Tag Archive: mythology


The Door in the Mountain

The Door in the Mountain

The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet

To be published: Oct 21, 2014

 

The book is the first of a two-part series about Minos’s Labyrinth and the Minotaur. Ariadne is the daughter of King Minos and Queen Pasiphae of Crete during the Minoan era. She is not godmarked like the rest of her family, and is especially resentful of her younger brother Asterion. He is her mother’s favorite as he favors the god Poseidon and can transform into the Minotaur (who the local populace worship as a god) when fire is near. Ariadne is always being left behind and ignored so she decides to plot with her father to get rid of Asterion by locking him away inside of a mountain and getting the great inventor Daedalus to build a labyrinth to contain him. Chara, a slave girl, who grows up with Asterion and is his only friend. She watches Ariadne and her scheming from behind the scenes as Ariadne’s personal slave.

Honestly when I first read the description for this book, I thought “It seems like a Percy Jackson rip-off”, and there are some similarities. The story was very very slow-moving and I almost lost interest in finishing it. In a way, you almost feel sorry for Ariadne. However, she brings a lot of her hardships down on her own head with all the scheming for power and control.  Although I didn’t like her character, it was interesting to see how she became bitter, resentful, and cruel, which ultimately leads to her downfall. I really felt bad for Asterion who ended up being the pawn in the manipulations of his mother, sister and step-father.  I also felt bad for Icarus as he was always pining after Ariadne, who was completely not worth his time, and also because he was godmarked to almost fly but not very successfully. However it evident from the text that the author has really done her research into Minoan history and culture, which is something I always like and appreciate. The reader is transported back to Bronze Age Crete and I could just imagine the costumes of the royalty, especially the princess as she did the bull dance. The only thing I would have liked is a glossary of names at the front of the book as all of the names were Greek and got rather confusing after awhile. Recommended for ages 15+, 3-1/2 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this advanced reader’s copy book from the publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Book Reviews July 2014

I almost didn’t post this because it’s so close to the end of the month, but figured I should share what I’ve written so far. I’m ridiculously far behind in writing reviews, mostly because I’ve been feeling so burned out lately and not at all like writing. So the following reviews are from June and July. I’ve  honestly not been doing too much on the Caldecott or Newbery award list challenges. I am currently reading an advanced reader’s copy of a new adult book called The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet, which is a take on the Minotaur myth from Greek mythology, except from the point of view of the people involved instead of an outsider’s look. I’m currently listening to Wil Haygood’s The Butler: A Witness to History, which I’ve been wanting to check out for awhile. It’s cool because it’s not just a look at Eugene Allen’s remarkable life (which The Butler movie is based off of) but also the Civil Rights Movement and each president that Allen served at the White House and their role in the movement from the 1950’s-1980s. It also features a little about African-Americans and race, in general, in film. I’m excited to listen to Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein next and the 11th book in the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer, Boston Jack after that.

Children

Boo Boo written and illustrated by Olivier Dunrea

I picked up this title because it is my son’s nickname, plus I love the author/illustrator. BooBoo is a little blue gosling who likes to eat everything. One day she eats a bubble and starts burping them up. A small turtle advises her to drink some water and she does and the burping stops. Recommended for ages 2-5, 2 stars.

My Puffer Train written and illustrated by Mary Murphy

My son enjoyed this book. The story was pretty basic. With rhyming text, a penguin runs a steam train which he takes to the coast. He picks up all kinds of animals on the way around the track. I enjoyed the bright and colorful illustrations. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3 stars.

All Aboard for Dreamland! written by Melanie Harby, illustrated by Geraldo Valerio

Like a lot of other bedtime train books I have read with my son, this book takes you on a journey to Dreamland, stopping first in Giggletown, Snuggly Cove and even a town called Yawwwwwn. The train starts off fast but gets slower as its passengers reach Dreamland. Recommended for ages 2-6, 2 stars.

Maisy Goes to Preschool written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins

I like Cousins’ books for their simple stories and brightly-colored illustrations. This book introduces toddlers/preschoolers to the idea of going to school. Maisy is going to preschool, where she paints, plays with her friends, uses the potty, snacktime and naptime. Her school is a lot like my son’s daycare, as far as the kind of things they do during the day. Recommended for ages 3-5, 4 stars.

