This Day In Literary History
On September 30th, 1868, Little Women, the classic novel by the famous American writer Louisa May Alcott, was published. The novel was published in two parts.
The second part, Good Wives, was published in 1869. In 1880, both parts would be combined and republished as a single volume, which is how the novel appears to this day.
Little Women, which tells the story of the four March sisters, (Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy) growing up in Concord, Massachusetts, was based on Alcott's experiences growing up with her own three sisters in Concord and Boston. Louisa modeled the character of Jo after herself.
Fifteen-year-old Jo March is the second oldest of the sisters. Intelligent, outspoken, and tomboyish, Jo longs to be a writer. An early feminist, Jo finds herself at odds with the restrictions placed on women in late 19th century America.
At that time, most women were unable to pursue a higher education. They were pressured to marry young and have lots of children. Employment opportunities for respectable young women were few. Worst of all, women were denied the right to vote to change the status quo.
Through the course of the novel, the March sisters become friends with Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, the handsome, charming, affluent boy next door. An orphan, Laurie lives with his grandfather. He becomes especially close to Jo.
As Laurie joins in the March sisters' adventures, they get into various scrapes. The sisters also struggle to overcome their particular character flaws (Jo has a temper, Meg is vain, Beth is shy, and Amy selfish) in order to live up to their parents' expectations and become, well, little women.
The first part of Little Women became a huge hit with both critics and readers, and an overnight success, selling over 2,000 copies in 1868. Louisa May Alcott received many letters from fans (and visits from them at her home) clamoring for a sequel.
So, in 1869, Alcott published the second part, Good Wives. Although her fans were begging for Jo to get married - especially to Laurie - she resisted the idea at first, believing that Jo should remain a "literary spinster."
Alcott changed her mind, and in Good Wives, married off not only Jo, but Meg and Amy as well. However, in a surprising twist, Jo marries Friedrich "Fritz" Bhaer, the poor German immigrant and professor who encouraged her to be a serious writer, while Amy marries Laurie.
Alcott would later write :
Jo should have remained a literary spinster, but so many enthusiastic young ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she should marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didn't dare refuse and out of perversity went and made a funny match for her.
In reviews that proved to be prescient, the critics of the day proclaimed Little Women to be a classic. And to this day, it remains one of the most popular works of 19th century American literature. It would be followed by two sequels: Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886).
Little Women would later be adapted many times for the radio, stage, screen, and television.
Quote Of The Day
"Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable." - Louisa May Alcott
Today's video features a complete reading of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, Little Women. Enjoy!
Friday, September 30, 2016
Thursday, September 29, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On September 29th, 1547, the legendary Spanish novelist, playwright, and poet Miguel de Cervantes was born in Madrid, Spain. His father, Rodrigo de Cervantes, was a surgeon. Not much is known about his mother, Leonor de Cortinas.
Born into a noble family, Miguel de Cervantes was well-educated. In 1569, at the age of 22, he moved to Rome, where he immersed himself in the city's literature, art, and architecture. He found work as valet to a wealthy Catholic priest, Father Giulio Acquaviva, who would be ordained Cardinal the following year.
By then, Cervantes had enlisted in the Spanish naval elite corps, the Infanteria de Marina, stationed in Naples, which at the time was Spanish territory. In October of 1571, he served on a ship in the Holy League fleet.
The Holy League was a coalition of allies that included the Vatican, Spain, the Republics of Venice and Genoa, and others under the command of John of Austria, King Philip II's illegitimate half brother. Cervantes saw action in the Battle of Lepanto.
The Battle of Lepanto was a brutal five-hour battle between the Holy League and the Ottoman Empire. When his ship came under fire, Cervantes was below deck, stricken with fever.
He couldn't bear to stay hidden with other sick men while his comrades were fighting and dying, so he begged his commanding officer for permission to fight. Permission was granted.
Cervantes fought bravely against the Ottomans and was shot three times. One of the bullets rendered his left arm useless. The other two struck him in the chest. Ultimately, the Holy League won the battle.
After the battle was over, he would spend six months in hospital recovering from his injuries. He left before his wounds completely healed and returned to active duty as a solider. He would serve for a few more years.
