|A Reader's Guide
to William Gaddis's The Recognitions|
I.1 pp. pages 23-28
23.2] to suffer a witch to live [...] and Wesley: "To spare a witch was considered an insult to the almighty," writes Saltus. "Luther was particularly vehement on this point; so, too, was Calvin; and Wesley was as great a fanatic as any" (AN 91). Gaddis altered Saltus's "spare" to "suffer" to echo Exod. 22:18: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (cited in many of his source books: DDD 312, EPD 463, MM xi, etc.).
23.4] Holy Inquisition [...] burned in half a century: Saltus notes that attendance at a black mass was punishable by burning: "The first punishment for this offence occurred in Toulouse in 1275. During the next fifty years over four hundred people were burned in the neighborhood" (AN 91).
23.10] The rest was not their business: from Eliot's "East Coker," part V: "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business." "East Coker" is the second of Four Quartets (1943); Peter Koenig notes "Gaddis at one time planned to parody every line of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets somewhere in The Recognitions, and a few such lines do remain. This was, as with all his parodies, to give a humorous sense, but also because he admired Eliot and in parodying him paid tribute to his influence"--"Recognizing Gaddis's Recognitions," Contemporary Literature 16 (Winter 1975), 67.
23.20] Zu˝i and Mojave, the Plains Indians and the Kwakiutl: native American tribes. The Zu˝i of New Mexico and the Kwakiutl of British Columbia are discussed at length in Benedict's Patterns of Culture.
23.24] Euripides: (ca. 484-406? B.C.), Greek dramatist. "There was not an article of Hellenic faith that he did not scoff at," Saltus notes with approval (AN 35).
23.24] Saint Teresa of Avila: (1515-82), Spanish nun whose mystical experiences are recounted in many books, e.g., The Interior Castle (see 600.40). De Rougemont refers to her often in LWW.
23.25] Denys the Carthusian: Flemish mystical writer (1402-71), given the title Doctor Ecstaticus by the church. "His hours were spent in raptures and the fruition of heavenly apparitions," Summers writes (PPM 35), but he found time to compose a large body of writings, many of which are discussed in WMA.
23.25] Plutarch: Greek biographer and essayist (ca. 46-ca. 127); held a priesthood at Delphi. Plutarch's religious essays (collected in Moralia and cited by Legge and Frazer [GB 291]), rather than his more famous biographical studies, would interest Rev. Gwyon.
23.25] Clement of Rome: Clement I, the third pope after Peter, is considered the first of the apostolic fathers. Little is known of his life, and the traditional story of his martyrdom (see 44.3-6) is without historical foundation. The Recognitions (see 373.1) was traditionally ascribed to him, though internal evidence makes his authorship impossible.
23.26] Apocryphal New Testament: a few books have had this title, but the reference here is to M. R. James's edition (1924), a collection of the large body of religious writings that were excluded when the final canon of the New Testament was established. Many of the excluded writings are of a mystical nature and became the bases of heretical beliefs as well as popular Christian folklore.
23.26] Osservatore Romano: official newspaper of the Vatican.
23.27] a tract from the Society for the Prevention of Premature Burial: perhaps Premature Burial (1909) by the Society for the Prevention of Premature Encoffinment, Burial or Cremation.
23.27] De Contemptu Mundi: Summers cites two works of this name (On the Worthlessness of the World): a study of mysticism by Denys the Carthusian (above, 23.25; PPM 35), and a tractate by Saint Bonaventura (below, 38.37; PPM 149). Petrarch also wrote a book with this title (WMA 299), as did Erasmus. The close proximity of Denys's name suggests his is intended.
23.28] Historia di tutte l'Heresie: Summers cites a 1717 edition of this book by Domenico Bernino (PPM 49 n.64) in his discussion of the heresy of Quietism (a kind of radical mysticism).
23.28] Christ and the Powers of Darkness: twice Summers quotes with approval (PPM 82 n.51, 91) this Catholic work by the "famous psychic investigator, the late J. Godfrey Raupert, K.S.G.," published in 1914. Apparently it concerns the ways evil forces can invade religious thought.
