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[Opinion] Volcano and Evening Glow

Posted August. 22, 2008 08:15,   


Norwegian symbolist-expressionist painter Edvard Munch portrayed human existential anxiety and insanity in his masterpiece “The Scream” by depicting a ghost-like man with both hands pressing against his skull under a swirling red sky. Art critics say the work is a self-portrait of Munch, who suffered from schizophrenia and dreaded communication with people. An interesting allegation about the painting also emerged several years ago. A group at Texas State University said a volcanic eruption made the sky turn red and the man scream.

The researchers scoured Oslo, where Munch lived, to find a fjord whose landscape was the same as the painting’s background. The landscape was identical to the Munch`s initial sketch. After standing at the point where Munch is assumed to have stood, they concluded that what the painter saw at the time was the red evening glow created by a volcanic eruption on the island of Krakatoa, Indonesia, in 1883. The massive volcanic ash scattered through the globe and created a lurid sunset in the United States and Europe for several months. Believing the red glow was created by a fire, the state of New York dispatched fire crew to put out the flame, according to anecdotes.

Volcanic ash is now creating spectacular sunset scenes in Western Europe. Reports say volcanic ash cloud from the eruption of the volcano Kasatochi in Alaska has been lifted into the stratosphere and sent drifting by westerly winds to the skies over the Netherlands, Belgium and Demark to create a fantastic glow. When minute particles of volcanic ash meet the sun’s rays at dusk, they produce swirling blood-red twilights.

“In the field where winds briefly stayed / night smoke is spewing away / autumn hills have changed into striped clothes / the red sky is glowing.” This is the lines of “An Evening Glow,” the favorite creative nursery song of Koreans. Nothing makes Koreans reminisce about their happy childhood more than an evening glow. Gorgeous as they look, they are unwelcome natural phenomena. The sky turns red because dust-filled air disperses short wavelength blue rays and keeps long wavelength red lights. Knowing this, must we wear masks to stay healthy rather than indulge in emotional thoughts when seeing an evening glow?

Editorial Writer Chung Seong-hee (shchung@donga.com)