Alcestis

Alcestis by Euripides is a story I have been somewhat obsessed with ever since I first heard about it during my Readings in Ancient Greek Drama class last fall. Should I have read it then? Yes. Was I also dealing with a great many things beyond my control? Also yes. So, here we are.

The story of Euripides’ Alcestis essentially consists of a wife (Alcestis) agreeing to die in her husband’s place since his parents will not do it; after she has had two children, the god of Death comes to collect, and thus she must die. Then Herakles comes to visit her husband (Admetus); he provides a warm welcome despite being in mourning, and after discovering this deceit, Herakles goes to the god of Death and brings back Alcestis.

Two points are worth mentioning here: first, that because Alcestis agrees to do this for her husband, she is considered the “best of wives and best of women” (to borrow a phrase from that most glorious of musicals, Hamilton) of all ancient Greek women. This is so much so that she was generally considered to be a model of womanly virtue. The second thing worth mentioning is that Euripides actually modifies the original folktale version of this story, in which Alcestis dies on her wedding night and then the gods (not Herakles) bring her back to life in admiration of her womanly virtue.

In any case, this story has always made me incredibly angry. Why did Alcestis have to agree to give up her life for a man she had barely met in order to be considered the best of wives and best of women? Why, in Euripides’ version, did her sacrifice have to be practically negated by Herakles’ rescue? Why, in Euripides’ version, does she not speak after her rescue (a point which is conveniently explained away as a necessary three-day purification from the rites of death)?

And most of all, why can I not explain these things even to myself?

Despite this story making me very angry, I still enjoyed reading the play. It is, like most plays (even ancient Greek ones), a quick read. The action moves along swiftly, and in keeping with tradition, all the action happens within a “dramatic day” (all the action in ancient Greek plays happened within a span of twenty-four hours).

My main takeaway from reading the play rather than simply knowing the story is that Admetus is an even bigger cad than I originally thought he was. He is cowardly, yes, for trying to have someone die in his place (there was a deal with Apollo at some point that allowed this), but then his completely over-the-top mourning upon the death of his wife who willingly agreed to die for him is just so much. Too much, really.

The last thing I want to say is that I have been channeling my anger from this story into a series of poems about Alcestis (so far I have eight, and I hope to have a whole book of them someday). One of them is a rather remarkably clever limerick about Alcestis meeting Theseus in the Underworld (since he and his bestie Perithoos went down to try to abduct Persephone to be Perithoos’ bride, and then obviously were captured by our good man Hades and got punished by having their bums stuck to rocks until Herakles came and rescued them), even though she probably never got that far (since she hadn’t passed over the Acheron – not the Styx – with Charon yet). Still, it’s funny, and I always thought it would never see the light of day, but here we are. Enjoy!

Alcestis V. Theseus.

I once met a man who was Athenian
Who told me I was quite a bohemian
But his rear was stuck
And mine beat his luck
But we both got the treatment of the tragedian.

(This is book 2/50 for my 50 Classics in 5 Years Challenge.)

(Public Domain Image from Wikipedia. Scenes from the myth of Admetus and Alcestis. Marble, sarcophagus of C. Junius Euphodus and Metilla Acte, 161–170 CE. By Unknown artist – Jastrow (2006), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1302577)

Mere Christianity

C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity came at a timely point in my life. Lent started; church was hard. COVID-19 happened; church was banned. Then, I decided to pick up this book, because not going to church was easy, and staying away from church felt normal.

So I was faced with what is part apology for Christianity and part challenge to become a Christian. The part of me that really likes where I’m at right now resisted this challenge, but the quiet part of me that used to really love going to church started to raise its head. It reminded me that at one point I wanted change in my life, and that the good things I have right now are gifts that even several months ago I was begging to have. All that is to say, this book had an impact on me.

Mere Christianity consists of three parts. The first is about the challenge which the existence of morality essentially poses, the second is about Christian morality particularly, and the third is a sort of explanation of basic Christian doctrines.

In the first part, I found Lewis’ critique of Dualism insightful, as I had not thought about the fact that by labeling one power “good” and the other “evil” we are essentially passing judgment on them. His ideas about the source of the idea of good being an Entity (Person) above all of us which guides us rather than forces us to do things made a lot of sense to me.