23.29] De Locis Infestis, Libellus de Terrificationibus Nocturnisque Tumultibus: concluding his discussion of "demonic molestations," Summers writes: "Such phenomena are well known. They have, indeed, been described and classified by the learned Peter Thyraeus, S.J., of Nuys (Cologne) in his great work De Locis Infestis and the Libellus de Terrificationibus Nocturnisque Tumultibus (On Haunted Places, and also a Treatise on The Terrors of Darkness and Midnight Noises)" (PPM 70). The two works date from the end of the sixteenth century.
23.30] Malay Magic: a study of the folklore and popular religion of the Malay Peninsula by Walter W. Skeat (1900), frequently quoted by Frazer.
23.30] Religions des Peuples Non-civilisÚs: an 1883 study by French Protestant clergyman Albert RÚville (1826-1906).
23.31] Le Culte de Dionysos en Attique: a study in comparative religion by French writer Paul R. Foucart (1904); he maintains (with Herodotus) that the Greek Dionysos was a form of the Egyptian Osiris. Cited often in FRC in relation to the Eleusinian mysteries (see 56.26).
23.31] Philosophumena: lost until 1842, this work by Hippolytus (170-236) is a refutation of the Gnostic heresy. His work differs from that of Saint Irenaeus, his mentor, in deriving Gnostic beliefs from pagan sources rather than from the Gnostics' own vivid imaginations, as Irenaeus supposes. Weston devotes half a dozen pages to it (FRR 151-57), Legge even more; he later translated it into English as Philosophumena; or, The Refutation of All Heresies (1921).
23.31] Lexikon der Mythologie: W. H. R÷scher's once-standard Lexikon der griechischen und romischen Mythologie (1886-90), often quoted by Frazer, Legge, and Weston.
23.32] Sir James Frazer [...] Sacrifice of the King's Son: Frazer's (1854-1941) monumental Golden Bough is an encyclopedic survey of religion, myth, and magic, with an emphasis on vestiges of pagan beliefs still present at the beginning of the twentieth century, especially in institutional Christianity and popular holidays and superstitions. "Sacrifice of the King's Son" (289-93) concerns the ancient practice of killing the king's son rather than the king himself at the end of his fixed term. (Frazer hints that the crucifixion of the Son of God reflects this practice.)
23.34] The Glories of Mary [...] - There is no mysticism without Mary: a theological treatise by Saint Alphonsus Liguori (see 5.37). This classic of Mariology, first published in 1750, is a compilation of "all that the holy Fathers and the most celebrated writers have said on this subject" (Introduction). Summers, himself a translator of one of the English versions, writes: "There is no mysticism without Mary. So St. Alphonsus teaches" (PPM 37). Gaddis apparently assumed the dictum was a direct quotation from the Glories (cited elsewhere in PPM); however, nowhere in its 670 pious pages could I find those exact words. The book is often slighted in MMSM (78, 130 ff.).
23.36] yew trees: "the death-tree in all European countries, sacred to Hecate in Greece and Italy" (WG 160).
23.38] acts of Pilate: a conflated version of the Passion, followed by the Harrowing of Hell; also known as the Gospel of Nicodemus (in ANT 94-146). The original Acts of Pilate, a pagan attack on Christianity utilizing arguments of Porphyry (see 436.24), has not survived. The extant work bearing that name is a Christian forgery, probably written to combat the influence of the original. It is occasionally cited in MMM. Legge cites it often in FRC.
23.38] Coptic narratives: under the heading "Coptic Narratives of the Ministry and the Passion," James summarizes thirteen fragments, all dating from no earlier than the fifth century (ANT 147-52). "The Copts were tireless in producing embroideries upon the Biblical stories," James comments, "and perhaps in rewriting older documents to suit their own taste."
23.38] Pistis Sophia: "A manuscript, probably of the fifth century, in the British Museum, called Code x Askewianus from a former owner Askew, contains a bulky work, or works (for not all the treatises of which it is composed are of one date) known as the Pistis Sophia (Faith[ful] Wisdom) from the spiritual being of that name with whose progress through the universe it is largely concerned. This is also in the form of revelations given to the apostles and holy women after the resurrection. It is of the third century, has been more than once edited, and has been translated into English" (ANT xxiii).