Thank You, Octopus written and illustrated by Darren Farrell

Thank You Octopus

Oh my goodness! My son got completely obsessed with this book. It’s one of the first books he started quoting (and still does all the time). I picked it up originally because I love cephalopods. It is a book about a boy and his octopus that live on a steam boat and they are getting ready for bed. But every time Octopus tries to help, things get really silly. Like he tries to give him a bath and the boy thanks him, then the readers realize that it’s “a bath in egg salad”, to which the boy exclaims “No thank you, Octopus!” The octopus finally gets his comeuppance at the end of the book. This is a very fun book to read-aloud together with your child. We are definitely getting a copy of this book for our personal collection because of how much my son loves it. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

And the cars go… written and illustrated by William Bee

And the cars go

I found a train book by this author and got it for my son. We both liked the story and illustrations, so when I found this book at another branch, I immediately grabbed it. I liked this one way better than the last one as it seemed to have more of a storyline. A motorcycle cop pulls on the road to the beach only to find it completely stopped. He goes up the road and each car makes a different noise and response. He passes first a station wagon with a little girl who asks her parents “Are we there yet?” and later an ice cream truck and a dune buggy full of surfers. Eventually he discovers that the road is blocked by some sheep who have escaped from a fence near the road. Everyone gets out to help move the sheep and the cars finally start moving. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

A Pet for Petunia written and illustrated by Paul Schmid

I picked up this book because I loved the illustrations for Perfectly Percy, plus the story sounded cute. Petunia loves skunks. She loves that their cute little noses, their stripes, and everything else about them. She desperately wants one for a pet, but her parents say no. So she decides to run away. On her way, she meets an actual skunk and boy is it stinky! So stinky in fact, that she runs all the way home. Then she realizes it was “awesomely stinky” but she’d rather have her stuffed skunk as a pet. That is until she meets a porcupine. My son loved the whole “skunks are too stinky” and it really made him laugh. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Dragons Love Tacos_Spread 5large

^The reason you don’t give dragons spicy salsa

My son absolutely loved this book. Even now, after we have returned it a week ago, he is still quoting parts from the book. I was not as impressed. It just came across as too dumbed-down and repetitive. The illustrations were cute though. The title pretty much sums the book up. Dragons love tacos and so will do anything to get them. They also love parties, so put these two things together and you have a winner. Only don’t use spicy salsa of any kind because it makes dragons smoke from the ears, breathe fire (literately), and have tummy troubles. Bad things happen when you mix tacos and spicy salsa, like dragons will burn your house down. But they will help you rebuild, with taco breaks of course. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3-1/2 stars.

Dinosaurs Dig! written and illustrated by Peggy Dale

I picked this up for my son for two reasons. First, he loves dinosaurs and second because he is fascinated by diggers (excavators), so this seemed like the perfect book for him. It was a really simple but well-done book, perfect for little boys, though I’m sure little girls would get a kick out of it as well as it a fun book. It is a counting book from 1-10 and show how 10 different dinosaurs working together with construction can create something really cool. The front end pages feature the kind of dinosaurs in the book, and the back end pages show the construction equipment used in the book. I’m sure this will be a book I will buy for my son and use for storytime as well. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

If you happen to have a dinosaur written by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Colin Jack

If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur

I was on a hunt for dinosaur books because my son loves them and this one was brand new, so I decided to give it a try. This one really cracked me and my son up! It’s all about all the things you can use a dinosaur for, like opening cans, yardwork and pretty much anything else you can think of, including a bookmark. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth written and illustrated by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes

Ganeshas Sweet Tooth_Int 3

I picked up this book at the library for myself because of the subject matter and the illustrations, which I adored. It is a very simplified version of the epic Hindu poem, the Mahabharata. Ganesha is a young elephant-headed god (always one of my favorites in Indian art), who along with his friend Mr. Mouse, loves Indian sweet called laddoos. Ganesha especially wants to eat the super jawbreaker laddoo, with which he promptly breaks one of his tusks on. He is so embarrassed by his broken tusk, but Mr. Mouse says it doesn’t matter. Shortly after this, they happen upon the poet Vyasa, who asks Ganesha to write the Mahabharata with his broken tusk and it takes a really long time. Mr. Mouse occupies himself with lots of sweets in the meantime. Finally they are done. The illustrations give a brief visual description of what happens in the poem, but I think it would be better to hear an audiobook version of the tale (the author mentions that it is not a 100% accurate view of the actual poem). The illustrations were fabulous and really drew my eye to the book, despite the semi-complicated storyline (especially when you’re trying to explain it all to a 3-year-old). You can tell the illustrator is also an Pixar animator. The book totally made me crave Indian sweets while reading it. Recommended for ages 5+, 3 stars.