The second part I found easiest to read of all three, as I have grown up Christian and much of what he wrote was already familiar to me. Here he introduced the idea that in order to practice love (the most essential of all Christian virtues), you really need to do exactly that: practice. One does not start out by being able to love perfectly, but by practising love of neighbor and by practising love of God one can get better at it.

This sort of theme of you don’t start out perfect was continued in the third part. We are commanded to be perfect, yet we are not perfect; the reconciliation of this occurs when we give ourselves fully to Christ and allow Him to make us perfect through the “good infection” of His presence. One point Lewis kept making here is that we do not become Christians to become nice people but to become good men.

Once there was a time a couple years ago when I started reading this book. I did not get very far that time. Reading it now, it has moved me and caused me to think in a way that would not have been possible when I originally tried to read it. It is so nice to read a book about theology that was written in my native language and not in a translation of the Greek; the Fathers of the Church can teach us so much, but often the language is not as natural as what I found in Mere Christianity.

As is so often the case, this book entered my life exactly when it needed to, and I am very grateful for that. Lewis reminded me of faith and challenged what little I have, and I hope that this book will continue to make me think more deeply about the nature and challenge of Christianity.

(This book is 1/50 for my 50 Classics in 5 Years Challenge.)

50 classics in 5 years

One of the blogs I follow, The Classics Club, is centered around the challenge of reading 50 classic books in 5 years. Now, given that I am a “classics” major, I need to specify that this means any book that is considered a “classic” rather than any book from the period of Classical Greece or Rome (although a couple of those certainly made my list).

In order to participate (and I will be!), I have to put a list of the 50 books I want to read on my blog. So, here it is! For the sake of simplicity (as well as my own sanity), I have alphabetized it, and I will be updating this post as I read the books, and linking to reviews as I post them.

This is slightly an intense commitment for me, because aside from my college degree this is the longest commitment I have made to anything. We shall see how it goes! (And I hope you all like books because it’s going to be very book-ish around here for a while…)

Start date: June 2020
End date goal: June 2025

  1. Achebe – The African Trilogy (I know I’ve already started this, but it’s three books and I’ve read one, ok?)
  2. Alcott – Hospital Sketches
  3. Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Idylls of the King
  4. Angelou – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  5. Anonymous – Homeric Hymns (trans. Sarah Ruden) (NB: although called Homeric Hymns, they are not actually by Homer, hence “anonymous”)
  6. Anonymous – The Way of the Pilgrim
  7. Apollonius Rhodius – Argonautica
  8. Aristophanes – Lysistrata
  9. Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
  10. Austen – Emma
  11. Austen – Persuasion
  12. Barrie – Peter Pan
  13. Brontë (Charlotte) – Vilette
  14. Brontë (Emily) – Wuthering Heights
  15. Christie – And Then There Were None
  16. Dante – The Divine Comedy
  17. Dickens – Bleak House
  18. Dostoyevsky – The Brothers Karamazov
  19. Eco – The Name of the Rose
  20. Eliot – Middlemarch
  21. Euripides – Alcestis
  22. Euripides – Herakles Furens
  23. Euripides – Hippolytus
  24. Euripides – Ion
  25. Euripides – Medea
  26. Heschel – The Sabbath
  27. Hesiod – Theogony
  28. Lewis – Mere Christianity
  29. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters
  30. Lewis – The Space Trilogy
  31. Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
  32. Murakami – Killing Commendatore
  33. Orczy – The Scarlet Pimpernel
  34. Ovid – Metamorphoses (trans. Charles Martin)
  35. Plath – The Bell Jar
  36. Salinger – Franny and Zooey
  37. Shakespeare – The Tempest
  38. Shakespeare – Othello
  39. Shelley (Mary) – Frankenstein (1818 version)
  40. Spenser – The Faerie Queen
  41. Stoker – Dracula
  42. Strout – Olive Kitteredge
  43. Tolstoy – Anna Karenina
  44. Tolstoy – War and Peace
  45. Virgil – The Aeneid
  46. Vonnegut – God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
  47. Walker – The Color Purple
  48. Wharton – The Age of Innocence
  49. Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray
  50. Woolf – To the Lighthouse

I’m also going to be joining up with Sue Jackson’s 2020 Big Book Summer Reading Challenge, so I can start getting through some of these. There are several on this list which are over 400 pages which I could tackle. I am most likely going to start with Jane Austen’s Emma, and then we’ll go from there! With all that said, I have a ton of reading to do now, so let’s get this party started!

yarn along June 2020

This month is a solidly summer month, filled with berries and scones and grilled meat (at least until the Apostles Fast starts). I have been steadily working on many things, such as sock patterns from 52 Weeks of Socks and also many books.

