|A Reader's Guide
to William Gaddis's The Recognitions
II.3 pp. pages 390-392
390.epigraph] It was a man [...] The Spanish Tragedy: Thomas Kyd's (1558-94) popular Elizabethan play was first produced sometime between 1584 and 1589. In the second act, Hieronimo's son Horatio is slain by his beloved's brother and the prince of Portugal. His body is left hanging in the arbor where his father sees it (he is mad at this point and has trouble at first recognizing the corpse as his son's), utters the quoted lines, and vows revenge. The quotation (2.5.85-88) is from a passage that, among others, was added to the play at a later date by an unknown hand.
390.1] weathercock [...] cock of fire rising from its own ashes: the mythical bird the phoenix was said to live five hundred years, at which time it would beat its wings until a fire started. From the ashes a new phoenix would emerge - there was only one in the world at a time - and repeat the cycle. (See 700.3 for more details.) "We may remark here," says Lethaby, "that the weathercocks on every church are gilded birds that greet the sun" (AMM 186).
390.10] The Lord's mercy [...] unto those that fear him: Ps. 103:17.
390.14] O God be-neath Thy guid-ing hand [...] crossed the sea: the opening verses of PH #347, words by Leonard Bacon (1833), music by John Hatton (1793).
391.20] Mirabile dictu: Lat.: "wonderful to tell," a common exclamation.
391.23] God of our Fa-thers [...] hymn no 383: words by Rudyard Kipling (his famous "Recessional"), music by John H. Gower (1903).
391.31] Adeste - ad esse fidelis: "Adeste Fideles" ("O Come All Ye Faithful," PH #105) and ad bene esse, an ecclesiastical phrase meaning "for the well-being of."
391.31] hymn no 223 [...] Oh for a Faith that Will Not Shrink: words by William H. Bathurst (1831), music by John B. Dykes (1875).
391.32] A,M,D,G: see 393.38, 40.
391.32] infra dig dominocus: "infra dig" is a common abbreviation for infra dignitatem (Lat.: "beneath [one's] dignity"); "dominocus" is apparently a variant (or pun?) of dominicus (Lat: "lord's, master's"), yielding "beneath the Lord's dignity."
391.33] Demons the motes in a sunbea[m], said Blessed Reichelm: "In the medieval period the effect of the belief in demons on a certain type of mind is seen in the assertions of Reichelm, Abbot of Schongau about 1270, who wrote a book [Liber de insidiis dæmonum] on their craftiness. He believed that God had given him the gift of seeing their aerial forms. The air was crowded with them, like thick dust, motes in a sunbeam, or rain"--J. A. MacCulloch, Medieval Faith and Fable (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1932), 66. [Mark Hale] Hughes also comments on this, but Gaddis's use of "motes" (Hughes uses "dust") suggests MacCullough was his source.
391.34] hell's habitat host at 1,758,064,176: after commenting on Reichelm, Hughes goes on to say, "statisticians computed the infernal population as consisting of 1,758,064,176 devils" (W 71). Medieval demographers arrived at this number by assuming there were 6 legions of demons, each consisting of 66 cohorts, each of which consisted of 666 companies, and each company 6,666 individuals.
391.35] Saxons driven through a river: see 56.1.
391.36] Blessed Leo X, could nicht anders, the 95 Thæces stuck to the door: Pope Leo X issued the bull excommunicating Luther in 1520; the ninety-five theses Luther nailed to the church door in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517 questioned the value of indulgences and the methods by which they were sold. "Ich kann nicht anders" (I cannot do otherwise) is from Luther's speech at the Diet of Worms (18 April 1521) and is inscribed on his monument there (ODQ).
391.37] in the beginning this end: cf. "In my beginning is my end," the first line of Eliot's "East Coker."
391.38] annus mirabilis: Lat.: "wondrous year."
391.39] infra supra sub: Lat. prepositions "below, above, under."
391.40] threw the inkpot: Luther reputedly threw his inkpot at a devil that was tormenting him: see AN 102.
391.43] leadeth us not into temptation: from the Lord's Prayer: Matt. 6:13.
