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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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East, West, Mum and Dad know Best
I'm back in Bristol now, though my body clock is still somewhere over the Caucusus. While I'm waiting for it to catch up, here's a little intercultural musing, occasioned by this kanji:


It represents "filial piety", and while that concept isn't quite as ubiquitous today as a true Confucian might wish, it also crops up as part of the kanji for teaching. The character consists of the kanji for child underneath that for old man - which probably indicates the latter's authority over the former, as in this illustration from the Xiao Jing (Classic of Filial Piety), where the son is kneeling before parents who are on a dais:


For me, though, it conjures Sir Philip Sidney: "Who readeth Aeneas carrying old Anchises on his back that wisheth not it were his fortune to perform so excellent an act?" Decades before Sidney, the emblematic possibilities of that scene had already been spotted by Alciati for his picture of pietas filiorum:


And the same reading is clearly current today even in cultures where not everyone reads the Aeneid as a matter of course:


There's a not-so-subtle difference between the emphasis on parents as people at whose feet one should kneel to take instruction, and the picture of them as frail and vulnerable beings who are literally a burden to their children (however cheerfully shouldered), but this flexible kanji happily accommodates both. (Note that I'm aware that filial piety is a virtue easier to exercise with some parents than others: I feel I've been lucky that way.)

'filial piety is a virtue easier to exercise with some parents than others'




You always write such thought provoking posts, I have to sit on my hands not to comment all the time. This one reminded me of a figurine I saw last year in the British museum.
I also want to say how much I enjoyed the essay/article you wrote about Red Shift, which was a book that fascinated me as a teenager. I wanted to share it with my daughter Rosie, who also loved the book. I hear they will be doing the Owl Service on the radio this week...I am ambivalent as to how well that will work, but I will probably try listening.

*blushes at kind comments* Feel free to comment whenever the fancy takes you. I write here in the hope of conversation.

I hadn't seen that figurine, though it immediately brought to mind the last pages of The Grapes of Wrath: I wonder whether Steinbeck was invoking the image consciously. Both that and the filial piggy-back idea suggest a kind of inversion of the parent-child relationship, don't they?

Thanks for the tip off about The Owl Service - I'll make sure to listen/record it. I think it's my favourite of Garner's, and that's saying something.

I loved the Owl Service...but haven't re-read it since the '70s. I was worried that it might not hold up to my memory.
I have to admit I haven't read The Grapes of Wrath, :( however I find the whole inversion deeply disturbing. I have promised my mother I will return to the UK to look after her if ever an institution is invoked because I know how much she would hate it...but my biggest bug-bear was my ex-husband who felt like an oversize cuckoo always competing with his own offspring.