Children  and Young Adult

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain, #1) by Lloyd Alexander, narrated by James Langton

This book is an exciting story which takes place in the fictional land of Prydain, which based off the country of Wales in the Middle Ages, and is full of borrowed heroes and gods from Welsh mythology. The reader is introduced to Taran, an orphaned young man who yearns for sword-fighting and adventure.  Alas, he is simply an Assistant Pig-Keeper of the oracular (can see the future) pig Hen Wen at Cair Dalben, the home and farm of the ancient Enchanter Dalben. One day, all the animals on the farm all run away from a mysterious force and Taran must go find Hen Wen. He stumbles upon the evil Horned King and his Cauldron-Born (powerful fighting zombies) by accident, and is nearly killed before being rescued by Prince Gwydion. They are captured by Acren, a powerful enchantress who used to rule Prydain and sent to rot in her dungeons. It is in the dungeons that Taran meets Princess Eilonwy, who subsequently rescues him and his “friend”. Taran quickly realizes that the “friend” is not Gwydion but a traveling bard named Fflewddur Fflam. Gurgi, a shaggy creature joins the party. Instead of taking up the search for Hen Wen, the group decides to go to Caer Dathyl, the home of King Math to warn him about the approaching army of the Horned King and his Cauldron-Born. Will they be able to get to the castle in time to warn the king or will the castle be overrun with Arwn’s forces? To find out, read the exciting first book of  The Chronicles of Prydain! Recommended for ages 10-14, 4 stars.

I started reading The Chronicles of Prydain as a whole after learning that two books in the series won a Newbery or a Newbery Honor award. It’s kind of amazing that this book was written in 1964 as it feels really modern and timeless. It did totally remind me of a tribute to Lord of the Rings in the beginning of the book, especially after they introduced Gwydion and Gurgi, which almost exactly mirrors Aragorn and Gollum. The narrator, James Langton, is quite good and narrates the entire series. I love Eilonwy’s independence and Flewddur Fflam and his truth-telling harp! Overall it was a great start to the series, and actually better than the Newberry Honor winning second book.

Newbery

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

The book tells the story of Claudette Colvin, who in March 1955, was the first African-American to refuse to give up her seat to a white person on a bus . The seats at the front belonged to the white passengers, while the African-Americans rode in the back, but they had to give up their seats if there was no room. Claudette was sitting about halfway back and was asked to give up her seat for a white lady and not only refused but also did not come willingly when the police arrived. People in the African-American community in Montgomery didn’t know what to make of the spunky teenaged girl who wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in, and there plenty of people that didn’t like that a young girl was the first person to protest the Montgomery buses. It wasn’t until Claudette’s mentor, Rosa Parks, did a similar thing nine months later that African-Americans on the whole supported what she did and started the bus boycott, which really launched the Civil Rights Movement in America. Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.

After I had read a good review by a Goodreads friend, I decided to give this 2010 Newbery Honor award winner a chance. The book is based off interviews from Claudette Colvin herself and others that lived in Montgomery, AL in the 1950s, so the reader has a very first-hand view of what was like during the days of the Jim Crow laws. I had never heard of Ms. Colvin before this book, and truth be told, only knew the basics about the start of the Civil Rights Movement, even though I lived in Alabama for a good chunk of my life. It’s not something that was really talked about, and is a hard subject to broach in a still racially divided city. I felt sorry for Claudette Colvin because she was pushed aside by adults who wanted freedom and equality but didn’t think a young girl should be the start of it.

The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain, #2) written by Lloyd Alexander, narrated by James Langton

I did not like this one as much as the first one because the story was so slow-moving, plus it was a little predictable. This book won a 1966 Newbery Honor. The story of Taran in the land of Prydain continues in this book. In this volume, Taran and his companions Fflewdur Fflam, Eilonwy, and Gurgi are ordered by Prince Gwydion to find and destroy the Black Cauldron, the instrument used by Arawn to construct his zombie Cauldron-Born warriors. Taran must learn to work with a proud young prince named Ellidyr, as they search the Marshes of Morva for the three enchantresses rumored to be in possession of the Cauldron. Will they be able to find it and destroy the Cauldron before Arawn and his deathless warriors find them? Recommended for ages 10+, 3 stars.

Adult

Alias Hook written by Lisa Jensen

Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes by Diane Morgan, foreward by Deborah Madison

A very thorough introduction and glimpse into all kinds of root vegetables, including some I had never heard of like crosne, malanga, and celery root. I liked that she included when it’s seasonally available (especially important if you’ve never heard of it but are interested in trying it). I liked that she gave the different names for the roots in many different countries, which is helpful for me in regards to Asian varieties and because even the British word for certain root vegetable is not the same as in the US. As I’ve rediscovered beets, I was very glad there was a large section on that particular vegetable. I would love to own this cookbook. 5 stars.

Raw Food French Style: 115 fresh recipes from the new generation of French chefs by Delphine de Montelier

This was a very fresh approach to food with some really beautiful photography. The recipes themselves were pretty simplistic as you don’t really have to cook anything. Whenever I think of raw food, I always think vegan, but the book included meat and fish as well. There were only about four recipes that I would like to make. 3 stars.

