Dante Purgatorio cantos 22-23 cartoons

About 20 years ago, former student of mine at Boston College made these cartoons for me of Purgatorio cantos 22-23, on the Prodigal and the Gluttonous. She dashed them off, but I think they’re really wonderful.

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Hecuba’s Mother

A review from 2003 of two new books of Greek myth. I don’t remember writing it and I know it was never published. 

The Emperor Tiberius used to like to play a trick on the professors who made up a part of his court, asking them them, “What was the name of Hecuba’s mother?” Hecuba was, of course, the Queen of Troy, the mother of the hero Hector who fought so gallantly for the losing Trojan cause before he was slaughtered by Achilles.  She later figures in Euripides’ drama, The Trojan Women, the heart-wrenching drama set in the immediate aftermath of Troy’s fall. As a witness to the utter destruction of her civilization, Hecuba is an archetype of tragedy.

“Hecuba’s mother,” by contrast, is an archetype of trivia.   We might just as soon search for the surname of Sam-I-Am, for all that it matters.  Tiberius’ interest in the question went no further than to see the scholars sweat (This is, after all, the emperor who coined the phrase, “Let them hate me so long as they fear me.”).  But for others, then as now, the mastery of such insignificant details is its own reward.  For such people (among whom, naturally, I count myself), a family tree of the gods is just the ticket.  As it happens, not one, but two new geneaological charts of Greek mythology are now available  on the market, each very different in its presentation.

Harold and Jon O. Newman’s A Genealogical Chart of Greek Mythology is easily the more scholarly of the two, and seems to have been designed primarily for library use . At 11 inches high and 15 inches wide, it offers so wide a pagespread that one can easily see the entirety of any mythological clan in a single glance.  Still, so unwieldy a book will not fit easily on any ordinary bookshelf and, consisting mostly of charts, is not exactly meant for the coffee-table either.

By contrast, Vanessa James’ The Genealogy of Greek Mythology folds out like a map and breaks up the monotony of the charts with attractive sidebars and pictures.  A long thin book (12 by 4.5 inches), it would make a good stocking-stuffer for the family myth fan this Christmas.

But enough of the descriptions!  Let’s get to the question on everyone’s mind.  Who was Hecuba’s mother?  Alas, there is no consensus.  According to James, it’s a nymph named Metope, but according to the Newmans, it’s a woman named Telecleia– dishonestly, neither places an asterisk indicating any hesitation by their entry.  Yes, both have perfectly sound and utterly obscure justification for their positions, but all that the search for Hecuba’s mother proves is that of bookish minutiae there is no end.

Somewhere Tiberius is laughing.

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Foulke (P) to Mientkewicz (1B) for the final out of the 2004 World Series

1098996634_5335.jpgHe knew what he held in his hand.

Gingerly he removed the ball from his glove, took it in hand, and looked intently at Doug Mientkewicz, standing at first base.  They exchanged a glance, and if they thought of Bill Buckner and 1986, it did not show on their faces.

And softly, softly, so very softly, he tossed the ball underhand– the way a father throws a ball to his boy, the way I have thrown a ball to my sons, the way my father first threw a ball to me, the way my father’s father never threw a ball to him (for, disgracefully, he had left his family behind at the height of the Depression, leaving my father to look to coaches for his role models)– softly, Foulke tossed the ball to Mientkewicz, who caught it, like so many boys have caught such softly tossed balls, after dropping them dozens of times before, caught the ball, and all of New England felt as you do when you catch your daddy’s ball, that, in this world of infinite failure and frustration, every once in a while, you succeed, and all the world exults.

