Plato’s “Republic”

I’m not going to lie when I say that reading Plato’s “Republic” gave me a headache. Not only does “Republic” demand absolute patience and concentration, even when you fulfill these two requirements while you read, often you have to reread passages to get more out of it.
 
While I was reading Book 2, I found that close to the end, the discussion becomes rather confusing. What I mean to say is that when Socrates and Adeimantus are discussing the gods, they seem rather fearful or reluctant to express their opinions. They are definite in their opinion that “since a god is good, he is not… the cause of everything that happens to human beings but of only a few things… we must find some other cause for the bad ones, not a god.” However, I have to disagree on this point. The Greek gods were certainly not “good” as modern society terms it. The gods in Ancient Greece were capable of inflicting misfortune (and they did!), could be spiteful, malicious, and prone to temper tantrums. When one is discussing philosophy, shouldn’t one question how our general beliefs came to be? Rather than simply accept the gods as being god, I expected Socrates and Adeimantus to delve further on into the topic of whether or not the gods were truly god or not. It would’ve enhanced the philosophical debate on justice, virtue and vice.

I agree with another blog post about how Book 5 mirrors the ideology behind Hitler’s regime. The idea that babies who are born malformed or with defects should be essentially tucked away from the eyes of society is something Nazi Germany followed. I remember back in high school one of my friends once asked me this question:

Do you think that it is right to put physically or mentally disabled people to death under the reason that this would give them a better life?

This was something her Social Studies teacher had asked his class and what she later asked me. The question, of course, asks: is it better for physically or mentally disabled people to die rather than live? I found that my mind kept on straying towards this question and, consequently, lost my concentration on “Republic”. Overall, I found “Republic” rather burdensome to read. Not only did my mind continuously stray because I was pondering questions related to the text, but I found it hard to follow the conversation once my mind had strayed. Perhaps the best way to read a book like “Republic” is to read it with a rational, logical mind; that is, not to put your personal feelings into it.


Genesis

I didn’t grow up religious and my family never owned a Bible, so this was my first time reading it. Although I was familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (having read a portion of “Paradise Lost” in a high school Literature class), I knew next to nothing about Isaac, Abraham, Jacob, or Joseph.

I found that while I was reading “Genesis”, the God in “Genesis” didn’t exactly fit into my image of God. I always think of God as an omniscient Being who is very loving, wise, and gives unconditionally. The God in “Genesis” was often angry (well, not exactly angry, but rather stern). Someone who doesn’t laugh or smile very much. When He created the giant flood to wipe out humanity and the animals on Earth except for Noah and the creatures in the ark, I felt that He didn’t fit into my image at all. This God in “Genesis” was someone who gives, but wants and expects something in return. He was much more reasonable and mature than the Ancient Greek gods who have about the reasoning level of a three year old, but He just didn’t seem very nice. He seemed very condescending towards many of the male characters in “Genesis”, often treating them as if they were servants. And I always thought of God as a friend, a mentor, a person who genuinely cares about you and plans out things accordingly. This God was almost like a dictator. But he was certainly more caring towards people in general than, say, Stalin or Hitler.

“Genesis” itself wasn’t very action-packed. I felt that it was like a list of events that happened to a family that went on for generations. It wasn’t particularly interesting and for now, it’s hard for me to pick out the morals. Are we supposed to not listen to snakes? It wasn’t especially illuminating on human psychology or social structures, unlike “The Odyssey” or “Medea” where there’s more material to delve and discuss. “Genesis” was just… like reading family history. It’s a great read for those who enjoy reading about creation stories though. Other than that, I didn’t see a great deal of depth or substance in the “Genesis”. For those who are religious, I felt that “Genesis” wasn’t particularly religious in any way. “Genesis”… was basically a story where the characters simply obeyed God’s words and it’s about a family, generation after generation. I’m not quite sure why so many church people have to read this book because in my opinion, a book like “Harry Potter” has far more to say about religion and love than “Genesis”.

On the other hand, I felt that “Genesis” was one of those books that may not be entirely thrilling (“Paradise Lost” wasn’t very thrilling either, but it’s considered a masterpiece) but it’s definitely worth reading just to have a general background knowledge of some of the stories that take place in the Bible. Many novels and poems in modern day society will have some reference to mythology or the Bible, so it’s worth knowing about the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, and Adam and Eve.


Medea

After reading the 485 paged Odyssey, reading “Medea” was like talking a stroll in the park after climbing up Mount Everest. Despite “Medea” being only around 40 pages long, the text itself was quite dense; some speeches contained a wealth of meaning. Unlike most tragedies that contain only one anti-hero, I felt that “Medea” had two tragic heroes. One, of course, is Medea herself. The other is her husband, Jason.