The HappyCow Cookbook: recipes from top-rated vegan restaurants around the world edited by Eric Brent and Glen Merzer

I picked up this cookbook because I had been on the website and agree that it is a great resource for vegans and vegetarians, as not all countries are veg-friendly. While some of the recipes looked appealing, they like a lot of restaurant cookbooks, seemed to be food I’d rather have professionals prepare at the restaurant itself versus me doing it at home. I would like to try the Thai Noodles and the Porcini-Crusted Tofu with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Candle Mushroom Gravy. I would also like to check out these restaurants: 222 Veggie Vegan in London and Lovin’ Spoonfuls in Tucson, AZ. 2 stars.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Self-Portait, 1659

Rembrandt Self Portait 1659

Since Rembrandt’s 407th birthday was on Monday, I figured now would be as good a time as any to do another art post, as I really enjoy them even though it takes me forever to create one. Pretty much everyone has heard of the painter Rembrandt. His name brings up the image of some of his more famous works, such as The Nightwatch or one of his many self – portraits. If you would like to know more about the artist, check out this biography. I was first exposed to Rembrandt the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, when I took my first European trip. I was born in Germany and lived there for a few years, but this is the first trip that I remember. We had gone to the Rijksmuseum (State Museum) in Amsterdam, and I had briefly seen The Nightwatch by Rembrandt on a whirlwind tour through the museum. I was amazed that one painting could be so enormous, as it took up an entire wall, floor to ceiling. I didn’t get to examine it in thoroughly until about four years later, while on Spring Break during my Study-Abroad to Italy. Around this time, my mom became totally enthralled with his version of Return of the Prodigal Son , and had a large poster of it in her office when she was a parish priest. I also viewed his work and others like it for a Chiuroscuro exhibition at the Rembrandt House . This was where the artist lived and worked for about 20 years before it became too much of a financial burden, and it is now a museum. During my undergraduate degree in Art History, I took a class on Baroque art which featured his art along with many other artists.

For this blog post, I plan on examining this famous artist by discussing key aspects of his life, in particular his relationships with others. In particular, I would like to focus on his wife Saskia, his son Titus and his mistress/common law wife Hendrickje. I would also like to discuss two of his most famous works, The Nightwatch and The Jewish Bride (Isaac and Rebecca) because I enjoy them, but will do so in a separate post.

He met Saskia through her cousin Hendrick, in whose house Rembrandt was living in 1633, and she became a regular sitter for his artwork. She died of Tuberculosis in 1642, and their son Titus was born just seven months before her death. In addition to making him Titus’s sole guardian, Saskia’s will also, according to this paper from the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University, “dictated (as was usual) that Rembrandt would forfeit his interest in Saskia’s property if he ever remarried; for whatever reason, he never did.” The painting I would like to examine is one that he completed only a year after they got married. It is entitled Saskia van Uylenburgh in Arcadian Costume. According to this blog post on the two of them, “Rembrandt has dressed her as a deity of youth, rebirth and beauty, along with her rustic shepherdess’s staff. This idyllic and pastoral setting was very popular with the upper-class Dutch society in the early seventeenth century. They had a love of all things to do with the romantic ideal of life in the countryside which they perceived as unadulterated bliss.”

Saskia van Ulylenburgh in Arcadian Costume, 1635

rembrandt-van-rijn-saskia-van-uylenburgh-in-arcadian-costume-1635

 I’ve always been fascinated by Saskia, as he always seems to paint her with almost ethereal quality with her light-colored hair in a halo around her head. They were only married a very short time but he seems to think of her as the love of his life and is devastated when she dies before the age of 30, and only married for seven years. I guess I am a little curious what she saw in him. After all, all though he seemed to have a good education, he came from a less prosperous family (his father was a miller) than her very large wealthy family. Not to say he’s a bum or a mooch, but it is hard for people from two social classes to get along properly at times. It is interesting to note that her family approved of the match, but his family did not because of religious reasons (he cut ties with them after this). Obviously from the viewpoint of Rembrandt it was a good match because her cousin Hendrick was a well-known art dealer who helped him advance his career.

Rembrandt’s son Titus is the first living child out of four that his mother Saskia brought into this world. He became a painter like his father and married a silversmith’s daughter. It is interesting to note that the woman he married was a relative of Saskia, Titus’s mother, and was specifically chosen to avoid any further lawsuits from her against Rembrandt, in the future, over money issues. Titus lived to age 27, dying of the plague one year before his father and his wife had a daughter 6 months after that. My favorite painting of him is one that is in the Rijksmuseum, and shows him in a monk’s habit.