The most exciting thing I have been working on is my Etsy shop! I am selling handmade wool prayer ropes. I have been wanting to do this for some time now, and I finally got around to it, now that I have enough inventory to actually fill some orders. 10% of all profits will go to support Orthodox Christian mission work in Albania. (If you want more information on that, please go here. I had the great privilege of visiting Albania as part of a missiology class I took, and I loved it very much and I really hope to go back someday.)

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that I read 11 books in the month of May. Some of these were fairly short, like The Little Prince by Antione de Saint-Exupéry, or Transcendental Wild Oats by Louisa May Alcott. Some I had already started, like Becoming a Healing Presence by Dr. Albert Rossi, or Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

This month I hope to keep up with this amount of reading (if not more). I really want to finish Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, as well as Fr. Thomas Hopko’s really wonderful book Doctrine and Scripture (here I should mention that SVS Press is having a 50% off sale right now, so if you’re interested, go check that out). I also want to read Further Up and Further In by Edith Humphrey (also an SVS Press book), since it was part of a graduation present from my church. I could list more, but my reading is very prone to changing as time goes on, so I don’t want to overcommit here!

As far as knitting goes, I am working on another pair of socks from Laine’s 52 Weeks of Socks. This pair (pattern #1 in the book) is in a deep purple from Farmers Daughter Fibers held with a strand of Shibui Knits mohair in a similar color. They have such delightful cables!

I am also working on finishing my gray Honey Study Hat (pattern by Andrea Mowry in one of my Taproot magazines). At this point I’m really hoping to have enough yarn to get through the crown, but I might have to introduce a yarn in a similar color and weight to finish it. Fortunately I have one, so this shouldn’t be a problem, but the texture difference between woolly wool and soft alpaca might be a bit obvious. We shall see!

I hope you are all doing well and taking care of yourselves!

(Joining up with Ginny’s Yarn Along)

(All the links to Bookshop are affiliate links, which means you can support me a little while supporting independent bookstores!)

so many books in May

So far I have finished 10 books in May (strong emphasis on the finished). Still this is a rather ludicrous number of books to have finished in one month, especially considering that it is almost double the rest of the books that I have read this year. 

So, I wanted to pause for a moment and reflect on at least a few of the books that I have finished, some good, some bad, and some ugly. To keep the ending vibes positive, we will work from the bad to the good. 

First up are two books which I ultimately did not like: Rupi Kaur’s The Sun and Her Flowers and Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House. Rupi Kaur’s book stank of modern pseudo-feminist Instagram poetry, which appears to be empowering and liberated but is merely overly sexual. I did not finish it, since it only appeared to get worse as the book went on. Ultimate rating: 1 star (because I can’t do 0 stars on Goodreads).

Ninth House was better than this; it was a good romp and I enjoyed reading it. This book is about a girl named Alex (aka Galaxy) who gets caught up in some magical secret societies at Yale; also there are ghosts. I knocked off one star for the profane content (aka trigger warning material, of which there was a great deal), another star off for choppy pacing, and a final star off for the mystery part having one too many plot twists. I can appreciate a few good twists and turns in a dark mystery novel (in fact, they are compelling), but after a certain point, they just cease to be believable. Ultimate rating: 2 stars. 

Next up is a spur of the moment read which I picked up via Kindle through my library’s Libby app. (Stay at home/ quarantine has given me a newfound and very deep appreciation for this app; if you have a Kindle and aren’t using the app, you need to. Like right now.) This book was Tara Westover’s memoir Educated, which took me a single night to read because I found it so compelling (and was dealing with some infrequent insomnia). This memoir chronicles her leaving her fundamentalist Mormon family and the implications of that throughout her life, which was really interesting to see since she wrote about how the separation kept dragging on and on because the ties of familial love are (naturally) so strong. Her work resonated with me a great deal, and in some places made me cry. Ultimate rating: 5 stars (mostly for emotional reasons, and if I’m going to rate someone’s actual life it sure isn’t going to be any less than 4 stars). 

