44 votes

How did Shakespeare get away with staging witchcraft in his plays such as Othello, Macbeth, or The Tempest?

The public saw the plays were fiction, perhaps even a warning against witchcraft, and the magic in them is divorced of religious overtones. It is noteworthy that the two Shakespeare plays which deal ...
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  • 14.4k
26 votes
Accepted

What is "the line children draw to represent a bird in flight"?

It means this simple double curved line, which can be seen as the shape of an upper lip, or wings in flight.
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  • 15.3k
20 votes

Why do many Korean folk tales start with "back when tigers smoked"?

That went a lot further down the rabbit-hole than I expected. There doesn't seem to be a lot of agreement on the origin of the phrase. It wouldn't seem like it would be a very old reference, since ...
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  • 7,900
17 votes
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What are the "torch dance" and "garter dance", in 19th-century Germany?

"Torch dance" is the translation of Fackeltanz. The Fackeltanz is similair to the polonaise but the dancers hold torches or candles in their hands and move according to fixed patterns. There ...
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  • 38.2k
15 votes
Accepted

Why is the Star of the County Down referred to as Colleen?

Colleen is the Anglicised version of the Irish Gaelic cailín, meaning young woman or maid. Derivation: caile (“maid”) +‎ -ín (diminutive suffix) Although girls are sometimes named Colleen, in the ...
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10 votes

Why do many Korean folk tales start with "back when tigers smoked"?

Note As mentioned in the comments, a challenge was posted contesting the content of this answer. I answered the challenge with multiple real-world usages and the alleged origins of the expression. I'm ...
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  • 242
10 votes

Is there any general significance to 20 May in Hinduism, or was it just personally auspicious?

It's not the 20th of May specifically - we have our own calendar, which is used alongside the western Gregorian calendar. Since dates don't map precisely you often find that we talk about dates in the ...
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9 votes

What is the "Isle of the Blessed" and why should a girl see it before marriage?

At the end of the 19th century Arnold Böcklin was a well-known painter. Die Gefilde der Seligen, apparently the painting the book refers to, had been commissioned in 1876 by the National Gallery. ...
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8 votes
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What religion is suggested by the "God" in the Korean sun/moon origin story?

You don't know how funny it is to read this. This requires both cultural knowledge of Korea as well as the language. The "Heavenly Lord" or in this context is formally called Haneulnim (하늘님, ...
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7 votes

How do people "kiss their teeth" in Nalo Hopkinson's novels?

I found an explanation of "kissing teeth" in a blog post by Azizi Powell on Pancocojams, a blog which (in its own words) showcases the customs of people of Black descent throughout the world....
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7 votes
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What is the "Isle of the Blessed" and why should a girl see it before marriage?

The comment doesn't need to reference a real painting to make sense in the context of the novel, but some searching shows that Fontane had a particular painting in mind. Since Hesiod, Elysium has also ...
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  • 38.2k
7 votes

Is Narayan really quoting a traditional proverb, and from which Indian language/culture?

It's a bit of an odd translation - but the actual proverb goes: சேற்றில கல்லெறிஞ்சா அது மூஞ்சிலே தெறிக்கும் If you throw a stone at mud, it will splatter on your face. Apparently it is Tamil, ...
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7 votes
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What is a "fetish man" in African tribal culture?

I'll only address the question from the translation requirement POV: what would you call a person who uses fetishes for magic, given the culture is African (as opposed to, say, Haitian), but in the ...
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  • 6,624
6 votes

Why does the fool recite this depressing verse at the wedding in "Satan in Goray"?

While not the specific verse mentioned in the story, there was a Talmudic tradition of injecting some somberness into joyous occasions. As you can see in the below Talmudic excerpt, several examples ...
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  • 2,657
5 votes

Is it a common motif in (western) storytelling that the antagonists are located to the east?

Norse myth associates the east with evil... From the Voluspa, 1999 Larrington translation: From the east falls, from poison valleys a river of knives and swords, Cutting it is called (stanza 36) ...
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  • 4,506
5 votes

Does 'In a Grove' assume that dead people don't lie?

Personally, I have not found any early 20th century Japanese literary work that has the notion of "the dead don't lie". One would assume that dead people do not lie because they lack such ...
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  • 51
5 votes
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"Even though he was a Sikh, he had no liking for sports."

The Punjab plains, largely populated by Sikhs, were suitable for building hockey fields and cricket grounds. Most pictures of cricket teams around Premchand's time do show more than a couple of Sikhs: ...
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5 votes

Why does the band follow Rechele to the bathhouse before her wedding?

This has the ring of authentic folk tradition that Singer would have been familiar with, either seeing for himself as a child in Bilgoraj or hearing about secondhand. The band would have been seen as ...
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  • 401
4 votes

What is the "Isle of the Blessed" and why should a girl see it before marriage?

@Tsundoku writes: "He is teasing Effi with the idea that marriage does not lead to a blessed or happy state, so she should at least get a glimpse of it before she gets married." Not quite. ...
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4 votes

What is being satirized in Witold Gombrowicz's Trans-Atlantyk?

According to George Z. Gasyna, Trans-Atlantuk (...) parodies utopian landscapes of collectivities and dismantles the cultural conditions that call for them. Gombrowicz's second novel, further, ...
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  • 38.2k
4 votes

Why was it necessary to put out Patroclos' pyre with wine in the Iliad?

Achilles is performing a prolonged libation to the gods, as happened in prior paragraphs to get the fire going (source of Rouse's translation). But the pyre would not burn, and Achillês did not know ...
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  • 7,900
3 votes

Why do many Korean folk tales start with "back when tigers smoked"?

when Koreans say "back when tigers smoked," this is kind of the equivalent of Americans saying "long ago, when dinosaurs used to roam the Earth" except that dinosaurs actually ...
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3 votes

Is it a common motif in (western) storytelling that the antagonists are located to the east?

According to the Metzler Lexikon literartischer Symbole ("Metzler Lexicon of Literary Symbols"), edited by Günter Butzer and Joachim Jacob (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 2012), the east has been ...
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  • 38.2k
3 votes
Accepted

Was C.P. Snow's "The Two Cultures" about Britain specifically or western culture in general?

He says that England is an exaggerated case of the general view: ...this cultural divide is not just an English phenomenon: it exists all over the western world. But it probably seems at its ...
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  • 4,888
3 votes
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In A Tale of a Tub, in what sense does Martin stand between Peter and Jack?

Anglicanism is somehow 'between' Catholicism and Protestantism. To answer your first question, the phrase "via media" means "the middle road", and one of the commonest contexts where this phrase is ...
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  • 63.1k
3 votes

What is meant by "Nysa" in the Lusiads?

Nysa was a mythological region where Dionysus was said to have been raised. While it migrated a lot, a city in India -- probably Nagara -- told Alexander that it had been founded by Dionysus, and he ...
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  • 4,178
3 votes

Does "sleeves without a sign of cuff or shirt" imply social class?

The implication is that Baker is in such straitened circumstances that he has sold or pawned his shirt, and is trying to disguise the fact by keeping his coat buttoned and his collar turned up, even ...
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