In September of 1575, he set sail from Naples to Barcelona, carrying letters of commendation to the King from the Duke de Sessa. As his ship approached the Catalan coast, it was attacked by Algerian pirates.
Although the captain and crew mounted a fierce resistance, most of the men were killed. The rest, including Cervantes, were taken prisoner and brought to Algiers. He spent five years as a slave.
Cervantes' parents and the Trinitarians (a Catholic religious order) were ultimately able to buy his freedom. During his captivity, he began to write, and he already had a lifetime of experiences to inspire him.
In December of 1584, Cervantes married his much younger girlfriend Catalina de Salazar y Palacios. Her uncle, Alonso de Quesada y Salazar, would serve as the inspiration for Cervantes' most famous literary character, Don Quixote.
The following year, Miguel de Cervantes' first major work was published. It was a novel called La Galatea. On the surface, La Galatea seems like a typical pastoral romance, as it tells the story of two shepherds, best friends, who are in love with the same woman.
However, Cervantes' dazzling debut novel is much more than that. Combining prose with poetry in a variety of forms and styles, La Galatea is a deep and poetic examination of the nature of love.
Although literary critics of the time and even Cervantes himself would claim that he couldn't write poetry, he proved his poetic talent in his first novel.
Now recognized as a major work, La Galatea was only modestly successful when it was first published. His early plays also enjoyed just modest success. So, Cervantes spent the next twenty years living a nomadic existence.
He traveled and worked at various jobs, including that of a tax collector and a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada. Financial and legal troubles would plague him, as he went bankrupt and was imprisoned twice on suspicion of embezzlement.
By 1606, Cervantes returned to Madrid, where he would live for the rest of his life. A year earlier, he published the first part of his greatest work, which established him as a brilliant, modern novelist far, far ahead of his time.
It's also rightfully considered to be one of the greatest novels in the history of Western literature. El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha, (The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha), later shortened to just Don Quixote, was a masterpiece of satirical comic adventure.
Alonso Quixano is a recently retired gentleman nearing his 50th birthday. He now lives a quiet life in the Spanish countryside, in the town of La Mancha, along with his niece and their housekeeper.
Quixano spends practically all of his time reading books about knights and chivalry. He becomes so obsessed with these stories - which he believes are real and not works of fiction - that he rarely sleeps or eats. All he does is read, and people begin to believe that he's lost his mind.
One day, Quixano decides to become a knight himself. He dons a suit of armor, renames himself Don Quixote de La Mancha, and sets off in search of adventure - and to defend the honor of his mistress, the beautiful noblewoman Lady Dulcinea del Toboso.
She is really Aldonza Lorenzo, a neighboring farm girl. Quixote performs his first act of chivalry when he saves a boy who'd been tied to a tree by his master for daring to ask for the wages he'd earned but was never paid. Unfortunately, after Quixote leaves, the boy is beaten by his master.
Later, Quixote has a run-in with some traders whom he believes have insulted his imaginary mistress, Lady Dulcinea. Quixote demands satisfaction and is severely beaten by one of the traders and left on the side of the road.
He is later found by one of his neighbors, Pablo Crespo, who brings him home. Quixote plans another quest. His niece, the housekeeper, the parish curate, and the local barber try to dissuade him from his quest for adventure.
They burn his books about knights and chivalry, then seal up the rest of his library and pretend that it was taken by a traveling magician. Undeterred, Quixote turns to another neighbor, Sancho Panza, and persuades him to become his squire.
Panza is a short, fat, vulgar man who is proud of his illiteracy. Though he seems dimwitted at first, Sancho proves to be far wiser and far more sensible than his master, Don Quixote.
Together, they set off for adventure and during their travels, they meet prostitutes, priests, soldiers, goatherds, escaped convicts, scorned lovers, and other characters. Don Quixote's overactive imagination leads him to embark on chivalrous quests.
His tendency to violently intervene in matters that are none of his business - and his habit of never paying his debts - often results in humiliation and injury, with poor Sancho Panza getting the worst of it.
In his most famous adventure, Quixote attacks a group of ferocious giants, which Sancho knows are just windmills. Eventually, Don Quixote is at last persuaded to go home, but the first part hints at yet another quest, stating that the records of it were lost.