392.1] Abscondam faciem meam [...] et considerabo novissima eorum: "I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be"; see 50.16.
392.3] ask Helen for a piece, she found it: that is, a piece of the True Cross, allegedly found by Saint Helen (ca. 250-ca. 330), mother of Constantine the Great (next line). See EPD 696 for an account.
392.4] rub it, Aladdin: the magic lamp of popular Arabian legend; cf. AMM 269 ff.
392.4] Constantine: probably the emperor Constantine, upon whose conversion Catholicism became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Dante chastises Constantine for allowing wealth to taint the church (Inferno 19:109-11).
392.4] Nicodemus: see 338.12-16.
392.6] birth of a nation: title of a D. W. Griffith film on the Civil War and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.
392.19] hyperduliacs: those who pay special homage to the Virgin Mary.
392.20] wear a stinking merkin for a beard: Brownson explains: "from a scurrilous poem formerly attributed to John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, but actually written by John Oldham, entitled 'To the Author of a Play called Sodom.' Nine lines suffice to give the context of the line in question:
Nature made, or meant to 'ave don't,
Because a 'merkin' is counterfeit pubic hair for a woman, used to hide the effects of syphilis, the line fits into Gaddis' theme of falsification; also, the poem itself has been the subject of disputes for years, as both it and the play it attacks were attributed to Rochester" (67).
392.20] she is only a woman (but a good cigar is a smoke): forced to choose between cigar-smoking and his fiancée, the narrator of Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Betrothed" ponders:
the old cigar-box - let me consider anew -
(The final line is quoted in ODQ.)
392.21] Eve caught by the furbelow, (the oldest catch we know): "The line referred to I think was a catch (or glee) of Purcell's: 'Adam caught Eve by the fur below / And that's the oldest catch we know" - WG quoted in The Oxter English Dictionary by George Stone Saussy III (New York: Facts on File Publications, 1984), 103-4.
392.21] Hae cunni ... praebeat
ille nates ... puerque: an epigram from the Priapea,
an anonymous collection of verses concerning the Roman fertility god Priapus.
The translation by Leonard C. Smithers and Sir Richard Burton (1890) gives
the Latin original (slightly different from Gaddis's) followed by two
versions of English translation:
392.23] praebeat ille nates: Lat: "let that one offer his rump" (Brownson 68); source unknown.
392.23] (I seem to mean usefulness): Ford's definition of prostitution (see 81.16).
392.24] Alfonso Liguori - There is no mysticism without Mary: see 23.35.
392.25] shrouded in the decent obscurity of a learned language: in his Autobiography, Edward Gibbon (author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) writes: "My English text is chaste, and all licentious passages are left in the decent obscurity of a learned language" (ODQ).
392.25] Stabat Mater [...] dolorosa: see 338.11.
392.27] Origenal sin: a pun on original sin and Origen's method for dealing with it (see 103.3 ff.).
392.27] Carnelevarium: a day of abstention from meat, etymologically related to "carnival" (see 428.2).
392.28] (the heart came out very late): from the process of mummification; see 84.28 and cf. 382.22-25.
392.28] polymastia: Hughes reports that some witches were accused of having "additional breasts (the condition of polymastia) or additional nipples (that of polythelia)" (W 86).
392.29] (Zwei Brüste wohnen, ach! in meiner Seele): "Two breasts reside, alas! in my soul," a reversal of Faust's complaint that
392.29] Martinmas, Saint Martin's [...] Lent: cf. 383.29. Martinmas (Saint Martin's Day) is 11 November; Lent is the forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Saint Martin of Tours lived in the fourth century.