Finally are two pop sociology books, Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World. Cal Newport’s book examines the dichotomy between following your passion and designing your career to suit a niche and thus profitable audience. I honestly suffered through thus book, since I thought it was merely an extention and more “grown up” version of his philosophy developed in How to Be a High School Superstar. However, I finally finished it, and all I can say is he really harps on that whole “don’t follow your passion” thing. Which gets more irritating when you realize that it’s a false dichotomy, and all the people whose careers he examines picked something they liked and just followed it through to its natural extent. (Now there’s a controversial topic….) Ultimate rating: 3 stars. 

Amanda Ripley’s book was one I started four years ago when I was an secondary education English major at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, and I read about half of it on the train to and from school. I found it in my bedroom and decided to finish I remembered it being good. Ripley essentially examines the factors that go into getting a “good” education, from quality of teachers to money spent per student to socioeconomic background of the student (and more). She then compares these aspects across several countries with some of the highest-performing students, and with these in mind looks at what the USA is doing right and wrong. It is a fascinating book, and I highly recommend reading it. Ultimate rating: 5 stars. 

So, there are some of the books I finished during the month of May! Obviously there were more, but I didn’t want to overwhelm the post, so maybe I’ll do another one! I really love writing book reviews like this, and if you like reading them go ahead and like this post or comment or something so I know I should do them more frequently. 

Blessings to all,

Catherine

may 2020

The ending of April and beginning of May have carried a huge amount of weight for me in such a good way! I finished my thesis, did my last week of classes for my undergraduate degree, and took my last finals, and now I am approaching my first summer as a college graduate! (I suppose I should mention that I do have to take one more class for my science credit over the summer, but this should be fun and I’m not counting it because I’m taking it online at a local community college anyway…)

My graduation present to myself also came, which is Laine’s beautiful 52 Weeks of Socks book (which I guarantee is sold out again so I’ve linked to the Ravelry page showing all the patterns)! I preordered a copy of the fourth (!) printing run, and it showed up right before my finals began. This was of course very exciting, and I couldn’t wait to cast on. I originally chose sock number 51 using a La Bien Aimee sock yarn held double to get the gauge, but this ate through the yarn and there was no way I would have had enough. So, I frogged it and cast on another sock with the same yarn but held single. This worked out beautifully, and now I have one whole sock, which I am very proud of. Hopefully I can get through Second Sock Syndrome and finish the second and have my first properly fitting functional pair of socks made with my own two hands.

This whole sock knitting adventure has only just begun, and at the rate I knit, I’ve got years to keep exploring the wonderful world of socks. I really want to get some thicker sock yarns, like Tukuwool and Quince and Co’s Finch (or Tern if I’m really feeling luxurious). There’s another one, Onion Yarn, which is a Norwegian blend of wool and nettle fiber that I really want to try. (One of my favorite Instagram sock knitters used it in a couple of pairs of socks, and it’s absolutely beautiful.)

In terms of book news this last month, there honestly isn’t much beyond M. L. West’s Greek Lyric Poetry and Plutarch’s The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives, both of which were for school. I think my favorite of the Greek lyric poets are Sappho for her incredible use of images of nature, Solon for his meditations on citizenship, and Stesichorus for Geryon, followed by Bacchylides for his use of color and imagery which just aren’t in Pindar (Bacchylides is not in the M. L. West volum). Of Plutarch’s biographies selected for the book, my favorite was Themistocles. There was this beautiful line about the tapestry of life that just got me, but then I am always completely taken by textile metaphors…

I also reread Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles and Helen by Euripides (both from this volume). Helen is such a romp, and I love the way Euridipes explores power dynamics between women and men even in Menelaus and Helen’s relationship.

In a more religious vein, I am reading a short book, How Can I Learn God’s Will? by Fr. Daniel Sysoev. The first three quarters of the book is about God’s love and the Divine Names, which is very in line with St. Dyonisios the Areopagite’s On the Divine Names (which I really want to read soon). Only the last quarter is about learning God’s will, and it is quite practical. I am also reading The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer on my Kindle (this COVID-19 situation has given me a profound appreciation for the ebook lending part of the library). It is good in its ideas, although sometimes difficult for me to read, because of its modern self-help language and expression.