Don Quixote didn't make a rich man of Miguel de Cervantes, but it did rescue him from poverty and bring him international fame. He continued to write. Mostly he wrote plays, but he also published a classic short story collection, Novelas Ejemplares (1613) and a dazzling epic poem, Viaje del Parnaso (1614).
In 1614, an unknown writer using the pseudonym Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda published his own sequel to Don Quixote. Avellaneda's work was held in low regard by critics and readers - then and now.
The book was infamous for its poor quality and numerous errors, including misnamed characters. Cervantes would pepper his own sequel with in-jokes and other potshots at Avellaneda's work.
Angered by Avellaneda's phony sequel to his novel, Cervantes was prodded to deliver what he had promised but never completed - a sequel to Don Quixote. He immediately began work on Don Quixote, Part Two which would be published in late 1615.
Both novels would later be published in one epic volume, which first appeared in 1617. From then on, Don Quixote would be published as one long volume.
Where the first part of Don Quixote was pure farce, the second part is more serious - a philosophical treatise on deception. Quixote's imaginary quests are the result of incredibly cruel practical jokes.
These jokes, played on Quixote by wealthy patrons, take a great emotional toll on him. He eventually regains his sanity and renounces chivalry. He dies a sane but sad and broken man.
Don Quixote would be adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television. Its most famous stage adaptation, a play called Man of La Mancha, would itself be adapted as an award winning Broadway musical.
The musical's original lyrics, written by British poet W.H. Auden, were replaced due to their scathingly anti-establishment themes. Miguel de Cervantes died in April of 1616 at the age of 68.
His last great novel, Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda would be published posthumously in 1617.
Quote Of The Day
"The pen is the tongue of the mind." - Miguel de Cervantes
Today's video features a complete reading of Miguel de Cervantes' classic novel, Don Quixote. Enjoy!
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
It's Banned Books Week!
This week is Banned Books Week. The annual event, which takes place during the last week of September, was first established in 1982 by the American Library Association. (ALA) It was the brainchild of the late, great librarian and activist Judith Krug.
Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read by encouraging people to read books that have been banned or challenged - targeted for banning. The event also promotes the freedom of libraries, schools, and bookstores to provide such materials.
To celebrate Banned Books Week, the ALA offers kits, posters, buttons, bookmarks, and guidelines for schools and public libraries who participate in the event by erecting special displays of banned or challenged books to raise awareness of these issues.
Booksellers also create displays. Some go even further and invite authors of banned or challenged books to speak at their stores. They also sponsor annual essay contests dealing with freedom of expression.
Every year, the ALA compiles a list of the top 100 (or so) books that have been banned or challenged in the United States. What sort of publications make the list? Most of them are children's books that have been challenged or banned outright from schools and libraries across the country.
The challenges and bans are largely the work of disgruntled parents or conservative and / or religious activist groups complaining about allegedly inappropriate content in the literary works.
A good example of this can be found the case of And Tango Makes Three, (2005) a charming picture book for young readers, written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell.
This book has earned the distinction of being the #1 most banned or challenged book in recent years. The book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two captive male penguins living at the Central Park Zoo in New York City.
Zookeepers noticed that for six years, Roy and Silo lived together as mates - as though one of them were female - and engaged in mating rituals. When the penguins were observed trying to hatch an egg-shaped rock, the zookeepers gave them a real penguin egg to see if they could hatch it.
Roy and Silo cared for the egg and successfully hatched it. The healthy female chick, named Tango by the zookeepers, was then adopted by Roy and Silo, who raised her as their own. All three penguins lived together as a family.
And Tango Makes Three caused a furor with conservative and religious groups. Across the country, efforts were made to remove the book from schools and public libraries. Some of these challenges reached the courts, where they all failed.
In one case, a Federal Court rejected as unconstitutional a local resolution passed in Wichita Falls, Texas, that ordered the public library to remove And Tango Makes Three, along with another similarly themed controversial book (Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman) from the children's section and place them in the restricted adult section of the library.
