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04 May 2007 @ 01:02 pm
Assignment 4  
I don't know if this is controversial or just geeky, but still.
I spent the entire morning grading papers; it inspired me to write one of my own.
Subject: Final Fantasy XII.  Probably mild spoilers through end of game, so if you don't want to know, don't read.

What we see in FFXII is a classical myth in a new setting.  The ancient Greek pantheon was well content with their role as the superior race, and exerted this dominance over a generally ignorant, and mortal, human species.  Their chosen champions were elevated, and those they despised were condemned, whether out of spite or because a mortal, such as Arachne, presumed too far beyond her station and sought to rival the gods in ability.

Naturally, there was disagreement among the higher beings.  While most of the panoply was well-pleased with their role as arbiters of human destiny, the demigod Prometheus took a different perspective.  Alone of the gods, he had the forethought to see a greater potential in humanity, hence his name.  And so he stole the gods' sacred fire and imparted it to the lesser race.  In the process, he also brings a different sort of illumination as this fire, "when revealed became the teacher of each craft to men, a great resource.  This is the sin committed for which I stand accountant, and I pay nailed in my chains under the open sky."  (Aeschylus, lines 110-114)  In short, he becomes a bringer of knowledge.

In Prometheus Bound, one of the oldest surviving Greek tragedies, Asechylus deals with the aftermath of this rebellion.  As the myths state, Prometheus was bound to a rock on a far-flung corner of the earth, where vultures came by day to tear out his liver and other internal organs.  By night, he was forced to endure further agony as his vitals regenerated, only to repeat the process for all eternity, or until either he or Zeus relented and backed down from their position.  Fragments of the rest of the Prometheus trilogy indicate that it is Zeus who loses, as Heracles frees Prometheus from his bondage, but the play we have in its entirety places us in a world where the father of gods reigned supreme in his arrogance and anger.

In contrast to Prometheus comes Io, also a victim of the jealous gods.  While he is trapped forever, she is forced to constantly move foward, pursued by the gadflies that hound her whenever she pauses to rest.  Yet she carries the tale of Prometheus with her as she goes, and will eventually become his hope for salvation, for it is of her line that Heracles is born, though his deliverance of Prometheus is thousands of years in the future.

Like the Chorus of Ocean's Daughters, we the readers must pity this tragic hero.  His aims were noble, and he has freed the people from the tyranny of the gods, forever changing their roles and relationships to one another.  Now man can depent on itself and think through their problems without waiting for divine intervention.  In essence, Prometheus has given them the gift of free will, which was coveted by his fellow deities.  Yet there is still an element of what Aristotle calls terror as well: this man, in telling his story, reveals that his trangressions have gone too far, and his pride and self-righteousness are the main forces driving his suffering.  If only he would relent, would cease his defiance, he perhaps could achieve some release.  But, chaned and devoured as he is, Prometheus still curses Zeus and will not bend knee.  Here the Daughters of Ocean cannot continue in their sypmathy; rather, they urge him to change his mind and make a humble return.  Pity becomes terror when the pride of the demigod transcends what we view as rational bounds.

This is preceisely the stance of the Archadian side of FFXII.  To the rest of the Occuria, Venat is a heretic, bent on the disruption of their long centuries of order and rule.  Yet he is, in fact, a reincarnation of Prometheus.  This time, holy Stone rather than sacred Fire is taken, but the giving of its secret boils down to the same principle.  Nor is the gift lightly given.  As Venat points out, he is merely a guide for mankind's able hand.  The aim is not mere possession; through the person of Dr. Cid, Man must acquire the knowledge needed to create nethicite on his own.  Never is a Shard simply handed over, as Occuria have done in the past; these must be obtained by hume means if they are to be studied.  Manufacted nethicite is an end goal, with the new Prometheus serving as tutor while Man again learns to fend for himself and thus attain a near-godlike power.  Indeed, it takes six years before the process is truly perfected, thus making nethicite the fruit of Man's labor, not a tool of the gods.

