On Academic Intersections: Knowledge Stacks

One of my favorite things about taking multiple classes in different disciplines is how everything still manages to link up in ways that I did not expect. A large part of why I chose the Comparative Humanities program is because throughout my time at Brandeis I have noticed and enjoyed these intersections, and so as a graduate student, and to some extent I did this even as an undergraduate, I seek out these intersections and do my best to think about them critically.

An example of how I did this last semester is that my final paper for my Queer Readings course was about how three different translations of the myth of Iphis and Ianthe, each translated in distinct centuries, represented the queer themes of the story. I could not have done this were it not for my previous readings of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in both my Classical Mythology course and Classical Myths course, which each used a different translation of the text. I found myself further qualified to talk about comparative translation from the Literary Translation course that I had taken in a previous semester. I would have found myself more qualified if I had taken Latin the semester before writing this essay, rather than the semester after, but so it goes.[1]

 As another example, I do not think that I could have written my essay on Dante’s representations of Limbo and Paradise for my Modernity course last semester were it not for the course I took on Hell, the afterlife, and poetry in my junior year. I could go on, but my point is that at some point or another, every class that I have taken at Brandeis has informed at least one other class, creating what I strongly believe to be a richer experience.

Two weeks into my career as a graduate student, I am finding that even in the short time since the semester has started my classes are already starting to connect. My course on Witchcraft and Magic, for example, at first glance might not seem at all connected with Millennial Latin American Fiction for someone who is not familiar with either topic, but in actuality our readings on the theories of magic and its connection to religion and science are very much informing my fiction course, due to the fact that much of what we have been studying is magical realism, and in fact the first text we are reading for the class is titled El mago  (The Magician) by César Aira, which, as one might imagine, is about a magician.

My courses of study at Brandeis also inform my general interests outside of the classroom and vice versa. As readers of this blog well know, I enjoy writing book reviews, and thus I enjoy reading books. One of the great things about reading broadly is that I get to engage with topics and perspectives that I might not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience. Each book that I read varies in a multitude of ways, but a common factor is that in reading diversely I often come in to contact with vocabulary that I then need to add to my personal lexicon. I’ve always said that my life would be easier if I learned Latin, and even with having just attended four Latin classes and read two chapters of the textbook, I’ve already lost count of the amount of times that I have found use in understanding vocabulary that would have confused me not even a month ago. That said, what I find amusing is how my previous knowledge of what may seem like extraneous vocabulary is doing the reverse, in that I am remembering my Latin vocab better because I know English words that are derived from the Latin originals that I am currently studying.

In a similar vein, my personal interest in mythographic and pagan traditions has led me to being prepared for my Magic and Witchcraft class, as even though I have not studied Mesopotamia with much depth, I am familiar with how to approach this field of study. What little I did know about Mesopotamia prior to this class is enhanced by having taken a course a couple years ago regarding the Ancient Silk Road. That particular course, in conjunction with my Historical Linguistics course and my general interest in languages, enabled me to grasp with greater clarity my readings which discuss the translation of the ancient mesopotamian texts, as well as appreciate the difficulty in doing so.[2]

I suppose what I am ultimately saying here is that knowledge stacks. I could not be in the place that I am today were it not for all that has happened in my past, and while my four years as an undergrad were tough, I do feel that they, and all the years of schooling I had before then, have prepared me for my current environment as best they could. If you’ll excuse me, that environment includes reading a whole bunch, so I’d best be off working through my to be read pile.

Happy Friday!

Cheers,

Talia

[1] I am not unaware that this would have been a better point had I studied Latin earlier in my life but, alas, this is but one of the many reasons why I have frequently stated that my life would be easier if I knew Latin.

[2] If any of y’all are interested in how deciphering dead languages can add to historical knowledge you might also be interested in reading my essay about how the discovery of Tocharian languages has contributed to historians’ understanding of some of the migrations and changes throughout the Silk Road.

A New Semester Begins! (An Update, Announcements, and a Translation)

Wednesday was the first day of classes and I am so excited to have started my first semester as a full-time graduate student! While I loved my time as an undergrad, I’m excited to learn and participate in an advanced course of study. With the start of the semester comes more content in line with what I had originally envisioned my blog to be, that is to say, a record of the many fascinating and intriguing fields of study that I am undertaking during my time at Brandeis.

