Book Summaries: The Trial and Death of Socrates, Medea of Euripides, Jason and the Golden Fleece, Gilgamesh: A New English Version, and July’s People, Nadine Gordimer.
This is the fifth week, day one of the book summaries from Around the World in 120 Days for The Invisible Mentor’s Virtual Literary World Tour. Last week, we stopped our Tour in Holland and Germany with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. This week we are traveling at the same pace with the Tour as we did last week. For Day One of Week Five of Around the World in 120 Days, in my opinion, the toughest book to read is July’s People by Nadine Gordimer, which deals with what life was like during Apartheid, and she predicts what life would be like just before the end of Apartheid.
Around the World in 120 Days, Week Five, Day One
- The Trial and Death of Socrates, Plato
- Medea of Euripides, Euripides
- Jason and the Golden Fleece, Apollonius
- Gilgamesh: A New English Version
- July’s People, Nadine Gordimer, South Africa
Book Summaries: Around the World in 120 Days, Week Five, Day One
The Trial and Death of Socrates by Plato
In The Trial and Death of Socrates by Plato, the great philosopher and orator, Socrates, is charged with corrupting the young and introducing new gods. Specifically, “Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appears the better cause, and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.” The book is divided into four sections:
The Introduction which is written by Emma Woolerton sets the tone for what’s to come and she gives a brief history on Socrates and Plato, and gives a background to the trial.
In Apology, Socrates is giving a speech, which is a response to the speeches given by his accusers. He is in court defending himself. From Socrates’ speech, we learn that, Chaerephon, who was very impetuous, went to the god of Delphi to find out who the wisest man was. The Pythian prophetess responded that there was no man wiser than Socrates. In the speech, Socrates says that he knows that he doesn’t have any wisdom small or great.
Socrates has three accusers, Meletus who represents the poets, Anytus who represents the craftsmen and Lycon who represents the rhetoricians. Now during the trial, he is questioning Meletus, raising some valid points, and once again he is making him look very foolish. Because of who he is, Socrates is not going to capitulate to anyone, and his accusers are not going to back down because they have to save face so the only verdict can be guilty, and it is. But the interesting thing is that the votes are nearly equally split because Socrates believes that more people would have been against him.
Phaedo recreates the day of Socrates’ death for Echecrate and narrates every conversation that took place up to his death – 70 pages of The Trial and Death of Socrates by Plato is dedicated to the day of Socrates’ death. They arrived at the prison early that day and when they were allowed into the cell they had some very deep conversations. They talked about death and dying and the soul, what happens to the soul after death and before birth. They come to the conclusion that the soul is immortal. They also talk about the earth and the conversation continues until sunset, at which time Crito asks Socrates about his burial.
Crito goes with Socrates to have his last bath and when he is done, his children, two young ones and an elder one come to speak to him. His female relatives come to see him and then he sends them off. Crito and Socrates return to the others and shortly after the cup of poison is brought in. Socrates inquires what he needs to do and gets the instructions. He drinks the cup of poison and lies down. His friends weep loudly and he chides them and they apologize. Before he dies, Socrates tells Crito, that he owes a cock to Asclepius and asks his friend to repay the debt on his behalf. Crito asks if there is anything else and he doesn’t get a response. The attendants uncover Socrates and his eyes are set. Crito closes Socrates’ eyes and mouth.
Jason and the Golden Fleece by Apollonius
To fully understand Medea of Euripides, you need to understand the context and the backstory, and Jason and the Golden Fleece provides that. Jason was born into exile because his Uncle Pelias seized the throne from Jason’s father – Aeson, King of Iôlcos. When Jason is born, he is placed in a purple robe and given to Chiron, the Centaur. When Jason comes of age, he returns to Iôlcos demanding his ancestral honour. His uncle tells him he will give the throne to his young nephew if he goes on a quest to Colchis and fetch back the soul of his kinsman Phrixus, who had died there far from home, and, secondly, find the fleece of the Golden Ram which Phrixus had sacrificed.
With some of his friends, Jason accepts the quest and goes on a hero’s journey. The journey is not an easy one and is filled with many challenges along the way. The story starts off with the group of men encountering Amycus, the arrogant king of the Bebryces, and son of Poseidon. Whoever comes into his kingdom, he summons them to a boxing match, which he always wins because of his massive size. He summons Jason and his friends and Polydeuces accepts the summons on behalf of the group.
