The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1832 Tuesday, 26 October 1999.
From: Mary Jane Miller <
Date: Monday, 25 Oct 1999 14:02:36 -0400
Subject: My List of Biblical and Classical References
[Editor's Note: I also intend to make this list available through the
SHAKSPER fileserver. -Hardy]
A Reader's Guide to the Books Which Are the Basic Keys to Western
NB: This outline treats the Bible like the Iliad or the Odyssey - as
literature. Your own point of view about these documents is not
relevant to the study of them as narratives which have shaped our
culture. What follows is a map to help you locate some of the most
famous stories and poems and an encouragement to browse.
If you have never read these books, then much of our dramatic and other
literature up to 1960 and some written in the present, as well as much
that is on view in the art galleries and cathedrals of Europe, North and
South America will be closed to you. If you are unfamiliar with these
narratives and their typology you will be blind to the wealth of meaning
in these works. For straightforward reading choose THE REVISED ENGLISH
BIBLE [with the Apocrypha] Oxford UP 1989 or any other good modern
translation. Not all translations are scholarly and readable. Note,
however, that the King James version is what influences our playwrights
right up to the present, except for Shakespeare and his contemporaries
who precede the King James. You should sample Genesis, the Gospels and
Psalms in that version.
THE CLASSICS are at least as important as the Bible as a source of
plots, characters, typology, allusions in literature, drama, paintings,
sculpture for 2000 years. Homer was recorded in Greek 600 years before
the Latin of Virgil and Ovid. Try to find translations made in the last
20 years. All of these are in paperback, as is the Bible.
THE OLD TESTAMENT OR HEBREW BIBLE
Genesis: The basic stories of Creation, Flood, the tower of Babel and
the revelation of Monotheism to Abraham; the journeys in the wilderness
of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Sara, Rachel and Joseph (of the many-colored
coat) and the exile into Egypt.
Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 6-10 [note - at least 2 manuscripts are interleaved
verse by verse here and elsewhere] 11:1-10, 12-, 23, 25:19-34, 27,
28:11-22, 29-30:24, 37-46
Exodus: Moses & Israel in Egypt
Chapters 1-12:49, 14:5-27, 19:17-20: 21
Sample Chapters 23, 32
Numbers: In the Wilderness, "land of manna" & in Canaan "Land of Milk
and Honey": 11:1-20, 30-35, 13:16-38
A familiar folk tale - Balaam and his ass 22:7-23:24
Deuteronomy: The Death of Moses 34:1-12 [with Leviticus these five books
form the Torah or "Five Books of Moses"]
Joshua: at Jericho and the walls came tumbling down 6:10-6:26
Judges: Deborah ( Judge and poet) 4:1-5:31; Gideon and his band of 300
guerilla fighters 7:9-23; Jepthah and his daughter 14-40; Samson and
Ruth: all of it - a short story. " thy people shall be my people and thy
god my god" - Ruth to Naomi
Samuel 1: 1:1-11 & 18ff; 3; 15:24-to chapter 21
Samuel, Saul & David, chapter 24-26 - contending kings, David and
Goliath and the Philistines
Samuel 2: King David 2:17-4:13; Bathsheba -11-12:26; 13 & 14; Absolom,
Tamar and Amnon
16:5-14; 18 & 19.some of this is retold in Chronicles
1 Kings: Solomon and his judgement 3:4-28; Sheba 10:1-14; Elijah 18;
19:14 and see also 2 Kings (they are one history)
2 Kings: 2:1-18 (Chariots of Fire)
Nehemiah: Chapter 2 - Rebuilding Jerusalem after exile
Esther: the form is a novella. It became a symbol of freedom under
Job: one of the greatest prose/poems of all time, particularly from
Chapter 23 to 32 and 38 to end [note the epilogue is spurious, written
hundreds of years later]
Psalms: Read also in the King James version which is where the
literary echoes and allusions will come from: 1, 6, 8, 11, 13, 14, 15,
18, 19, 22, 23, 24, 27, 33, 100 are a few of the most famous
Proverbs: Wisdom Literature 5:15-7:15, 8-9:13; sample 18 and 31:10 on
what constitutes a capable wife and an honorable woman two millenia ago
Ecclesiastes: 1-3:15 & 12 a poem of loss and silence "to everything
there is a season" comes from this The Song of Songs: Pure erotica -
longing and fulfillment (said to be Solomon to Sheba/Sheba to Solomon,
read by some church fathers as Christ to his Church)
Isaiah: Prophet of Comfort ( sometimes) and the Messianic prophecies
Chapters 1-6, 25, 42, 50-54 [two people wrote this book]
Jeremiah: (as in Jeremiad) Chapter 15 is a sample
Ezekiel: chapters 1 & 2 (Wheels within a wheel a-rolling)
Daniel: chapter 1 to 4 and chapter 6; more prophetic and wisdom
literature written late in the very complex textual history of the
Bible. The three good men in the fiery furnace, Daniel in the Lion's Den
and the moving finger that having written moves on.