Here's my own list of the top five books, both modern classics and those from the past, which have been banned or challenged over the years, and still face attempts at censorship:
1. Bridge To Terabithia (1977) by Katherine Paterson. This beloved and acclaimed children's novel, a favorite of both young and old readers alike, (and one of my all time favorites) is still popular over thirty years since it was first published. It still appears on teachers' assigned reading lists.
The most banned or challenged children's book of all time, Bridge To Terabithia is set in rural Virginia. It tells the heart wrenching tale of Jess Aarons, a poor, introverted, artistically gifted young farm boy who finds a soul mate in Leslie Burke, the intelligent, imaginative, tomboyish city girl who moves in next door.
Neglected by his ignorant, emotionally distant father, yelled at by his mother, mistreated by his older sisters, saddled with a nasty teacher and picked on by bullies at school, Jess desperately needs a friend. He finds it in Leslie Burke, who is also in desperate need of a friend.
Together, Jess and Leslie create Terabithia - a magical, imaginary world of their own where they rule as king and queen. When tragedy suddenly strikes and separates them forever, Jess must use all the strength and courage Leslie gave him as he tries to cope with his loss.
This beautiful novel has been attacked for various reasons, including its themes of death and grief, its bleakness and stark realism, the author's dialectic use of mild profanity, and the alleged ridiculing of authority figures and negative depictions of Christians and Christianity.
2. The Catcher In The Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger. Salinger's brilliant, celebrated coming-of-age novel about rebellious, angst-ridden troubled teen Holden Caulfield and his journey of self-discovery has been attacked since it was first published.
A staple of study for high school English classes, this novel has been attacked for its frank language, sexual content, alleged promotion of smoking, drinking, lying, and sexual promiscuity, and for other reasons.
When teachers assign their students to read The Catcher In The Rye, they are often challenged by disgruntled parents and conservative groups who try to get the novel removed from school libraries.
3. The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain. This classic novel, a sequel to Twain's classic The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, features Tom's friend Huckleberry Finn on an adventure of his own.
Originally attacked for its condemnation of slavery and negative depiction of white Southerners, this book has been attacked since the 1950s by African-American activists for its frequent use of the racial epithet nigger and for its allegedly racist stereotyping of blacks.
Twain scholars point out that when Huckleberry Finn meets runaway slave Jim, Huck is initially opposed to the idea of Jim becoming a free man, but changes his mind after befriending the slave and traveling with him.
Huck sees Jim as a good man who deserves to be free and helps him escape, even though doing so is illegal - it's considered a form of theft. Twain himself despised slavery and used his book to assail it, along with the Southern view that blacks were sub-human. Twain also assailed the Southern practice of lynching.
In using the word nigger, Twain criticizes his fellow Southerners' racism by letting them speak their own ugly language. Modern critics of Huckleberry Finn simply fail to place the novel in its proper historical context.
4. The Harry Potter Series (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling. Scottish author J.K. Rowling created a pop culture phenomenon with her series of seven fantasy novels about a young English orphan boy named Harry Potter who learns that he is a wizard.
Rescued from his nasty muggle (non-magical) relatives by the giant Hagrid, Harry is whisked away into the hidden world of wizards and witches and enrolled at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Harry will learn to master his magic (with the guidance of his mentor, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore) and meet his ultimate destiny - to face and destroy Lord Voldemort, the evil dark wizard who murdered his parents - as the forces of good and evil in the magical world prepare for war.
Rowling's epic novels have inspired millions of children to put down their video game controllers and discover the joy of reading. She has also earned millions of adult fans as well - and the wrath of religious conservatives.
These people claim that the Harry Potter novels encourage children to dabble in witchcraft and Satanism - despite the fact that magic is depicted as a gift one is born with and not related to a religion.
Nevertheless, the books have been challenged frequently, especially in the conservative Southern states, where attempts have been made to remove the books from teachers' assigned reading lists and school libraries.
5. The His Dark Materials Trilogy (1995-2000) by Philip Pullman. English author Philip Pullman's brilliant epic fantasy trilogy is set in an alternate universe, on a world similar to Earth, in a country similar to England.
In this world, everyone has a daemon - an externalization of the soul that takes the form of a shape-shifting creature (and dear friend) that always remains by their side.
