Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Best Essay Ever!

Okay, so I had to write this research paper for the final for my online English class. The class is junior level and it's Advanced Research and Publication, so we write to specific scholarly journals (within the class, not literal published ones) as well as function as the editors of a scholarly journal for which we made up the rules, regulations, mission statements, etc. Anyways, for my research paper (10-12 pages) I wrote to a journal called Kalology which centered around the aspects of beauty found in literature. I decided to write mine on several ancient peices of literature (of course, I keep trying to tie everything in to my major and future profession since that's really what I need to know-which I intend to be a professor of ancient history) and what they viewed as beautiful. I came out with the BEST ESSAY EVER. Hahaha, it was so much fun to write and turned out so well (they hardly even edited, mostly just made comments about the things that shocked them and how it kept them interested in a subject (ancient history) that they had never even been able to stay awake in before lol, and they accepted it as their featured article-which is very very good lol) that I decided to post it on here. I know I might be being ridiculous and concieted, but I am extremely proud of it lol so I need to share it.

Before reading it, you will understand better if you read this note I sent to the editors with the last submission.

Dear Editors of Kalology,

Hahaha, thank you very much ;) I really really enjoyed reading your comments on my paper.

The only question I did not answer in the paper is whether Gilgamesh and Enkidu were actually supposed to be lovers because they were two men. The answer is yes, this is the first documented case of a gay relationship in human writing that we have. The sad thing is, it is also the oldest writing we have found, older even than the Bible (whose beginning was not actually written until several generations after its occurence) which proves that same-sex relations have been a temptation to people for all of human memory. However, because I am writing this paper here at BYUI and for our obvious religious reasons it would probably be inappropriate to dwell or explain this in this paper, I chose not to include this information. I took out the word lover as well, and just left it as a friendship. I hope this is all right with you.

Thankyou for taking the time to read and edit my paper! This has by far been my favorite to write this semester. Because I intend to be a professor of ancient history, it was very much like peicing together a lecture and I was excited about the process as well as the opportunity to relate several of my favorite stories in a way I had not really considered before.

I hope all is going well with you and I wish you the best of luck on your finals :)

My Sincere Thanks,

KristiAnne Atkinson

Ok, Now Here is the paper ;)