Postscript. Fine piece by Dan Shaughnessy in the Globe on the very ball

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Aeschylus Libation Bearers discussion questions

Libation Bearers: Discussion Questions

Note:  Chorus of captive serving women

Time Seven years after the murder of Agamemnon

Scene Argos, before Agamemnon’s tomb

Structure

Fagles’pages Fagles’ lines (Grk lines) Part

pp. 177-178 1-26F (1-21) Prologue

pp. 178-180 26-82F (22-82) Parados

pp. 180-192 83-311F (83-304) First Episode

pp. 192-198 312-465F (305-476) First Stasimon

pp. 198-203 466-570F (477-584) Second Episode

pp. 204-205 571-633F (585-652) Second Stasimon

pp. 206-211 634-773F (653-782) Third Episode

pp. 212-213 774-823F (779-836) Third Stasimon

pp. 213-219 824-921F (837-933) Fourth Episode

pp. 219-220 922-963F (934-972) Fourth Stasimon

pp. 221-226 964-1076F (973-1074) Exodos

1. Prologue:  Orestes and Pylades arrive in the Prologue.  How does Orestes show his respects to Agamemnon’s grave?

2. Parados:  The chorus have torn their cheeks which bleed, and they shed tears (of salt water):  where have you seen these images before, and how are they here employed?  Pay close attention to Clytemnestra’s nightmare.  The image of Justice (61ff.) is one of scales– how do scales work, and what does this imply for the main characters?  The blood does not seep but cakes up (65ff.): discuss this image in symbolic terms.  The washing of hands which they discuss links water and blood again.

3. First episode:  Electra recognizes Orestes how?  (Is this plausible?)  What do you make of the wild creatures woven into the cloth?  At line 250 ff., Agamemnon is described as an eagle, and Clytemnestra as a snake.  What implications are in this?  Consider Orestes’ speech:  is Apollo on his side?  With what other divinely-decreed event might you compare this?

4. First Stasimon:  The chant at Agamemnon’s Tomb is a three-sided lyrical passage revealing the motivations of the principals.  What are these motivations?  Line 320 is at the heart of the trilogy.  Is Revenge Justice?

5. Second Episode:  What symbolism does Clytemnestra’s dream contain?  You might wish to consider Herodotus 3.109, who notes the belief that baby snakes had to eat their way out of the womb, killing their mothers.  What is Orestes’ plan?

6. Second Stasimon and  Third Episode:  Clytemnestra welcomes them with warm baths (!).  Who else was so welcomed?  When Orestes is announced as “dead,” is Clytemnestra’s reaction feigned or real?  The Nurse, so upset, was his wetnurse.  What is her function?

8. Third Stasimon and Fourth Episode:  Aegisthus’ death brings few tears, but how about Clytemnestra’s?  She bares her breast and begs for mercy:  sentimental claptrap?  Pylades has been silent up to now:  why?  How should he deliver his only line?  Consider again the idea expressed in line 910.

9. Fourth Stasimon and Exodos:  So, wait a minute, who’s the snake?  The arrival of the Furies– should they be on stage or not?

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Aeschylus Eumenides discussion questions

Aeschylus, EUMENIDES

Note the strange choral activity in this play

Places Apollo’s temple at Delphi;  later, the Acropolis, and then the Areopagus in Athens

Time Shortly after the murder of Clytemnestra

Structure

Fagles’pages Fagles’ lines (Grk lines) Part

pp. 231-233 1-66F (1-63) Prologue

pp. 233-237 67-143F (64-142) First episode

pp. 237-238 144-175F (143-178) First stasimon

pp. 238-245 176-306F (179-306) Second episode, including parados

pp. 245-248 307-407F (307-395) Second stasimon

pp. 249-253 408-505F (396-489) Third episode

pp. 254-255 506-571F (490-565) Third stasimon

pp. 255-266 572-791F (566-766) Fourth episode

pp. 266 792-804F (767-792) Fourth stasimon

pp. 267-277 805-1057F (793-1047) Fifth episode and exodos

1. Prologue:  the Pythia (Apollo’s priestess at Delphi) speaks of three generations of gods.  What conflicts between the ages are expressed in this scene?  How does this work within the trilogy, and how as a statement of Justice?

2. First episode:  Apollo stands over Orestes (why?), and bids Hermes shepherd him well (94):  how does this animal imagery work?  (Compare Agamemnon 779, however).  The ghost of Clytemnestra enters:  what imagery does she employ?

3. First stasimon:  The Furies call Apollo “a younger god.”  (Where do they come from, anyway?)  What do you make of line 155:  “Guilt both ways, and who can call it justice?”