What are you working on and reading these days?

With love in the risen Lord,

Catherine

(Joining up with Ginny’s Yarn Along this month)

Christ is Risen!

O divine, O dear, O sweetest Voice! For Thou, O Christ, hast faithfully promised to be with us to the end of the world. And holding fast this promise as an anchor of hope, we the faithful rejoice.

Troparion of the 9th Ode of the Paschal Canon

the end of an era

As I am writing this, I am approximately two weeks away from being done with all of my classes of the second semester of my senior year. In other words, I’m almost done.

This, as you can imagine, brings up all kinds of feelings, especially because I have to finish my degree in quarantine (or whatever we are calling this situation right now). I am nostalgic for my campus, stressed about finishing all my work, at a point where I am apathetic towards my work, and basically terrified about what comes next.

The great big future is before me after this, and there are no right or wrong answers about what to do. I have done what is socially acceptable, and now (young) adulthood is here on the very visible horizon.

Of course, I have been working towards going to grad school, but at this point it is not in my immediate future, and I have a year to fill. A year of reflection and solitude, a refresher year after this degree I just finished. (If you can’t tell, I’m a big believer in gap years.)

I’m excited to read a lot. I’m also excited I found a platform which supports local bookstores (bookshop.org). I’m also excited to announce that I registered for an affiliate link on bookshop.org. You can find my shop here if you feel like supporting it in any way. I made some shelves with books I like and a few books I want, but go ahead and explore the whole website. Support those indie bookstores! (…and maybe support me too, if you want…)

I suppose I should mention that I was (and still am) really opposed to registering for an affiliate program with Amazon, because of the monopoly they hold on Internet shopping. Basically, the fact that this exists makes me happy, and I am glad to support them (and I probably would link to them now anyway, so there’s that).

I might do a book review and updated TBR comparing what I have read with what I want to read. That will definitely happen after May. I also have some project updates and some other things in the works that should be coming along soon after I get some abundant quantities of free time.

Until then, God bless, and I will see you tomorrow on Pascha!

-Catherine

on the meaning of prothesis

Photo taken at an old abandoned monastery in Albania

Way back at the peak of ancient Athenian glory, in about the mid fifth century BCE, there was a tradition of public burials for soldiers who had died in service to their city-state. Greeks at the time had funeral pyres (we see this even as far back as Homer, and who knows how much farther back it went). So, the public ceremony of the burial opened with a laying out of the ashes and bones of the dead soldiers.

This process was called prothesis.

Now, if you are Orthodox, this might give you a bit of a pause. Wait, you might think, isn’t that the Greek word for the Table of Preparation, on which the priest prepares the offerings of bread and wine to be ready for the Liturgy?

And indeed, you would be correct.

Just as the ancient Athenians would lay out the ashes and bones of the dead soldiers, the priest lays out the Lamb, Who comes to be slaughtered and offered as food for the faithful (as the Cherubic Hymn of Holy Saturday says), surrounded by His Mother, and his faithful servants, the martyrs, confessors, bishops, ascetics, unmercenaries, holy virgins, and so forth (see here if you want the whole service).

It always utterly fascinates me when I learn the origins of the words of Orthodoxy with which I am so familiar. I hope this is as awe-inspiring for you as it is for me!

displacement

In the upcoming couple days, I will become one of the displaced college students who have had to leave their colleges or universities and go home to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus (aka COVID-19).

There is not much I can say about this except that a lot of the fears and anxieties about one’s physical and emotional safety are made a lot worse when one is forced to leave one’s home (however temporary) and drive across the country in a world that does not want to be close to anyone at the moment.

I’ve been very much trying to focus on the positives, like the fact that I have somewhere to go, and the fact that I have money for food, and the fact that my college gave me more time than most to pack up and leave.

But sometimes, the negatives and specifically all the uncertainties associated with my particular situation feel more overwhelming than the strong presence of the good things.

This makes it hard to pray in a time when prayer is most vital.

I think I am finally starting to understand what the Fathers mean when they stress the importance of the practice of the virtues and the practice of prayer when times are easy. We can’t face hard times correctly if we do not face easy times the right way.

May St. Nikephoros the Leper intercede for us, and may God have mercy and save us all, in all the ways we need.