As I wrote on 19 February, the image I showed awakes in me a feeling I cannot describe adequately, but this discrepancy has a name: paradox literature. The name does not make a God using a compass less mysterious. However, it lifts a veil on the mine of our Medieval ancestors.
In literature, the paradox is an anomalous juxtaposition of incongruous ideas for the sake of striking exposition or unexpected insight. It functions as a method of literary composition and analysis that involves examining apparently contradictory statements and drawing conclusions either to reconcile them or to explain their presence.
Yesterday, I published a complete post, but an incomplete post surfaced.
It was late, so I had run out of energy, which is often the case. I now realize I could have turned the post into a private publication, but I was too tired to think about options.
I keep ‘back ups’ of my posts and used them this morning. The post should therefore be complete. I apologize to readers who could not see the entire post.
I would also like to thank Mr Bowie for looking at my post. He had become a dear cousin to Belaud, my blue cat. Belaud loved to hear about Mr Bowie. Blue cats are excellent companions and rather quiet. Belaud is a chartreux, a close relative to British Blues.
Mr Bowie is probably looking down admiringly at his human companion. Beloved cats never die fully; they just become invisible. We do not know when they visit, but they visit and we remember them forever.
Our dramatis personæ is
Aegiale and Phaëne, two Graces.
Aglaura (sister to Psyche).
Cidippe (sister to Psyche).
Cleomenes and Agenor, two princes, Psyche’s lovers.
Lycas, captain of the guards.
A River God
Act Four, Scene Four PSYCHE AND THE RIVER GOD
(bold letters are mine)
After Cupid tells Psyche that he is the god of Love, he disappears. She was in a garden, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Psyche is suddenly alone on the shores of a large river experiencing the worst of pains: happiness lost. Psyché’s former happiness is conditioned by memory. Happiness lost does not differ much from Paradise Lost. It is greater than happiness when it is experienced.
1555 J’aimais un Dieu, j’en étais adorée,/Mon bonheur redoublait de moment en moment, Et je me vois seule, éplorée, Au milieu d’un désert, où pour accablement, Et confuse, et désespérée,/ 1560Je sens croître l’amour, quand j’ai perdu l’amant. Psyché (IV. iv, p. 57)
[I loved a god; was beloved by him; my happiness redoubled at every moment; and now behold me, alone, bewailing, in the midst of a desert, where, to increase my pain, when shame and despair are upon me, I feel my love increasing now that I have lost the lover.] Psyche (IV. 4)
In Psyché, happiness lost is also conditioned by guilt. Asking Cupid to reveal his identity was a transgression. Cupid had changed his appearance so he would not seem a god to Psyche:
Aussi, ne veux-je pas qu’on puisse me connaître,/ Je ne veux à Psyché découvrir que mon cœur,/ 940 Rien que les beaux transports de cette vive ardeur/ Que ses doux charmes y font naître; /Et pour en exprimer l’amoureuse langueur, / Et cacher ce que je puis être /Aux yeux qui m’imposent des lois,/ 945 J’ai pris la forme que tu vois. l’Amour au Zéphire (III. i, p. 37)
[‘Tis because I do not wish to be known to Psyche. ‘Tis my heart, my heart alone, I wish to unfold; nothing more than the sweet raptures of this keen passion, which her charms excite within it. To express its gentle pining, and to hide what may be from those eyes that impose on me their will, I have assumed this form which thou seest.] Cupid to Zephyr (III. 1)
Psyche feels so forlorn that were it not for the River God, she would gladly throw herself into the river. She cannot “sully” his stream, says the River God, nor offend “le Ciel,” Heaven. Moreover, the River God tells her that happiness lost is at times regained.
The River God tells Psyché to flee. He sees Venus approaching, whose anger is much greater now that her son Cupid, a lesser god and a mere child, did not kill Psyché, but fell in love with her.
1584 Ton trépas souillerait mes ondes,/1585 Psyché, le Ciel te le défend, Et peut-être qu’aprèsdes douleurs si profondes/ Un autre sort t’attend./ Fuis plutôt de Vénus l’implacable colère:/ Je la vois qui te cherche et qui te veut punir,/1590L’amour du fils a fait la haine de la mère,/ Fuis, je saurai la retenir. le Dieu du fleuve (IV. iv, p. 58) [Thy death would sully my stream, Psyche. Heaven forbids it. Perhaps after such heavy sorrows, another fate awaits thee. Rather flee Venus’ implacable anger. I see her seeking thee in order to punish thee; the son’s love has excited the mother’s hatred. Flee! I will detain her.] The River God(IV. 4)
But Psyché does not fear Venus. She has the beauty of a goddess, but such was not her wish. Her beauty was a gift to the king, her father. However, a mortal cannot be divinely beautiful. It appears gods themselves usurped Venus’ supremacy, endangering Psyche. As for Cupid, he is a lesser God than Venus who is a lesser god than Jupiter. When Psyche nearly dies, he is powerless. There is a hierarchy among gods, so Jupiter, the greater god, will therefore be a deus ex machina, in a play that owes much of its immense success to stage machinery. Psyché is a pièce à machines.
