Uses and Abuses of Moses: Literary Representations since the Enlightenment

University of Notre Dame Pess
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In Uses and Abuses of Moses, Theodore Ziolkowski surveys the major literary treatments of the biblical figure of Moses since the Enlightenment. Beginning with the influential treatments by Schiller and Goethe, for whom Moses was, respectively, a member of a mystery cult and a violent murderer, Ziolkowski examines an impressive array of dramas, poems, operas, novels, and films to show the many ways in which the charismatic figure of Moses has been exploited—the “uses and abuses” of the title—to serve a variety of ideological and cultural purposes. Ziolkowski’s wide-ranging and in-depth study compares and analyzes the attempts by nearly one hundred writers to fill in the gaps in the biblical account of Moses’ life and to explain his motivation as a leader, lawgiver, and prophet. As Ziolkowski richly demonstrates, Moses’ image has been affected by historical factors such as the Egyptomania of the 1820s, the revolutionary movements of the mid-nineteenth century, the early move toward black liberation in the United States, and critical biblical scholarship of the late nineteenth century before, in the twentieth century, being appropriated by Marxists, Socialists, Nazis, and Freudians. The majority of the works studied are by Austro-German and Anglo-American writers, but Ziolkowski also includes significant examples of works from Hungary, Sweden, Norway, the Ukraine, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, and France. The figure of Moses becomes an animate seismograph, in Ziolkowski’s words, through whose literary reception we can trace many of the shifts in the cultural landscape of the past two centuries.
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About the author

Theodore Ziolkowski is professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at Princeton University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Notre Dame Pess
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Published on
Mar 15, 2016
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Pages
364
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ISBN
9780268098551
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Comparative Literature
Religion / Christian Theology / History
Religion / Christianity / Literature & the Arts
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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The world's oldest work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh recounts the adventures of the semimythical Sumerian king of Uruk and his ultimately futile quest for immortality after the death of his friend and companion, Enkidu, a wildman sent by the gods. Gilgamesh was deified by the Sumerians around 2500 BCE, and his tale as we know it today was codified in cuneiform tablets around 1750 BCE and continued to influence ancient cultures-whether in specific incidents like a world-consuming flood or in its quest structure-into Roman times. The epic was, however, largely forgotten, until the cuneiform tablets were rediscovered in 1872 in the British Museum's collection of recently unearthed Mesopotamian artifacts. In the decades that followed its translation into modern languages, the Epic of Gilgamesh has become a point of reference throughout Western culture.

In Gilgamesh among Us, Theodore Ziolkowski explores the surprising legacy of the poem and its hero, as well as the epic's continuing influence in modern letters and arts. This influence extends from Carl Gustav Jung and Rainer Maria Rilke's early embrace of the epic's significance-"Gilgamesh is tremendous!" Rilke wrote to his publisher's wife after reading it-to its appropriation since World War II in contexts as disparate as operas and paintings, the poetry of Charles Olson and Louis Zukofsky, novels by John Gardner and Philip Roth, and episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Xena: Warrior Princess.

Ziolkowski sees fascination with Gilgamesh as a reflection of eternal spiritual values-love, friendship, courage, and the fear and acceptance of death. Noted writers, musicians, and artists from Sweden to Spain, from the United States to Australia, have adapted the story in ways that meet the social and artistic trends of the times. The spirit of this capacious hero has absorbed the losses felt in the immediate postwar period and been infused with the excitement and optimism of movements for gay rights, feminism, and environmental consciousness. Gilgamesh is at once a seismograph of shifts in Western history and culture and a testament to the verities and values of the ancient epic.

In Secularization without End: Beckett, Mann, Coetzee, Vincent P. Pecora elaborates an alternative history of the twentieth-century Western novel that explains the resurgence of Christian theological ideas. Standard accounts of secularization in the novel assume the gradual disappearance of religious themes through processes typically described as rationalization: philosophy and science replace faith. Pecora shows, however, that in the modern novels he examines, "secularization" ceases to mean emancipation from the prescientific ignorance or enchantment commonly associated with belief and signifies instead the shameful state of a humanity bereft of grace and undeserving of redemption. His book focuses on the unpredictable and paradoxical rediscovery of theological perspectives in otherwise secular novels after 1945. The narratives he analyzes are all seemingly godless in their overt points of view, from Samuel Beckett’s Murphy to Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus to J. M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus. But, Pecora argues, these novels wind up producing varieties of religious doctrine drawn from Augustinian and Calvinist claims about primordial guilt and the impotence of human will. In the most artfully imaginative ways possible, Beckett, Mann, and Coetzee resist the apparently inevitable plot that so many others have constructed for the history of the novel, by which human existence is reduced to mundane and meaningless routines and nothing more. Instead, their writing invokes a religious past that turns secular modernity, and the novel itself, inside out.
Immediately after World War I, four major European and American poets and thinkers--W. B. Yeats, Robinson Jeffers, R. M. Rilke, and C. G. Jung--moved into towers as their principal habitations. Taking this striking coincidence as its starting point, this book sets out to locate modern turriphilia in its cultural context and to explore the biographical circumstances that motivated the four writers to choose their unusual retreats. From the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia to the ivory towers of the fin de si cle, the author traces the emergence of a variety of symbolic associations with the proud towers of the past, ranging from spirituality and intellect to sexuality and sequestration.

