July 15, 2011

Life History and Sermon of Buddha Abstracted from Buddhist Scriptures

Seokbosangjeol (Life history and sermons of Buddha abstracted from Buddhist scriptures) was compiled by Prince Suyang, the son of King Sejong and Queen Soheon, in the 29th year of King Sejong’s reign (1447). It was written in Korean prose style, not only to pray for the repose of the prince’s mother, but also to let the common people learn Buddhist doctrines more easily. Its content teaches about Buddha’s life and his main sermons, selected from the Chinese sutras such as the Sutra of the Lotus, the Sutra of Ksitigarbha, the Sutra of Amitbha, and the Sutra of the Medicine. The book was published using the movable metal type called gabinja. The gabinja is considered to be the most outstanding type from the entire history of the Joseon Dynasty. The type used to print Seokbosangjeol is the first type made after the invention of the native Korean alphabet Hangul script. Some pieces of the work are still missing, but it is a very rare and important masterpiece, especially in the research areas of 15th-century linguistics and the history of printing.

A Map of Seoul in the Period of Joseon Dynasty

Suseon jeondo (Map of Seoul) is a wood-block print map of Seoul made by Kim Jeongho (1804–66), the leading geographer of the Joseon Dynasty in the 1840s. The word Suseon indicates Seoul, which was the capital and called Hanyang at that time, and jeondo means the complete map. An actual survey of the whole city by Kim Jeongho, the map shows major roads, facilities, villages, and other features of the capital in detail. The mountains, traditionally considered significant in connecting the sky with the authority of the king, are drawn larger than to scale. The map’s historical and artistic value derives from its realistic description of the old Seoul and its delicacy as a work of art, making it famous as one of the finest depictions of the features of a traditional Korean city.

Illustrated Stories Exemplifying the Five Confucian Virtues

By order of King Jeongjo, the 21st king of the Joseon Dynasty (reigned 1724–76), Oryun haengsildo (Illustrated stories exemplifying the five Confucian virtues) was made by binding together two books of ethics drawn from the Chinese classics. These were Samgang haengsildo (Illustrated conduct of the three bonds) and Iryun hangsildo (Illustrated stories exemplifying the two Confucian virtues). The book describes the achievements of 150 models extracted from ancient Korean and Chinese literature. Topics covered include relationships between the king and his servants, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, the elders and the young, and finally, friends. The work includes illustrated episodes in Chinese with simple annotations in Korean, added to help the general population, who could not read the Chinese, understand the meaning.

Tale of Hong Gildong

Hong Gildongjeon (Tale of Hong Gildong) is one of the first novels written in Hangul, the Korean alphabet, in the middle of the Joseon Dynasty. The novel is by Heo Gyun (Hŏ Kyun, 1569–1618), whose revolutionary thinking is reflected in the story’s emphasis on breaking down differences in status and reforming corrupt politics. The main character of the novel, Hong Gildong, was the child of a nobleman and a female servant. Even though he was very intelligent and talented, Hong Gildong was never accepted as a son of a noble family because of a rigid status system. After he left home, Hong Gildong became a bandit leader and organized a band of “Robin Hoods,” who robbed the rich of their unjustly earned goods and distributed them to the poor. Later, he went to the foreign nation called Yuldo and built an ideal country where all people were equal.

What Ails You Now Ye Louise

Robert Burns (1759-96) is best known for his poems and songs that reflect Scotland's cultural heritage. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, the first of seven children belonging to William Burnes, a tenant farmer, and his wife Agnes Broun. Burns had little formal education, but he read English literature and absorbed the traditional, largely oral Scots-language folk songs and tales of his rural environment. He began to compose songs in 1774, and published his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. The work was a critical success, and its poems in both Scots and English, on a range of topics, established Burns's broad appeal. While building his literary reputation, Burns worked as a farmer, and in 1788 he was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland. He spent the final 12 years of his life collecting and editing traditional Scottish folk songs for collections including The Scots Musical Museum and A Select Collection of Original Scotish [sic] Airs for the Voice. Burns contributed hundreds of Scottish songs to these anthologies, sometimes rewriting traditional lyrics and setting them to new or revised music. Burns wrote this verse in response to a poetic epistle received from a tailor, Thomas Walker of Ochiltree. Walker had sent a friendly message in the beginning, but receiving no reply from Burns, wrote instead a censorious letter about the newly published Kilmarnock edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Walker may have been encouraged by his friend in Ochiltree, William Simson, who had earlier been able to elicit a response from Burns. Burns himself never published the exchange and no manuscript is recorded in his hand, but both poems were printed together after Burns's death in Poems Ascribed to Robert Burns(1801). This contemporary manuscript copy contains several variants from the published text, including a substitution of the conclusion into a different stanza.