|A Reader's Guide
to William Gaddis's The Recognitions
II.2 pp. pages 386-389
386.21] Hercules of Lysippus that Fabius brought back: the anecdote is related in GAF (19) in illustration of the early Romans' ignorance of art. Lysippus was a Greek sculptor of Sicyon (fourth century B.C.) credited with developing a new system of bodily proportions.
386.23] S P Q R: Senatus Populusque Romanus (Lat: "the Roman Senate and People"), initials inscribed on Roman standards.
387.3] the secret that Wotan taught to his son: see 552.3-5.
387.21] solid firmament of early Jews where stars were nailed lest they fall: from Lethaby, quoting Smith's Bible Dictionary: "'The word translated [in the Old Testament] firmament is the Hebrew word rakia. [...] A secondary purpose of the rakia was to support the heavenly bodies - sun, moon, and stars - in which they were fixed as nails, and from which, consequently, they might be said to drop off'" (AMM 28).
387.22] the flight of the seven doves Orion hunts: "One myth concerning the Pleiades relates that they were so beautiful in appearance that Orion unceasingly pursued them, much to their discomfiture. They appealed to Jupiter for assistance and he pitying them changed them into doves. Thereupon they flew into the sky and found a refuge among the stars" (SL 419).
387.31] the cliff that Alexander climbed in India: Lethaby (AMM 112-13) thus summarizes a portion of the medieval Romance of Alexander by Pseudo-Callisthenes:
In India, Alexander and his army came to two paths, eastward and north; they try eastward, but it is impassable, and they go back and attempt the other to the north, by which at last they reach a cliff covered with diamonds, with hanging chains of red gold. Two thousand five hundred steps there were, which they ascend, and reach the clouds and "wait for wonders." They see "a palais, one of the precioussest and proudest in earth, and built, as the book says, with two broad gates and seventy windows, of gold, carven, and clustered with gems."
There was a temple surrounded by a garden of golden vines full of great fruit of carbuncle stones; it was the "house of the sun" and paradise. Alexander enters, and on a gorgeous bed he finds a god, who asks him if he would have his future known by inquiry of the trees of the sun and moon; on his consenting, they approach two enormous trees, that of the moon was silver; the tree of the sun was gold, and on its crest sat "a proud bird." "All gilded was her gorge with golden feathers." "Yon is a fearless fowl, a Fenix we call." It is predicted that Alexander will never return.
387.34] Sir John Mandeville [...] Travels: purporting to be a travel guide to the Holy Lands and the Orient, this popular medieval book is actually a collection of imaginative legends and superstitions. Although the author claims to be an Englishman from Saint Albans, "Sir John Mandeville" was a physician of Liège named Jehan de Bourgogne who wrote the book in 1356-57. The English version is a translation from the French made sometime before 1500. Combining a vivid imagination with genuine travel accounts, the author collected many of the legends of Prester John (see 408.14 ff.). The quoted remark about Paradise is from chap. 33, as quoted by Lethaby (AMM 113, immediately following the Alexander episode quoted above).
388.3] Through the world of night [...] corridors dark and dangerous: a condensation of an extract from Gaston Maspero's Egyptian Archaeology (1887), as quoted by Lethaby (AMM 169-70):
"During the day the pure soul was in no serious danger, but in the evening, when the eternal waters which flow along the vaulted heavens fall in vast cascades adown the west and are engulphed in the bowels of the earth, the soul follows the escort of the sun and the other luminary gods into the lower world bristling with ambuscades and perils. For twelve hours the divine squadron defiles through long and gloomy corridors, where numerous genii, some hostile, some friendly, now struggle to bar the way, and now to aid it in surmounting the difficulties of the journey. Great doors, each guarded by a gigantic serpent, were stationed at intervals, and led to an immense hall full of flame and fire, peopled by hideous monsters and executioners, whose office it was to torture the damned. Then came more dark and narrow passages, more blind gropings in the gloom, more strife with malevolent genii, and again the welcoming of the propitious gods. At midnight began the upward journey towards the eastern region of the world; and in the morning, having reached the confines of the Land of Darkness, the sun emerged from the east to light another day." "The tombs of the kings were constructed upon the model of the world of night. They had their passages, their doors, their vaulted halls, which plunged down into the depths of the mountain."