An Ancient Perception of Beauty

A wild man and a ferocious king, tamed by the bonds of friendship and love, journey in search of a means to eternal life so they can enjoy their new love forever. The woman famed as so beautiful it is believed no man can resist her, runs from her husband with her princely lover and begins the most infamous war of all time. Majestic queen Nefertiti sits upon a golden throne and controls the greatest kingdom on the Earth while her husband the Pharaoh sings praises to her beauty. A cunning young princess seduces a great and powerful man, winning his arm and might for herself. In the doomed city of Troy, love blossoms as a stalwart young man with curly brown locks stares deep into the eyes of a young maiden with golden hair and silken skin and promises an eternity he does not have.
All these ancient visions of beauty were so renowned and venerated that they have echoed through the ages of time until they are well known even to modern civilizations in the twenty-first century. However, though the stories all share the fame of beauty, none of their portrayals of the quality are the same; all show different perceptions of the characteristic. Though the citizens of the ancient civilizations of Sumer, Greece, and Egypt (from whence these stories come) placed great value on corporeal beauty, they also recognized the beauties of inner resolve, peace, family, destiny, power, religion and nature. Just as the faces and definition of beauty in our age are versatile and wide-ranging, they were multifaceted in ancient times as well.
The most ancient writing that has been found is from the civilization of Sumer, believed to be the first large civilization of humankind. A story has survived from these ancient people of their first king, who built the walls of their city Uruk and was believed by the Sumerians to be the most beautiful and knowledgeable man who ever lived. “What Gilgamesh learns in the course of the epic is enough to make him famed as ‘He who saw everything to the ends of the land, / Who all things experienced, considered all!’” (Wolff, 392). The Sumerians saw him as the beginning of true civilization, the first source of knowledge, and the father figure of their culture.
The beauty of Gilgamesh lies not only in his physical appearance, but also in his accomplishments and experiences. His appeal lies in his being able to keep living after mortal heartbreak and keep growing, changing, learning and ruling the people with a kind and generous hand. However, he had not had such a wonderful character or a great reputation as a young king. In his youth, his physical beauty is described to be quite great but marred by his terribleness. He raped every young woman of the kingdom before he gives her to her husband on her wedding day; he terrorizes his people and taxes them heavily, always making himself the first priority. Yet, despite his awfulness, even the immortal cannot resist his great charms and thus he remains the great king of the people. “The goddess Ishtar caught sight of him/ she saw how splendid a man he was, her heart was smitten/ her loins caught fire” (Gilgamesh, 130). In youth he was the ultimate heart-stopping stud, but he used his ‘power’ to the detriment of his people, rather than the benefit.
It was his substantial beauty and power (which were a direct result of his size, strength, and physical appearance) that attracted the god’s attention and gave them cause to form a distraction for him. Thus Enkidu was created, a wild man who became Gilgamesh’s greatest friend. “The wild man [Enkidu] whose life began on the steppe had the inclinations and powers of an animal, and this nature of his does not change in the epic. Gilgamesh, on the other hand, does change, for he is severely affected by Enkidu’s presence and subsequent loss” (Wolff, 392). Both men are described as beautiful in their fierceness and for a while they ruled the kingdom (bringing great fear to the people) together.
However, they then decided that their lives were so great and wonderful and their love so strong that it should last forever. They went on an epic journey in search of a flower whose juice would allow them to have eternal life. Though they find the flower, it is destroyed before they can partake of it. They return home and Enkidu dies of disease picked up on their journey. On his deathbed Enkidu makes a speech to Gilgamesh which captures the beauty of their tale, in revealing that though they did not attain a way to keep their hearts beating forever, man can be immortal in the memories of those he leaves behind him. “Then Enkidu said to Gilgamesh/ ‘You who have walked beside me, steadfast/ through so many dangers, remember me, / never forget what I have endured’” (Gilgamesh, 149). The epic poem argues that though man may never find a way to live forever, if he is loved and remembered by those he leaves behind him his life as been full and worth living.
The other great theme of beauty in the ancient epic tale is the reformation of Gilgamesh and the way in which he lives the rest of his life. In respect for and memory of his most beloved friend, Gilgamesh morphs himself into a good king who cares for his people and rules them with wisdom and love.
Enkidu serves, then, as an example of the hero who wins the fame but dies early and miserably; what is the use, the poet seems to ask, in such a life? Gilgamesh, on the other hand, demands to known how to put a stop to death, since it has meant for him the end of youth, love, and the careless fulfillment of every desire…Gilgamesh who refuses point-blank to accept the face of death can also come home, a sadder and wiser ruler, to a quiescent life in Uruk (Wolff, 392-393).
The argument of the epic is that true beauty is not the quick flame of a powerful and heroic life that is snuffed out early, as was so popular in the ancient world. Rather, lasting beauty is in a life that truly makes a difference in the world, a heart that can change and the attainment of knowledge. Age and wisdom are considered more beautiful and worth attaining than youth and material beauty in the epic of Gilgamesh. This theme would be repeated in many other ancient works, particularly those of Homer detailing the Trojan War and the Greek hero Achilles.
The epic poem first written down by the ancient Greek, Homer, 500 years after the supposed actual occurrence of the Trojan War begins with the introduction of the fated Achilles as a fierce young warrior (Thompson, 35). “Rage-Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles / murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses / hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, / great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion, / feasts for the dogs and birds” (Iliad Book I lines 1-5). In a culture where war was central to manhood and to their very lifestyles, where entire cities raised their children as wards of the state-trained for war from the moment of their birth, Achilles is cast as the ideal shining Greek warrior (Thompson, 36). For a man, the greatest beauty one could achieve in the ancient Greek culture was to be the greatest on the field of battle.
