Examining Light Novels: Latin in the Middle Ages

My latest article on Beneath the Tangles talks about why Latin became the Franca lingua of the Middle Ages, and about how the Catholic Church preferred–and indeed, still prefers–this language above all the rest.  This topic and the last one I wrote about, monastic contributions to European economics, Isuna Hasekura gets very right.

Examining Light Novels: Latin in the Middle Ages

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Medieval Otaku’s Third Anniversary

On this Easter, both this site and myself age one year.  This is the only time I can recollect my birthday has falling on Easter.  Does this coincidence mean that Medieval Otaku will gain a fresh breath of life?  That I shall set a new and vigorous posting schedule for my third year as a blogger?  No, I’ll probably continue writing on random themes which usually touch upon the Middle Ages, Catholicism, or anime as my dear readers are accustomed.  Thank you to all my dear readers who have enjoyed reading these posts over the past year.  As I always say, you need to struggle through many mediocre posts before finding the few gems which fall Deo iuvante.  Let me give you the low down on the posts you shall be seeing on here in the near future.

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Thoughts on C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image

Here is yet another of the articles I promised as part of my Candlemas Resolutions.  I have only four days to review the theological work and the Japanese one; otherwise, I shall fail to keep my resolutions in the very first month I made them!  And I should send little e-mail to TWWK ere then too.  Vae!  Sunt multa facienda, sed tempus fugit!  

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At any rate, let me get on to C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image.  This work marks the last book of Lewis’s published while he still lived.  These two hundred and twenty-three pages refreshed my knowledge of Medieval Model of the universe.  Lewis both delineates the major features of the model and offers details which will please readers more versed in the Middle Ages.  By the way, medievals and yours truly have much in common, and I think that highlighting these similarities as I write about the major points of The Discarded Image will amuse my dear readers.

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Thoughts on Various Anime and November

National Blog Posting Month and NaNoWriMo have come to a close.  Regarding the former, Medieval Otaku for the first time has managed a post for each day of the month–even if I had to resort to reblogging.  (I suppose next year’s goal will include only posting articles written by yours truly; though, I do have fun introducing people to some of the bloggers I follow.)  Regarding NaNoWriMo…well…I wrote one chapter and started the second.   All my inspiration was siphoned off to various channels.  Now, I shall see if I can deliver on my hope of writing a second novel by the end of the year.

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Yet, the title promises some thoughts on various anime.  Below are blurbs on select themes in each show or my overall impression of them.

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1) Akame ga Kiru

The sharp deviation from the manga we see in the last few episodes of Akame ga Kiru increased my interest in this show.  Unfortunately, I have an idea of what to expect: everyone except Tatsumi dies before the Prime Minister and Esdeath are taken down.  Or, will the animators find a way to surpass my expectations with the last few episodes allowed to them?

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That the anime never became popular in Japan leads to this precipitate ending.  The weakness of the first six episodes–with the possible exception of the first–hurt this shows ratings.  They should never have set out to produce an exact replica of the manga, but people in the entertainment industry are often lazy.  Also, though there have been a few excellent battles, the uneven quality of the fights with some being downright poor must also have turned away some action fans.  Despite that, I’m looking forward to watching all my favorite characters die in tragic fashion.  If they make their deaths epic enough–especially should they reach Kikuchiyo of Samurai 7 level epic, I’ll give the anime four stars out of five.

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2) Akatsuki no Yona

This anime has become a classic tale of  good vs. evil, where the good guys win because the Universe is behind them.  Despite how common such a story is, who does not delight in seeing the weak and downtrodden conquer the wicked and powerful?

And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty. (From the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55)

Yona is like the Blessed Virgin Mary in her lowliness, but, because Yona has the Mandate of Heaven, she shall trod a powerful tyrant underfoot–as did St. Mary.

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The flashbacks have hurt the advancement of the plot.  However, I believe that the following episodes will concentrate on the progression of Yona to becoming a powerful general until the eventual downfall of Soo-Won–not out of revenge, but because the deed is just.