Titus van Rijn Dressed in a Monk’s Habit, 1660

Titus van Rijn in a Monk's Habit by Rembrandt

Hendrickje came into Rembrandt’s life originally as his housekeeper/maid. At the time, he was having a relationship with Titus’s nurse Geertje, but it was not as serious as his relationship with Hendrickje, with whom he fathered a child. I did find it sort of amusing on this blog post that “in June 1654 the Council of the Reformed Church of Amsterdam got wind of this relationship and summoned Rembrandt and Hendrickje to stand before them. Rembrandt was not a practicing churchgoer so the matter against him was dropped. Hendrickje however was accused of whoredom and of living with a man, unwed [oh yeah blame the female maid and not her employer]. Being six months pregnant there was little point in denying the charge. Her punishment was being unable to receive communion.” Another part of the reason the church made such a big deal about the two of them was because Hendrickje was 20 years younger than Rembrandt, and she had posed nude for the Bathsheba painting. Hendrickje gave him a daughter in June 1654. She, and possibly Geertje, become his common-law wives.  She died 9 years later, likely of bubonic plague.

For awhile, she was his muse and he painted and probably drew her image multiple times. The most famous painting she posed for was Bathsheba at Her Bath, now in the Louvre. The story is taken from the Old Testament of the Bible. King David is standing on the roof of his palace and sees a beautiful woman taking a bath. He finds out that she is Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite. David starts lusting after her and sends her a letter asking her to come/summoning her to the palace, where they will eventually consumate their relationship. As soon as he realizes that she is pregnant with his child, David sends Uriah on a deadly battle mission and he is killed in action. The king marries Bathsheba but the child does not survive, as it has been cursed by God, thanks to David’s method of consummation. Normally most versions of this painting show Bathsheba as David first spies her, but Rembrandt sets the scene a bit later, after she gets the summons from the king and is holding it in her hand and trying to decide what to do. Should she be unfaithful to her husband? Or should not even consider this and just be faithful to her king and do his bidding? She is sad in her contemplation, and perhaps a bit guilty. A servant kneels at her feet and washes them. She is surrounded by a golden brocaded robe, and yet holds a simple white shift in her hand. I like that the woman in the painting does not look like a supermodel, but more  like someone’s actual wife. It is as  this article says “The models were no ethereal beauties, but ordinary Dutch women, who could make good use of the money they earned by posing. But Rembrandt also had prints in his collection after paintings by Italians, whose canvases usually represented women of ideal beauty. He put Bathsheba about halfway between the two.”

Bathsheeba at Her Bath, 1654

Bathsheba at Her Bath - Rembrandt 1654

Tammuz, the Green Man

Tammuz the Green Man

I’ve been listening to the Children/YA book series Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott, and in the last book I finished (Book 4), one of the characters was Tammuz, the Mesopotamian god also known as the Green Man. I took a class on Ancient Near Eastern History during my undergraduate years, so I was interested in finding out more about him based off his description in the book.  Now I knew a bit about the Green Man from Celtic/British mythology, but apparently his origins begin as Dumazi in Sumeria as a shepherd god of food and vegetation, but also of fertility and the symbol of death and rebirth in nature. According to Encyclopedia Mythica, “Each year he dies in the hot summer (in the month Tammus, June/July) and his soul is taken by the Akkadian demons to the underworld. Woe and desolation fall upon the earth, and Ishtar leads the world in lamentation. She then descends to the nether world, ruled by Ereshkigal [her sister], however she was not able to bring him back.” This reminds me a lot of the Persephone abducted by Hades myth, so the Greeks probably borrowed some story elements from the Sumerian/Akkadians. Tammuz has also been known by the names Adonis, Dionysus, Bacchus, and Jack in/on the Green. It is possible that he also influenced the mythical characters John Barleycorn, the Celtic dieties Holly/Oak King and Cernunnos, the Greek god Pan, the Pre-Columbian god Tlaloc, the Egyptian god Osiris, Puck (Robin Goodfellow) from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Nights Dream, Ents from J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, and Humbaba and Enkidu from the epic poem Gilgamesh.

One of the most interesting fact I found out about the Mesopotamian god was this story from Wikipedia (note: I do not usually use Wikipedia as a source unless it is a generalized fact as the information cannot always be verified – My reference professor would be proud that her lessons were drilled into me).  “According to some scholars, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is built over a cave that was originally a shrine to Adonis-Tammuz.” For examples of Green man music and poetry, check out this website. I also found this really cool modern interpretational (and rather Ent-ish) sculpture of the Green Man created by sculptor Tawny Gray (Toin Adams), pictured below.

The Green Man by Tawny Gray

Tammuz/Dumazi was the greatest love of the goddess Inanna, also known as Ishtar. She was the goddess of the love, fertility and war. They were married, but had a complicated relationship. I managed to find an Akkadian version of one of the many poems written about her descent into the underworld, but like a lot of poetry from this era, it is somewhat incomplete due to missing tablets which make translation/versions difficult. According to this website, this version “is first attested in Late Bronze Age texts, in both Babylonia and Assyria, and later from the palace library at Nineveh. It is a short composition of some 140 lines, and seems to end with ritual instructions for the taklimtu, an annual ritual known from Assyrian texts, which featured the bathing, anointing, and lying-in-state in Nineveh of a statue of Dumazi.”