Achilles’ celebrated beauty also comes from his ephemeral yet brilliant life, sacrificed for the honor of his country. He lived with great passion and Homer describes him as the idyllic ancient Greek youth, the dashing adolescent warrior that every young man should be. This made his death more touching and the melancholy of his short life more poignant to Homer’s ancient audience. His is the first celebrated and immortal story told of a soldier dying for the sake of his homeland, a tale that is captivating and emotional to audiences even today (Iliad).
While the ideal life for a man was that of a warrior in ancient Greece, women won honor and fame in very different manners. The notoriety and reputation of the Greek queen Helen in the ancient world was pervasive and omniscient. Everyone in the land of Greece and its neighbors knew of the overwhelming beauty of the exquisite lady. Like ivy that strangles every other flower in the field, the image of the effervescent and lovely Queen Helen pushed the desire for any other woman from the minds of thousands of the ancient males, and drew the attention and passionate pursuance of several of the most powerful men in the ancient world (Worman, 151).
Her seduction, as depicted by the ancient Greeks, was so powerful that it made men forget about every other quality that was beloved in womankind. According to Thompson, the most valued trait of a woman to the ancient Greeks was that of loyalty, and it was this dire characteristic that Helen most visibly betrayed (Thompson, 37). Yet even in ancient Greek art, Helen’s forsaken husband Menelaus is portrayed as so enchanted with her beauty that in the end of the war he forgets her disloyalty and again pursues her for his lover. On a vase found and dated to ancient Greece this irony is rendered: “Menelaus meant to use his sword on Helen, since he had pulled it out of its sheath, but now he has a different intention. It is hard to think of a motif in ancient Greek art that more effectively depicts a character changing his mind” (Hedreen, 156). Helen is remembered still for her powerful and influential beauty, as the “face that launched a thousand ships” (The Phrase Finder).
Despite Helen’s popularity, the woman who embodies true perfection in a beautiful woman to the ancient Greeks is found not in the tale of the Iliad, but in Homer’s other epic poem detailing the life of the Greek hero Odysseus: the Odyssey. The ancient Greeks revered Penelope (the wife of the hero Odysseus) as the most loyal, steadfast, faithful woman in existence. Not only did she wait two decades for her husband to return from the war but also during that time she fought off the pursuit of hundreds of suitors who were eating her and her family out of house and home during that time (Homer: Odyssey). She was loyal throughout endless trials and separations from her husband and the Greeks honored and praised her for her faithfulness, calling her the most ‘fair and glorious woman in all Greece,’ (Odyssey, 314).
A woman of like reputation was celebrated in Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians titled Queen Nefertiti, wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, as the most beautiful woman in the world, indeed, as the most beautiful woman to have ever lived (Nefertiti Biography). While it was her obviously striking physical beauty that won the attention of the Pharaoh and captured the imagination of the Egyptian people, it was her life-style, influence, and morals that kept them. With her husband Nefertiti had the most individualistic reign of any Egyptian royals to their time. The art depicting them uses a different, more subtle, gentle and realistic style than previous Pharaohs had been shown, and real life emotions are shown. They are constantly depicted as a loving family with babies, smiles and even awkwardness rather than poise, power and physique as were the norm for royal portraits (Davies, 1). It is unknown as to whether Akhenaten treated his wife as his equal partner because of her beauty or for his own strange dissimilar beliefs and attitudes. No matter the reason, Nefertiti had more power and influence than any Egyptian queen had ever had before. Together Akhenaten and Nefertiti changed the perspective and worship of the Ancient Egyptian people and their reign was marked as the most peaceful and happy time the nation had experienced (Nefertiti Biography).
The next Egyptian woman to come any where near the power that Nefertiti enjoyed was also celebrated for her beauty, however she used her position (as a princess) and seductive physicality to blackmail and beguile her way to a rise in political power. Cleopatra is one of the most famous female figures of all time; even today her story is recited, played and analyzed. Her beauty and enterprisingly audacious spirit have inspired countless playwrights, authors and songwriters throughout the centuries since her lifetime. Even Shakespeare wrote an account of her tale. It is in the performance and understanding of these plays that we relate Cleopatra’s seizing of power to her femininity and beauty. In her article “The Unlacing of Cleopatra,” Doris Adler mentions that the audience watching Cleopatra on played on stage was meant “to see Cleopatra’s lace as her snare, to see the lacio, or enticement, that etymologically underlies ‘delight,’ ‘delicate,’ and ‘delicious’” (Adler, 451). It was her beauty that allowed her to seduce Marc Antony and keep him under her spell and in her power for so long. It was her beauty that allowed her to become the most powerful woman in the ancient world. It was her beauty that kept her immortal in the memory of humankind for centuries after her decease.
Another perception of beauty held by citizens in the ancient world can be seen in the tale of Troilus and Criseyde. This epic love poem has been written and rewritten in all of the romantic languages since its inception after the Trojan War. Though it was originally written and performed in Italian, the English poets Chaucer and Shakespeare wrote the versions most known to the world today. The beauties these poets wrote of and evinced in the story of the star-crossed lovers in Troy, were firstly and most importantly love, then loyalty and dedication and lastly the least important (yet still constantly mentioned) physical beauty (Wimsatt, 203).
If one has read Chaucer’s version of the story it is hard to forget the scenes of physical intimacy between Troilus and Criseyde that are so prolific in his writing. This is of course one of the principal reasons the poem has remained both so controversial and so well remembered in the literary world. The descriptions of Troilus’ beautiful dark eyes melting away the will of Criseyde, the details of Criseyde’s trim figure—lingering on her inviting white legs, the recounting of the passion and emotion the lovers experienced; all are manifestations of the beauty the ancients, and the poets who wrote about them, found in the act of physical love, the human body and in the innocence of the love of youth (Helterman, 14).
