What's in a name? What's in a curse?

Porochista Khakpour: Darius and Xerxes, they are actually common names in . . . among Iranians, but . . . so I wanted to have that sort of level or reality. But they were both very interesting kings in Persian history, and I looked at a lot of … writings on the two. And they were men who were constantly wrapped up in comedies of errors – both very great kings. But they seemed like great muses for my actual characters in examining the sort of abstract accounts of their histories. They kind of became the ideal muses for them, because Xerxes particularly was a sort of corrupt and controversial king who was always tripping over his own foot. And so I liked the idea of toying with ancient history a little bit playfully. And there’s a sense in the novel of from the minute they were given their names – in particular Darius naming his son “Xerxes” – that they were cursed. And I like to toy with the . . . with curses and those sort of superstitions in the novel a bit, too.

Well to what degree, you know, is it sort of voodoo and hocus pocus to say a particularly turbulent time in history is causing a lot of the psychological warfare between two men? That in itself seems like magical thinking to me. But it’s thinking that I’ve always been very immersed in and interested in. And looking at these, you know . . . these accounts in ancient texts, it’s full of absurdities, and psychology is absent from it. And that became quite interesting. A lot of Persian proverbs . . . A lot of the Persian mindset is informed by superstitions, and historical superstitions, and magical thinking.

Recorded on: 1/18/08

The characters Darius and Xerxes were named after very interesting Kings in Persian history, who were wrapped up in comedies of errors.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

5 charts reveal key racial inequality gaps in the US

The inequalities impact everything from education to health.

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

America is experiencing some of its most widespread civil unrest in years following the death of George Floyd.

Keep reading Show less

Ask an astronomer: What makes neutron stars so special?

Astrophysicist Michelle Thaller talks ISS and why NICER is so important.

Videos
  • Being outside of Earth's atmosphere while also being able to look down on the planet is both a challenge and a unique benefit for astronauts conducting important and innovative experiments aboard the International Space Station.
  • NASA astrophysicist Michelle Thaller explains why one such project, known as NICER (Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer), is "one of the most amazing discoveries of the last year."
  • Researchers used x-ray light data from NICER to map the surface of neutrons (the spinning remnants of dead stars 10-50 times the mass of our sun). Thaller explains how this data can be used to create a clock more accurate than any on Earth, as well as a GPS device that can be used anywhere in the galaxy.

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

Ashamed over my mental illness, I realized drawing might help me – and others – cope

Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.

Keep reading Show less