Here are some terms or names that you will encounter in the poem that might be unfamiliar to you: Sin = father of Ishtar, Erkalla =another name for Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld (also called Mistress of Earth), Kurnugi = another name for the underworld, Abzu/Ea = primeval Sumero/Akkadian gods, keppu-toy = a whipping top, tamarisk = a large shrub, Anunnaki = a group of gods in the underworld, Kutha = city in Sumeria, Namtar = a minor god in the underworld, “…no donkey impregnated a jenny…” = basically fertility suffers while Ishtar is in the underworld, and Belili = Mesopotamian goddess living in the underworld, sister of Dumuzi/Tammuz.

THE DESCENT OF ISHTAR TO THE UNDERWORLD

This version of the myth is taken directly from the book, Myths From Mesopotamia, by Stephanie J. Dalley.

To Kurnugi, land of [no return],
Ishtar daughter of Sin was [determined] to go;
The daughter of Sin was determined to go
To the dark house, dwelling of Erkalla’s god,
To the house which those who enter cannot leave,
On the road where travelling is one-way only,
To the house where those who enter are deprived of light,
Where dust is their food, clay their bread.
They see no light, they dwell in darkness,
They are clothed like birds, with feathers.
Over the door and the bolt, dust has settled.
Ishtar, when she arrived at the gate of Kurnugi,
Addressed her words to the keeper of the gate,
“Here gatekeeper, open your gate for me,
Open your gate for me to come in!
If you do not open the gate for me to come in!
If you do not open the gate for me to come in,
I shall smash the door and shatter the bolt,
I shall smash the doorpost and overturn the doors,
I shall raise up the dead and they shall eat the living:
The dead shall outnumber the living!”
The gatekeeper made his voice heard and spoke,
He said to great Inanna,
“Stop, lady, do not break it down!
Let me go and report your words to queen Ereshkigal.”
The gatekeeper went in and spoke to [Ereshkigal],
“Here she is, your sister Inanna [. . .]
Who holds the great keppu’toy,
Stirs up the Abzu in Ea’s presence [. . .]?”

When Ereshkigal heard this,
Her face grew livid as cut tamarisk,
Her lips grew dark as the rim of a kuninu-vessel.
“What brings her to me? What has incited her against me?
Surely not because I drink water with the Anunnaki,
I eat clay for bread, I drink muddy water for beer?
I have to weep for young men forced to abandon their sweethearts.
I have to weep for girls wrenched from their lover’s laps.
For the infant child I have to weep, expelled before its time.
Go, gatekeeper, open your gate to her.
Treat her asccording to the ancient rites.”
The gatekeeper went.
He opened the gate to her.
“Enter, my lady: may Kutha give you joy,
May the palace of Kurnugi be glad to see you”

He let her in through the first door, but stripped off (and) took away the great crown on her head,
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the great crown on my head?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the second door, but stripped off (and) took away the rings in her ears.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the rings in my ears?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the third door, but stripped off (and) away the beads around her neck.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the beads around my neck?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the fourth door, but stripped off (and) took away the toggle pins at her breast.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the toggle pins at my breast?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the fifth door, but stripped off (and) took away the girdle of birth-stones around her waist.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken the girdle of birth stones around my waist?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the sixth door, but stripped off (and) took away the bangles on her wrists and ankles.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the bangles from my wrists and ankles?”
“Go in my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the seventh door, but stripped off (and) took away the proud garment of her body.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the proud garment of my body?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
As soon as Inanna went down to Kurnugi,
Ereshkigal looked at her and trembled before her.
Inanna did not deliberate (?), but leant over her.
Ereshkigal made her voice heard and spoke,
Addressed her words to Namtar her vizier,
“Go Namtar [ ] of my [ ]
Send out against her sixty diseases
[ ] Inanna:
Disease of the eyes to her [eyes]
Disease of the arms to her [arms]
Disease of the feet to her [feet]
Disease of the heart to her [heart]
Disease of the head [to her head]
To every part of her and to [ ].”
After Inanna the Mistress of (?) [had gone to Kernugi]
No bull mounted a cow, [no donkey impregnated a jenny]
No young man impregnated a girl [in the street(?)]
The young man slept in his private room,
The girl slept in the company of her friends.
Then Papsukkal, vizier of the great gods, hung his head, his face [became gloomy];
He wore mourning clothes, his hair unkempt.
Dejected(?), he went and wept before Sin his father,
His tears flowed freely before king Ea.
“Inanna has gone down to The Earth and has not come up again.
As soon as Inanna went down to Kurnugi
No bull mounted a cow, no donkey impregnated a jenny,
No young man impregnated a girl on the street
The young man slept in his private room,
The girl slept in the company of her friends.”
Ea, in the wisdom of his heart, created a person.
He created Good-looks the playboy.
“Come, Good-looks, set your face towards the gate of Kurnugi.
The seven gates of Kurnugi shall be opened before you.
Ereshkigal shall look at you and be glad to see you.
When she is relaxed, her mood will lighten.
Get her to swear the oath by the great gods.
Raise your head, pay attention to the waterskin,
Saying, ‘Hey my lady, let them give me the waterskin, that I may drink water from it.'”

