December 17:  Page 99 Test Day

Today is the birthday of British novelist and critic Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939).

Fordmadoxford.jpgFord is best known for his 1915 novel The Good Soldier, a novel which routinely turns up on lists of the greatest novels ever written.  The novel chronicles the lives of two seemingly perfect couples, one American and one British, who become acquainted at a German spa.  

The novel’s famous opening line, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard” is a more accurate indicator of its plot than is its title.  As events unfold, the reader discovers that the lives of these couples are not as happy as they appear.  Ford’s original title was The Saddest Story, but Ford’s publisher John Lane thought the title was a bit too dour, especially since World War I was raging in Europe at the time.  Ford, who himself had enlisted in the army, was too preoccupied to concern himself with the title.  He  later recounted how his novel came to have a somewhat incongruous title:

One day, when I was on parade, I received a final wire of appeal from Mr Lane, and the telegraph being reply-paid I seized the reply form and wrote in hasty irony: ‘Dear Lane, Why not The Good Soldier?’

In addition to being a novelist, Ford was a well known critic, and he left us with a handy method for judging a book.  The method is not to judge the book by its cover or by its opening line; instead, Ford suggested to judge a book by the quality of its writing on one specific page:

Open the book to page ninety-nine and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Putting Ford’s Test to the Test

What are the qualities you look for when judging a book?  Select a book that you have not read, and open it to page 99.  Read the page carefully, and then write a Page 99 Review based on what you have read on that page.  What do you notice about the quality of the writing?  Based on what you see on page 99 explain your verdict as to whether or not you think the book is worth reading. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. -P.J. O’Rourke

1-https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/30/good-soldier-ford-madox-ford-100-best-novels

 

December 15:  Trivia Day

On this day in 1979, the game Trivial Pursuit was born.  Two Canadian journalists Chris Haney and Scott Abbott were playing Scrabble when they discovered that some of the game’s pieces were missing.  Undeterred, they decided to create their own game.  It took two years to develop and market the game, but when it was released in 1981, it became wildly popular.  In 1984 more than 20 million games were sold.

The object of Trivial Pursuit is to acquire six wedge-shaped colored pieces by correctly answering trivia questions in six different categories.  Since the game’s release dozens of different editions of the game have been added, including theme-based versions, based on Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, The Beatles, and Disney.  All versions of the game follow the same pattern which is based on moving around a wheel-shaped game board and answering trivia questions in six separate categories.

In 2003 Trivial Pursuit was named to the “Games Hall of Fame” by Games magazine, and in 2008 Hasbro bought the full rights to the game for $80 million (1).

The word trivia has its origins in Latin, from trivialis, meaning three (tri) roads (via) or “crossroads.”  This probably explains the aspect of trivia being common or ordinary information, the kind of things that people would talk about when they met at the crossroads.  A related word trivium has a more academic history.  In Medieval education the trivium was the term used to represent the “three roads” or “three ways” to acquiring the first level of a classical education at university through the study of rhetoric, grammar, and logic.  The trivium would then be followed by the quadrivium (“four ways”):  arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.  The fact that the trivium made up the basic level of education and the quadrivium the advanced, is further explanation for the modern meaning of trivia as “less important matters”(2).

Today’s Challenge:  All Roads Lead to Trivia

The original Trivial Pursuit game, the “Genus” edition, classifies knowledge into the following six categories:  Geography, Entertainment, History, Literature, Science & Nature, and Sports & Leisure.  What topic do you know so well that you could create a Trivial Pursuit game based on that topic?  What six categories would you use to divide the knowledge about that topic?  Select a single topic that you know well:  a book, a movie, a television show, a sport, an author, or other general category.  Then, divide the topic into six distinctive categories.  Give each category a title, and create at least one trivia question for each of the six categories.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. -Stephen Hawking

1-http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bl_trivia_pursuit.htm

2 –http://www.word-detective.com/052206B.html#trivia

 

December 14:  Eulogy Day

On this day in 1799 George Washington died at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.  Funeral memorials were held in major U.S. cities , and throughout the world people were saddened by Washington’s death.  In France, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered ten days of mourning for America’s great leader and Founding Father.

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpgFollowing Washington’s death, the Sixth Congress commissioned Henry Lee, the father of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee, to write a eulogy.  Having served under Washington as a major general in the Continental Army, Lee was a logical choice (1).

Written in the elaborate and elevated prose characteristic of the 18th century, Lee demonstrates mastery of parallelism as he praises his comrade in arms:

First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life—although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well spent life. Such was the man America has lost—such was the man for whom our nation mourns (2).