THE APOCRYPHA (Is written in Greek not Hebrew and therefore is written
later. Some include it in "The Bible" and some do not. The stories
were well known.)
The books of Judith, Tobit, Song of the 3, Daniel & Susannah and the
elders are the sources of many Medieval and Renaissance literary
allusions & painting - and later plays.
Sample Maccabees for the history and for a few allusions in art and
literature about the rebellion recorded in the observance of Hanukkah.
THE NEW TESTAMENT (is entirely in Greek)
Mark: The first written and shortest gospel. Read all of it for the
Luke: The gospel for the gentiles, superbly written. One of the two
birth narratives introducing manger, Bethlehem, shepherds with emphasis
Matthew: chapters 5-8 Key metaphors and ideas of Jesus' "Sermon on the
Mount" The other birth narrative with the three magi 1:18-25,
[These three form the 'synoptic' gospels]
John: chapter 1, 21-11 (Cana) 4:7-5413-15, 19:17-21:25 Is the last
gospel to be written . Not so much a narrative as a meditation. " In the
beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us"
is how it begins. Includes Lazarus and the woman at the well.
Note that key events in narrative of Christ's life differ substantially
from gospel to gospel and so the literary and artistic allusions and
allegories also differ.
Acts: About the length of a short novella, a mix of history, miracle,
oratory, geography and story-telling. Pentacost or fiery tongues
descending.The early chapters focus on Peter, Paul and the early
Romans: The single most important letter for literary uses.
I Corinthians: chapters 7-11 an influential mix of exhortation and
poetry [& first century sexism] 12 - a widely used parable, 13 & 15 A
poem on love and more of the basic stock of metaphors in our culture.
II Corinthians: chapters 10, 11, 12
II Timothy: more of the basic stock of metaphors in our culture
Hebrews: (writer unknown - possibly Priscilla?) chapter 11 " by
Revelations: One of the major sources for images for artists and poets
Chapter 4, 5, 6, 7 (the seven seals) 8 & 9 Apocalypse on earth, the new
earth and the heavenly city; 12-13 War in heaven; the Grapes of Wrath
12:14 - 20; The Whore of Babylon 17:1-920; The last judgement 21 Alpha
The Iliad by Homer. All books but the catalogue of ships. This is the
basic source of stories of the Trojan War. The first epic poem recorded
in the West. Most of the gods are here and active. The heroes are
Achilles, Agamemnon, Odyseus, Hector, Diomedes, King Priam, Queen
Hecuba. A major source in translation and by allusion for Chaucer,
Shakespeare and the 18th century with its love of classicism. Note book
24 lines 170-476 and 520 to 810 - a concentrated tragedy as Priam begs
the body of his son Hector.
The Odyssey by Homer. All of it. The first novelistic narrative in the
West. Penelope, Cyclops, the Sirens, Calypso, the visit to the
underworld, the fall of Troy etc.
The Aeneid by Virgil books 1-4 and 6; the famous story of Aeneas the
Trojan, his betrayal of the Carthaginian Queen Dido, a very different
view of the fall of Troy and by example what it is to be an ideal Roman
in the time of Augustus. Sample also his eclogues
Metamorphoses by Ovid - is in prose. Many tales of transformations.
(rather like short stories) and much loved in the Renaissance - thus a
source of many allusions: Echo, Phethon, book 4 Pyramus and Thisbe, 5
the rape of Proserpine, 10 Orpheus and Eurydice, 11 King Midas.
The Golden Ass Apuleius - a rambling, lively romance , a prototype of
the picaresque novel and the best known version of Cupid and Psyche
Finally sample the poems of Catullus (witty, bawdy ,satirical ,
occasionally tender) and Horace (Book 4 of his Odes) both of whom
influenced poets in European and English literature.
Mary Jane Miller, Drama/Television Professor
Department of Fine Arts