To this end, the Archadian logic is clear and justified.  Who can argue with Dr. Cid's claim that Man must build his own history?  Is this not precisely what we value about our own free will?  Perhaps our fate will be less well-ordered than what the gods would have ordained, but it will be our fate, what we make of it.  Ultimately, not even Ashe can fight this drive toward mortal independence, as she foraskes her role as the gods' avatar in favor of being simply herself.  Man is gifted with a superior intellect, and now that the gods no longer have sole possession of their controlling Stone, that intellect is free to flourish according to its own design.

And yet, as in Aeschylus's tragedy, there comes the point of terror.  This almighty power is obtained only through atrocity.  A kingdom is felled for the purpose of field research.  Patricide and tyranny become acceptable methods of wielding power, and any who dare oppose, such as Judge Magister Drace, are removed from the board.  The pleas of sons and brothers fall on deaf ears as greed and ambition dominate over reason and cooperation.  Obsession bordering on madness becomes the norm, and the needs of the common people are ruthlessly ignored in the pursuit to liberate these very people from divine opperssion.  It is here, where noble aim becomes personal gain, that we, however sympathetic we are to the plight of the tragic "heroes", must stop and say, "You go too far."

The critic Kenneth Burke outlines a "tragic rhythm" that consists of a floe from Purpose to Passion, and finally ends in Perception.  At can be argued that the story behind the game follows this arc through.  Purpose is the driving action of the drama.  For example, the purpose that moves Oedipus in Oedipus Tyrannus can be summed up as, "find the source of the plague on Thebes and stop it by killing Laius's murderer."  Prometheus's Purpose becomes "give Mankind the secret of Fire and thus allow the civilization to advance."  In this case, it occurs before the action of the play, likely in Prometheus Firebringer, which exists as mere scraps now.  So too in FFXII has Purpose already been established, when six years prior to the game's events, Venat comes to Dr. Cid with the secret of nethicite.  We begin the game, as we do Prometheus Bound, in the midst of Passion--namely, suffering.  The actions of Archadia have wrought the fall of Nabudis, the death of King Raminas, and widowed a Princess before the age of twenty.  Now, like Io, she is driven relentlessly onward, seeking answers, salvation of any kind, and respite from what drives her.  There is no going backward, however much the characters may wish it.  This suffering pits son against father, younger brother against elder, and twin against twin as both sides eventually move toward the same goal, but employing differing methods.  At this point our sympathy begins to shift toward the Dalmascans, terror at the endeavors of the Archadians undermining our sympathy with their goals.

If Perception is attained in the ancient Greek myth, it must occur in Prometheus Unbound, but again, as only fragments exist, we cannot know.  Certainly Dr. Cid does before he can undergo such a reversal, though understanding of a sort is possibly reached with Balthier before the final moments of his father's life.  By contrast, a strong sense of duty and somewhat latent but ingrained honor allows Gabranth to achieve a greater perception before his own death, permitting him to traverse the full arc of tragic hero as he comes to understand the flaws in his understanding of truth and adapt accordingly with the limited time he has left.

But what of Vayne Solidor?  Though he ultimately joins with Venat and falls, has he attained Perception of any kind?  His final words to the heretic Occuria indicate he has.  He looks on his works and despairs, recognizing a failing within himself that ultimately undoes him and prevents his own triumph.  Faced with such an internal reversal, he walks into the final arena knowing he is doomed yet resolved not to go gently but fight for himself with all he has left.  This is why in the final analysis, Larse is able to honor his brother and assign some nobility and meaning to his death.

Still, our Prometheus has achieved his goal: Man is now capable of living free, whether they use the Stones or not.  History will continue to move on, but because of the events played out in FFXII, it has turned a corner.  Which is the ultimate goal of any masterfully written tragedy.
mood: thoughtful
Nansai a'Midori: Electranansai on May 5th, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC)
we did, and you are now a dork. which puts us on the same level, because i am indeed a geek. :)
have fun with your crazy campaign!