While the epic love poem (the oldest recorded love poem to have survived to our day) contains many different manifestations and perspectives of beauty, it is the enduring and transforming love of Troilus for Criseyde that is the focal and central portrayal of beauty. Troilus goes through all the stages of love and each are examined for their own beauty. The first is of course infatuation, when young Troilus is constantly consumed with the image, appearance, manners and his fantasies of the fair war widow Criseyde. It is here we see the blocking of all faults from the mind of a lover, the ability to see only the good and beauty in a person that the ancients found so appealing, especially in the love of the young. The next stage is when Troilus actually becomes Criseyde’s lover and their feelings for one another are consummated. It is the beauty of connection, devotion and submission to one another, the letting go of the public face and trusting oneself heart and soul to another, that the authors (there are several different versions, but all have this in common) dwell on as the beauty within this stage of the relationship. The third stage is both the most beautiful and the most melancholy. In this love of self is put in second place to love of one’s partner. The lover is able to see past every fault and betrayal of the object of their devotion, to love them for who they are simply because they are that person and none other. It is true love and absolute devotion…. and Troilus experiences it alone (Helterman, 16).
Because her father is a traitor to the Trojan people Criseyde is constantly shunned by other women and put on a political pedestal by the men of Troy (for remaining faithful to her homeland when her father has not, and for supporting her husband before his death fighting against the Greeks) she experiences constant struggle in her spirit. She loves her father and misses him terribly; she does not understand this strange war and the ripping apart of her family and her life.
It is in this unstable frame of spirit that Troilus and the infamous Pandarus, Criseyde’s uncle or cousin (depending on the version of the story) who could basically be called the pimp of the relationship because he pushes Criseyde at Troilus and does everything in his power to make sure that Troilus gets some action, find the strikingly beautiful Criseyde. She is vulnerable and alone, and is easily seduced with the attention, devotion and passion Troilus lavishes upon her. She becomes his lover and is an equal partner in the second stage of the relationship, loving him with passion and hope.
However, when her father comes for her, trading a highly revered warrior who has been a prisoner of war to the Trojans, Criseyde has no choice but to leave her beloved city and her adored lover behind. In the camp of the Greeks, things are difficult for a woman with so much compassion. She cannot stand to see the pain and loneliness of the men around her and she soon succumbs to the pressure of seduction from a man (in most versions this is Troilus’ arch-enemy in battle, and she cares for him and is seduced in the action after he receives a grievous injury from Troilus in battle) in the Greek camp. In certain versions, she even agrees to be the camp ‘woman’ and spend the night with any soldier in need of great loving.
While this is shocking and appalling to women in modern times, there is no evidence in the writing of the poets who told Criseyde’s story that they found any fault with her decision at all. It was merely fate, it was tragic for Troilus, who continued to love her, but it was because of the beauty and softness of womanhood that such a thing could happen. Beauty was found in women for their submissiveness, gentleness and compassion. Loyalty was by far the most revered of traits for a woman, but the loss of it did not completely destroy the image of Criseyde’s beauty in the eyes of the poets. “Criseyde [is] suggested not only as an object for our pity, but…for our approval and affection” (Cook, 533). The poets meant the readers to love her, to feel the great sorrow in her loss and the war that necessitated it, to have compassion for a woman who had so little control over her life yet lived with all the concern for others she was able.
The beauty the poets found in the character of Criseyde however, has not been shared by many of their readers throughout the centuries. “Strange perversions of the story, tending to the disparagement of Criseyde, began almost in her creator’s lifetime, and have been repeated and enlarged upon down to the present day. She has been accredited with a versatility in vice…” (Graydon, 141). The character of the lonely woman who gave in to seduction and then abandoned her lover for another seduction has been ripped apart, scorned and hated by countless readers since the story’s inception. Even Shakespeare took great dislike to the woman and in his version of the story cast Criseyde (who he renamed Cressida) as little more than a seductive whore. Reading Shakespeare’s version and little else modern readers never find the beauty in the character. They come up with descriptions like the following, which cast her in the worst light and show neither compassion nor feeling on her part or for her situation. “The heroine is a wanton. Ulysses reads her at a glace and finds ‘language in her eye, her cheek, her lip, Nay her foot speaks; her wanton spirits look out at every joint and motive of her body.’ He sets her down at once as ‘a daughter of the game,’ and at every opportunity the foul-mouthed Thersites corroborates this description” (Rollins, 383). The ancient writers did not find such scorn in Criseyde, and thought her as beautiful as woman can be. They found beauty in Troilus’ ability to continue to love her after all hope for a faithful relationship or even a physical reunion was past. The ancient Greeks and Italian’s who wrote the epic story found beauty in love.
The inhabitants of the ancient nations of Sumer, Greece, and Egypt found beauty in all things to do with love. Love that changes people, love that changes the world, love that could give the beholder all their desires and power beyond imagination, and most especially eternal love that could not be destroyed even in the worst of circumstances. These ancient peoples knew beauty to be an aspect of love, a reaction to it and its design. They wrote their stories and histories of love and its effects on their world with great passion and fervent adulation. They found beauty in every aspect of loves consequence in their world. In these polytheistic nations the gods of love may not have always been the most powerful or the most highly worshipped gods, but they were often the favorites. Many of the ancients’ stories contain plots which center around the doings of the love gods.
The very best example of this comes from the Ancient Greeks. The story of the Iliad in fact begins long before the tale of Achilles, when a contest between the beauties of the goddesses took place on Mount Olympus. Young Paris (the prince who took Queen Helen from her home) who was considered the most beautiful of mortals was selected to judge between the goddesses. Each offered him a bribe to pick them as the most beautiful of the gods. Paris chose Aphrodite, the goddess of love, winning for himself the most beautiful woman in the world, whom Aphrodite promised would fall madly in love with him. Thus the plot of the Trojan War begins, and Aphrodite continues to play a central role in the happenings for the continuation of the tale (Thompson 29).
Love was everywhere to these writers and the beauty of its influence could be found in every situation they encountered. They admired the ability of love to influence people beyond the power of any other emotion. To the ancients, love was beauty and beauty was love. The two were interchangeable. Even the ugliest of circumstances, people, and lives could be transformed into beautiful tapestries on the loom of the human story, with the interweaving of love.

