Just about everyone can recite the highlights of Robinson’s adventures: A man is shipwrecked without resources on a desert island, survives for years by his own wits, undergoes immeasurable anguish as a result of his isolation, discovers a footprint in the sand that belongs to Friday, and is finally rescued from his exile. Unfortunately, all of this is wrong. But more significant than any of these details is that our overall perception of Robinson Crusoe is wrong. The single most important fact about this boy’s adventure book is that it is not a boy’s adventure book at all. It is, rather, a grown-up tale of a man’s discovery of himself, civilization, and God.
As Defoe’s book begins, Robinson Crusoe of York commits what he calls his “Original Sin”—he spurns his father’s advice to join the family business and instead heads out to sea. Robinson is self-willed, arrogant, and hungry for exploits. Catastrophes ensue—storms, shipwrecks, and slavery—but the lad continues in his follies. “I was,” he confesses, “to be the willful Agent of all my own Miseries.”
Then providence gives him a second chance, shipwrecking him on an Atlantic island, whose features roughly match those of the Juan Fernandez group in the Pacific Ocean where Robinson’s real-life prototype, Alexander Selkirk, passed seven years in solitude. Robinson’s island is a pristine land of surpassing beauty. To its forlorn first inhabitant, it seems nothing short of Eden: “the Country appear’d so fresh, so green, so flourishing, every thing being in a constant Verdure, or Flourish of Spring, that it looked like a planted Garden.”
In this paradise Robinson builds a new home—without Eve…
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…ledge the enormity of our task; for when before has a secular culture rebuilt itself on sacred foundations? We need solutions as ingenious as any devised by our industrious hero. Like Robinson, we must never despair; like Robinson, we must find strength in prayer. It helps to bear in mind that it is we who have uprooted God from our homes, schools, books, arts; we have cast ourselves adrift. God, the master mariner, never abandons his children. We do well to remember, too, that Robinson found salvation in a plight more desperate than ours. Then, perhaps, we can relish the truth in Walter de la Mare’s heartfelt remark about Defoe’s finest creation: “Even to think of his admirable hermit is to be cheerful and to take heart of grace.”
Zaleski, Philip. “The Strange Shipwreck of Robinson Crusoe.” First Things 53 (May 1995): 38-44.
Greek Mythology in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice
Thomas Mann alludes to Greek mythology throughout his novella Death in Venice. One
of the Greek mythological themes alluded to in Death in Venice is the struggle known as
Apollonian vs. Dionysion. Thomas Mann was strongly influenced by the philosopher Friedrich
Nietzsche and his teachings on the Apollonian vs. Dionysion struggle. According to Nietzsche’s
teachings every individual contains characteristics from both Greek gods and the two are forever
in an internal struggle to dominate said individual’s personality. Without striking an appropriate
balance between the two sides, truly great art can never be mastered (Keis). The readers of
Death in Venice are witnesses to the Apollonian vs. Dionysion struggle that takes place inside of
the novella’s protagonist, Gustav von Aschenbach.
Apollo is known as the Greek god of light and order. Apollonian characteristics include
reason, control, and clarity. (Taylor). These characteristics are often associated with 19th century
philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer’s, principal of individuation in that “all types of form or
structure are Apollonian, since form serves to define or individualize that which is formed”
(Keis). Sculpture is the most Apollonian of art since it relies on form for its effect. Apollonian
characteristics are used to minimize needless suffering caused by natural desires of the body
Gustav von Aschenbach is introduced to us as the protagonist of Death in Venice. As we
read, it becomes very clear that Aschenbach is a very disciplined and rational man, possessing a
majority of Apollonian characteristics: “At forty, at fifty, even at an age when others squander
and stray, content to put their great plans aside for the time…
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…nted by Tadzio, his moral
standards break down and he is a slave to beauty and desire. Because Aschenbach has never had
a balance between the Apollonian and Dionysion characteristics, he undergoes a complete
transformation from one extreme to the other. It is this transformation that ultimately leads
Aschenbach to his unfortunate death.
Kreis, Steven. “Nietzsche, Dionysus, and Apollo.” The History Guide. 13 May 2004. 18 March
Mann, Thomas . Death in Venice. Trans. Clayton Koelb. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994.
Taylor, Nancy. “Apollonian Vs. Dionysian.” California State University. 18 March 2009.
Thro, Michael. “Apollo vs. Dionysus.” 2 Nov. 1996. 19 March 2009.