Although they were not evenly match when it comes to size, after a tight match Polydeuces prevails, killing Amycus. They continue on their journey until they reach Bithynian land. What happens here is very important to the story and what is yet to come. They meet Phineus, a blind seer. Zeus cursed Phineus and now he is blind and suffering. Every time the old man tries to eat, Harpies swoon down and eat his food. Every day a lot of people visit Phineas laden with food because they want to learn about their future so they can make changes to avoid unnecessary hardships.
Phineas expects them because he saw their coming. He tells them their future but he is not allowed to tell them every detail. He tells them what to expect before they get to where the golden fleece is and it’s a very treacherous trip. For the first time Jason learns, “the fleece is spread on top of an oak, watched over by a serpent, a formidable beast who peers all round and never, night or day, allows sweet sleep to conquer his unblinking eyes.”
Medea’s father has the golden fleece, and he is very angry that the young men have come because he thinks their true intention is to try to take his throne. He tells them that before he will consider giving them the golden fleece, Jason has to undertake an impossible task. That’s when Medea intervenes, using her witchcraft and potions to assist Jason. Medea betrays her own father and that is how the story ends.
Medea of Euripides by Euripides
The play Medea of Euripides is a tragedy, written by Euripides. It starts off with a dialogue between the Nurse of Medea and the Attendant of Jason and Medea’s two children. They are talking about Medea. Medea is very angry because Jason whom she loved deeply, and gave up everything for, has scorned her. She wants to punish him because now she is cityless. The King Creon banishes her and her two children from Corinth because he doesn’t want any harm to come to his daughter, who, Jason left Medea for.
Medea tells Creon that she has no quarrel with him and will not stir up trouble but he doesn’t believe her. She clings to him and begs him to let her stay but he doesn’t relent. Finally Medea asks Creon with he can give her one day and he complies. As soon as Creon leaves Medea starts to plot how to kill Jason and his new bride, the daughter of King Creon. She wonders if she should burn their house with them in it, stab them to death, or follow the old fashioned way and poison them.
Medea plots to kill Jason’s wife as well as her two children to leave Jason childless. No one will steal her children from her. Medea asks her nurse to get Jason, but not to tell him of her plans. Jason comes to her because he still feels some kindness toward Medea. She apologizes to him and appears penitent. She calls her children in to greet their father.
Before Jason takes the children home with him, Medea insists that they take gifts to Jason’s wife. The attendant leaves with Jason and the children, but she brings them back home. The robe that Medea sends is poisoned and it kills both the king and his daughter. Medea follows up on her promise to herself and kills her two children.
When Jason comes to see her, he is quite distraught at the evil at her hands. Medea escapes with her children’s bodies to prevent Jason one last look.
Gilgamesh: A New English Version
Gilgamesh, a king who is massive in stature, young and handsome, two-thirds divine, and one-third human, rules his people in Uruk with a heavy hand. He does as he wants – “Takes the son from his father and crushes him, takes the girl from her mother and uses her, the warrior’s daughter, the young man’s bride he uses her, no one dares to oppose him.” and lays with the young women whenever he wants to. Gilgamesh is a tyrant and a despot. The people are scared to stand up to him because he is king, so instead they cry to Anu, the father of them all. Anu commands Aruru, who created humans to find a double for Gilgamesh, a second self so that the two will balance each other.
Aruru breaks off a piece of clay and fashions it into a man, Enkidu, who is tall with muscles like a rock, brave, powerful, fierce, a warrior and hero. Enkidu is hairy, and his hair is like a woman’s hair, down to his waist. When he comes into being, he is untamed and roams the wilderness naked. He intermingles with the animals and eats grass and drinks from the waterholes with them. As the story unfolds, Enkidu and Gilgamesh become great friends.
Enkidu and Gilgamesh kill Humbaba, the guardian of the forest and Enlil the god exacts revenge by allowing Enkidu to have a painful death. After the funeral, Gilgamesh wanders in the wilderness and is on his way to see Utnapishtim, the one man who the gods made immortal. Gilgamesh wants eternal life, and he is traveling to find it. He encounters many challenges along the way. He runs through a tunnel where he could be burned and escape in the nick of time.
He meets Shiduri, a tavern keeper, and she tells him that he will never find eternal life. She also tells him to enjoy life, savor his food and make each day a delight. After they converse for a while, Shiduri tells him that the one man that can assist him is Urshanabi, Utnapishtim’s boatman. He finds the boatman, and they travel until they come to the Waters of Death and Urshanabi instructs Gilgamesh on what to do and they are able to get to Utnapishtim safely.
