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Game of Thrones, as exemplar that we humans are mind/body composites

Medieval thinkers emphasized the fact that human beings are between two levels of being: the material and the spiritual. We are like beasts because we have physical bodies; we are like angels, because we have spiritual souls. C.S. Lewis, who was a great medievalist, wrote that this strange reality is what makes sexual humor amusing: on the one hand, we are noble beings with great thoughts and we can and sometimes do love GOD not only as creatures but even as friends; yet, we are animals who express love and reproduce ourselves in the same way as all other mammals. The noblest, mature men and women are sometimes reduced to adolescence when sexual desire is aroused. Many are the stories of kings, queens, statesmen, generals, business executives, intellectuals and great artists who ruined their lives because of their sexual desires. There is something funny about that, but also tragic. In the Middle Ages, people understood that.

“The Game of Thrones” does a great job of portraying the problems that occur when a person has a mind that is above average, combined with a body that is below average. Tyrion Lannister is perhaps the smartest person in all of Westeros. He saved King’s Landing from Stanis Baratheon, and prevented his stupid sister and sadistic nephew from destroying everything and making everyone hate them. Because of his appearance, however, people hate Tyrion. Cersei and Joffrey take credit for the victory, and Tyrion is confined to a little room until Tywin Lannister lets him out and appoints him as Master of Coin. Common folk are ignorant and stupid, so they judge according to appearances and hate those who are ugly; it is like that in Westeros, it was like that in the Middle Ages, and it is still like that in the real world today.

Tyrion cannot hope to gain the love of the common folk, but can he hope to be loved by those who are close to him? His sister Cersei hates him, but his brother Jaime loves him. His mistress Shae seems to love him, but she is a prostitute, and he fears that she is only pretending because he pays her (more on this below). His wife Sansa Stark hates him because he is a Lannister, and the Lannisters murdered her whole family. Tyrion had nothing to do with the murders, yet she hates him for it. Tyrion has always been very kind to Sansa, protecting her from Joffrey, and refusing to rape her even though as her husband he has a right to do so (according to the custom in Westeros, not in an absolute sense). His father Tywin dislikes him, and refuses to make him heir to Casterly Rock, even though Tyrion is next-in-line to inherit it since Jaime renounced his claim when he became a Kingsguard. In a great scene near the end of the third season, Tywin tells his son that he wanted to throw him in a river when he was a baby, but did not do so because Tyrion was a Lannister, and killing a Lannister would harm the family. Tywin has no love for Tyrion as a person, but he does not want him to be hurt, because if it became known that hurting a Lannister was fine, then other members of the family would be in danger.

More importantly than wanting to avoid giving people ideas about killing Lannisters, considering the fact that many people want to kill the Lannisters anyway and so killing Tyrion as a baby would probably not have made much difference in that respect, Tywin sees his family as his purpose in life. Immature, undeveloped folks live to enjoy pleasure and avoid pain, but mature men and women live for some purpose. For Tywin, that purpose is the Lannister family. This is very medieval. In the United States, and Europe, today, this might be incomprehensible. A family, it is felt today, is just a collection of individuals who are related to each other. The relation can be biological, or legal. Families today are often broken and reformed; it is common for a man and woman to get married, have some children, then get divorced and remarry others. A woman I know has two children, each with a different last name because they have different fathers; the woman is with a third man now and so has a last name that is different from either of her children’s. Two of my aunts got married, then divorced, and they both changed their last names after their divorces to something completely new, because they liked the sound of it, and they did not want to be connected to either their ex-husbands or their father, my grandfather. A last name today is meaningless, but it was not always thus. There was a time when people were proud of their last names, which were their family names. Men were proud of their fathers, and wanted it to be known who their ancestors were. Women were proud of their husbands, and did not try to hide the fact that they were married. A family was not just a temporary collection of individuals; it was the purpose of life. Carrying on the family was a duty, as was maintaining the family honor. Booker T. Washington, in his book Up From Slavery, wrote that Whites had an advantage over Blacks, even after slavery was ended, because Whites had family names that tied their generations together. A person who was bound to his parents and grandparents by the family name would try very hard to avoid embarrassing them. A person who loved his or her own children would try very hard to live well so that the family name given to the children and their children afterwards would have a good reputation. Recently-freed slaves, according to Booker T. Washington, did not know who their ancestors were, therefore they did not care about their families and would not try hard to avoid shameful behavior. The honor of having a well-respected family name was one of the greatest gifts that parents could give their children, and those who received noble family names would rather die than tarnish what they had received; their purpose in life was to give their names to their children with reputations that were at least as admirable as when they received them. There is something like this in the “Godfather” trilogy. The Corleones love their family, and are willing to kill or die for their family; their loyalties are not to this or that individual member of the family, but to the family itself. Tywin hates Tyrion as an individual, but his love for the Lannister family of which Tyrion is a member trumps his hatred, and so he raises his son to adulthood, and gives him wealth and power befitting a Lannister.

Spoiler Alert - do not read the next paragraph if you have not read the books

Shae betrays Tyrion, thus showing that his fears were right; she had been only pretending to love him, because she was a prostitute and that is what prostitutes do. The only woman who ever truly loved Tyrion was his first wife Tysha. Unfortunately, Tywin made Jaime lie to Tyrion, telling him that she was a whore, and then had her raped by his soldiers, and in the end had Tyrion rape her also, after which time he paid her and sent her away. That is tragic. Tyrion had a great mind, but because of his ugly little body he was hated, but he could have been happy because there was one person who truly loved him; it was not to be, however, because Tywin did not want it to be so. A moment arrives when Shae is vulnerable and at Tyrion’s mercy. Because she had betrayed him, he kills her. When Tyrion finds out about what his father did to destroy the relationship between him and Tysha, he kills him. Thus, Tyrion commits two murders. The dwarf had always been short and ugly, but he had been morally good. A life-time of hatred, however, turned his heart to evil. Such is what happens to us human beings, whose spirits are joined substantially with our bodies. If our bodies are ugly and because of that people hate us, then eventually our souls with be damaged, because the body and the soul are one in every man, and so if one is damaged the other is also.