Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Return of "Thus Spoke the Platypus" Part VIII

News of how Utnapishtim had received Bera, Priest of the City, spread far and wide and came to the ears of Birsha, Priest of the Forest, as he walked among his beloved cedars. When Birsha had heard how Utnapishtim had rejected Bera and his crooked ways, he girded up his loins and went up to the crossroads. Thirty-nine days he traveled, and on the fortieth he came to Utnapishtim.

When Birsha saw Utnapishtim with the people gathered about him, he cried out in a loud voice: "Utnapishtim, friend, colleague, wisest of men! Rightly have you spoken out against Bera, Priest of the City. Now show your wisdom and speak out against the City! Well do these people know of its oppressions. They wait only for one who can guide their wrath; one such as Utnapishtim!"

Utnapishtim heard these words, and saw what was in the heart of Birsha, Priest of the Forest: that he hated man and would sacrifice all men but himself for the idea of his sacred groves. So he replied: "You viper! You have walked forty days and forty nights to find me, yet you have never walked so far from your beloved cedars for Wisdom! Who is Utnapishtim that you should seek him so? At what school did you study together, that you call him 'friend' and 'colleague'!”

Birsha, when he heard these words, became wrathful, and he did not disguise it when he replied: "Is Utnapishtim a lover of the City that he chastises me? Is Utnapishtim a lover of oppression that he rebukes me?"

And the people heard the words of Birsha, Priest of the Forest, and were thrown into confusion by the passion of his speech.

Then Utnapishtim smiled, and he replied: "This I salute in you, Birsha Priest of the Forest: that you speak your thoughts plainly and do not dissemble. Yet you miss the mark. Utnapishtim loves Wisdom! He will speak out against the oppressions of the City, he will raise a great cry against the oppressions of the rulers of the City, but against the City he will not speak; for the City is in the image of Man, and Man is in the image of Wisdom. This Wisdom holds against you, Birsha, Priest of the Forest: that you love not the City, not because of its oppressions, but because it is Man's!"

Great was the wrath in the heart of Birsha at these words, and with scorn he spoke to Utnapishtim: "What is this wisdom that you speak of but the lies of City-men, and what is Utnapishtim but a chattering monkey that the rulers of the City keep on a leash?"

At these words, many of the people rejected Birsha, Priest of the Forest, on account of the greatness of his passion, but a part of the people took up his cry.

Then Utnapishtim laughed out loud, and great was the laughter of Utnapishtim. "Shall I say to Birsha the words I spoke to Bera, his mortal foe? Birsha and Bera should be better acquainted; indeed their hatred of Wisdom may make them friends. You say that Utnapishtim speaks the words of City-men. That may be true! You say that Utnapishtim is a chattering monkey. Perhaps he is! Yet what is Utnapishtim to you? Scoff at Utnapishtim, slander him from the rooftops, and Utnapishtim will be glad; for so your fathers treated all those who wisdom sent to them. Seek not to know who Utnapishtim speaks for, nor who holds his leash. Seek Wisdom!"

All the while that Utnapishtim said these things he laughed and at the laughter of Utnapishtim, Birsha left in scorn and returned to his beloved cedars, but a part of the people went with him.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Platypus' Quest IV

It's summer vacation; a time for rest and frivolity. A time to go back and beat all those annoying video games that thwarted you when you were in college. Oh how they thwarted you! The shame! The unending shame!!!! Yes, well, my wife and I have decided that such shame shall no longer besmirch the name of our fair household. We wish to inform you that we now stand victors in the field over all the tyrannies and frustration of "Peasant's Quest." We have earned ye honour of a Trogdor burnination! Bring forth the laurels, sound the trumpets, and let all the land know of our most glorious triumph.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Platypus Buys Comics

At long last, "Hellboy: Volume 7" is here! It's almost as wonderful as the thought that "Samurai Jack: Volume 4" is just around the corner in August! What new secrets will be revealed? Will Gruagach get his war? What of Hecate and the witches? Is the END truly at hand!?!!!! Ok, so if you've been buying up the individual issues as they come out, you already know... but I don't... So, yeah, I'm excited. "Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser" was just enough to wet my appetite, and now I'm craving a main course of "Comic Noir." Oh how wonderful and excellent a thing is a Borders gift card!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Platypus Review

This review is expanded from a response to a friend's request for my thoughts on "300." Giving a just review of the film would take volumes, and so I have had to be selective in this post. In the main, I have tried not to cover territory that has already been covered by my betters. The closest approximation to my thoughts would be to take the reviews of Dr. Touraj Daryaee, Dr. John-Mark Reynolds, and Dr. Paul Cartledge, put them in a blender and hit "frappe." I have posted the links to all three reviews in previous posts. Naturally, with a movie as controversial as "300" I understand that this review cannot hope to please at each point. Critics may wish that my condemnation of historical inaccuracies and negative images of the Persians were more forceful and dilatory, while supporters may wish for a more strident defense of the movie's strengths. Both have been done by my betters, and I would refer you to them. As always, those that know me are free to question me at length in person, and I feel that that is perhaps the best format for this sort of discussion. As a final note, it has been abnormally hard to gather my conflicting thoughts on this film, so where the review may seem a bit scattered, I will have to plead that it is only as scattered as my musings.