23.38] Thomas's account of the child Jesus turning his playmates into goats: recorded by James as an appendix to the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas:
And it came to pass that Jesus went out one day and saw a company of children playing together, and went after them, but they fled before him and went into a furnace (al. cellar). And Jesus came after them and stood by the door and said unto the women who were sitting there: Where are the children who came in here before me? And the women said unto Jesus: No children came here. Then Jesus said unto them: Then what are the beings that are inside the house? And the women said unto him: They are goats. And Jesus said unto them: Let the goats which are in the furnace go out to their shepherds. And there came forth from the furnace goats which leaped round about Jesus and skipped joyfully. And when the women had seen what had taken place, they wondered, and great fear laid hold upon them.
After some moralizing, the young Jesus restores the children to their original form (ANT 68).
23.40] Obras Completas [...] Dark Night of the Soul: Saint John of the Cross (1542-91) is Spain's most celebrated mystic. His writings usually take the form of a poem (often in the erotic style of the Song of Solomon) followed by long explanations of its theological significance. His Dark Night of the Soul describes the necessary "dark night" of purgation that precedes ecstatic union with God. Gaddis would have known of Saint John's work from PPM (passim) if from nowhere else.
24.11] generation of vipers: a phrase used by both John the Baptist and Jesus to describe their contemporaries (Matt. 3:7, 12:34, 23:33).
24.15] Drink no longer [...] infirmities: 1 Tim. 5:23, traditionally ascribed to Paul but now considered pseudonymous.
24.20] Saint Edmund: saint and king of East Anglia (855-70). Conway makes passing reference to what he calls Saint Edmund's "valde eminentem" in VEF (19).
24.22] the sixtieth parallel: i.e., south of Lapland (Oslo and Saint Petersburg are on the sixtieth parallel).
24.25] Janet: takes her name from the possessed woman in Robert Louis Stevenson's short story "Thrawn Janet" (see 392.34).
25.4] Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1): "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
25.17] Watts's painting of Sir Galahad: George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), English historical painter and sculptor. Sir Galahad dates from 1862.
25.24] Olalla: the Spanish form of Saint Eulalia of MÚrida, one of the most celebrated virgin martyrs of Spain; she died ca. 304 at the age of thirteen (see BM 28 for the fanciful story of her martyrdom). Stevenson's short story "Olalla" is quoted at 298.12 ff.
25.26] elder Breughel: Pieter Breughel (ca. 1525-69), Netherlandish painter, influenced by Bosch (see below). This painting is later said to represent some "horror" (35.20), which could be any one of a number of his paintings.
25.26] Saint Anthony's insanity manifest in the desert: subject of numerous paintings, including one by Bosch.
25.36] Hieronymus Bosch [...]
Seven Deadly Sins: Bosch (ca. 1450-1516), called the greatest master
of fantasy who ever lived, painted many allegorical, satirical works depicting
the excesses of the medieval world. (It has been suggested that the obscure
symbolism in his works expresses alchemical concepts.) The authenticity
of The Seven Deadly Sins (ca. 1500, Prado) was questioned in the
16th century, though it is now considered genuine; the authenticity of
Rev. Gwyon's painting is likewise disputed many times in the course of
the novel, likewise emerging as genuine (see 59.36 ff., 246.8 ff., 688-89).
Click here for
an essay about the history, provenance, and authenticity of this painting
on this site; a wealth of information about this artist is available at
25.40] Cave, Cave, Ds videt: Lat.: "Careful careful, God is watching."
25.42] mirrors in the arms of the cross [...] their purpose: apparently they heighten the identification of the supplicant with the sufferings of Christ, sometimes leading to the bestowal of stigmata.
26.22] Al-Shira-al-jamÔnija [...] the bright star of Yemen: the Arab name for Sirius, the Dog Star (see 27.18), which sets in the direction of Yemen.
26.28] Foxe's Book of Martyrs: John Foxe (or Fox)(1515-87), English religious writer, whose Acts and Monuments of the Church (1563, popularly known as the Book of Martyrs: see 35.31 for its subtitle) was second only to the Bible as a force in British puritanism, not to mention anti-Catholicism. It is a vivid, detailed (but historically naive as concerns the early martyrs), and very partisan account of persecutions and sufferings, primarily of those who suffered in the name of Protestantism. It runs to eight volumes in its complete form; Aunt May (and Gaddis) apparently uses a one-volume abridgment.
27. 2] the devil finds work for idle hands: a popularized version of Isaac Watts's (1674-1748) couplet "For Satan finds some mischief still / For idle hands to do" (ODQ).