Works Cited

Primary/Literary Sources
Chaucer, Geoffrey. Troilus and Criseyde. Trans. Barry Windeatt. U.S.: Oxford University Press,
2009. “Cleopatra Vii Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biographies. 2 March 2009

Gilgamesh. Trans. Stephen Mitchell. New York: Free Press, 2004.
Homer. Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.
Homer. Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.
“Nefertiti Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biographies. 2 March 2009.

Shakespeare, William. Troilus and Cressida. Ed. Dr. Barbara E. Mowat and Paul Werstine.
Washington D.C.: Washington Press, 2007.

Secondary Scholarly Sources
Adler, Doris. “The Unlacing of Cleopatra.” Theatre Journal, vol. 34, no. 4 (Dec., 1982): 450-466.
JSTOR. 2 March 2009.
Brown, A.S. “Aphrodite and the Pandora Complex.” The Classical Quarterly, New Series, vol.
47, no. 1 (1997): 26-47.
Cook, Albert S. “The Character of Criseyde.” PMLA, vol. 22, no. 3 (1907): 531-547. JSTOR. 2
March 2009
Davies, N. de Garis. “Mural Paintings in the City of Akhetaten.” The Journal of Egyptian
Archaeology vol. 7, no. ½ (Apr., 1921): 1-7. JSTOR. 2 March 2009
Graydon, Joseph S. “Defense of Criseyde.” PMLA, vol. 44, no. 1 (Mar., 1929): 141-177.
JSTOR. 2 March 2009.
Hedreen, Guy. “Image, Text, and Story in the Recovery of Helen.” Classical Antiquity, vol. 15,
no. 1 (Apr., 1996): 152-184. JSTOR. 2 March 2009.
Helterman, Jeffrey. “The Masks of Love in Troilus and Criseyde.” Comparative Literature, vol.
26, no. 1 (Winter, 1974): 14-31. JSTOR. 2 March 2009.
Rollins, Hyder E. “The Troilus-Cressida Story from Chaucer to Shakespeare.” PMLA, vol. 32,
no. 3 (1917): 383-429. JSTOR. 2 March 2009.
Thompson, Diane P. The Trojan War. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2004.
Wimsatt, James I. “Medieval and Modern in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde.” PMLA, vol. 92,
no. 2 (Mar., 1977): 203-216. JSTOR. 2 March 2009.
Wolff, Hope Nash. “Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Heroic Life.” Journal of the American Oriental
Society, vol. 89, no. 2 (Apr.-Jun., 1969): 392-398. JSTOR. 2 March 2009
Worman, Nancy. “The Body as Argument: Helen in Four Greek Texts.” Classical Antiquity, vol.
16, no. 1 (Apr., 1997): 151-203. JSTOR. 2 March 2009

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