Today’s Challenge:  A Word of Praise Before You Go

The word eulogy is from Greek meaning “praise.”  Although we normally associate eulogies with funerals, eulogies can also praise a person who is still alive.  Who is someone who is alive today that you think deserves sincere praise?  Write a eulogy for a living person.  Identify specifically the positive traits of this person with specific examples of what makes the person so special.  Whether or not the person is someone you have met, make it clear to the audience why this person means so much to you. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The promulgation of his fixed resolution stopped the anxious wishes of an affectionate people from adding a third unanimous testimonial of their unabated confidence in the man so long enthroned in their hearts. When before was affection like this exhibited on earth? Turn over the records of ancient Greece ; review the annals of mighty Rome ; examine the volumes of modern Europe – you search in vain. America and her Washington only afford the dignified exemplification. -Henry Lee on Washington

1-http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-in-war-first-in-peace-and-first-in-the-hearts-of-his-countrymen/

2-Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997: 169.

 

December 8:  Sesquipedalian Day

Today is the birthday in 65 BC of Roman lyrical poet and satirist Horace.  On this day we express our gratitude to Horace for a single word — sesquipedalian, which means “a long word” or “a person known for using long words.”

Quintus Horatius Flaccus.jpgHorace penned his verse in Latin.  In his Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry) he wrote the following:  Proicit ampullas et sesquipedalia verba, which translates, “He throws aside his paint pots and his words that are a foot and a half long.”  Combining the Latin roots sesqu- (one and a half) and ped (a foot), this adjective provides the perfect slightly exaggerated image for words that are wide.  Like many English words derived from Latin, especially many of the longer ones, sesquipedalian was borrowed in the seventeenth century (1).

George Orwell gave good advice to writers in his famous essay “Politics and the English Language” when he said, “Never use a long word when a short one will do.”  However, sometimes a long word is the best word, especially when it has precise meaning.  Polysyllabic words may be long, but they also can pack a lot of meaning into a small space.  In his book 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, Gary Provost calls these polysyllabic words “dense words”(2).  Dense words allow a writer to say in one word what would normally require many words.  For example, notice how in the sentence below, ten words can be swapped out for a single word:

Original:  The politician was guilty of being evasive, using many words when fewer were called for.

Revision:  The politician was guilty of circumlocution.

Today’s Challenge:  World of Wide and Weighty Words

What are some examples of words that are at least 10 letters long, words that pack a lot meaning into a single word?  Using a good dictionary, identify at least 8 words that are each at least 10 letters long.  Record your list of words along with a definition of each one.  Also record the number of words in the definition.  Then, write your verdict of whether or not each word is a dense word.  To judge each word, ask and answer the following questions:  Does the word crowd enough meaning into a small enough space to be declared dense?  Is it truly a heavyweight word?

Below are some examples of dense words:

Anthropomorphic

Bacchanalian

Circumlocution

Doctrinaire

Extemporaneous

Hemidemisemiquaver

Infrastructure

Jurisprudence

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.

-Horace

1- http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-ses1.htm

2-Provost, Gary.  100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.

12/8 TAGS:  sesquipedalian, Horace, Ars Poetica, Orwell, George, Provost, Gary, dense words, definition,

 

December 4:  Pascal’s Apology Day

On this date in 1656, French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote a letter in which he expressed one of the central paradoxes of writing:  it’s faster and easier to write a long composition than to write a short one.  

Blaise Pascal Versailles.JPGPascal expressed the paradox as an apology to his reader:  “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter” (1).

According to Ralph Keyes in his book The Quote Verifier, Pascal’s quotation has been falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Johnson, Henry Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and Voltaire (2).  The popularity of Pascal’s sentiment reveals both how much writers value brevity and how difficult it can be to obtain.  Being clear, concise, and cogent is hard work.

Another illustration of the “less is more” writing philosophy comes from an anecdote about Mark Twain, who received the following telegram from his publisher:

NEED 2-PAGE SHORT STORY TWO DAYS.

He responded:

NO CAN DO 2 PAGES TWO DAYS. CAN DO 30 PAGES 2 DAYS. NEED 30 DAYS TO DO 2 PAGES

Perhaps the best explanation of the value of concision in writing is by William Strunk in Elements of Style.  Instead of an anecdote, Struck uses an analogy:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

When you write, consider another analogy:  

Imagine each word you write is an employee of the company you own.  Each word needs a job to do.  You can’t afford to pay a salary to words or employees who do nothing.  Your job, therefore, as the writer is to keep your workforce — your “wordforce” — at a size no larger than what it takes to get the job done.