4. Second episode, including parodos:  This scene is very unusual.  The debate between Apollo and the Furies over parenthood will occupy us in class.  Consider the argument as one between blood-relations and ritualized relations.  Apollo declares that Athene will preside over a trial at the Parthenon in Athens.  The scene change at p. 241 is unprecedented in tragedy:  note that the play was performed at the foot of the Acroplis with the temple in view.  What is Aeschylus doing?

5. Second stasimon: The Furies sing a binding song to capture him (consider the weaving imagery of the Odyssey here).  What do you mkae of this net imagery?

6. Third episode:  Athene hears each side, and appoints a tribunal of Athenians.  Why?

7. Third stasimon and fourth episode:  I would like those of you in Group A to take the side of the Furies, and those in Group B to take Apollo’s side.  We will argue this out. (Please consider lines 655ff alongside St. Paul’s remarks at Acts 17:16-34).  Athena acquits Orestes, and this has bothered everybody ever since.  Consider the following two statements:

Albin Lesky, Greek Tragedy (p. 84):  “Man cannot by his own power break away from the bondage of crime and destiny which encircles him, but the xaris [grace] of the gods, in whose hands he is, can release him.”

H.D.F. Kitto, Greek Tragedy (p. 96):  “We are given the form, not the substance of debate;  as if to emphasize that, Aeschylus makes Athena give her vote on grounds that are irrelevant.”

8. Fourth stasimon, fifth episode and exodos:  the Furies are turned into the Eumenides (the Kindly Ones) by what means?  Consider the arguments from 877ff.  (esp. 893-894, 916, and 920ff.).  In thhe final scene, torches were held up by all members of the audience, a symbol of Justice triumphing over Vengeance.  Connect this to the Watchman’s Prologos in the Agamemnon.

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Aeschylus, Agamemnon teaching notes

  AESCHYLUS: ORESTEIA

 

Agamemnon:  Discussion Questions

 

How to proceed?  Read the play first, familiarizing yourself with the plot and the major thematic points.  Then go back through it slowly, taking into account the following questions (and coming up with your own).

 

  1. Prologue pp. 103-4 1-43F (1-39)

Watchman’s monologue

 

  1. What mood is established in this scene? What specific emotions are mentioned?

 

  1. What do you make of his remarks about being familiar with the night sky? How might this be connected to Clytemnestra’s “manoeuvring like a man”?

 

  1. He awaits a signal fire: what is its purpose? With what symbolism is it invested, by the watchman here, by the Chorus in the parodos, and by Clytemnestra in the first episode?

 

  1. Consider, too, the rising of the sun– also a fire in the night– as a “signal” (but of what?).

 

***You should consult Fagles’ notes (starting on p. 285), as well as keep a list of symbols you notice:  doing both will help you navigate the trilogy much better.  Note that, on line 25 (“dawn of the darkness”), for instance, Fagles draws your attention to Agamemnon, lines 264; 596; 970; 1183; 1650;  Libation Bearers 950n (“n” after a number means see the notes);  and Eumenides 7n.  I would also look at Agamemnon 657-659, about the dawn breaking on the shipwreck.

 

  1. Parodos pp. 105-12 44-258F (40-257)

Parodos: choral song sung as chorus enters the stage.  Many important images are introduced in the parodos, so let us go through it carefully.  I would subdivide the parodos into five parts, as follows:

 

  1. Introduction (44-77)

 

  1. Note that the Trojan War began because Agamemnon was “our great avenger.” Keep an eye on vengeance throughout the trilogy (it will become increasingly obvious). Remember that is the role of the Furies to seek revenge (see lines 65 and 78).

 

  1. Agamemnon and Menelaus are “like vultures robbed of their young, etc.” How is this whole stanza symbolic, how ironic, and how proleptic? [Do not ask me in class what “proleptic” means]

 

  1. They fought for “a woman manned by many.” Is this Helen? Who else might it be?  What connections might we draw?  What is the significance of the “first blood rites that marry Greece and Troy”?  Consider this passage in light of the Helen Ode in the second stasimon.

 

  1. Fire: The Victory over Troy (78-111)

 

  1. Connect their remarks to the Watchman’s about fire. Is it good or bad? Note how Clytemnestra ignores them.

 

  1. The omen of the eagles: victory and defeat (111-160)

 

  1. The sense of victory reminds the Chorus of a portent at the war’s beginning, which was what? What is the source of Artemis’ anger, and what is its manifestation? (Look especially at Fagles’ notes here). Interpret lines 147-150 in the broadest possible sense, including Thyestes. Line 156 is a mantra for the play.