J’attends ses fureurs vengeresses./ Qu’auront-elles pour moi qui ne me soit trop doux?/ Qui cherche le trépas, ne craint Dieux, ni Déesses,/1595Et peut braver tout leur courroux. Psyche (IV. iv, p. 58)
[I shall await her avenging wrath! What can it have that will not be too pleasant for me? Whoever seeks death dreads no gods or goddesses, but can defy all their darts.] Psyche (IV. 4)
Orgueilleuse Psyché, vous m’osez donc attendre,/ Après m’avoir sur terre enlevé mes honneurs,/ Après que vos traits suborneurs/ Ont reçu les encens qu’aux miens seuls on doit rendre?/ 1600J’ai vu mes temples désertés,/ J’ai vu tous les mortels séduits par vos beautés/ Idolâtrer en vous la beauté souveraine,/ Vous offrir des respects jusqu’alors inconnus,/ Et ne se mettre pas en peine/ 1605S’il était une autre Vénus: Et je vous vois encor l’audace/ De n’en pas redouter les justes châtiments,/ Et de me regarder en face,/ Comme si c’était peu que mes ressentiments. Vénus à Psyché (IV. v, p. 59)
[Insolent Psyche, you dare then to await my arrival after you have deprived me on earth of my honours, after your seducing charms have received the incense which is due to mine alone? I have seen my shrines forsaken, I have seen all the world, enslaved by your charms, idolise you as the sovereign beauty, offer to you a homage until then unknown, and not stay to consider whether there was another Venus at all; notwithstanding this, I see you bold enough not to dread the punishment your crime justly deserves, and to meet my gaze as if my resentment were but little matter.] Venus to Psyche (IV. 5)
In Act Five, Scene One, Psyche has been enslaved by Venus, but accepts her plight because she asked Cupid to reveal his identity. Her sister had instilled fear in her and fear is powerful. Yet, if she learned that Cupid’s anger had not relented, nothing could surpass grief. Would that she could see him and know that he feels pity for her.
Si son courroux durait encore,/ Jamais aucun malheur n’approcherait du mien:/ Mais s’il avait pitié d’une âme qui l’adore,/ Quoi qu’il fallût souffrir, je ne souffrirais rien./ Oui, Destins, s’il calmait cette juste colère,/ 1695Tous mes malheurs seraient finis:/ Pour me rendre insensible aux fureurs de la mère,/ Il ne faut qu’un regard du fils. Psyche (V. i, p. 62)
[If his anger lasted still, no anguish could equal mine; but if he felt any pity for a soul that worships him, however great the sufferings to which I am condemned, I should feel them not. Yea, thou mighty destiny, if he would but stay his wrath, all my sorrows would be at an end. Ah! a mere look from the son suffices to make me insensible to the mother’s fury.] Psyche (V. 1)
Act Five, Scene Two PSYCHÉ, CLÉOMÈNE, AGÉNOR.
In Act Five, Scene Two, Psyche sees her former lovers: Cleomenes and Agenor. They are ghosts. But they nevertheless live in a forest, where they are alive because love caused their death. But Cupid (l’Amour) is punishing Psyche’s sisters.
Ces ministres ailés de son juste courroux,/ Sous couleur de les rendre encore auprès de vous,/1785 Ont plongé l’une et l’autre au fond d’un précipice,/ Où le spectacle affreux de leurs corps déchirés/ N’étale que le moindre et le premier supplice/ De ces conseilsdont l’artifice/ Fait les maux dont vous soupirez. Agénor à Psyché (V. ii, p. 65)
[Those winged ministers of his just wrath, under pretence of restoring them again to you, cast them both to the bottom of a precipice, where the hideous spectacle of their mangled bodies displays but the first and least torture for that stratagem the cunning of which was the cause of the ills you now endure.] Agénor to Psyche (V. 2)
Act Five, Scene Three PSYCHÉ
Psyche feels sorry for her lovers and her sisters. But her suffering is about to end. She has been sent to the underworld to fetch beauty for Venus and and crossed the river Styx with Charon. Proserpine has put it in a golden box.
Psyche thinks punitive tasks have tarnished her beauty. So, she opens the box to take a little beauty, but the vapours the box contains make her faint.