Today’s Challenge:   Exactly 25 Words – No More, No Fewer
How would you summarize an article in just 25 words? One excellent way to practice revision and to practice economy in writing is to write 25-word summaries.  Select an article of at least 200 words, and read it carefully to determine the writer’s main point.  Then, write a brief summary that captures the main point in your own words.  Don’t waste words saying things like:  “This article is about . . .” or “The author argues that . . .”  Instead, just state the article’s main ideas.  Don’t worry about the number of words until you have finished your first draft.  Next, count the number of words and revise as necessary to write the most clear, concise, and correct summary of EXACTLY 25 words.  Read your revised draft aloud to make sure that it is clear, that the sentences are complete, and that there are no wasted words.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination. -Louise Brooks

1-http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pascal/provincial.xviii.html

2-Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier, 120

12/4 TAGS: Pascal, Blaise, paradox, The Quote Verifier, Twain, Mark, Strunk, William, Elements of Style, analogy, summary, 25-word summary

December 2:  Two-Word Allusion Day

Two speeches given by American presidents on this date in the 1800s launched key ideas that would influence the growth and influence of the United States.

James Monroe White House portrait 1819.gifThe first speech, given on December 2, 1823 by President James Monroe, launched the Monroe Doctrine. In his State of the Union Address, Monroe announced that the United States would frown upon any further interference or colonization of the Americas by foreign powers (1).

The second speech, given on December 2, 1845 by President James Polk, launched the term Manifest Destiny. In his State of the Union Address, Polk made it clear that he was committed to the expansion of the United States through the annexation of Texas, the acquisition of the Oregon territory, and the purchase of California from Mexico. Although he did not use the term Manifest Destiny in his speech, the term, originally coined by journalist John L. O’Sullivan, became the operative term to describe the expansion of the young nation, which happened to be the primary subject of Polk’s speech (2).

Today’s Challenge: Two Words – American History

Manifest Destiny and Monroe Doctrine are just two examples of several two-word appellations for key events or ideas in American history.  Below are several examples of two-word allusions from American history.  Each of these references represents a key story involving real people and real events that influenced the course of American history:

Boston Massacre

Burr-Hamilton Duel

Constitutional Convention

Dred Scott

Emancipation Proclamation

First Amendment

Great Society

Homestead Act

Mason-Dixon Line

Mayflower Compact

Mexican War

Missouri Compromise

New Deal

Northwest Passage

Oregon Trail

Plymouth Rock

Stamp Act

Teapot Dome

Underground Railroad

Whiskey Rebellion

Wounded Knee

Scopes Trial

XYZ Affair

Select one of the two-word allusions above, and research the story behind it.  Write a brief report explaining what happened, who was involved, and why these two words are an important part of the story of the Unites States.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: The whole enterprise of this nation, which is not an upward, but a westward one, toward Oregon, California, Japan, etc., is totally devoid of interest to me, whether performed on foot, or by a Pacific railroad…. It is perfectly heathenish,—a filibustering toward heaven by the great western route. No; they may go their way to their manifest destiny, which I trust is not mine…. I would rather be a captive knight, and let them all pass by, than be free only to go whither they are bound. What end do they propose to themselves beyond Japan? What aims more lofty have they than the prairie dogs? -Henry David Thoreau

1 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monroe_doctrine

2 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_Destiny

12/2 TAGS:  allusion, speech, Monroe, James, Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny, O’Sullivan, John L., Polk, James

November 29:  Compulsory Education Day

On this day in 1870, the British government announced its plan to make education compulsory.  The Elementary Education Act of 1870 required that education be provided to children up to age 10.  The act was also commonly known as the Forster’s Education Act, named for William Edward Forster, a member of the House of Commons who crusaded for universal education and who drew up the act.

One nation that adopted compulsory education before Britain was Prussia.  A decree by Frederick the Great in 1763 provided an education for all girls and boys until age 13.  Under this plan teachers were paid by the citizens of the municipalities in which they taught; however, the teachers – many of whom were former soldiers — were asked to supplement their income by cultivating silkworms.  

In the United States, Mississippi became that last state to pass a compulsory education law in 1918.

In 2012, best-selling young adult fiction author John Green published a YouTube post on compulsory education entitled “An Open Letter to Students Returning to School.”  In his letter Green challenged students to not take their education for granted and to see “compulsory” schooling as an opportunity to contribute something to society:

School doesn’t exist for your benefit or for the benefit of your parents. Schools exist for the benefit of me. The reason I pay taxes for schools even though I don’t have a kid in school is that I am better off in a well-educated world. Public education isn’t a charity project; I pay for your schools because I want you to grow up and make my life better. I want you to make me beautiful books that will bring me pleasure and consolation. I want you to make me cooler cars for me to drive, and drugs so that I can live a longer, healthier life. I’m paying for your education in the hopes that you will invent a microwave pizza with actually crispy crust and that you’ll spread the availability of the internet so I can get more YouTube views in Zambia.