 

  1. Hymn to Zeus (161-184)

 

  1. Some of you may be familiar with the succession of chief gods in Greek mythology: Ouranos was undone by his son Kronos, whom Zeus, his son, later overthrew. The three generations of activity will be reflected in the story of Atreus, Agamemnon, and Orestes.

 

  1. Lines 177- 179 express an important idea in the trilogy, “suffering into truth.” Truth comes from suffering, and suffering comes from … where? We shall see.  The gods express “a violent love.”  Who suffers, who learns?

 

  1. Agamemnon caught between Zeus and Artemis (185-258)

 

  1. Agamemnon must act, and so he slips on the “strap of Fate” (217). Does this make him guilty (or, if you prefer, responsible)?  Scholars have debated this point, as shall we– come with an opinion.  You may want to think again about Iliad One, and Agamemnon’s actions there:  Aeschylus is probing this very issue, so our answers from Homer will be exercised considerably.

 

  1. The final lines of the parodos are a significant statement about Justice (250-255). What exactly constitutes Justice, in your opinion? I will ask in class, so please be prepared.  Note again “the light of day”:  is this good or bad?  Or is this dichotomy irrelevant?

 

 

 

  1. First episode pp. 112-16 259-358F (258-354)

 

  1. Clytemnestra announces the victory of Troy: why is she happy? Sketch out the ramifications of maternal imagery with thoughts of Night (darkness) and Day (light) inherent in 264-265.  Connect these thoughts with the Beacon speech (281-318):  fire is spreading, but what does it mean?

 

  1. “Spoken like a man,” the Chorus responds. How do you take this?

 

  1. First stasimon pp. 117-21 359-492F (355-487)

Stasimon: standing choral song

 

  1. Night cast it nets over Troy, the Chorus states. With what ideas might you associate this observation?

 

  1. The Chorus delivers a song of joy and thanks for the victory over Troy. They then review the causes and events of the war. Trampling the untouchable is specifically decried in 374-377:  to whom does this refer?  Note how the Chorus’ remarks tend to universalize specific situations.  Consider other places where this happens.

 

  1. Persuasion works on men’s minds– see Fagles’ note on 378 ff.

 

  1. The old men of Argos here sound in the middle part of the stasimon (403-462) like the old men of Troy in Iliad Three. Noting their tendency to universalize, what would you say they see in the pursuit of Helen and the deaths that followed?

 

  1. What is the point of their final doubts about the veracity of the beacon?

 

  1. Second episode pp. 121-29 493-683F (488-683)

 

  1. The herald “salutes the land of Greece, the light of day.” How is this symbolic, ironic, and proleptic?

 

  1. What do you make of Clytemnestra’s remark, “What dawn can feast a woman’s eyes like this” (596)? Reflect specifically upon dawn, feasting, woman, and eyes. What does she mean by “the Saving god”?  Saved whom, for what?  Discuss the sexual imagery of the gates (perhaps Helen in Odyssey Four will come to mind).

 

  1. The Herald reveals that Menelaus has been lost at sea. In the same way that discussion of Helen often reflects upon Clytemnestra, so Menelaus can represent Agamemnon. What of the Night and the black waves which are thought to destroy him (650ff.)?  (The sea will be mentioned again later, a different color though).

 

  1. Second stasimon pp. 129-31 684-767F (684-781)

The Helen Ode

 

  1. Helen is “the bride of spears” (line 686), a Fury, an agent of Destruction. What should we make of these descriptions? The lion cub image (713-730) ends in a bloody feast:  what other ideas would you draw upon to explain this?

 

  1. The juxtposition of Violence and Justice (755-766) is of tremendous importance: Troy has paid for its misdeeds, but is it just, or merely violent? Think about this as Agamemnon enters, the victor over Troy and slaughterer of Iphigenia.

 

  1. Third episode pp. 132-40 768- 975F (782-975)

Enter Agamemnon with Cassandra, his war-prize, both in a chariot

 

  1. In Agamemnon’s speech (794-841), sketch out the ideas as best as possible: for instance, what does he mean by “with justice” (795), or “the bloody lion” (813), and what other meanings might they bear?