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3) Chaika the Coffin Princess: Avenging Battle

This show has been a lot of fun.  I have not let down my suspension of disbelief enough to do more than enjoy Chaika, but I love how much more solid the plot is in this season.  The episodes have focused on leading up to a final battle between the red and white Chaikas, and that battle will be fun to see.  Among the characters, Akari and Frederica especially shine for their quirky personalities and humor.

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4) I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying

Touching and funny adequately describe this anime.  A several episodes speak less about otakudom and more about the vicissitudes of married life.  The point of the show seems to be encouraging salarymen and salarywomen to stop being concerned only with their careers, otaku to stop focusing merely on anime, and both to seek the joys of real romance and married life–including children.  Japan really needs more shows with a message like that: in fifty years, the Japanese will be an endangered race at this rate.  More need to marry and have children–people of European descent too for that matter!

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5) Madan no Ou to Vanadis

I’m impressed by the author’s love for the Middle Ages.   Sure, it contains a few errors, but the battles feel authentic (except for the occasional use of magic, of course!), and the embattled feel of the Middle Ages is well replicated.  It must be remembered that Vikings, Celts, Saxons, Muslims and other barbarians all attempted to carve up Europe during the Middle Ages.  It is amazing that European culture survived.

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I like how the anime refers to the Muslim invasions in episode eight by refering to the invading army as name Muozinel.  Muslim armies often outnumbered their Christian opponents, but Christians often carried the day through a combination of better armor, tactics, and sheer courage.  (I remember reading about one Christian victory in Spain where the Christians won despite entire units being annihilated during the battle.  Like in episode eight of Madan no Ou to Vanadis, victory was achieved through the Muslims routing after the death of their leader.)  Muslims menaced Europe from the 8th century until the Battle of Vienna, which was fought from September 11, 1683 – September 12, 1683 and ended Turkish campaigns against Christendom.  My mother’s family comes from Croatia, which earned the nickname “the Wall of Christianity,” due to the Turks’ inability to conquer the country entirely.  You can bet that I loved watching episode eight. 🙂

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6) Psycho-Pass 2

I’m convinced that this is the best show of the season.  Some people accuse it of having an incoherent plot or being too similar to the previous season, but such people have not adequately suspended their disbelief. 😛  We knew that the characters would fight against the Sybil System again, and having another antagonist who wishes to take it down is the most obvious way for this plot to begin.  Besides, the last episode indicates that the Sybil System will actively turn against Akane in the future.  Don’t you want to see what happens when Akane becomes Public Enemy #1?

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7) Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis

A commentator warned me about the religious syncretism and the scantily clad angels.  Sure enough, episode six felt rather jarring to me.  If the angels are gods, they’re no longer angels.  The only parallel between Christianity and the religion of Shingeki no Bahamut is the inclusion of Joan of Arc–but, she’s pagan, which does not mesh with the idea of a Catholic saint!  Also, as the aforementioned commentator said, there is a theme of gods and demons–good and evil–vs. choas.  This doesn’t work!  Despite D&D’s inclusion of a lawful evil category, evil is chaos!  God created an ordered whole–a cosmos–when he created the universe.  Satan was the first to try to disrupt this order when he declared himself God.  Even now, the devil principally fights against God by inducing human beings to disorder and perversion.  A brief look at the Seven Deadly Sins reveals that they are all disorders.

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That aside, the show is spectacular!  The characters are interesting, and each episode offers surprises to the audience.

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Defensio Pudoris: Against the Shameless Philosophy of Kill la Kill

Well, I have watched Kill la Kill for three episodes and am not completely sure how to think of it.  The heroine, as with any character voiced by Ami Koshimizu, is incredibly cute and the action rather amusing.  I required the insight of other bloggers to form a more coherent opinion of the show.  With the help of JoeAnimated’s article and the one he links to, I have discerned that Nietzsche’s philosophy, to which I am no friend, imbues the series.  Apparently, this series attempts to attack Japanese notions of shame.  According to the series, shame prevents one from attaining their goals.  After all, ordinary shame would have prevented Matoi from seeking vengeance in that terribly revealing outfit.  Kiryuin, the antagonist, accuses Matoi of allowing “the values of the masses,” i.e. modesty, to prevent her from achieving true fusion with her kamui or power suit and thus from her goal of getting vengeance for her father.  Nevermind that idea of vengeance and vendettas, as with the Viking and Germanic pagans of the Middle Ages, reside in the normal Japanese psyche as well!