Your education isn’t just about you, your nation is making an investment in you because they believe that you are worth it. So the next that you’re like half asleep fantasizing about being a kid chosen for a special mission or wizard school, or whatever, please remember something: you are special, and you’ve chosen for a special mission that was denied to 99.9% of all humans ever. We need you, we believe in you, and we’re counting on you.

Today’s Challenge:  A Compulsion for Education

If you were the Secretary of Education, what class would you make mandatory for all students?  Why?  Imagine that you have been appointed to design a specific class that will be required by all students before they graduate high school.  What would you call your class, and what would be the make-up of the class’s curriculum?  In addition to describing the class, provide a rationale for why the content of the class is essential for students. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  But yes, your teachers may be stupid. So are you, so am I, so is everyone, except for Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The whole pleasure in being a human is in being stupid but learning to be less stupid together. -John Green

1-Elementary Education Act of 1870.

https://archive.org/details/elementaryeducat00greauoft

November 27:  Sonnet Day

On this day in 1582, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway.  We know little about Shakespeare’s personal life, but based on marriage records we do know that he was 18-years old when he married, and Anne was 26.  Six months after the wedding, Will and Anne’s first child, Susanna, was born.  Two years later, Anne gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl named Hamnet and Judith.  Soon after the birth of the twins, Shakespeare left his family in Stratford upon Avon and traveled to London where he began his career as an actor and playwright.  When Shakespeare retired from the theater in 1610, he returned to Stratford, where he lived with Anne until his death in 1616.  Anne died seven years after her husband in 1623. The couple is buried next to each other in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford (1).

In Shakespeare’s plays there are many memorable marriages as well as memorable married couples.  In Romeo and Juliet, for example, we have one of the most memorable and hasty marriages in literary history.  The young lovers meet at the end of Act I and are married by the end of Act II.  And of course there are the many marriage ceremonies that bring closure to the plots of Shakespeare’s comedies.

But when it comes to the topics of love and marriage and Shakespeare, what probably comes first to mind are his sonnets.

Shakespeare did not invent the sonnet form, but he certainly perfected it.  Among his 154 sonnet we have not only the greatest examples of the form, we also have some of the greatest poetry in the English language.  

Notice, for example, Sonnet 116.  It follows the usual form of the Shakespearean sonnet, fourteen lines consisting of three quatrains and a final couplet.  The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.  The basic structure and form of these immortal love notes may be the same, but like flowers, each features its own unique combination of images, argument, diction, and pathos:

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Today’s Challenge:  Not Just Another Thank You Note

Who are some people you care enough about to write a heartfelt note expressing your love, affection, and/or thanks?  In addition to commemorating Shakespeare’s marriage and verse on this day, we might also remember that it is the anniversary of the very first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which took place in New York City in 1924.  

Write a prose sonnet, a 14-line heartfelt note, addressed to an individual you care about expressing your love, affection, and/or thanks.  It does not need to be a romantic note, but it should provide specific details that show that addressee why they are special to you and why you are thankful to them.  Carefully craft each sentence to balance your reasons and your emotions.  If you’re feeling ambitious, you can try to write it as a Shakespearean sonnet.  If you write in prose, make sure you have 14 lines, but don’t go just for word count; instead, like Shakespeare did when he wrote in either prose or poetry, make each word count.

Quotation of the Day:  

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

   That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

-William Shakespeare, the final couplet of Sonnet 29

1-http://www.bardweb.net/content/ac/hathaway.html

 

November 9:  Cold War Day

On this date in 1989, the East German Communist Party opened the Berlin Wall, allowing citizens of East Berlin to freely cross the border that had separated East and West Berlin since the wall went up in 1961.  That night crowds swarmed the wall and some, armed with picks and hammers, began to dismantle the wall, which had stood as the most powerful symbol of the Cold War.

Berlinermauer.jpgn 1989 several eastern European nations of the Soviet Union carried out successful anti-Communist revolutions, winning greater autonomy and the right to hold multiparty elections.  By December 1991 the Soviet Union ceased to exist and the Cold War was officially over (1).