27.3] In Adam's fall / We sinned all: an illustrative quote for the letter A in the New England Primer (earliest extant copy dated 1727), a popular Puritan schoolbook.
27.18] Ossian: The Works of Ossian (1765) were alleged translations from ancient Gaelic poetry by Scottish poet James Macpherson (1736-96). The authenticity of the poems was soon discredited, but that did not prevent the works from influencing (if not initiating) the Romantic movement and expanding interest in ancient Gaelic literature.
27.18] Theophrastus: (372?-288? B.C.), Greek Peripatetic philosopher, a disciple of Aristotle; see 28.28.
27.18] Dog Star [...] Al-Shira-al-jamÔnija: both Arab names for Sirius, as noted in SL (101), where the many attributes of this distant sun (such as heralding the inundation of the Nile, adding its heat to the "dog days" of summer, etc.) are discussed at length (SL 95-105).
27.25] Stephen: although this name led early critics to see resemblances between Wyatt and Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, Gaddis states: "I'm quite certain that the Stephen name was chosen simply because he was the first Christian martyr [see 909.4] & I saw Wyatt as the last one; nothing to do with Joyce" (WG/SM).
27.39] the present, unredeemed though it may be: adapted from Eliot: see 160.30.
28.10] seven heavens, made out of different kinds of metal: an ancient Islamic belief: see 265.8.
28.12] stars were people's souls [...] sorcerers could tell the good from the bad: an Australian aborigine belief recorded by Andrew Lang in Custom and Myth (2d ed., London: Longmans, Green, 1893), p. 130. This collection of essays on universal myths and superstitions is the source for a few other anthropological details in R . (Mark Kohut)
28.15] witches drawing the moon down from the heavens [...] Thessalonian witches: Hughes writes, "The Thessalonian sorceresses were the terror of those ancients who remained unsophisticated. They were perennially charged with attempting to drawn down the moon from the sky--which means that they were unlicensed devotees of the moon goddess" (W 28)--and hence were trying to channel the alleged occult powers of the moon (as do Wiccans today). Hughes correctly notes earlier that they occupied the Greek province of Thessaly, but the correct adjective is "Thessalian": "Thessalonian" refers to the good people of Thessalonica, which--unlike notorious Thessaly--was not known for its witches.
28.22] Vergil [...] the eighth Bucolic [...] Carmina vel caelo: "Carmina vel caelo possunt deducere lunam" ("Charms can even bring the moon down from heaven" - Basil Valentine's translation [236.23]). The Bucolics are ten pastoral poems by the Roman poet Vergil, written between 47 and 37 B.C.; the eighth contains two love elegies, in both of which the singers use magic refrains - for this reason the poem is sometimes called Pharmaceutria ("Sorcery"). The quoted line is cited by Conybeare in illustration of the belief that ancient witches had "a power of binding and loosing inanimate nature through their incantations" (MMM 246), a power (he points out) conferred by Jesus on Simon Peter and the rest of the apostles (Matt. 16:19, 18:18).
28.24] pearls are the precipitate of sunlight: "Pearls were supposed to be generated by rays of sunlight striking down through the sea, on the floor of which they coagulated and took a material consistency in the oyster shell. They are thus a precipitate of sunlight. Jesus, engendered by rays of divine light or fire striking down through the Virgin's ears and consolidated within her, was by analogy and metaphor termed the Pearl, not, of course, without reference to the parable (Matthew xiii.46) of the pearl of great price" (MMM 232).
28.28] Milky Way [...] Theophrastus: Lethaby records Theophrastus's opinion that "the milky way was the junction of the two halves of the solid dome [of the firmament] so badly joined that the light came through" (AMM 19). Cf. SL 392.
28.32] tale about the sky being a sea [...] Gervase of Tilbury: "There is an amusing story of this celestial sea as late as Gervase of Tilbury [thirteenth century]. Some people coming out of a church were surprised to see an anchor dangling by a rope from the sky, which caught in the tombstones, presently a man was seen descending with the object of detaching it, but as he reached the earth he died as we should if drowned in water" (AMM 15). See 257.1-10.
28.44] evil spirits who keep the path to Paradise dirty [...] the Wathiwathi: this belief, held by the Australian aboriginal tribe Wathi Wathi, is recorded by Lang (M&R 72-73).