Utnapishtim looks like a regular person, and not like a god, although he has eternal life. Utnapishtim relates a story about his life before he became immortal and there are parallels to Noah’s Flood and building the ark. We learn how the gods granted him eternal life. He asks Gilgamesh, who will grant him eternal life.
Gilgamesh is so tired that he sleeps for seven days. When he wakes up, Utnapishtim orders Urshanabi to bring a tub and wash Gilgamesh’s hair and clean him. Utnapishtim’s wife tells him he has to give Gilgamesh something for the journey since he has traveled such a great distance. He tells him about a plant, a small spiny bush that grows in the Great Deep that is the secret to youth. Gilgamesh is able to find the plant, but instead of using it right there and then, he decides to take it back to Uruk to test it. In the night when he goes to bathe in a pond, instead of giving Urshanabi the plant to hold, he places it on the ground, and a snake carries the plant away. Gilgamesh weeps when he discovers what the snake has done. He returns to Uruk.
July’s People by Nadine Gordimer
July’s People by Nadine Gordimer gives us a close-up look at what life was like during apartheid in South Africa. During apartheid, the rights of the black majority were suppressed while White Supremacy and the Afrikaner minority ruled. Apartheid came to an end in 1994. July’s people was first published in 1981, but Nadine Gordimer foresaw the civil war and political unrest that would occur in her country.
In July’s People by Nadine Gordimer, unrest has been brewing for a while now, and through the eyes of white, liberal minded Bamford and Maureen Smales, who own an architectural firm, we are taken into the world of apartheid. The Smales and their children are forced to flee their home, and their servant July takes them into his village. July’s wife resents the intrusion, and his mother has to give up her mud hut so that the Smales and their family will have somewhere to live while they are in hiding. The Smales experience what blacks in South Africa had been experiencing for years.
It’s a short book, but a tough book to read, but we need to read books July’s People by Nadine Gordimer, but we need to understand the experiences of others that we may be more compassionate human beings. There are many times when we say that we are not responsible for the atrocities that our forefathers committed, and want to wash our hands of the sordid affairs because it’s the easy way out. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us of what our obligations are to our fellow people with these words, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Interview With Rodger Harding
Avil Beckford: What five books would you recommend to others to read?
- Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
- Jock of the Bushveld, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick
- A Far Off Place, Laurens van der Post
- Dry White Season, Andre Brink
- Promised Land, Karel Schoeman
Avil Beckford: If you were trying to convince people to visit South Africa, what would you say to them?
Rodger Harding: South Africa is known as a World in one country! Incredibly diverse, the people are fascinating as is their history. The early history, colonization, the diamond/ gold rushes and the English/Boer strife that culminated in Apartheid… and its eventual overthrow … culminating in the Truth & Reconciliation process is a story that should inspire oppressed people worldwide.
The gift of amazing and varied natural beauty as well as a temperate climate makes the country an undisputed tourist attraction.
Avil Beckford: What’s your favourite dish, and what is the recipe?
Rodger Harding: Cape Malay Curry
Cape Malay Curry
- Diced onions, garlic, chopped, dried apricot with a little ginger sautéed in oil;
- Lamb cubed, salted and added to the mix until brown;
- Add Cape curry powder and spices to taste, plus a little lemon juice/lemon-grass;
- Simmer slowly for several hours… add a dash of vinegar;
- Just before serving, add a small container of yoghurt… stir in and let simmer or 20 minutes…
- Serve on yellow rice (add turmeric)
Avil Beckford: Who is your favourite musician from your birth country?
Rodger Harding: Miriam Makeba
About Rodger Harding: I am a Toronto based Business Leadership consultant (Harding International & Associates Inc), painter & author; My life’s work is to evolve to my fullest potential, to lead as useful a life possible – It has often been said that I am an iconoclast, whose impact results from an unusual way of approaching people and situations.
Book List for Week Five, Day One: Around the World in 120 Days
- The Trial and Death of Socrates (The Trial and Death of Socrates 3rd (third) edition Text Only), Plato
- Medea of Euripides, Euripides
- Jason and the Golden Fleece (Jason and the Golden Fleece: (The Argonautica) (Oxford World’s Classics)), Apollonius
- Gilgamesh: A New English Version
- July’s People, Nadine Gordimer
- Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
- Jock of the Bushveld, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick
- A Far-Off Place, Laurens van der Post
- A Dry White Season, Andre Brink
- Promised Land, Karel Schoeman
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