388.3] lost souls clutching their guidebooks: "the guide-book for the dead was laid in the coffin, telling them of all the turnings, and of all the ruses of the wicked spirits who would entice them away from the one true path" (AMM 172). Earlier (157) Lethaby identified the guidebook as the Book of the Dead (see 49.13).
388.5] so the king built his tomb deep in earth [...] So Egypt: "The Tomb of Seti I. penetrates 470 feet and is 180 feet deep in the earth; another has some 24,000 square feet taken up by the passages, halls, staircases, pits, and chambers of the tomb" (AMM 171).
388.9] Red in the west [...] roses of Eden: AMM 110; see 53.14.
388.15] sun and the moon [...] through a subterranean passage: "The general early view, however, was that there were two openings - the Gates of the East, and the Gates of the West. Through the one the sun enters in the morning the mundane temple, to pass out at the other in the evening, and thence pursue its way back by the dark path of the under world" (AMM 174).
388.19] Raging up and down the sky [...] exit only at opposite ends: "In the Talmud an exactly similar account [to that of the Persian Bundahish] is given. The sun rages up and down the eastern and western horizon like a mighty beast prisoned in a cage; it cannot go farther because of the enclosing sides of the firmament. The gates for it to pass to the lower world and rise again are only found in the ends of the box" (AMM 66-67).
388.25] Down: down went Tammuz (slain by the boar's tusk) [...] to the lower world: "In Babylon also it was at the world's centre that Tammuz made his descent, for here is the lid stone of the lower world" (AMM 78). The parenthetical remark is from AMM 160-61: "'One of the most popular of old Babylonian myths,' says Professor Sayce, 'told how Istar had wedded the young and beautiful sun-god Tammuz, and had descended into Hades in search of him when he had been slain by the boar's tusk of winter.'"
388.33] the Piute Indians followed the sun [...] distended with stars: also from Lethaby (AMM 165):
Mr A[ndrew] Lang quotes, in his "Myth and Ritual," an account given by the Piute Indians: "Down, deep under the ground, deep, deep, under all the ground, is a great hole. At night, when he has passed over the world, looking down on everything, and finished his work, he, the sun, goes into his hole, and he crawls and creeps along it till he comes to his bed in the middle part of the earth. So then he, the sun, stops there in his bed all night. This hole is so little, and he, the sun, is so big, that he cannot turn round in it; and so he must, when he has had all his sleep, pass on through, and in the morning we see him come out in the east. When he, the sun, has so come out, he begins to hunt up through the sky to catch and eat any he can of the stars, his children, for if he does not so catch and eat he cannot live. He, the sun, is not all seen. The shape of him is like a snake or lizard. It is not his head that we can see, but his belly, filled up with the stars that times and times he has swallowed."
388.41] May the bull of good fortune [...] Never more may its care cease: verbatim from AMM 192, quoting Lenormant.
388.44] Esar-Haddon [...] refurbish its gods: Esar-Haddon ruled 681-669 B.C.; the details of his reign seem to be from EB's article on him (8:700).
389.4] Thrown open [...] His Temple: from Lethaby's dramatic reconstruction of what the morning ritual of sunrise might have been like in ancient Assyria (AMM 200):
It is the moment of sunrise, chill and expectant; all the gates are thrown open to the east. The worshippers are waiting, and the golden tips of the obelisks are already burning. The sun shows its red rim through the open ceremonial gate of the outer court. They prostrate themselves.
There is a sudden awaking sense of heat and life and light, a passing vibration in the air. The little bells festooned from pillar to pillar shiver out silver notes; a deep strain vibrates from the sanctuary. They stand on their feet. The great gates of the temple close with a clangour that reverberates like thunder.
Baal has entered into his temple.
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