(and so it happened. But)
When Ereshkigal heard this,
She struck her thigh and bit her finger.
“You have made a request of me that should not have been made!
Come, Good-looks, I shall curse you with a great curse.
I shall decree for you a fate that shall never be forgotten.
Bread (gleaned(?)) from the city’s ploughs shall be your food,
The city drains shall be your only drinking place,
Threshold steps your only sitting place,
The drunkard and the thirsty shall slap your cheek.”
Ereshkigal made her voice heard and spoke:
She adressd her words to Namtar her vizier,
“Go Namtar, knock (?) at Egalina,
Decorate the threshold steps with coral,
Bring the Annunaki out and seat (them) on golden thrones,
Sprinkle Inanna with the waters of life and conduct her into my presence.”
Namtar went, knocked at Egalina,
Decorated the threshold steps with coral,
Brought out the Annunaki, seated them on golden thrones,
Sprinkled Inanna with the waters of life and brought her out to her (sister).
He let her out through the the first door, and gave her back to her the proud garment of her body.
He let her out through the second door, and gave back to her the bangles of her wrists and ankles.
He let her out through the third door, and gave back to her the girdle of birthstones around her waist.
He let her out through the fourth door, and gave back to her the toggle-pins at her breast.
He let her out through the fifth door, and gave back to her the beads around her neck.
He let her out through the sixth door, and gave back to her the rings for her ears.
He let her out through the seventh door, and gave back the great crown for her head.
“Swear that (?) she has paid you for her ransom,and give her back (in exchange) for him,
For Dmuzi,the lover of her youth,
Wash (him) with pure water, anoint him with sweet oil,
Clothe him in a red robe, let the lapis lazuli pipe play(?)
Let party-girls raise a loud lament(?)”
Then Belili tore off (?) her jewellery,
Her lap was filled with eyestones.
Belili heard the lament for her brother, she struck the jewellery [from her body],
The eyestones with which the front of the wild cow was filled.
“You shall not rob me (forever) of my only brother!
On the day when Dmuzi comes back up, (and) the lapis pipe and the carnelian ring come up with him,
(When) male and female mourners come up with him,
The dead shall come up and smell the smoke offering”

I hadn’t done an art post in a while, and I felt inspired. When most people think of Bernini, they think of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, which featured the sculptures of Bernini as part of a Illuminati conspiracy. I first fell in love with Bernini sculptures in 2002, when I was doing a study-abroad to Italy during my junior year in university. The group I was touring with was spending 5 days in Rome, and I was getting up-close-and-personal with a lot of artwork that I had been studying in art history (my undergraduate degree) and the class I was taking on Italian Renaissance art, though we saw a lot of Baroque art as well. One of the first places we visited was the Galleria Borghese, the former home of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who was a patron of Bernini. So it is fitting that four of Bernini’s sculptures are still there today. Before I get into talking about the sculptures, I should probably explain what exactly Baroque art is so you can better understand the artist’s works. Baroque, according to this page on Getty’s educational department website, is “the European artistic style of the 1600s, targeted the senses using virtuosity and realism, reaching the mind through emotion rather than reason. Baroque art has qualities of theatricality, movement, and exuberance.” After Renaissance art, Baroque art is my second favorite time period of European art.

Anyways, on to the sculptures. At the Villa Borghese, they have two amazing sculptures that I just fell in love with. First is Pluto and Proserpina, also known as The Rape of Proserpina. I find this piece so amazing because even though the subject matter has been done over and over by so many artists, Bernini seems to have done something new with it. The sculpture looks as if it has been frozen in time. Pluto grips the fleshy thighs of Proserpina (aka Persephone/Kore) even as she cries out to the heavens for help, and he is abducting her and taking her to the Underworld to be his bride. You can see the anguish on her face and her windblown hair. The three-headed dog Cerberus is at Pluto’s feet. In this piece, you can see a true Baroque work of art, with the movement and the way it is so full of life and emotion.