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From my title, defensio pudoris, you might understand that I have a hearty disagreement with this view of shame.  My aversion to the idea of shame hindering humanity is so great that I feel like dropping the show right here.  Yet, I have been accused of excessive prejudice in my literary judgments.  That article accuses me of allowing my religious and philosophical prejudices to blind me to the greatness of works written under opposing ideologies.  To which, I respond that people of opposing views can certainly write a good work; but, a great author must have a great message in addition to a knack for memorable characters, great dialogue, engaging plots, vivid settings, and beautiful literary style.  Everyone loves the truth, or at least everyone worth his salt does.  (General Lee referred to one general in the Mexican War who as the only person he met indifferent to truth and falsehood.  May none of us ever gain the same disregard for the truth!)  Therefore, it is no surprise that my top ten list  contains authors who come closest to the truth as I understand it.  And judging from my friend’s top ten list–also on the blog, he stands guilty of the same laudable charge with the single aberration of H. G. Wells.  The noble thought of overcoming my prejudices induces me to continue watching Kill la Kill with all its foolish Nietzschean conceptions of the will to power and of the abandonment of common morality.

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At any rate, shame is essential to developing virtue.  When the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope saw a young man blushing, he said: “Courage, my boy, that is the color of virtue.”  Then again, Nitobe Inazo claimed that the way the Japanese would avert their children from bad behavior would be by telling them that they should be ashamed of it.  Also, we see that shame is essential in the practice of religion.  Who doubts that the ancient Israelites had forgotten shame prior to the Babylonian Exile when they worshiped other gods even around the temple, sacrificed blemished animals, father-in-laws bedded their sons’ wives, and the powerful oppressed orphans and widows?  Their hearts had become so gross that they could not longer tell right from wrong!  The Israelites even told a certain prophet that they have done nothing wrong, and they believed that God did not see their iniquities.  They were shameless, and their very shamelessness prevented their repentance!

Every Japanophile needs to read Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazo.  It offers incredible insights into the Japanese.

Every Japanophile needs to read Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazo. It offers incredible insights into the Japanese.

I remember reading about Padre Pio breaking down in the confessional after confessing minor sins.  When the confessor expressed surprise at his tears, Padre Pio told him that it was his infidelity that brought him to tears.  In the same way, a spouse might be filled with shame at enjoying a kiss from someone outside their marriage.  And I am certain that a delicacy of conscience is necessary for sainthood.

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It is also certain that shameless people cannot relate well with others, as we see from the example of Kiryuin in Kill la Kill.  Does anyone find her clubbable?  Rather she is far too superior to care for ordinary mortals or feel ashamed before them.  The best persons to have in authority are those capable of shame, as we see in the example of the best kings from the Middle Ages.  Why did Canute have himself brought to the shore to command impotently the waves to turn back except that he was ashamed at the ridiculous praise his courtiers heaped on him?  Kiryuin surely ought to be ashamed for claiming so many special privileges, casting off feminine modesty, and having all treat her as a goddess!

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Shame allows human beings to remain human.  Without shame, the possession of virtue and the execution of many good deeds becomes impossible.  Without shame, we cannot repent of our failings.  Without shame, we cannot walk humbly with God or our fellow human beings.  Of course, there can be excesses of shame, as when a person refuses to go to confession or to speak where necessary.  However, a well formed conscience works best with a sense of shame: confession produces less amendment and speech becomes too bold without shame.  It is easier to overcome shame on the right occasions than for a shameless mind to act justly and considerately.

Attack on Titan and Claymore according to Max Scheler Pt. 1

I have a professor who doesn’t mind when I mix anime and philosophy.  I wrote this prior post on Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal for his class.  This particular post relies on a Schelerian reading of Attack on Titan and Claymore.  Max Scheler’s ideas about the importance of how levels of sympathy build upon one another will be discussed below in two posts.  Enjoy!