I can really only liken "300" to a pagan "Passion of the Christ." I found myself thinking within the first fifteen minutes: "this is so beautifully pagan, that it's as if the ball's been placed in our court to answer it... oh wait, Gibson!" It's one of those movies that I'm glad I saw, but I don't plan on seeing it again any time soon. To wax eloquent, 300 is a pagan opera in the vein of Richard Wagner. Of course by "pagan" I mean more than simply "polytheistic" and definitely not "uncivilized" or "barbaric!" I mean the deeper levels of that worldview: a proud and defiant despair in the face of an unreasoning and ultimately unfair Nature. The rights and rituals of Greek paganism are largely absent in "300," but the soul of Homer is there in all its stark and human glory.

To move on from the raw impact, I think many people misunderstand the film. I cited the comic book and the movie in my Master's thesis last year, before the movie came out. I had a feeling that the film would generate resentment among the Persian community in the 'States and the Iranians in the Middle East (and yes, they do have a right to be!). The "300" depicts the Persians as deformed freaks, and that has been amply decried, but look who's telling the story: the best liar/story-teller in Sparta. We shouldn't trust his portrait of the battle, let alone the Persians!!! The idea of the film is to get us to feel about Thermopylae the way that the Greeks felt about it. That in itself is problematic since our most reliable records of the Persian Wars come from only two authors: Herodotus and Aeschylus. Historians can go on for hours parsing out all the nuances of how these two view the Persians. Still, in the main, we can note some common elements: Undisciplined, exotic Persian hordes versus the the disciplined, homogeneous Greeks, Persian decadence and effeminacy versus Greek reserve and manliness, and the Persian "Great Leader" versus the Greek "First-Among-Equals." This seems to be just the line that the movie follows. Judging, then, from my own experience, and the experiences of my students who went to go see it, "300" accomplishes that goal with flying colors. The few times in which the illusion of "Spartaness" is broken are the exceptions that alert us to the rule. I remember the collective gasp that the audience let out when Leonidas says to Ephialtes: "May you live for ever!" When a "historical" film can make people feel that like a "Spartan," not just acknowledge intellectually what's going on, then it's done its work. Let us be clear, Hollywood's job is to entertain and inspire, it is the historian's job to teach history! The movie has been a windfall in that arena, raising interest in what is an all but forgotten event in the public mind. I've been able to set the record strait with my students, but they wouldn't have bothered to listen to me, let alone ask hours worth of questions, if "300" hadn't sparked their interest.

I do worry that the film glorifies violence. That's one message our culture gets far too often, even if a brief scan through Homer demonstrates it to be very Greek. I don't see "300" being used as effective propaganda to bomb Iran any time soon (Can we really picture Hollywood in bed with the Bush Administration?!?). Just tell me how many Americans have any idea at all that Persians=Iranians (Especially after Khomeini's government did everything in its power to break with the Achaemanid Persian past)!!! However, granted that the movie is supposed to be "Spartan propaganda," it does genuinely disturb me to see a culture as grand and storied as the Achaemanid Persians turned into a show-case for "freak of the week." Even the comic book saves that for Xerxes and lets the Persian army, by-en-large, off the hook. I think I would have preferred to see a movie more like "Tora,Tora, Tora!" which attempted to portray both sides fairly and thereby increase the drama. After all, to turn the standard critique of the movie on its head, some parallels can be drawn between decadent, multi-cultural, imperial America and the Achaemanids as well as between brutal, mono-cultural, hegemonic insurgency and the Spartans.

So what can I say in sum? "Did I like the movie?" Yes and no. "Was it a good movie?" Yes and no. "Is it historical?" Yes and no. "Should I go see the movie?" Yes and no. This film continues the long battle between Dionysus and Apollo in true Greek fashion. But ask yourself reader: oh what a movie "300" must be to provoke so many "yeses" and "nos!"

Friday, June 08, 2007

Last Day of Skool Platypus

Hey, hey, hey.... they're playin' our song! All I need is a cigar and a REALLY big gun.