But in every case the tower served both literally and symbolically as a refuge from the urban modernism with whose values the four writers found themselves at odds. While the classic modernists (Eliot, Woolf, Hart Crane) often singled out the broken tower as the image of a crumbling past, these writers actualized their powerful visions: Yeats and Rilke moved into medieval towers in Ireland and Switzerland, while Jeffers and Jung built themselves towers at Carmel and Bollingen as secluded spaces in which to cultivate the traditions and values they cherished. The last chapter traces this perseverance of the ancient image through its heyday in the twenties and into the present, where it has undergone renewal, institutionalization, and parody.

Originally published in 1998.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Minos and the Moderns considers three mythological complexes that enjoyed a unique surge of interest in early twentieth-century European art and literature: Europa and the bull, the minotaur and the labyrinth, and Daedalus and Icarus. All three are situated on the island of Crete and are linked by the figure of King Minos. Drawing examples from fiction, poetry, drama, painting, sculpture, opera, and ballet, Minos and the Moderns is the first book of its kind to treat the role of the Cretan myths in the modern imagination. Beginning with the resurgence of Crete in the modern consciousness in 1900 following the excavations of Sir Arthur Evans, Theodore Ziolkowski shows how the tale of Europa-in poetry, drama, and art, but also in cartoons, advertising, and currency-was initially seized upon as a story of sexual awakening, then as a vehicle for social and political satire, and finally as a symbol of European unity. In contast, the minotaur provided artists ranging from Picasso to Dürrenmatt with an image of the artist's sense of alienation, while the labyrinth suggested to many writers the threatening sociopolitical world of the twentieth century. Ziolkowski also considers the roles of such modern figures as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud; of travelers to Greece and Crete from Isadora Duncan to Henry Miller; and of the theorists and writers, including T. S. Eliot and Thomas Mann, who hailed the use of myth in modern literature. Minos and the Moderns concludes with a summary of the manners in which the economic, aesthetic, psychological, and anthropological revisions enabled precisely these myths to be taken up as a mirror of modern consciousness. The book will appeal to all readers interested in the classical tradition and its continuing relevance and especially to scholars of Classics and modern literatures.
Minos and the Moderns considers three mythological complexes that enjoyed a unique surge of interest in early twentieth-century European art and literature: Europa and the bull, the minotaur and the labyrinth, and Daedalus and Icarus. All three are situated on the island of Crete and are linked by the figure of King Minos. Drawing examples from fiction, poetry, drama, painting, sculpture, opera, and ballet, Minos and the Moderns is the first book of its kind to treat the role of the Cretan myths in the modern imagination. Beginning with the resurgence of Crete in the modern consciousness in 1900 following the excavations of Sir Arthur Evans, Theodore Ziolkowski shows how the tale of Europa-in poetry, drama, and art, but also in cartoons, advertising, and currency-was initially seized upon as a story of sexual awakening, then as a vehicle for social and political satire, and finally as a symbol of European unity. In contast, the minotaur provided artists ranging from Picasso to Dürrenmatt with an image of the artist's sense of alienation, while the labyrinth suggested to many writers the threatening sociopolitical world of the twentieth century. Ziolkowski also considers the roles of such modern figures as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud; of travelers to Greece and Crete from Isadora Duncan to Henry Miller; and of the theorists and writers, including T. S. Eliot and Thomas Mann, who hailed the use of myth in modern literature. Minos and the Moderns concludes with a summary of the manners in which the economic, aesthetic, psychological, and anthropological revisions enabled precisely these myths to be taken up as a mirror of modern consciousness. The book will appeal to all readers interested in the classical tradition and its continuing relevance and especially to scholars of Classics and modern literatures.
Human beings have believed in conspiracies presumably as long as there have been groups of at least three people in which one was convinced that the other two were plotting against him or her. In that sense one might look back as far as Eve and the serpent to find the world’s first conspiracy. Whereas recent generations have tended to find their conspiracies in politics and government, the past often sought its mysteries in religious cults or associations. In ancient Rome, for example, the senate tried to prohibit the cult of Isis lest its euphoric excesses undermine public morality and political stability. And during the Middle Ages, many rulers feared such powerful and mysterious religious orders as the Knights Templar.

Fascination with the arcane is a driving force in this comprehensive survey of conspiracy fiction. Theodore Ziolkowski traces the evolution of cults, orders, lodges, secret societies, and conspiracies through various literary manifestations—drama, romance, epic, novel, opera—down to the thrillers of the twenty-first century. Arguing that the lure of the arcane throughout the ages has remained a constant factor of human fascination, Ziolkowski demonstrates that the content of conspiracy has shifted from religion by way of philosophy and social theory to politics. In the process, he reveals, the underlying mythic pattern was gradually co-opted for the subversive ends of conspiracy.

Cults and Conspiracies considers Euripides’s Bacchae, Andreae’s Chymical Wedding, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, among other seminal works. Mimicking the genre’s quest-driven narrative arc, the reader searches for the significance of conspiracy fiction and is rewarded with the author’s cogent reflections in the final chapter. After much investigation, Ziolkowski reinforces Umberto Eco’s notion that the most powerful secret, the magnetic center of conspiracy fiction, is in fact "a secret without content."

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