Major Themes ,Values and Identify contemporary applications for these texts.
Gargantua and Pentagruel
Form: Novel (excerpt)
Genre: Satirical Utopia
Country of Origin: England
Time Period: 1532-1564 (five books)
Key Themes: Human Potential, Virtuous Action, Art and Beauty, Community Engagement, Language and Society, Religion, Giants
Summary: This excerpt focuses on humanistic principles that worked to inspire French society via humor, criticism, and outrage.
“After receiving and reading this letter, Pentagruel was filled with new zeal, positively on fire to learn more than ever before – so much so that, had you seen him at his studies, and observed how much he learned, you would have declared that he was to his books like a fire in dry grass, burning with such an intense and consuming flame.”
Form: Story Collection
Genre: Creation Stories
Country of Origin: Guatemala/Mayan Empire
Time Period: Oral history, first written down ~1550
Key Themes: Disruption, Colonization, Indigeneity, Negotiation
Summary: Written down decades after the Spanish conquest, this account charts the cultural and political negotiation that came of the encounter with colonizers and the urgent claims of indigenous peoples to participate in debates on moving forward in the colonial space. Part 1 tells of the three efforts at creating humans. The narrative them moves to the exploits of divine heroes. Part 3 confronts the scourge of death.
“Three is not yet one person, one animal, bird, fish, crab, tree, rock, hollow, canyon, meadow, forest. Only the sky alone is there.”
“And when his head was put in the fork of the tree, the tree bore fruit. It would not have had any fruit, had not the head of One Hunahpu been put in the fork of the tree.”
The Huarochirí Manuscript
Country of Origin: Peru
Time Period: Compiled ~1598
Key Themes: Colonization, Indigeneity, Brutality, “Civilized” vs. “Savage,” Cultural Encounters
Summary: Sixty years after the Spanish conquest of Peru, an anonymous indigenous author as supposed to document non-Christian religious practices (presumably so Spanish priests could eliminate them). Instead, the writer compiled a complex religious text that captured the many disparate Quechua voices, practices, beliefs, prophecies, and military history.
“I set forth here the lives of the ancestors of the Huaro Cheri people, who all descend from one forefather: What faith they held, how they live up until now, those things and more.”
Some Bits to Get You Thinking:
Gargantua and Pentagruel
This excerpt is an example of a popular genre of the time known as “satirical utopias.”
The word “utopia” means “nowhere,” because these societies are not only fictional, but believed to be impossible to maintain.
In Gargantua, the Abbey of Thélème appears to be a criticism of and a response to Catholic monasteries and cloisters: Rabelais flips many 16th century conventions in order to make fun of them. No protective walls or sundials to keep track of work, only good-looking and appealing people are permitted to enter these convents, they can leave when they want, and instead of Christian vows of “chastity, poverty, and obedience,” are replaced with “honor, wealth, and freedom.”
Rabelais’ whole idea is that a humanist education is superior to Christian dogma in creating civic virtue.
Humanism includes elements of satire that may be humorous or melancholy, depending on the writer’s approach. Humanists believed that education through ludic (playful) activities, rather than rule by an authority or studying rhetoric, would guide civilians to a virtuous and civic life.
The kicker here is thinking about how many civilians could actually read in the 1500’s…
Humanists didn’t specifically reject Christian traditions. Instead, there were just more focused on the material world and human potential in this lifetime instead of the Christian afterlife.
These novels caused all sorts of heartache for 16th century France. Because they were so vulgar, filled with wordplay and double entendres, and outright didactic while doing so, it was broadly considered obscene. Considering the rampant religious oppression during this time (eventually leading to multiple wars between the Catholics and Huguenots), it was widely read but rarely discussed in public.
Like some of the other epics we’ve read that explore both myth and history,the Popol Vuh traces the Mayan creation myth through events at the time of writing (1530’s) during the peak of Spanish conquest and the establishment of Christianity in Quiché, Guatemala.
And also like other oral epics that were recited over centuries (Odyssey, Beowulf), this was written in its native language (Quiché) but used a Roman alphabet, which means it was based on an older Mayan source.
The Beowulf comparison is particularly appropriate, considering the blending of Christianity with Mayan myth.
Like other epics, this contains many familiar elements: competitions and sport, honor, heroic valor, and supernatural elements.
The issue of translation here impacts gender and how characters are gendered in this text. The character of Xbalanque is often considered a boy twin, for example, but other translations call for this element of the twins to be gendered female.
Some anthropologists, like Susan Gillespie, argue that this character should be regendered in translations in order to acknowledge the gender fluidity of Mayan society during this text’s creation.
Many “precreation” characters, like Xbalanque, display all sorts of ambiguity and fluidity in their personal, social, and gender qualities that contemporary translations don’t accurately reflect. This is to be expected from a cosmic origin story – human society, with all its rules and distinctions for roles and relationships was still taking shape through the actions of these mythic supra-human beings.
The Huarochirí Manuscript
The manuscript details the events from the Andean (Inca) conquest of the region through the arrival of the Spaniards and the end of the Paria Caca cult with the establishment of Christianity. The editor was Andean, possibly a scribe. Scholars suspect that he was recruited by Father Francisco de Avila for several reasons: to document non-Christian rites and beliefs, to blackmail local parishioners, and to show a parallel between ancient and Christian beliefs (while, you know, mostly deemphasizing ancient beliefs).
Questions for Discussion
How does the satire work in Gargantua “work” in these texts? What are some similarities and differences? Can you find specific examples? How does it compare to that found in The Book of Dede Korkut?
Consider the the role of magical items, sacred names, and all the monsters running around this week’s texts. What sorts of roles do they play – are they used similarly or differently in these texts? How do they compare to previous weeks?
What are some of the major differences in the way gender is depicted across these three texts? How are men and women described similarly or differently? Gods? Supernatural beings? Even animals?
How do the stories and ownership of those stories compare between Popol Vuh and The Huarochirí Manuscript?
What about the concept of immigration – how does The Huarochirí Manuscript compare to Sunjata in this regard?
Part 1: 200+ words DUE Wednesday, July 8 11:59pm
Choose one of the three reading and write a brief analysis and follow-up question(s) in response to the text. For clarity, please indicate at the top of your post which text you’re responding to.
Your follow-up questions should relate directly to the text and require thoughtful responses. Ideally, we should seek to compare/contrast between the texts we’ve read so far, explore major themes and values, and identify contemporary applications for these texts.
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