Pluto and Proserpina, 1621-22

The second is Apollo and Daphne. Another mythological tale, this one is about the god Apollo chasing after the chaste nymph Daphne, who turns into a laurel tree as she flees. To understand more of the story, I turn to Encyclopedia Mythica, which says that the whole story started after Apollo said that Eros’s (aka Cupid’s), arrows had no real effect on anyone. To prove him wrong, he shot two arrows “one tipped in gold, one blunted and tipped with lead. The arrow dipped in gold had the power to create insatiable lust in a person, while the other created absolute abhorrence towards all things romantic and passionate. The unfortunate soul who was struck with that arrow would have no desire to love anyone. The arrow dipped in gold struck Apollo, but the arrow dipped in lead struck fair Daphne. Daphne was the daughter of the river-god Peneus. Apollo chased down the maiden, desperate for her love, but she wanted nothing to do with him, and she ran from him endlessly. Soon, she grew weary in her running and that Apollo would ultimately catch her. Fearful, she called out to her father for help. As all gods of water posses the ability of transformation, Peneus transformed his daughter into a laurel tree.” The sculpture captures Daphne’s final moments, as Apollo reaches out to catch her and she is growing leaves and branches to transform into a tree.  We see the theatricality of the piece in the way she is turning from the god, and the way his cloak billows in the wind. I thought it was interesting to learn, as I was researching for this post on the Galleria Borghese website, that in order for Cardinal Borghese to justify owning such a pagan piece of art, he got another cardinal to compose a moral couplet about it. It read “Those who love to pursue fleeting forms of pleasure, in the end find only leaves and bitter berries in their hands,” which basically translates into don’t go seeking earthly pleasures because things will end badly for you.

Apollo and Daphne, 1622-25

My next favorite piece is located in a small chapel off the church Santa Maria Della Vittoria. It is the Ecstasy of St Teresa. Now this piece can be interpreted many ways, depending on who is looking at it. The original idea for the piece came from St Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, which explains how “an angel carrying a fire-tipped spear with which he pierces her heart repeatedly, an act that sends her into a state of spiritual rapture. ‘The pain,’ she writes, ‘was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul then content with anything but God.’ (The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by herself, Chapter 29)” Even though the saint is basically receiving a vision from God during this scene, and this is the way her body is reacting to the presence of God, the piece can also easily be analyzed in a sexual light, as the author of this post explains. “To a common eye, how can the boy not be perceived as part angel and part cupid?  The arrow is pointing toward her center. He is above her at the moment of her altered emotional state. And regardless of the historical wishes of the patrons who commissioned this work, it appears Bernini was intent on portraying ecstasy – regardless if the ecstasy came from spiritual or sexualHeavenly or Earthly, or tactile or cognitive sources or stimulations.The sculpture is a congress of the spiritual and the sexual.  The sculpture may often confuse those who wish only to see the spiritual.  And the sculpture may put a knowing expression on the faces of those who have experienced the sexual, the physical – the rush of tactile, emotional, and coital intoxication.” I see it as a beautiful work of art, with a mix of both religion and sensuality.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-52

The final piece that I would like to discuss is Bernini’s Baldacchino over the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica. This work is really part sculpture/part architecture, but I think it is worthy of including just for the sheer size as well as the interesting back story. Baldacchino basically translates into large canopy. It is very impressive to see, being over 95 ft tall and done in the bronze taken from the roof of the Pantheon. The base of the Baldacchino rest on four marble pedestals which feature the coat of arms of the Barbarini family, the family of the Pope (Urban VIII). The spiral columns are supposed to signify the column of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. According to this blog, “In the original fourth century church, the tomb and altar were surrounded by a ciborium of spiral columns called “Solomonic columns.” Some believe that these columns were the actual columns from Solomon’s Temple, later imported by Constantine. The four columns have also been said to represent the Four Evangelists. In Christian tradition, the Four Evangelists refer to authors of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” The top part of the columns are decorated with olive and bay leaves, symbols of the Barbarini family, instead of the traditional grape vines. The top of the Baldacchino has four bronze angels at each corner of the canopy. There’s more to the design, but I’m trying to keep this post relatively short.

The interesting thing that I found out from that blog post was the use of bees, another symbol of the Barbarini family but also a spiritual one. I had never heard of bees as a spiritual symbol, so I investigated. According to this website, “bees, like the clergy and religious men and women in the Church, work unceasingly for the common good of the hive and obey without question their superiors, and above all their queen. The bee is also a symbol of wisdom, for it collects nectar from many flowers and turns it into nourishing and pleasing honey, which is the ‘gold’ of bees.  The symbolism of bees also signifies the way the Church generates her spiritual fruits because bees are virginal, they don’t have any sexual contact (1). As the Church gives grace through the purity of her divine Sacraments, so the bees give us honey and wax by the labor of their pure bodies. This is why their wax, considered the fruit of a virgin labor, is worthy to burn in the candles on the altar at the offering of the Holy Sacrifice.” Very interesting.

Baldacchino, 1624-33

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