392.30] Pelagia: "There is no man in the world who studies so hard to please the good God as even an ordinary woman studies by her vanities to please men," lament the authors of MM. "An example of this is to be found in the life of Pelagia, a worldly woman who was wont to go about Antioch tired [sic] and adorned most extravagantly. A holy father, named Nonnus, saw her and began to weep, saying to his companions, that never in all his life had he used such diligence to please God; and much more he added to this effect, which is preserved in his orations" (MM 46-47). Translator Summers provides the following gloss:
"Pelagia meretrix" or "Pelagia mima," a beautiful actress who led the life of a prostitute at Antioch. She was converted by the holy bishop Nonnus, and disguised as a man went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where for many years she led a life of extreme mortification and penance in a grotto on the Mount of Olives. This "bienheureuse pécheresse" attained to such heights of sanctity that she was canonized, and in the East, where her cult was long very popular, her festival is kept on 8 October, which is also the day of her commemoration in the Roman Martyrology.
392.30] Mary of Egypt: see 826.41-44 and note.
392.31] Thaïs: Saint Thaïs of Alexandria (d. ca. 348), like Saints Pelagia and Mary of Egypt, was an actress and courtesan (the two professions were often synonymous) before converting and becoming a penitent; her story is the subject of a novel by Anatole France and an opera by Jules Massenet.
392.31] Kundry: in Arthurian legend, a female counterpart to the Wandering Jew. She seduced Grail knights for Klingsor until finally redeemed by Parsifal (see von Eschenbach, Wagner).
392.31] Salome: the daughter of Herod who shed her veils for the head of Saint John the Baptist (see Wilde, Strauss).
392.31] Saint Irene: Foxe relates the martyrdom of Irene and her two sisters under Diocletian in A.D. 304. She was first "exposed naked in the streets" (or, in other accounts, forced into a brothel) before being burned to death (BM 28).
392.31] Costanza: "may refer to Flavia Julia Constantina, daughter of Constantine the Great by his second wife, Fausta. Cruel and ambitious, she played a powerful part in the complicated politics of her day" (Brownson 70-71).
392.32] (Ds ac Redemptor, S.J.): see 383.12.
392.32] Valeria Messalina [...] in the gardens of Lucullus hic jaceted age 26 years: "Valeria Messalina, third wife of the emperor Claudius, possessed a character similar to Costanza's. She was executed for her crimes in the gardens of Lucullus - her own property, gained through evil trickery - at the age of 26. Hence, hic jacet - 'here lies'" (Brownson 71).
392.32] Marozia: "yet another powerful woman. She lived in the tenth century, and replaced Pope John X with her son, Pope John XI" (Brownson 71).
392.34] Thrawn Janet's [...] garden wall: "Thrawn Janet" (1881) is a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson concerning Satanic possession in eighteenth-century Scotland, written in the Scots vernacular. A loose woman of the town named Janet M'Clour is saved by the town's new minister from a harrowing experience, apparently only to die that night. Her body is then inhabited by "the black man" (the devil) and in that condition she becomes the minister's house servant, the only noticeable difference being her "thrawn" (twisted) neck. The minister eventually discovers the ruse and calls upon the help of heaven, which obligingly kills the possessed woman with a thunderbolt. The next morning the black man is seen leaving town, never to return again.
392.35] et ardet: Saltus notes that during the Middle Ages "bishops received orders to visit personally or by delegate any portion of their diocese in which they suspected that heretics might lurk. When this decretal was made, the Inquisition was established. 'Et ardet' [Burn them], said the pseudo St. John; and those two words were sufficient to send over half-a-million of human beings to the stake" (AN 98-99).
392.35] Anaxagoras: (500-428 B.C.), Greek philosopher, teacher of Pericles, Thucydides, Euripides, and possibly Socrates. Though he made Athens the center of philosophic inquiry, he was banished from the city for questioning the state religion.
392.35] in contemptu Christianae fidei: the Codex Theodosianus (A.D. 438) made any act in contemptu Christianæ fidei ("in contempt of the Christian religion") a punishable offense (M&R 154).
392.36] Lucretius [...] impia facta: see 378.3-4 for the Latin phrase. Hughes notes that Lucretius "is said to have died from an overdose of love potion" (W 29)--administered by his wife, said Saint Jerome (and repeated in Tennyson's Lucretius).