The heroine is a bright, brash, imaginative, and mischievous 12-year-old girl named Lyra Belacqua whose daemon is called Pantalaimon. Lyra is an orphan who lives with her uncle, Lord Asriel, at Oxford University.
When Lord Asriel makes an important discovery - the true nature of Dust, the fabric of the universe - that threatens to invalidate the cruel, repressive, Catholic-esque monotheistic religion whose clerical body (the Magisterium) rules the world, his life is endangered.
Lyra finds herself at the center of a prophecy. She is the chosen one who will not only bring down the Magisterium on her world, but bring about a revolution in Heaven as well.
The being worshiped as God is actually not a benevolent god but an evil, dictatorial angel called Metatron who seized power over Heaven and the universe from The Authority - the first angel to emerge from the Dust.
In The Subtle Knife, the second book in the trilogy, Lyra meets Will Parry, a boy her age from another universe and world (ours) who becomes her first love and partner in the prophecy, which is a reversal of John Milton's Paradise Lost, from which the trilogy got its name.
Lyra and Will become the new Adam and Eve, but instead of causing the fall of Man with their sin of fornication, they cause the fall of Metatron (God) and save Man. Where the Harry Potter novels invoked the wrath of religious conservatives over witchcraft, the His Dark Materials trilogy made them go ballistic.
They accused author Philip Pullman of blasphemy, anti-Catholicism, and promoting atheism to children. Others complained about the books' violence, gore, sexual content, and the promotion of a heroine who is disobedient by nature and an accomplished liar.
The most (allegedly) objectionable elements of the story occur near the end. Lyra and Will free the aged, dying Authority from confinement so he can die peacefully and become part of the Dust. Although an act of mercy, conservative critics see this as the symbolic killing of God.
In order to fulfill the prophecy, Will and Lyra make love. The sex scene is tastefully handled, as is the first awakening of sexual feelings within Lyra.
Though Pullman's American publisher, Scholastic, Inc., censored some passages in the U.S. version of the third book, The Amber Spyglass, the entire trilogy of novels still faces challenges and bans in the United States.
Thanks to the ALA's Banned Books Week, more and more people have become aware of these attempts at censoring books in the United States and around the world, and the threat they pose to the individual's freedom to read what he wants and the freedom of libraries and bookstores to provide him with the material.
The human rights organization Amnesty International joins the ALA in celebrating Banned Books Week by bringing attention to the plight of those around the world who are persecuted for what they write, publish, distribute, and read.
Exercise your freedom to read by celebrating Banned Books Week. For more information, visit the American Library Association's web site.
Quote Of The Day
"Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings." - Heinrich Heine
Today's video features a presentation on this year's Banned Books Week. Enjoy!
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On September 27th, 1929, A Farewell To Arms, the classic novel by the legendary American writer Ernest Hemingway, was published. The autobiographical novel was based on the author's own experiences during the first world war.
After graduating high school, Hemingway decided not to go to college. Instead, he began his writing career as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star.
Six months later, against his father's wishes, he left the job to join the Army and fight in World War I. Unfortunately, he failed his physical due to his poor eyesight.
Rejected for military service, he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps instead and served as an ambulance driver. On his way to the Italian front, he stopped in Paris, which was being bombarded by German artillery. He tried to get as close to the combat zone as possible.
When he arrived in Italy, Hemingway witnessed firsthand the horrors of war when an ammunition factory near Milan exploded, and he was tasked with picking up the human remains.
He wrote about the experience in his first short story, A Natural History Of The Dead. Having never witnessed such horrors before, it left him badly shaken.
In July of 1918, Hemingway's career as an ambulance driver ended when he was badly injured while delivering supplies to soldiers. He was shot in the knee and caught shrapnel from an Austrian trench mortar shell in both legs.
While recovering in a Milan hospital, he fell in love with the nurse who tended him - an American woman named Agnes von Kurowski. She was six years his senior. They planned to return to America together.
However, when the time came, Agnes jilted Hemingway and ran off with an Italian officer. The end of their relationship would deeply affect both Hemingway the writer and Hemingway the man.
