Friday, May 24, 2013

What Spelling Bees Taught Me About Life

Life lessons I learned while watching two spelling bees, published in Brain, Child Magazine.


My two children recently competed in city-wide spelling bees. Sitting in the audience, my vocabulary didn’t improve, but I learned a lot about life. Luckily, I took notes in the form of Twitter missives. For example:
Life is not about spelling (even spelling bees are not about spelling):
Realizing the spelling bee is about overcoming fear, not actually about language. Nervous for all of them.

The rest of the post is here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Assyria's National Instrument


The journal Iraq, published by the British School of Archaeology in Iraq recently printed an academic article about Assyrian music that I wrote. The citation is:

Cheng, Jack, "The Horizontal Forearm Harp: Assyria's National Instrument," Iraq 74, 2012, p. 75-87.

Here's the abstract:



A horizontal harp, strung with 7 to 9 strings and usually decorated with a finial in the shape of a human forearm, was likely symbolic of the Neo-Assyrian state. Various features distinguish this musical instrument from contemporary Elamite harps, or other harps in Mesopotamian history. The horizontal forearm harp was the most frequently depicted musical instrument on Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs and bronze doors; pairs of male Assyrians play the harp for the king in official duties of state or cult. The decorative forearm sometimes wears the rosette bracelet associated with royalty. Speculating on the iconographic significance of the forearm suggests possible Neo-Assyrian attitudes toward music.

Feel free to contact me (by leaving a comment here) if you'd like me to send you a .pdf.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Antigone in Boston

My latest post for The Public Humanist begins like this:


I was a Creon until I realized that it put me against Antigone. Now I'm not so sure. 
Last week, listening to public radio, I heard about the protests against the burial of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. I nodded in agreement as various voices denounced the alleged Boston Marathon bomber and felt disgust at the thought that his corpse would pollute our state. Then, an undertaker was interviewed and he did not argue that Tsarnaev deserved any special treatment, but said that we debased our own humanity by denying his body burial rites.
That's when I realized that I was living through Antigone, the classical Greek play by Sophocles and first performed around the time the Parthenon was being built in Athens. As the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in Dorchester, I work to provide college-level instruction in the humanities to a couple dozen low-income adults every year. Antigone is one text that we read regularly, either with our professor of Literature or with our professor of Moral Philosophy.