 

  1. Clytemnestra bemoans the many rumors of Agamemnon’s death and wounds, and says she frequently tried to hang herself for despair. Is this true? Note the line, “he’s gashed like a dragnet” (856).  What do you make of this?  She also states that “I sobbed by the torch I lit for you alone” (880), meaning what?

 

  1. “Our child is gone” Clytemnestra says (865). Who? And what does it mean?

 

  1. Clytemnestra bids him approach without touching the earth (why?), and lays out the red carpet for him, saying, “Let the red stream flow… Justice, lead him in” (901ff). We will discuss this.  Agamemnon demurs (why?), and refers to the carpet “dyed red in the sea” at line 943 (because shellfish used for red pigment come from the sea).   He steps down on the crimson anyway (revealing Cassandra, by the way), at which point Clytemnestra delivers the chilling line, “There is the sea, and who will drain it dry? …” (957).  It is expensive, but no price is too high to all to retrieve that “dear life” (965):  what meanings might these statements bear?  How does the “bitter virgin grape” fit in (972)?

 

 

  1. Third stasimon pp. 141-42 975-1031 F (975-1034)

 

  1. Note that the Chorus cannot shake its sense of foreboding, and they can actually hear the dirge of the Erinyes (Furies).

 

  1. Fourth episode & first kommos pp. 143-58 1032-1354F (1035-1330)

Cassandra’s vision

 

  1. Cassandra’s outburst is perhaps the most electrifying moment in all Greek drama. Trace the images in her speech to those that precede. What does she “see”?  How are all these things connected in a chain of necessary actions?  Why must she die as well?  Is her final stanza a satisfactory closing to her vision (1350-1354)?

 

  1. Fifth episode & second kommos pp. 158-68 1355-1604F (1331-1576)

 

  1. The doors open to reveal Clytemnestra, with the bloody corpses of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Clytemnestra’s remarks (1391ff.) are, as Fagles states (p. 303), “a phantasmagoria of Homeric images, distorted in a witch’s mirror.” Look to the images she employs (nets, blood, etc.)  Consider the ramifications of what she glories in.  The final line here, “My lord is home at last” (1423) is very cold, no?  We shall discuss the justice of her actions.

 

  1. Exodos pp. 168-72 1605-1708F (1577-1673)

                                               

  1. Aegisthus enters, and he too is in glory. What justice is there in his activities?

 

  1. The themes of the play are vast: Murder, Revenge, and Justice.  Consider this:  if Agamemnon died for murdering Iphigenia, must Clytemnestra die too?  Must Orestes too?  Where can it end?

 

*****

 

Libation Bearers: Discussion Questions

Note:  Chorus of captive serving women

 

Time              Seven years after the murder of Agamemnon

Scene              Argos, before Agamemnon’s tomb

 

  1. Prologue: Orestes and Pylades arrive in the Prologue. How does Orestes show his respects to Agamemnon’s grave?

 

  1. Parados: The chorus have torn their cheeks which bleed, and they shed tears (of salt water): where have you seen these images before, and how are they here employed?  Pay close attention to Clytemnestra’s nightmare.  The image of Justice (61ff.) is one of scales– how do scales work, and what does this imply for the main characters?  The blood does not seep but cakes up (65ff.): discuss this image in symbolic terms.  The washing of hands which they discuss links water and blood again.

 

  1. First episode: Electra recognizes Orestes how? (Is this plausible?)  What do you make of the wild creatures woven into the cloth?  At line 250 ff., Agamemnon is described as an eagle, and Clytemnestra as a snake.  What implications are in this?  Consider Orestes’ speech:  is Apollo on his side?  With what other divinely-decreed event might you compare this?

 

  1. First Stasimon: The chant at Agamemnon’s Tomb is a three-sided lyrical passage revealing the motivations of the principals. What are these motivations?  Line 320 is at the heart of the trilogy.  Is Revenge Justice?

 

  1. Second Episode: What symbolism does Clytemnestra’s dream contain? You might wish to consider Herodotus 3.109, who notes the belief that baby snakes had to eat their way out of the womb, killing their mothers.  What is Orestes’ plan?