In her Dear John letter, Agnes addressed him as "Ernie, dear boy." At first, she scolded him for his immaturity and blamed the breakup on their age difference, but then she dropped the real bombshell:
"Believe me when I say this is sudden for me, too - I expect to be married soon. And I hope & pray that after you have thought things out, you'll be able to forgive me & start a wonderful career & show what a man you really are."
A Farewell To Arms tells the story of Hemingway's protagonist and alter ego, Frederic Henry, an American soldier serving during World War I.
Henry is wounded in Italy and recovers in a Milan hospital. There, he falls in love with Catherine Barkley, the British nurse who tends him.
By the time Henry has recovered, Catherine is three months pregnant with his child. They are separated by the war, then reunited later.
They flee to Switzerland by rowboat where, after a long and painful labor, Catherine gives birth to a stillborn baby, then bleeds to death.
A Farewell To Arms was originally published by Scribner's Magazine in a serialized format. Hemingway revised the manuscript before the novel was published in book form.
When his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald asked to read it, he sent him a draft copy of the manuscript. Later, Fitzgerald wrote him back with nine pages of suggested revisions. At the bottom of the last page, Hemingway wrote "Kiss my ass."
Rightfully considered a classic work of American literature, A Farewell To Arms demonstrates Ernest Hemingway's power as a storyteller and the style that would mark him as one of the all time great writers.
He never got to say goodbye to Agnes von Kurowski, a fate that befalls Frederic Henry in the novel, which ends with this poignant passage:
"You can't come in now," one of the nurses said.
"Yes I can," I said.
"You can't come in yet."
"You get out," I said. "The other one too."
But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn't any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.
Quote Of The Day
"All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had really happened." - Ernest Hemingway
Today's video features a complete reading of Ernest Hemingway's classic novel, A Farewell To Arms. Enjoy!
Monday, September 26, 2016
My humorous essay, "Why I'll Never Be a Zen Master," originally written for the Practice group, is up at Clever Magazine.
Guilie Castillo-Oriard's review of my latest novel, The Un-Familiar: A Tale of Dogs and Demons, is up at the Internet Review of Books.
So, I'm yahooing not only myself, but Guilie, for a great review, and Bob Sanchez and Gary Presley for the great work they do to make the IRB one of the best review sites around!
My review of Lynn Hinkey’s latest novel, The Un-familiar: A Tale of Dogs and Demons, is up at the Internet Review of Books.
I got lucky with acceptances, a fiction story at Mused and an essay at Clever Magazine. Thank you Prose-P members, for critiques on both.
Friday, September 23, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On September 23rd, 480 BCE, the legendary ancient Greek playwright and poet Euripides was born on the Greek island of Salamis. Evidence suggests that he was born into a wealthy family.
He served as a cup-bearer (a royal court officer whose duty was to serve drinks at the royal table) for Apollo's dancers, but soon came to question his religion after being influenced by the great thinkers of the day, including Sophocles, Protagoras, and Anaxagoras.
Euripides was married twice; his wives were Choerile and Melito, though it's not clear which was his first wife. He had three sons. Supposedly, he also had a daughter who was killed by a rabid dog.
This may have been a joke attributed to the comic playwright Aristophanes, who often poked fun at Euripides. In addition to his literary talents, Euripides was also an accomplished painter and athlete.
He once traveled to Syracuse, Sicily, and was involved in various public and political activities. At the invitation of King Archelaus I of Macedon, Euripides left Athens and moved to Macedonia, where he took up permanent residence.
It has been said that Euripides wrote his plays in a cave on the Island of Salamis; the ten-chambered cave, now known as the Cave of Euripides, was the subject of an archaeological dig in the 1990s.
While the complete manuscripts of many of his plays (including his very best ones) survived, many more plays were lost, with only fragments or a handful of lines left to prove their existence.
In 455 BCE, Euripides competed for the first time in the City Dionysia, the famous Athenian dramatic festival. He entered his second play, Medea, which was written in 431 BCE. The classic play was Euripides' take on the Medea myth.
After completing his quest for the Golden Fleece, Jason leaves his wife Medea so that he can marry Glauce, the daughter of King Creon. Driven to great anger and despair by this betrayal, Medea poisons Glauce and Creon, then takes an even crueler revenge on Jason by murdering his children - her own sons.
