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Excersus XIV: Monkey Tree, Very Pretty


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One of the nicest things about the Indian epics is that they have moments that are genuinely funny, even after two thousand four hundred years of cultural change. They are works permeated with laughter and a joyful acceptance of the contradictory nature of men and gods. Krishna is the main comedic focus in the Mahabharata - all powerful but also capable of sitting off to the side with a friend, drinking some wine, and cracking jokes at his own expense. In the Ramayana, Hanuman, who is at the time the best friend sidekick of the deposed monkey king Sugriva, plays a similar role. It is the story of this epic war between gods and demons, and there at the direct center of the narrative is this cocky monkey, which I find to be a great thing.

The Greeks, of course, had their moments of epic humor too - just go back again and read about the gods laughing off the tryst between Hephaestus and Aphrodite and you get a sense for the generally human lightness of that tradition, which was able to contemplate the tragedy of Oedipus in one moment and then go laugh itself sick at Aristophanes' endless dick jokes the next.

It's been a while since I rooted around in the Roman epics, but the last big sweep through I don't remember anything causing me to honestly laugh out loud as with the Indian tradition. Certainly, the comedies of Terence and Plautus are every bit as funny as the Greek comedies, but somehow the Romans were unable to synthesize the humility of laughter with the grandeur of epic narrative quite as masterfuly as the Indian and Greek storytellers. Or if they did, I've forgotten, so it couldn't have been THAT funny, right?

Then, of course, the Bible, which makes its living off of applying successive layers of morbid life-negating shame to the human condition rather than honestly grappling with it, is constitutionally incapable of the maturity required to find amusement in the pomposity of one's own guesses about the nature of the gods and universe. Its sense of the human condition is essentially binary, and in that sense you could more than likely program a computer to write it and not suffer much for subtlety.

- Count Dolby von Luckner