The Ring of Truth: And Other Myths of Sex and Jewelry

ISBN : 9780190267117

Wendy Doniger
424 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Jun 2017
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According to north Indian legend, there was once a Shah whose daughter was to marry a minister of the state of Sialkot. When the King heard of the girl's great beauty he tried to seduce her, but failed; he then planted his signet ring in her bed to trick her fiance into thinking that he'd spoiled her chastity. Years later, the minister learned of the King's trickery, and decided to beg the forgiveness of the woman he had refused to marry-however, on his way to see her he fell dead. The Shah's daughter found out about his death, and her own vindication in his eyes, and went to lie with him on his funeral pyre-the site of their cremation is now a temple where the goddess Shila Mata is worshipped. The themes of this story-the spiteful king, the innocent woman, trickery, adultery (in this case presumed), and, above all, the ring symbolizing a sexual encounter-reverberate across time and cultures, so much so that you might think you've heard this story before, even if you've never heard of the goddess whose origin it describes. Why are sex and jewelry, particularly rings, so often connected? Why do rings keep appearing in stories about marriage and adultery, love and betrayal, loss and recovery, identity and masquerade? What is the mythology that makes finger rings symbols of true (or, as the case may be, untrue) love? In seeking answers to these questions, each chapter of this book, like a separate charm on a charm bracelet, considers a different constellation of stories. Most of the rings in the stories originally belong to men; indeed, just about all the jewelry that women have, they get from men. But it is the women who put the jewelry to work in the plots, and that is what this book is about. Beginning with a series of her own personal anecdotes about jewelry, Wendy Doniger expertly unfolds the cultural and historical significance of rings. The book does not move in a linear fashion but expands outward, as if from a prism, touching on ancient Sanskrit myth, Celtic lore, fairytales, literature, and modern song lyrics, to form a collection of stories as multifaceted as a diamond. The stories are all different but linked through a common cluster of meanings: the mutual imitation of real and fake, legal and illegal, marital and extra-marital jewelry; the circular form of rings and bracelets, miming the circle of eternity, which persists in the face of human ephemera. The Ring of Truth tells the story of jewelry that preserves (and sometimes erases) true and false memories, making promises that come true and that lie.


Preface: My Family Jewels, and Other Tall Tales
Introduction: The Signifying Ring
Chapter 1: Marriage Rings (and Adultery Rings)
Rings in History
The Meaning of Rings
The Signet Ring
The Ring on Her Finger
The Sexual Ring
Hans Carvel's Ring
The Vagina Monologues
The Rings of Wives and Courtesans
Chapter 2: The Ring Fished from the Ocean
The Story in the Fish
Solomon's Ring
Polycrates' Ring
The Bishop of Glasgow's Salmon
The (Not-So) Fortunate Farmer's Daughter
The Child and the Ring in the Water
The Family Romance
The Pope's Ring and the Fish
Rings of Incest
Cinderella's Ring
Cinderella's Fish
Shakespeare's Rings I: The Lost Child
The Winter'sTale
The Ring (and Child) in the Fish in the News
The Token Rings of Lost Children
Chapter 3: Shakuntala and the Ring of Memory
Rings in Ancient India
Sita's Jewels
Ratnavali, the Lady with the Necklace
The Rejection of Shakuntala
The Ring of the Bodhisattva
The Recognition of Shakuntala
The Return of the Repressed
The Lost and Found of Rings
Chapter 4: Rings of Forgetfulness in Medieval European Romances
The Man who Forgot his Wife when he Lost his Ring
Yvain, The Knight of the Lion, and the Lady of the Fountain
Lancelot and Guinevere
Tristan and Isolde
The Ring on the Statue
Shakespeare's Rings II: The Lying Ring
The Merchant of Venice
Chapter 5: Siegfried's Ring and Wagner's Ring
The Man who Lost his Ring when he Forgot his Wife
Siegfried and Brunnhilde
Stage One: Thidreks Saga
Stage Two: Volsunga Saga
Stage Three: Nibelungenlied
Stage Four: Ibsen's The Vikings at Helgeland
Stage Five: Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung
The Twilight of the Ring
Wieland the Smith
The Rehabilitation of Cads
The Alibi Ring: Oxytocin
Chapter 6: Pregnant Riddles and Clever Wives
The Man Who Wouldn't Sleep with his Wife
Until She had Borne Him a Son
Muladeva and the Brahmin's Daughter
Other Indian Variants
Tamar and Judah
The Clever Wife in the Decameron
Shakespeare's Rings III: The Riddle of the Ring
All's Well That Ends Well
Is All Well That Ends Well?
Chapter 7: The Rape of the Clever Wife
Rape and Rejection
Rape in Menander and Terence
The Dream Ring
How Budur Almost Raped her Husband Qamar
The Vizier's Daughter
Parental Imprinting and Uncertain Fathers
Chapter 8: The Affair of the Diamond Necklace
Marie Antoinette and the Scene in the Bower
The Official Trial
Trial by Libel
Alexandre Dumas
Fact and Fiction
Beaumarchais and The Marriage of Figaro
The Ghosts of Versailles
Asimov's Norby and the Queen's Necklace
Chapter 9: The Slut Assumption in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Chains in Mansfield Park
Jewry and Jewelry in Daniel Deronda
The Memorial Turquoise Necklace
The Poisonous Diamond Necklace
The Memorable Ring of Lost Fathers
Guy de Maupassant and Henry James
W. Somerset Maugham and China Seas
Twentieth Century Films
Random Harvest
Vertigo (and Gaslight)
The Earrings of Madame de
Real Jewelry and False Women
Chapter 10: Are Diamonds A Woman's Best Friend?
The Symbolic Baggage of Baguettes
Who Said, Forever? Anita Loos, Leo Robin, De Beers, and N. W. Ayer
The Divorce Ring and the Apology Ring
The Anti-Myth: Diabolical Diamonds
Take Back Your Ring: The Legal View
Hard Values
The Rebellion of Twenty-First Century Women
The Ties that Bind
Chapter 11: Two Conclusions, on Money and Myth
I Money: The Lap of Luxury
II Myth: Recognition, Rings, Reason and Rationality
The Recognition of Myth and the Myth of Recognition
Repetition and Originality
The Colluding Audience
The Ring to the Rescue
Sexing Texts
Reason and Rationality
The Ring Runs Rings Around Reason
Rationing Rationality
The Triumph of Myth over Reason

About the author: 

Wendy Doniger is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago and the author of over 40 books, including On Hinduism and Redeeming the Kamasutra.

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