392.37] exhomologesis (c. 218) by Calixtus I: in his discussion of baptism Conybeare notes that the first Christians held "the belief that mortal sin, committed after baptism, could no longer be expatiated," then continues:
Such puritanism was too much for human frailty. The baptised, in spite of it, must often have relapsed into idolatry, homicide, fornication, and other sins; and nearly as often have repented. Something had to be done in order to reclaim them and restore them to the Church. Rome, as always, made the change - in this case most necessary, if the Church was to continue to exist. Pope Calixtus, therefore, invented about A.D. 218, a rite of Exhomologesis - i.e., of outright confession - which is yet to be found in some old service-books; e.g., in those of the Armenian Church. It was a repetition of the rite of baptism, of which all the formalities were repeated except the use of water. But this "medicine of repentance," as the rubrics which still exist prescribe, could be used only once. If the Christian relapsed a second time, then he was really lost. Old-fashioned believers, like Tertullian and Hippolytus, railed against this innovation, which yet later generations found insufficient. Re-admission but once was not enough for sinners, and it was found necessary to permit it a second and third and fourth time; and finally it became the existing sacrament of penitence, which is inspired by the very convenient and roomy doctrine that, no matter how often and how wilfully a man sins, he can always, by confession and penance, expiate his guilt and be reconciled to the Church.
(MMM 320, 321-22.) "Exhomolojesuis" below brings in the Jesuits, who made confession easier still (attacked in Pascal's Provincial Letters).
392.38] Pelagic: of/on the sea, but cf. 57.43, 553.17, 806.14, and Saint Pelagia, above.
392.39] Rock, resident Barbary apes pelt stones at the local Y.M.C.A.: see 848.33-37.
392.40] Ignatius' militant limp: the result of being wounded at the siege of Pampeluna in 1521.
392.41] Inquisitor De Arbues: Saint Peter de Arbues (1442-85), inquisitor of Aragon. "De Arbues is reported to have been eminently successful in inventing methods of torture which inflicted the keenest agony on the victim without a wound or even breaking the skin" (MMSM 62 n).
392.42] ex hac Petri cathedrâ: Lat.: "from this chair of Peter," formula used for papal proclamations (the phrase occurs in Marsh: MMSM 282).
392.42] Welt: capitalized, Ger.: "world."
392.42] Amor perfectissimus: Lat.: "most perfect love," a phrase used by the alchemist Morienus to describe the proper attitude of the alchemist to his work (IP 219).
392.43] explaining what is dark by what is darker still: "Slowly, in the course of the eighteenth century," Jung writes, "alchemy wasted away through its own obscurity. It tried to explain everything on the principle of: obscurum per obscurius, ignotum per ignotius (what is dark by what is darker still, what is unknown by what is still more unknown); and this principle agreed very badly with the spirit of enlightenment and especially with the dawning of chemistry as a science towards the end of the century" (IP 205).
392.43] Who then was the gentleman?: in his discussion of the movement toward social equality in the Middle Ages, Huizinga writes: "In quoting the text of John Ball, who preached the revolt of 1381, 'When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?' one is inclined to fancy that the nobles must have trembled on hearing it. But, in fact, it was the nobility themselves who for a long time had been repeating this ancient theme" (WMA 53).
392.44] (I mean the excluded): see 81.14
392.44] Philo, De Exsecrationibus!: Philo Judaeus was a contemporary of Jesus and is often quoted by Conybeare; he explains (MMM 40-43) that De Exsecrationibus (About the Curses)
is a testimony [...] written, it would seem, not before A.D. 35 and not after A.D. 42 by a Jew of Alexandria deeply versed in old Greek philosophy and literature, and so Hellenised that he could not understand his own tongue. [...] In Palestine he sees realised in all their dreadful intensity the curses proclaimed in Deut. xxviii. against those who break the statutes and law of Jehovah. [...] His only hope was in a supernatural liberator, descending from heaven and rescuing from their oppressors the chosen race of Israel. But Israel must first repent and fulfil all righteousness - that is, discharge faithfully all the works of the law; in particular, keep the sabbaths holy and observe the rule of circumcision. Then, and not before, will the heavenly Messiah appear and establish on earth the kingdom of David.
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