The Five Levels of Sympathy and Drama

Max Scheler adamantly insists that levels of sympathy build upon one another and that the higher cannot exist without the lower. Similarly, the best drama relies on the viewers truly loving the main characters and being engaged in all their experiences. Therefore, many dramas contain a modern setting, which allows for easy identification: the characters live in the same environment and have the same experiences we do. On the other hand, when an author wishes to place a drama in a different time, he must pay particular attention to the realm of identification so that the audience can be more easily brought up to the higher realms of sympathy and desire to feel and experience what the characters do. To show this, I propose to juxtapose two animated series: Claymore and Attack on Titan. The first succeeds in creating an atmosphere for the audience to identify with the characters, while the later fails.

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First off, we ought to note that both Claymore and Attack on Titan are fantasies. Most of the time, fantasies are stories of adventure meant to transport our minds from our humdrum existence and provide a bit of fun. Very rarely will one come across a fantasy which describes a serious plot and even more rarely will one come across a tragic plot. Attack on Titan decided to do the later and also in the monster slaying genre— very rare choice for drama. Indeed, the only other serious monster-slaying show which comes to mind is Claymore, but I would not place it at the level of a tragedy—no matter how grim the story becomes.

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Max Scheler writes in his chapter describing the dependency of the levels of sympathy upon one another: “It seems to me that identification underlies vicarious feeling in the (timeless) order of functional dependence…”1 Therefore, one must identify with characters before one can begin to imagine what the characters must feel like, i.e. the vicarious state of sympathy. But, fantasy itself places many hindrances on the audience identifying with the characters, especially the nearer the setting approximates the medieval world: the technology is well beneath what we are used to, the political system differs, death more frequent, the scope of medieval people’s worlds is much smaller, their lives much harsher, religion more ubiquitous, etc. Many times, anachronism is employed to try to make the characters more modern. For example, the characters in The Lord of the Rings smoke pipes, and a knight offers his pupil a cigarette in the short story The Fifty-First Dragon. But, primarily, identification between moderns and medievals must occur on universal human experiences: family, romance, friendship, parties, and the whole host of events which humans experience in every age. The protagonist ought to have a love interest, good friends, some family troubles, and personal foibles. If the author cannot establish good identification between the audience and the characters, he had better realize that he ought eschew drama in order to write a story which relies on the audience reaching the vicarious level of sympathy, such as a fun, entertaining monster slaying show. The audience can then escape into fun daydreams about slaying dragons and ogres without being troubled by a serious storyline.

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And so, when we are introduced to characters at the beginning of a story, we seek out the ones with whom we naturally identify. From here, we generally grow in liking or disliking them according to what they further divulge about themselves through word and deed. Max Scheler writes this about the subject: “If a man is to achieve his full realization of his ideal capacities, his various emotional powers must all be cultivated…There can be no full development of the higher, though necessarily rarer, emotional powers in man, where the lower but more common ones have not been fully cultivated.”2 In the same way that one cannot achieve the higher states in oneself without utilizing the lower, one cannot love another person without having moved from identification, vicarious feeling, fellow-feeling, and benevolence toward them.

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Interestingly, suffering may become a barrier to truly loving someone if the other emotional states have not been cultivated prior to suffering. For example, one felt sorry for the people of Japan when they were hit by the earthquake and tsunami, which motivated many people to donate money to them as an act of benevolence. But, how many people would wish to become further involved in helping these people? For that to occur, there must be an active love already established between oneself and the Japanese people. The saying about one laughing with the world and weeping alone applies here. Many wish to share in one’s good qualities and good company, but few wish to share in the sufferings one undergoes. The only people who wish to share in these pains are those who have known one for a long time and do all they can to deliver one out of one’s sufferings. This lies in the fact that the previous and more personal levels of sympathy have all been established prior to this point.

1Scheler, Max. The Nature of Sympathy. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2009: 98.