 

  1. Second Stasimon and Third Episode: Clytemnestra welcomes them with warm baths (!).  Who else was so welcomed?  When Orestes is announced as “dead,” is Clytemnestra’s reaction feigned or real?  The Nurse, so upset, was his wetnurse.  What is her function?

 

  1. Third Stasimon and Fourth Episode: Aegisthus’ death brings few tears, but how about Clytemnestra’s? She bares her breast and begs for mercy:  sentimental claptrap?  Pylades has been silent up to now:  why?  How should he deliver his only line?  Consider again the idea expressed in line 910.

 

  1. Fourth Stasimon and Exodos: So, wait a minute, who’s the snake? The arrival of the Furies– should they be on stage or not?

 

*****

 

Aeschylus, EUMENIDES

Note the strange choral activity in this play

 

Places                   Apollo’s temple at Delphi;  later, the Acropolis, and then the        Areopagus in Athens

Time  Shortly after the murder of Clytemnestra

 

  1. Prologue: the Pythia (Apollo’s priestess at Delphi) speaks of three generations of gods. What conflicts between the ages are expressed in this scene?  How does this work within the trilogy, and how as a statement of Justice?

 

  1. First episode: Apollo stands over Orestes (why?), and bids Hermes shepherd him well (94): how does this animal imagery work?  (Compare Agamemnon 779, however).  The ghost of Clytemnestra enters:  what imagery does she employ?

 

  1. First stasimon: The Furies call Apollo “a younger god.” (Where do they come from, anyway?)  What do you make of line 155:  “Guilt both ways, and who can call it justice?”

 

  1. Second episode, including parodos: This scene is very unusual. The debate between Apollo and the Furies over parenthood will occupy us in class.  Consider the argument as one between blood-relations and ritualized relations.  Apollo declares that Athene will preside over a trial at the Parthenon in Athens.  The scene change at p. 241 is unprecedented in tragedy:  note that the play was performed at the foot of the Acroplis with the temple in view.  What is Aeschylus doing?

 

  1. Second stasimon: The Furies sing a binding song to capture him (consider the weaving imagery of the Odyssey here). What do you mkae of this net imagery?

 

  1. Third episode: Athene hears each side, and appoints a tribunal of Athenians. Why?

 

  1. Third stasimon and fourth episode: I would like those of you in Group A to take the side of the Furies, and those in Group B to take Apollo’s side. We will argue this out. (Please consider lines 655ff alongside St. Paul’s remarks at Acts 17:16-34).  Athena acquits Orestes, and this has bothered everybody ever since.  Consider the following two statements:

 

Albin Lesky, Greek Tragedy (p. 84):  “Man cannot by his own power break away from the bondage of crime and destiny which encircles him, but the xaris [grace] of the gods, in whose hands he is, can release him.”

 

H.D.F. Kitto, Greek Tragedy (p. 96):  “We are given the form, not the substance of debate;  as if to emphasize that, Aeschylus makes Athena give her vote on grounds that are irrelevant.”

 

  1. Fourth stasimon, fifth episode and exodos: the Furies are turned into the Eumenides (the Kindly Ones) by what means? Consider the arguments from 877ff.  (esp. 893-894, 916, and 920ff.).  In thhe final scene, torches were held up by all members of the audience, a symbol of Justice triumphing over Vengeance.  Connect this to the Watchman’s Prologos in the Agamemnon.

 

 

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Daniel/Amos/Jonah: discussion questions

Some old discussion questions for an Honors class at Boston College on the prophets

Daniel

The Book of Daniel is set explicitly during the Babylonian Captivity, that 400-year period when the Israelites were forcibly removed from the Promised Land to the powerful city of Babylon.  The Book of Job reflects the Jewish sense of despair during this period; you should look at Psalm 137 for another powerful if more succinct statement of hopelessness.  (Some of you may perhaps know a reggae version of this psalm called “The Rivers of Babylon.”  Many blacks of the Caribbean have a strong affinity for the Jewish experience in the Babylonian Captivity).  In fact, Daniel was probably written under the regime of a later king, Antiochus Epiphanes, a brutal tyrant and patron of the arts.