Euripides' Medea is a sympathetic character who suffers from the disadvantage of being a woman in a stifling patriarchal society that regards her as property to be acquired and discarded at will. This and her identity as a barbarian woman would raise the ire of ancient Greek audiences.
Euripides' proto-feminist treatment of women, his sympathetic depiction of intelligent slaves, and his meditations on the irrationality of religion would establish him as a progressive thinker and a modernist playwright way ahead of his time.
His fellow playwright Sophocles said that while he portrayed men as they ought to be, Euripides portrayed them as they were. Medea placed third in the City Dionysia, reportedly because Euripides refused to brown nose the judges.
Another of his classic plays, The Trojan Women (415 BCE), would win second prize. The play, produced during the Peloponnesian War, was a biting commentary on the capture of the Island of Melos by the Athenians earlier that year, and the Athenians' subsequent slaughter and enslavement of their fellow Greeks.
Euripides' last and greatest play, The Bacchae, completed before his death in 406 BCE, would finally win him first prize at the City Dionysia competition when it was performed a year later. The prize would be awarded posthumously.
The Bacchae is a gruesome tragedy based on the myth of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, who were punished by the god Dionysus (King Pentheus' cousin) for refusing to worship him.
Euripides would also write Cyclops, the only complete satyr play (the ancient Greek equivalent of bawdy burlesque comedy) to survive. He died of illness at the age of 74, most likely the result of his exposure to the harsh Macedon winter.
His works would influence the New Comedy, Roman drama, and the French classicists. His influence as a dramatist continues to this day.
Quote Of The Day
"Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing." - Euripides
Today's video features a complete performance of Euripides' classic play, Medea. Enjoy!
Thursday, September 22, 2016
This Day In Literary History
On September 22nd, 1598, the legendary English playwright, poet, and actor Ben Jonson was arrested and charged with manslaughter. It would not be Jonson's first brush with the law.
He and fellow playwright Thomas Nashe had been previously jailed for obscenity following a performance of their play The Isle of Dogs, which, sadly, has been lost, as all existing copies of the script were destroyed by the authorities.
Jonson's arrest for manslaughter came about as the result of his duel with Gabriel Spenser, an actor who belonged to the same company, that of Philip Henslowe, who managed the Rose Theatre.
Jonson was known for his foul temper and frequent quarrels with other actors - especially those performing in his plays. However, the exact reason for his duel with Spenser is not known.
Swords were the chosen weapons for this particular duel. Although the blade of his sword was ten inches shorter than that of his opponent, Jonson killed Spenser (who, ironically, had previously killed another man in an earlier duel.) to win the duel.
He was immediately arrested, charged with manslaughter, and incarcerated at Newgate Prison. Jonson pled guilty, but avoided the hangman's rope by converting to Catholicism.
He then invoked the Benefit of Clergy, which allowed a defendant to request that he be tried under canon law by a bishop instead of under secular law by a judge.
At his trial, Jonson was able to avoid the death penalty and receive a light sentence by reciting a bible verse (Psalm 51) in Latin and reading a passage from the Bible to prove his literacy.
He was sentenced to be branded on his left thumb and to forfeit his property to the Church, after which, he was released from prison and returned to writing plays and acting.
Earlier that year, Jonson had enjoyed his first big success as a playwright when he staged a production of his classic play, Every Man in His Humour. The play was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, at the Curtain Theatre.
The Lord Chamberlain's Men was England's most famous acting company. One of the first actors to be cast in the play was the legendary actor, playwright, and poet William Shakespeare.
Although Jonson would also become famous for his criticisms of Shakespeare's plays - he once quipped that Shakespeare never revised his plays when they should have been revised heavily - he actually admired Shakespeare.
He said of the Bard, "there was ever more in him to be praised than pardoned." When Jonson learned of Shakespeare's death, he said, "he was not of an age, but for all time."
Quote Of The Day
"Art hath an enemy called Ignorance." - Ben Jonson
Today's video features a reading of Ben Jonson's classic poem, To Celia. Enjoy!