The term “Cold War” was coined on April 16, 1947, when Bernard Baruch, advisor to presidents on economic and foreign policy, used the term in an address he gave to the South Carolina House of Representatives. Invited to speak in his home state, Baruch selected the topic of the struggle between the two post-World War II superpowers — the United States and the Soviet Union:

Let us not be deceived, we are today in the midst of a cold war. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success. The peace of the world is the hope and the goal of our political system.; it is the despair and defeat of those who stand against us. We can depend only on ourselves. (2)

Baruch’s term stuck as an apt description of the hostilities between the West and the East that spawned a nuclear arms race but fell short of armed conflict. Below are other words and terms that became a part of the Cold War lexicon, according the book Twentieth Century Words (3):

Atom Bomb (1945)

fall out (1950)

N.A.T.O. (1950)

deterrent (1954)

conventional weapons (1955)

ICBM (1955)

unilateralism (1955)

Warsaw Pact (1955)

mushroom cloud (1958)

nuke (1959)

Hot and Cold Running Idioms

Below are descriptions of expressions that contain either the word hot or cold. Given the number of words in each expression along with a description, see if you can name the phrase:

  1. Four words: Newly printed; sensational and exciting.
  1. Two words: Immediate, complete withdrawal from something, especially an addictive substance.
  1. Two words: Trouble or difficulty.
  1. Two words: Retreat from an undertaking; lose one’s nerve.
  1. Two words: Deliberate disregard, slight, or snub.
  1. Four words: Extremely angry.
  1. Four words: In a position of extreme stress, as when subjected to harsh criticism.
  1. Five words: To cause one to shiver from fright or horror. (4)

Today’s Challenge:  Hot Potatoes and Cold Turkey

What words, phrases, or titles come to mind when you hear the word “hot” or “cold”?  Brainstorm a list of words, phrases, or titles (songs, movies, or books) that you associate with either “hot” or “cold.” Try to generate at least 20 ideas.  Then, select the one idea that sparks a writing idea, and write a poem, story, or essay on your idea.  Use the word “hot” or “cold” in your title. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3 – Expository and Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything. –Billy Graham

 

Answers: 1. Hot off the presses 2. Cold turkey 3. Hot water 4. Cold feet 5. cold shoulder 6. Hot under the collar 7. In the hot seat 8. Make one’s blood run cold.

1-http://www.atomicarchive.com/History/coldwar/page22.shtml

2-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bernard-baruch-coins-the-term-cold-war

3- Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

4 – Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

 

November 7:  Meaning in Myth Day

Today is the birthday of the French writer and philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960).  Camus was born in Algeria, a French colony, and was active in the French resistance in World War II, writing for an underground newspaper.  Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 for his fiction, specifically his novels:  The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1947), and The Rebel (1951).

Albert Camus, gagnant de prix Nobel, portrait en buste, posé au bureau, faisant face à gauche, cigarette de tabagisme.jpgThough he never called himself an existentialist, Camus is often associated with the post-World War II philosophical movement which places the individual struggle for meaning above any other meaning that might be found in religion or society.  The major theme of  Camus’ writing was the absurd — or the paradox of the absurd:  the idea that individuals have an innate desire to live a life that has meaning while at the same time realizing that ultimately life has no meaning.

To help his readers understand these somewhat abstract ideas, Camus wrote a philosophical essay in 1942 entitled “The Myth of Sisyphus,”  where he retells the ancient Greek myth as a way of making meaning of the plight of modern man.

Sisyphus, the King of Corinth, was condemned by the gods to an eternity of rolling a huge rock to the top of a mountain.  Once the rock reached the top, it would then roll back down to the bottom, where once again Sisyphus would commence the fruitless and futile task of rolling it back to the top.  Camus calls Sisyphus “the absurd hero” because, although he knows he must forever push his rock up the hill and then watch it roll back down the mountain, he embraces his fate.  By doing this “he is superior to his fate.”  In this way Sisyphus exemplifies the nobility and courage of the individual who even in the face of a hostile universe, strives for his own purpose.  Camus parallels Sisyphus’ labor with that of the modern worker:

The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

Today’s Challenge:  Modern Meaning in Myth

What characters from mythology would you say tap most clearly into a universal theme of human existence, such as love, hate, change, evil, or freedom?  How do the characters’ story relate to the themes, and how do the characters’ story parallel the plight of modern humans?  Brainstorm some names of characters from mythology.  To get you started, here are a few characters from Greek mythology:

Odysseus

Tantalus

Prometheus

Pandora

Persephone

Oedipus

Narcissus

Select one character from your list, and identify a universal theme which can be extracted from the character’s story.  Then, like Camus did with Sisyphus, give meaning to your myth by retelling the character’s story in your own words, explaining the universal theme that is found in the story, and paralleling the character’s experience to the lives of modern humans. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3 – Expository and Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them. -Albert Camus

1-Camus, Albert.  “The Myth of Sisyphus”