 

  1. Although he will serve the king faithfully, Daniel refuses to eat the food of Nebuchadnezzar (1:8). Why?  Compare Proverbs 23:3, “Do not desire the  ruler’s delicacies, for they are deceptive food.”  Is this applicable?  What do we make of Daniel’s service to the Babylonian kings generally?  Joseph is certainly in the background.  What does this tell us about the chosen people?

 

  1. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: bookmark this page for later reference in Dante’s   (The metals of this giant strongly recall the Myth of the Five Ages,  recorded in Hesiod’s Works and Days, lines 106-201: see below).  Where else have we seen a giant felled by a stone?  Can we connect this to other Old Testament statues and stones?

 

  1. Daniel’s relationship with the Babylonians is intriguing. Consider his remark, “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon” (2: 24).  Why is this detail here?  Along these lines, do you feel sympathy for the “strong guards” who are burned up at the fiery furnace (3:22)?

 

  1. Concerning the punishment of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (3:19-30), evaluate the following statement made by one scholar, Robert Anderson:

 

The ‘fiery furnace’ may be a literary invention and may have had no exact equivalent, but it is too uncomfortably close to the maniacal expressions of ethnic hatred of our own day to be passed over lightly.  The cadences of Greek poetry could be heard not far from the dungeons of Antiochus Epiphanes, and the strains of the Bach motet were carried on the same breeze as the smoke from Auschwitz.  There is little distance between the Fiery Furnace and the Holocaust.  These two monstrous events– the one literary fiction, the other unbelievable fact– are both expressions of a demonic attempt to silence the spirit of faith and, with it, the voice of God.

 

  1. The vision of Nebuchadnezzar in Chapter 4 involves a tree: what other trees might be alluded to here?  What is the significance of the king’s loss of human reason and subsequent animal behavior?  (Perhaps you recall Odysseus’ men turned into pigs by Circe- why did that happen?)

 

  1. One of the most powerful images in the Old Testament is Daniel’s interpreting of the writing on the wall (5:24-28). What does he mean when he says (in essence), “Your days are numbered”?  (What connection can we make to Simon and Garfunkel’s verse inspired by this image: “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls”?)

 

  1. Daniel in the lion’s den is a very famous motif (6:16 ff.). The image of the holy man refusing to renounce his faith in the face of political torture, however, is complicated by the obvious reluctance of Darius to punish Daniel.  Without referring to Pontius Pilate, consider Darius’ situation, perhaps of greater interest to us than Daniel’s.

 

  1. The second half of Daniel (chapters 7-12) is comprised of apocalyptic visions. I personally don’t find these interesting, but would be happy to hear whatever thoughts you have on them.

 

Hesiod’s Works and Days, lines 106-201 (The Five Ages)

 

(ll. 106-108) Or if you will, I will sum you up another tale well

and skilfully — and do you lay it up in your heart, — how the

gods and mortal men sprang from one source.

 

(ll. 109-120) First of all the deathless gods who dwell on

Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of

Cronos when he was reigning in heaven.  And they lived like gods

without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief:

miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never

failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all

evils.  When they died, it was as though they were overcome with

sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth

unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint.  They

dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things,

rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods.

 

(ll. 121-139) But after earth had covered this generation — they

are called pure spirits dwelling on the earth, and are kindly,

delivering from harm, and guardians of mortal men; for they roam

everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on

judgements and cruel deeds, givers of wealth; for this royal

right also they received; — then they who dwell on Olympus made

a second generation which was of silver and less noble by far.

It was like the golden race neither in body nor in spirit.  A

child was brought up at his good mother’s side an hundred years,

an utter simpleton, playing childishly in his own home.  But when

they were full grown and were come to the full measure of their

prime, they lived only a little time in sorrow because of their

foolishness, for they could not keep from sinning and from

wronging one another, nor would they serve the immortals, nor

sacrifice on the holy altars of the blessed ones as it is right

for men to do wherever they dwell.  Then Zeus the son of Cronos

was angry and put them away, because they would not give honour

to the blessed gods who live on Olympus.

