[FOUNTAIN]Of myths and men"Yong-bi-eo-cheon-ga," or the "King's Flight to Heaven With the Dragons," was the first epic written in the new Korean alphabet, hangeul. A tale of mythologies, miracles and the pride of a royal family, the book was written by scholars who served under King Sejong, who created the Korean alphabet. King Taejo founded the Joseon Dynasty (1392) through a successful coup d'etat in which he had to kill many faithful courtiers of the Goryeo Dynasty and exiled the last king of the Goryeo. It was 53 years later that King Sejong published the epic poem glorifying his ancestors. As the fourth king of the dynasty, King Sejong saw stability and peace restored almost 45 years after King Taejong, his father, killed his own brothers and subjects, following them by waging two wars. King Sejong might have been tempted to legitimize his great grandfather's ascension to the throne and his father's bloody succession.
The work of glorification starts with the description of mysterious supernatural phenomena that befell his ancestor four generations before. "With a swift arrow fell two magpies from a tree. Came a snake that took the hunt back up the tree. Perplexed, the people were as they stood praising highly. In the garden there was a leafless dry tree. All had thought that it was dead and worthless to see. But the dead tree presented a green leaf a year before the Joseon Dynasty began. People thought that it was a premonition."
In the modern age, the old epic poem "Yong-bi-eo-cheon-ga" is interpreted as sycophancy that flourished in closed-door conversations. The power holder may feel displaced and shy at first, but soon the tune finds its place in his everyday life. The imperial presidents in the past used to be made in that manner.
This can even be seen today. "President-elect Roh Moo-hyun had a rare bamboo tree that he received as a present. The tree, which was fearful to show its flowers, rarely opened any buds. But whenever the flowers appe-ared, Mr. Roh became a lawmaker, a minister and now the president!" This insinuation of how God gave a premonition to what was going to happen raises an eyebrow. It may be easy to dismiss the issue, rumor, or whatever it may be called. However, knowing about the "Yong-bi-eo-cheon-ga" story of dead trees sprouting again is a discomforting marvel. Luckily, "No flower blossomed last year," said the would-be first lady in a comment of some relief.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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