2pp. 103-104

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The next part will delve into how these two shows succeeded or failed in bringing the viewer to the highest level of sympathy: love.  Part II will be posted on Tuesday.

The Awesome Charlemagne and A Short Hiatus

Well, dear readers, I must now prepare to go on vacation.  We leave at 4 AM first to visit my brother’s in Richmond.  The next day we travel to Sanibel and Captiva, Florida with the intention of staying there until July 1st or until we begin to feel sorry for leaving our cats.  The change of routine will do me well; however, this will cause a short period of inactivity here.  Nevertheless, I shall attempt to read some interesting works and to scribble some essays in my down time which will find their way to this blog after July 1st.  Yes, I’m an incorrigible bookworm, but this mode of being has some benefits.

The greatest bookworm of them all, Yomiko Readman!

For example, when Pliny the Younger’s guardian, Pliny the Elder, enthusiastically suggested that they go and see the eruption of Mount Vesuvius up close, Pliny the Younger replied that he would prefer to read a certain book.  Pliny the Elder no doubt chided his namesake concerning his lack of a spirit of adventure and scientific inquiry, but this turned out to be Pliny the Elder’s last scientific foray.

But now to begin my review of the Penguin edition of The Two Lives of Charlemagne by Einhard and Notker the Stammerer.  The latter’s life of Charlemagne is a string of anecdotes mocking worldly churchmen and poking fun at foolish nobles.  It provides a very personal character sketch of the ruler: one gets a picture of a hot tempered, wise, commonsense, and powerful monarch–both physically and regally–with a good sense of humor, which only makes me happier to account him as one of my ancestors.  (I must confess, dear readers, that probably half of you are as nearly related, so I shouldn’t feel too proud of this; but, it’s still nice knowing that one is somehow related to an emperor.)

Here are some examples of the anecdotes to which Notker treats the reader: Charlemagne gives a merchant free rein in order to trick a bishop known for buying silly trinkets and baubles.  The merchant, declaring to the bishop that he possesses a rare oriental creature, convinces him to buy a painted mouse for “a full measure of silver” (something over fifty pounds of silver, I suppose).  This same bishop later receives an edict from Charlemagne to the effect that he must preach a sermon on a certain feast day or else forfeit his see.  While the bishop realizes that he severely lacks rhetorical skill, he does not wish to relinquish his see.  So, he stands behind the pulpit as if to sermonize, then notices a certain person who, in order to conceal the redness of his scalp, has his head covered in church.  The bishop demands that the man be brought to him in bold tones.  Then, once the man is in arms’ reach, he snatches off the covering and solemnly declares to the congregation: “Lo and behold, you people!  This fool is red headed!”  Forthwith, he continues the mass.  When some of Charlemagne’s representatives reported this to him, the monarch is said to have been pleased by the bishop making some kind of effort to obey his edict.

This one stands as my favorite: the Greeks have a custom that the king is disgraced whenever a fellow diner looks through a pile of meat for a better cut.  One can only take whatever is on top.  While visiting this country, a clever knight of Charlemagne’s does so, and several Greeks demand that he be put to death for “disgracing” the king.  Charlemagne says he must do as they say, but he tells the knight that he may ask for one final boon.  The knight requests that all who have seen him do this have their eyes put out.  Charlemagne agrees to this strange request and is closely followed by the queen in declaring that he did not see him do this, swearing by God.  The end result is that all the Greeks and Franks at the table swear by God and the saints that they had not seen the knight do this, who is spared from capital punishment for lack of a witness.

Einhard, unlike Notker, actually lived during Charlemagne’s time as a close confidant of the emperor, admired for his learning and character.  His work is much more historical than Notker’s, and especially useful since he was present at all the events he chronicled.  He gives more details concerning Charlemagne’s wars and even provides us with a physical portrait of the emperor.  Though, it describes the emperor’s character in a matter of fact way, it is still almost as engrossing as Notker’s anecdotes.  So, this is a very good edition for those of you who both want the historical background of this man’s times and a more personal sketch of his character.

May you all also enjoy pleasant vacations and good books this summer!