 

(ll. 140-155) But when earth had covered this generation also —

they are called blessed spirits of the underworld by men, and,

though they are of second order, yet honour attends them also —

Zeus the Father made a third generation of mortal men, a brazen

race, sprung from ash-trees (4); and it was in no way equal to

the silver age, but was terrible and strong.  They loved the

lamentable works of Ares and deeds of violence; they ate no

bread, but were hard of heart like adamant, fearful men.  Great

was their strength and unconquerable the arms which grew from

their shoulders on their strong limbs.  Their armour was of

bronze, and their houses of bronze, and of bronze were their

implements: there was no black iron.  These were destroyed by

their own hands and passed to the dank house of chill Hades, and

left no name: terrible though they were, black Death seized them,

and they left the bright light of the sun.

 

(ll. 156-169b) But when earth had covered this generation also,

Zeus the son of Cronos made yet another, the fourth, upon the

fruitful earth, which was nobler and more righteous, a god-like

race of hero-men who are called demi-gods, the race before our

own, throughout the boundless earth.  Grim war and dread battle

destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Cadmus at seven-

gated Thebe when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus, and some,

when it had brought them in ships over the great sea gulf to Troy

for rich-haired Helen’s sake: there death’s end enshrouded a part

of them.  But to the others father Zeus the son of Cronos gave a

living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell at the

ends of earth.  And they live untouched by sorrow in the islands

of the blessed along the shore of deep swirling Ocean, happy

heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit

flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless gods, and

Cronos rules over them (5); for the father of men and gods

released him from his bonds.  And these last equally have honour

and glory.

 

(ll. 169c-169d) And again far-seeing Zeus made yet another

generation, the fifth, of men who are upon the bounteous earth.

 

(ll. 170-201) Thereafter, would that I were not among the men of

the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born

afterwards.  For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest

from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and

the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them.  But, notwithstanding,

even these shall have some good mingled with their evils.  And

Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to

have grey hair on the temples at their birth (6).  The father

will not agree with his children, nor the children with their

father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor

will brother be dear to brother as aforetime.  Men will dishonour

their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them,

chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing

the fear of the gods.  They will not repay their aged parents the

cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man

will sack another’s city.  There will be no favour for the man

who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather

men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing.  Strength

will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will

hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will

swear an oath upon them.  Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil,

with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all.

And then Aidos and Nemesis (7), with their sweet forms wrapped in

white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake

mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter

sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help

against evil.

 

Amos

 

Amos preaches 600 years before Daniel, in very different circumstances.  The kingdom of Jeroboam II is peaceful and prosperous, and the chosen people are quite comfortable.  In good times, it is easy to forget about God.  The theme of Amos is summed up at 6:1, “Alas for those who are at ease in Zion.”

 

  1. Amos preaches fiery words against social injustice. What is your reaction to his remarks about the neglect of the impoverished:  “they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way” (2:7)?  Amos also alludes to Jacob’s sons who at the feast have forgotten Joseph (6:6):  how might we connect this to Daniel?

 

  1. “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel” (4:12). God has punished the iniquities of the Israelites before, but “you did not return to me,” he bitterly notes.  What is the prophet’s point?

 

  1. At times, Amos is so overwrought that his grammar makes no sense. What exactly is it that the Lord is saying about the cows of Bashan (4:1-5)?

 

  1. “I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:23-24).  What are the allusions here:  David consoling Saul, the Flood?  Others?

 

  1. Amos’ Vision (7:1-9, 8:1-end) shows him interceding against a very angry God. How should we take the Amaziah narrative which interrupts it?  Amaziah seems to be accusing Amos of being “Chicken Little.” Is the curse appropriate?

 

 

Jonah

 

  1. What do you make of Jonah’s reluctance to heed God’s call (1:2)?

 

  1. How might you interpret the tossing of Jonah into the sea (1:15), and his experience with the “large fish” (1:17)? What connections are to be drawn with the Flood, or the Leviathan?

 

  1. The Book of Jonah has been called “a parody of prophetic literature, or perhaps more accurately, an inversion of the prophetic experience.” In what ways does Jonah’s story turn, say, Amos (or Daniel) upside down?  What is the point of such inversion?

 

  1. What do you make of the last verse of Jonah (rendered in the KJV with unintentional humor thus: “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more then sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”). Further parody, or evidence of God’s respect for all life?  Something else?
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