This leads in to my first announcement which is that I am reincorporating academic posts! My old blog had academic posts, and to explain, these are going to be posts where I talk about what I am studying that week, including snippets about my classes and my independent study. Only the interesting stuff, I promise. You’re more likely to enjoy content from my course on Magic and Witchcraft in the Ancient Near East than my Latin synopses! These posts will alternate on Fridays with my reviews, and I may throw one up on an occasional Tuesday.

From the previous sentence you may surmise my second announcement which is that book reviews are shifting to being posted every other Friday instead of weekly, because I am an uber-busy grad student now and I simply don’t have as much time for pleasure reading/binge watching as I did this summer. 🙁

All that said, I’m looking forward to exploring new avenues of content as I build this website, and I especially want to know what readers think, are curious about, or want more of, so please do not hesitate to drop me a line via the contact page, or contact me also through my new Facebook Page, which (minor plug) I would super appreciate if you go and like! Right now it is primarily just a way to forward my posts on here to Facebook, but I am planning on posting more content on there soon!

The Translation

As an example of my more academic postings, the following is a translation I completed in my Millennial Latin American Fiction and Graphic Novels class of the famous (and untranslatable) short story The Dinosaur by Augusto Monterroso.

El Dinosaurio (Spanish, Original)

Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.

The Dinosaur (English, My translation)

When they awoke, the dinosaur persisted.

To read about why I translated this story the way I did, click here, or better yet go investigate my translation page.

Note on the featured image: My roommate baked me first-day-of-school muffins! Isn’t she sweet?

On Writing About Harry Potter

It is with regret that I tell you all that I do not have a book review for this week. The book that I was so excited to write about is lost in the chaos that is my half-unpacked bedroom and I didn’t have time to finish it by my Thursday night deadline, a combination of physical therapy, work, and travel getting in my way. In lieu of a proper book review, I would like to discuss my favorite book series, Harry Potter.

Writing about Harry Potter is difficult these days. Things were much more straightforward when we only had the seven books, but with the advent of Pottermore, what is and isn’t canon has become more and more of a question. In the beginning, I tried to keep up, but recently I have been more of an advocate for returning to the original seven texts whenever I am in any sort of doubt.

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I’m not sure that I would pay them to stop, but I do think that the situation has gotten slightly out of hand.

When I write about Harry Potter, I try to stick to the main text as my base of evidence, though I will admit to a certain amount of cherry-picking when it comes to the extended Harry Potter universe. The fact of the matter is that I had to come up with a system, because I do tend to spend a great deal of my time thinking and writing about Harry Potter.

One of my primary missions while I was in college (other than simply graduating) was to make sure that every semester I made a significant Harry Potter reference in at least one of my graded assignments every semester. I am pleased to say that I succeeded, and my final Harry Potter essay was worth 60% of my grade in the last class I needed to complete my major. I’m quite proud of this paper, which I worked on with no small amount of dedication (as anyone who had an essay worth 60% of their grade would) which is why I posted it on this site in the first place. The paper is concerned with the representation of fate and free will and agency as a concept in the Harry Potter universe, and is very much tailored to the religious philosophy that predated modernity, which was the primary focus of that class. If you would like to read the entire essay you can do so here, though I recommend setting some time aside to do so, since it is on the longer side.

While I wrote many papers about Harry Potter during my undergraduate career at Brandeis, the only other one that I felt was worth posting is an essay that I wrote for my Introduction to Global Literature course, which I took spring of my sophomore year. The essay compares how morality is conveyed via fantastic literature versus how it is conveyed in realistic literature, contrasting the Harry Potter series with Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. If you would like to read that essay you can find it here, and I do promise that it is shorter than the other one, having a different length requirement and being worth a much smaller portion of the grade – 20% I believe, but I’m too lazy to track down my old syllabus.

I’m considering digging up some of my older Harry Potter essays that I wrote back in middle/ early high school, when I felt the pain that many teenagers feel of the world having turned its back on me, which is when I turned to the Harry Potter series. Depending on how much I agree or disagree with the thoughts of my former self – not to mention my former self’s attention to grammar – I might end up posting them, or at least my revised commentary on them.

In any case, don’t expect this to be the last discussion of Harry Potter on this blog, and tune in next week for mystery topic on Tuesday and a guaranteed book review on Friday.

Cheers,

Talia

Bellerophon

On Thursday our topic in Classical Mythology was Bellerophon.

Bellerophon was one of the Heroes of Ancient Greek myth, and his story is particularly important because it covers what happens to him after all of his trials are over and he settles down into his life post-heroic deeds.

