Category Archives: Essays/Readings

This category describes readings of any kind for either teachers or students.

8 Immortals

“Chung-Li Chuan * Ho Hsien-ku * Chang Kuo * Lu Tung-pin * Han Hsiang-tzu * Ts’ao Kuo-chiu * Li T’ieh-kuai * Lan Ts’ai-ho

This Taoist pantheon of gods, heroes, and historical individuals had by the thirteenth century become a sort of national pantheon of Chinese saints. Painted on silk, depicted on vases, sculpted and used as a central motif in story telling, they are a ubiquitous element in art. They are also known as the Eight Immortal Scholars of the Han.

Chung-li Ch’uan is usually depicted as a bearded sage with fan; Ho Hsien-ku, as a young girl holding a lotus; Chang Kuo is a comical bearded figure mounted back to front on a white mule with a bamboo drum; Lu Tung-pin, the bearded patron of barbers, is equipped with a fly whisk and word slung across his back; Han Hsiang-tzu is a youthful flute player and the patron saint of musicians; Ts’ao Kuo-chiu is an elderly bearded figure (the patron of actors) usually seen playing castanets; Li T’ieh-kuai is a beggar with a gourd bowl and iron crutch; while Lan Ts’ai-ho is a woman holding a basket of flowers, who is (naturally) the patron saint of florists.

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.


“Hittite: A member of an ancient people of Asia Minor who gained control of central Anatolia c. 1800-1200 BC. The Hittite empire reached its zenith under the totalitarian rule of Suppiluliuma I (c. 1380 BC). Whose political influence extended from the capital, Hattusas, situated at Bogazkoy (about 22 miles east of Ankara in modern Turkey) west to the Mediterranean coast and southeast into northern Syria. In their struggle for power over Syria and Palestine the Hittites clashed with the troops of Ramses II of Egypt in a battle (1285 BC) at Kadesh on the River Orontes which seems to have ended indecisively. The subsequent decline and demise of Hittite power by 700 BC resulted from internal and external dissension, probably following an outbreak of famine.”

Excerpted from: Wright, Edmund, Ed. The Oxford Desk Encyclopedia of World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Jun’ichiro Tanizaki

“Jun’ichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) Japanese novelist. Tanizaki’s works are characterized by skillful storytelling and by a deep concern with the psychic forces rooted in human sexuality. This is especially evident in his last two novels, Kagi (1957; tr The Key, 1960) and Futen rojin nikki (1961; tr Diary of a Mad Old Man, 1965), but is also true of his earliest stories, such as Shisei (1910; tr Tattoo, 1961). The works of his middle period, notably Tade kuu mushi (1928; tr Some Prefer Nettles, 1955). Shunkin sho (1933; tr A Portrait of Shunkin, 1965), and Sasame yuki (1943-48; tr The Makioka Sisters, 1957), reveal Tanizaki’s fascination with classical Japanese culture and its unique code of sensuous, feminized bearuty. His admiration for traditional aesthetics is expounded in a famous essay, In’ei raisan (1933; tr In Praise of Shadows, 1977). Many critics consider Tanizaki to be Japan’s greatest modern author.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Arabian Nights Entertainment or The Thousand and One Nights

“A collection of ancient tales from India, Persia, and Arabia. They were first introduced into western Europe in a French translation by Antoine Galland (12 volumes, 1704-1717), derived from and Egyptian text, probably dating from the 14th or 15th century. English translations based on Galland were made by R. Heron (1792) and W. Beloe (1795). The later translations by Henry Torrens (1838), E.W. Lane (1839-1841) and John Payne (1882-1884) and Sir Richard Burton’s unexpurgated edition published at Benares (Varanesi; 16 volumes, 18851888) are based on a late 18th-century Egyptian text. The standard French translation (1889-1904) by J.C. Mardrus has been severely criticized.

The framework of the tales is the story of Scheherazade, daughter of the grand vizier of the Indies. The Sultan Schahriah, having discovered the infidelity of his sultana, has resolved to have a fresh wife every night and to have her strangled at daybreak. Scheherazade entreats to become his wife, and so amuses him with tales for a thousand and one nights that he revokes his cruel decree, bestows his affection on her and calls her ‘the liberator of the sex.’ Her stories included the tales of Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba.

The film Arabian Nights (1942) is an Oriental adventure involving the caliph of Baghdad, but has not stronger link to the original tales. Much more in the spirit of the original is The Arabian Nights (1974), a visually beautiful film by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) that also encompasses some of the original’s complex narrative structure (tales within tales,  and so on). The Thief of Baghdad (1940), a wonderful fantasy film directed by Michael Powell and others, features elements of the tales in a story about an urchin imprisoned for theft who is joined in his cell by the deposed prince, whom he helps to regain his throne. The first film with this title (1924) was written by and starred Douglas Fairbanks, and there were remakes in 1960 and 1978.

Several pieces of music have been inspired by the Arabian Nights. The best known is Sheherezade, as symphonic suite (1888) by Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), which Fokine turned into a ballet (1910). Sheherezade (1903) is a set of three songs by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), setting poems by Tristan Klingsor. Schehrezade also makes an interesting appearance in one of the novellas in Chimera (1972) by the US writer John Barth (b. 1930).”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.


“The Sumerian god of water and wisdom. Enki lived near the ancient city of Eridu in his watery palace in the Abzu—probably the Persian Gulf. This god, like his later Babylonian counterpart Ea, was principally responsible for ordering the functions of the elements that affect life on earth. Cleverest of the gods, he provided the land with sweet water, fathered Uttu, the goddess of plants, found a way to rescue Inanna from the underworld, and saved mankind from extermination in the great flood. He was not, however, infallible. While in his cups, he let the goddess slip away with his “divine decrees,” which would give supremacy to her favored city of Erech instead of to Eridu. His attempt to create man was a pathetic failure, and it was left to the goddess Nintu to mold of clay a satisfactory human being.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.


A Babylonian demigod. Kingu was a general and consort of Tiamat in the War of the Gods. After her defeat, Marduk killed him and fashioned man out of his blood and bones.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Betsy DeVos as Clickbait

[May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and during themed history months I endeavor to keep the focus on pedagogical materials related to the history of the group whose achievements and culture are observed. That said, occasionally a blog post comes along, such as the one below, that are simply too important to let pass. Jan Resseger has written cogently–I’m hard-pressed, frankly, to imagine how this case could be summarized more cogently, and I envy Ms. Resseger’s talent as a prose stylist–about the disaster that is Betsy DeVos. I believe her policies, particularly where the kinds of struggling learners I have served throughout my career are concerned, have already found a home in some schools. Indeed, the school in which I currently serve has a well-established track record of ignoring the special needs students who have enrolled in it.]


It surprised me to hear the word “clickbait” in Betsy DeVos’s working vocabulary.  I wonder if it wasn’t put into her speech—on Monday in Baltimore at the Education Writers Association’s annual meeting—by one of her more with-it staffers.  I confess that as a retired person, I was slow several years ago to grasp the meaning of the term, but as a blogger I know I paid attention, even before I knew the word, to the number of people who click on posts about particular topics.  I realize, of course, that my purpose is to do justice, not to pay attention to the number of clicks on different subjects, but like all writers who post on-line, I notice.  And I grieve about the paucity of clicks on worthy topics.

As you have, no doubt, heard by now, Betsy DeVos went to the Education Writers Association and asked the nation’s education journalists…

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