Jason doesn’t start off being very likeable; in fact, he invokes the opposite feeling from the reader. He’s a faithless husband who casts off his loyal wife of many years to marry a young, wealthy princess. He is also unfeeling enough to abandon his sons by Medea and has no qualms about Creon putting Medea and her sons into exile. The reason why I found him to be a tragic hero is because although he was cold and unfeeling in the beginning, he does develop a conscience at the end when his sons are found to be murdered at the hands of his ex-wife, Medea. One can’t help feeling a slight drop of pity for him at the end where he laments his sons and says, “If I could see them once more, I’d take them in my arms and kiss their mouths.” I had a feeling that up until his sons’ deaths, a part of him really believed that what he was doing -marrying Creon’s daughter and divorcing his wife Medea- was right. I think he really did think that his actions were for the “greater good” of his ex-wife and sons, enabling them to live a better life and enjoy preferential treatment. Again, Creon doesn’t exile Medea because Jason suggests it- rather, it was Medea’s negativity towards the fiance of Jason that rouses Creon’s paternal instincts to banish her for his daughter’s safety. When his sons died, his ambitions and former glorious world view also died. I think it was then that he realized what he did was a foolish, selfish thing- and that elicits sympathy from readers.

From a feminist point of view, Medea’s actions were completely understandable and forgivable. She is also the prominent tragic hero in the Euripides’ work. She’s the loyal wife who abandoned and betrayed her family for him, gave birth and raised his sons, and served him faithfully for years. Then she is divorced by him and sent into exile while her husband marries another younger woman. Any woman would be outraged or driven to insanity by the actions of Jason if he had been her husband, which makes Medea the object of pity in the beginning. When she commits 3 (possibly 4 if Creon is also counted) murders, the reader’s pity for her diminishes. I still personally saw her as pitiable even after the murders, but then again, that might be just me. Back in Medea’s time, a woman’s life was centered around her married life. After Jason divorced her, I think she saw that her world simply collapsed. The natural world of hers was replaced by the unnatural, where she has to support her sons and act as both father and mother to them. In an act of both desperation and revenge, she chooses to murder the princess and her sons as retaliation. She does show signs of desiring not to murder throughout the play. She is seen weeping on numerous occasions, but deep down, a part of her believed that her world was tearing apart and this was one of the only things she could do to repair it. Murdering the princess was to “get even” with Jason. After he destroyed their marriage, she destroys his ambitions. Murdering her sons was for a different purpose. Her sons were her link to Jason; a product of their marriage. By slaughtering her sons, she was symbolically “cutting all ties” with Jason before fleeing to Athens. Many people would find that despicable, but I can’t help but sympathize with her.


The Odyssey

“The Odyssey”, translated by Robert Fagles, covers the main plot of Homer’s famous work. His style is elegant; the prose can be breathtaking at times. It can be very complicated to read this book once you delve further into the novel as it is written in poetry rather than prose. Some readers may balk at how lengthy Fagles takes to simply tell his readers that it is morning. Instead, to tell his readers that morning has come, Fagles writes “When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more.” While the poetry is admirably written, I personally find that it gets rather irritating to read through the book under the pressure of a due date, and Fagles seems to want to make things harder for you by writing all this poetry when he could write it in prose using considerably less words. The book itself is action-packed. Some of the personality of the characters are unbelievable; for instance, Penelope, widely regarded as the epitome of the “perfect” wife in literature, is essentially impossible to find in today’s society (let’s be frank about that). I also find it hard to believe that up until Athena’s coaxing, Telemachus never did anything about the suitors that purge his house of its wealth and food on a daily basis. Most people in modern society probably wouldn’t be able to tolerate such behaviour for a few days, and Telemachus has withstood it since childhood. This makes him a rather weak character, someone spineless, and yet, he is supposed to be the famed Odysseus’ son. The book describes in great detail how brave and great his father is, and how Telemachus seems to shine “like a god” in the eyes of many people. You’d think that such a magnificent individual would have a greater spine than to allow the suitors of his mother to ravage his house (but apparently, in Telemachus’ case, he did not have the courage until Athena prompts him). There is also a lack of concern for animal rights in “The Odyssey.” It’s obvious that the Ancient Greeks did not have a SPCA, yet for animal lovers, it can be slightly discomfiting to read about all the animals that were sacrificed for the favour of the gods. Since the gods are seen as the epitome of power and wealth, it can be a little confusing as to why their accumulation of a heifer or bull (sacrificed for them especially) can allow them to be swayed and favour a certain individual.