To give you some back story on Bellerophon, we first have to clarify that he was the one with the Pegasus. This is going to be a multiple choice question on the test and if we select Perseus instead we will get marked wrong. The pained look on my Professor’s face when Heracles was mentioned was slightly hilarious and he adamantly told us he would not be making him an option.*

Moving forward, Bellerophon is actually really interesting. Reportedly, an ancient hero equal at some points in Greek history to Perseus and Cadmus, he was the classic hero type: kills the monster and gets the princess.

If you are interested in more details about Bellerophon, here are a few of my class notes, but feel free to skip them:

Bellerophon in Homer

  • In Iliad 6, the Trojan ally Glaukos meets Diomedes on the field
  • Glaukos’ ancestor Bellerophon lived in Argos
  • The king Proetus hated him because of his wife
  • Anteia wanted to have sex with Bellerophon, but he wouldn’t
  • Proetus sent Bellerophon to Lykia with a sealed message to give to the king who was
  • Anteia’s father Iobates
  • The message said to kill him

Potiphar’s Wife

  • Potiphar’s Wife Motif: the adulterous wife who turns on her desired lover
    Genesis 39-40
  • Joseph, sold into slavery, was purchased by an Egyptian officer named Potiphar
  • Potiphar made him overseer of the house
  • His wife asked him to sleep with her, but he refused
  • She told Potiphar that Joseph tried to rape her
  • Joseph ended up in prison where his dream interpretations attracted the attentions of the Pharaoh

Bellerophon’s Deeds

  • Iobates cannot kill Bellerophon because of their guest-host relationship, so he sent
  • Bellerophon on one-way missions
    • to kill the Chimaera
    • qto fight the Solymoi
    • to battle the Amazons
  • He set an ambush for him, but Bellerophon defeated the best men
  • Iobates had him marry his daughter and rule with him in Lykia
  • According to Homer, Bellerophon fell out of favor with the gods for no specified reason

Eventually, Bellerophon tries to ride the Pegasus up to Mt. Olympus to become a god, but this is reaching to far so the Pegasus betrays him and Zeus strikes him down with a lightning bolt.

I enjoy the tale of Bellerophon for many reasons, but primarily because of the two questions I feel it raises most clearly:

1. What does it mean to “reach too far”?

2. What happens to the hero after the fight is over?

As for the first, in class my Professor stated something along the lines of: “What is the line between telling people that they can ‘be whatever they want to be’ (which is a lie) and ‘stay in your lane’?” This is a super interesting question for me, because there is undoubtedly a line there, and one that is particularly precarious, especially when raising children.~

It brings me back to Harry Potter, among other things. Take Voldemort for example. He was so obsessed with becoming immortal that he dies at the mere age of 71, where if he had simply lived the long life that wizards tend to get then he would have made it into his hundreds.

To stop and think through our actions and their affects can be difficult for people, and thinking that we can help ourselves and others to rise up in the world can sometimes be our downfall. It’s an important lesson, and one that I value. It is also a lesson that I learned from Bellerophon, when reading the myths as a kid. So this story is important to me in that way, and also in the sense of the second question I have.

Stories tend to end right after the battle ends, after the lovers admit their true love to one another, as a family is miraculously reunited and so forth. But what happens to the heroes after the battles are over, they attain their desired lover, etc.? They get their happily ever after, but what does that mean? If you have read/seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child you know that according to the play, Harry settles into middle age and not super successfully raising his kids. And with Bellerophon we see that he gets bored and causes trouble, leading to his death.

My Professor brought up the stereotypical rules that many (myself included) are told to play: Primary School, Secondary School, then the optional sets of College, Grad School, Employment, Marriage, Kids, Retirement – then what? What is there to do once you have crossed the benchmarks of life?

Now these things are by no means necessary. Many people that I know have either rejected this path, or done it out of order, or intend not to follow it at all. But in the end, whatever benchmarks we set for ourselves, there is an after.° And I think that the prospect of this is terrifying, because although the sense of relaxation can be good, there is that saying that ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.’ When it is all said and done, I don’t know why Bellerophon wanted to be immortal, because honestly an eternity of boredom is what I would expect. Then again, I’m a bit of a pessimist.

Cheers,

Talia

*Apologizes to the Disney fans but that movie was so inaccurate that a drinking game could give you alcohol poisoning.

~Which I’m not, but I have lots of younger cousins.

°Unless we die, but I’m trying to stay positive here.