditions known to both, for she and Mertoun had been lovers for many weeks. She said she could not appear at a wedding under the guise of a virgin and a stranger to a man whom she had long since taken as her lover.

Seeing no real sin in what they had done, the lovers felt that their youthful years had betrayed them. They had met when Mertoun had wandered into the Tresham domain after wounded game, and they had fallen in love immediately. Within a short time Mildred had admitted Mertoun to her bedchamber.

After a lengthy discussion the young nobleman left Mildred, with her promise that she would talk to him once again on the following night before announcing her decision to her brothers and cousin.

The following morning one of the retainers went to Tresham and told that he had seen a man leaving Mildred’s chamber window late at night. Pressed by Tresham, the retainer admitted that the man had been there on previous nights and that the nocturnal visitor obviously had Mildred’s aid in visiting her. Tresham was dumfounded and then angry, for he saw the whole reputation of the family about to receive its first blot in generations. He also thought he saw why Mildred had appeared hesitant in giving her consent to marry Mertoun.

After talking over the matter with Guendolen, Tresham sent for Mildred. Accused by her brother, Mildred admitted by her silence that she was guilty of transgression, but she steadfastly refused to acknowledge the identity of her lover. Tresham was furious that she could have even permitted her relatives to consider a match between herself and Mertoun after she had fallen into sin. Mildred’s only defense to her brother was that she had not had a mother’s guiding hand, that she was too young to know what she had done, and that God must have deserted her at a crucial time.

Mildred’s brother, refusing to recognize the defense she offered, disowned her in the presence of Austin and Guendolen. But they, feeling only sorrow and sympathy for Mildred, remained loyal to her. Guendolen took Mildred to her chamber and tried to comfort the girl as best she could. While the two women talked, it became evident to Guendolen that Mertoun was not only Mildred’s suitor but her lover as well. Guendolen realized that Mertoun’s suit was the way taken by the lovers to hide their transgression. As soon as she realized the situation, Guendolen went at once to tell Austin and the earl. Tresham, however, was nowhere to be found; he had gone to the farther reaches of his estates.

Tresham had wanted to be alone while he tried to find some solution to his problems. At last he decided to lie in ambush for the lover, in case the man tried to visit Mildred that night. He was unaware that Mertoun was Mildred’s lover, and Austin and Guendolen were unable to find him in time to tell him what they had learned.

That night Earl Tresham concealed himself behind a tree to watch. Shortly after midnight a figure wearing a cloak and slouch hat raced across the lawns and clambered into a yew tree which grew just outside Mildred’s window. As the figure started into the tree Tresham seized him and pulled him back to the ground. Mertoun then threw off his disguise and revealed himself. Too angry to realize the implications of Mertoun’s identity, Tresham engaged him in a duel. Mertoun did not even try to defend himself and was quickly run through by Tresham. Seeing his opponent downed and mortally wounded, Tresham lost his anger and became filled with remorse. His regrets knew no bounds when Mertoun revealed how he and Mildred had been led innocently into sin. Tresham realized that haste and anger had undone both of them, as well as Mildred.

The noise of the duel had attracted Guendolen and Austin, who tried unsuccessfully to save Mertoun’s life. After Mertoun died, Tresham went to tell Mildred what had happened. Her dismay at hearing of her lover’s death at the hands of her brother was too much for the girl; she died within a matter of minutes. As she died Guendolen and Austin appeared to see if they could be of assistance, and they saw that Tresham, too, was as white as death. He told them that they came too late, for he had taken poison. His last words before he died were that he left his name, title, and estates to them unblemished; he felt that three tragic deaths had obliterated the sinful blot on his family escutcheon.

Harvard Classics

July 17 – Jean Racine: Phèdre (Phædra)

A Throne for Son or Stepson?
Phædre first persecuted Hippolytus, her handsome stepson, then loved him. Suddenly he and her own son became rivals for the throne. Should she push her son’s claims or let Hippolytus take the crown?
(Racine elected to French Academy, July 17, 1673.)
Read from Racine‘s (morePHÆDRE Vol. 26, pp. 133148

Act 1. Following Theseus’s six-month absence, his son Hippolytus tells his tutor Theramenes of his intention to leave Troezen in search of his father. When pressed by Theramenes, he reveals that the real motive is his forbidden love for Aricia, sole survivor of the royal house supplanted by Theseus and under a vow of chastity against her will. During her husband’s absence, Phèdre has become consumed by an illicit but overpowering passion for her stepson Hippolytus, which she has kept as a dark secret. Close to death and reeling about half-dementedly, under pressure from her old nurse Oenone she explains her state, on condition that she be permitted to die rather than face dishonour. The death of Theseus is announced with the news that his succession is in dispute. Oenone urges her mistress that, since her love for her stepson is now legitimate, she should form an alliance with him, if only for the future benefit of the infant son of her own flesh.

Act 2. With fresh hope for her liberty, Aricia reveals to her maidservant Ismène her feelings towards Hippolytus, who promptly appears to declare his love for her. Their discourse is interrupted by Phèdre, who distraughtly pleads for the rights of her infant son, explaining her coldness and personal despair. Suddenly entering a trance-like state overcome by emotion, she involuntarily confesses her hidden passions to her horrified dumb-struck stepson. Sensing rejection, she leaves in a wild frenzy, demanding Hippolytus’ sword to end her torment. Theramenes brings news to Hippolytus that Theseus might still be alive.

Act 3. In desperation Phèdre sends word to Hippolytus inviting him to share the crown of Athens. However, Oenone brings her the devastating news that Theseus has returned in perfect health. To avert Phèdre’s deathwish and her possible betrayal by Hippolytus, Oenone urges that a story should be concocted around his abandoned sword. Seeing Hippolytus by Theseus’ side, Phèdre grants Oenone free rein. After his long period in captivity, Theseus is surprised by the cold reception from his wife and son, each anxious to conceal their passions: Phèdre, consumed by guilt; and Hippolytus, anxious to distance himself from his stepmother’s advances, but unable to tell his father of his love for Aricia.

Act 4. Theseus has just been told by Oenone that Hippolytus has attempted to take Phèdre by force. Overcome by rage, Theseus banishes Hippolytus and invokes the god Neptune, who has promised to grant any wish of Theseus, to avenge him by his son’s death. Protesting his innocence, Hippolytus discloses his secret love for Aricia to his incredulous father and leaves in despair. Fearing that she might be guilty for Hippolytus’ death, Phèdre determines to reveal the truth to her husband, until she is told of Hippolytus’ love for Aricia. Consumed by jealousy, she refuses to defend Hippolytus further, leaving his father’s curse to run its course. When Oenone tries to make light of her mistress’s illicit love, Phèdre in a towering rage accuses her of being a poisonous scheming monster and banishes her from her presence.

Act 5. Hippolytus takes his leave of Aricia, promising to marry her in a temple outside Troezen. On witnessing the tenderness of their parting, Theseus begins to have doubts about his son’s guilt. He decides to question Oenone, but it is too late: Oenone has thrown herself to the waves. Theramenes brings news of his son’s death: Hippolytus’ departing chariot has been interrupted by a terrifying horned monster rising from the waves; mortally wounded by Hippolytus, its death throes drive his horses into a wild frenzy; in their flight, the chariot is dashed against the rocks and their master dragged helplessly to his death. In the closing scene, Phèdre, now calm, appears before Theseus to confess her guilt and to confirm Hippolytus’s innocence. She finally succumbs to the effects of a self-administered draught of Medean poison, taken to rid the world of her impurity. As an act of atonement and in respect for his son’s parting promise, Theseus pardons Aricia and adopts her as his daughter.