Psyche and Charon by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, 1883 (WikiArt.org)
Amour flies down and fears Psyche may be dying. His mother arrives but will not revive Psyche unless Cupid marry a spouse Vénus has chosen. This he will not accept.
Act Five, Scene Five AMOUR, PSYCHÉ, VENUS,
Vénus refuses to save Psyché, which Cupid cannot do. He is a god, but a lesser god.
Votre Psyché : son âme va partir,/ Voyez, et si la vôtre en est encore éprise,/ Recevez son dernier soupir./ Menacez, bravez-moi, cependant qu’elle expire:/ 1925 Tant d’insolence vous sied bien, /Et je dois endurer, quoi qu’il vous plaise dire, /Moi qui sans vos traits ne puis rien. Vénus à l’Amour (V. v, p. 69)
[See! her soul is even now departing; and if thine is still smitten, receive now her last breath. Threaten and brave me if thou wilt, but she must die. So much insolence suits thee well; and I must needs bow to all it pleases thee to say, I, who can do nothing without thy darts.] Venus to Cupid (V. 5)
Rendez-moi ma Psyché, rendez-lui tous ses charmes,/ Rendez-la, Déesse, à mes larmes/ Rendez à mon amour, rendez à ma douleur/ Le charme de mes yeux, et le choix de mon cœur. l’Amour à Vénus (V. v, p. 70) [Give me back my Psyche, restore to her all her charms, surrender her to my tears, to my love, to my grief; for she is my eyes’ delight, my heart’s happiness.] Cupid to Venus (V. 5)
Venus is not altogether insensitive.
Cette douleur n’est pas commune,/ Qui force un immortel à souhaiter la mort. Vénus à l’Amour (V. v, p. 70)
[This grief is not common that drives an immortal to long for death.] Venus to Cupid (V. 5)
However, in Scene 6 (Scène dernière) Venus will object to her son marrying a mortal.
Enters Jupiter to the sound of thunder.
Act Five, Scene Six AMOUR, PSYCHÉ, VENUS, JUPITER
Jupiter has descended. Cupid tells him that he will no longer be the god of Love unless Psyche is returned to him. Jupiter asks Venus to be less severe.
Ma fille, sois-lui moins sévère.
Tu tiens de sa Psyché le destin en tes mains[.] Jupiter à Venus (V. vi, p. 72)
My daughter, show thyself less severe towards him; his Psyche’s destiny is even now in thy hands. Jupiter to Venus (V. 6)
She forgives her son but will not allow him to be married to a mere mortal.
Je pardonne à ce fils rebelle; Mais voulez-vous qu’il me soit reproché/ Qu’une misérable mortelle,/ 2010 L’objet de mon courroux, l’orgueilleuse Psyché,/ Sous ombre qu’elle est un peu belle,/ Par un hymen dont je rougis,/ Souille mon alliance, et le lit de mon fils? Venus to Jupiter (V. vi, p. 72)
I forgive this rebel son. Yet would you have me submit to the reproach that a contemptible mortal, the object of my wrath, proud Psyche, because she displays some charms, has defiled my alliance and my son’s couch? Venus to Jupiter (V. 6)
Jupiter therefore transforms Psyche into a goddess. She will be immortal.
Hé bien, je la fais immortelle,/ 2015Afin d’y rendre tout égal. Jupiter à tous (V. v, p. 72) Well, then, I make her immortal, so that all shall be equal. Jupiter to all (V. 6)
Cupid, a god, will be married to Psyche, a goddess. Psyche’s divine beauty clashed with her mortal self and belonged to Venus. Psyche’s beauty remains divine, but eternally so, as befits a goddess. In Greco–Roman mythology, such a metamorphosis is acceptable. The Taleof Cupid and Psyche is Roman. It is the fourth of seven tales or “digressions,” told in Apuleius’ Golden Ass. All feature a metamorphosis. Molière modified the Tale of Cupid and Psyche. For instance, she is not asked to take a lamp in order to tell whether Cupid is a serpent, accidentally dropping hot oil on Cupid and awakening him.
In Psyche, intrigue dominates. Yet, jealousy is a central theme in Molière but it is linked to a fear of cuckoldry. Molière’s Psyché has jealous sisters, as does Cinderella. But she does not have a fairy godmother and, although all admire her, her beauty is a curse. Mere mortals are not divinely beautiful. So Jupiter, a deus ex machina, solves this problem. He gives immortality to Psyche, to Venus’ delight and Cupid and Psyche’s everlasting happiness. Our dénouement is an apotheosis.
Our dramatis personæ is
Aegiale and Phaëne, two Graces.
Aglaura (sister to Psyche).
Cidippe (sister to Psyche).
Cleomenes and Agenor, two princes, Psyche’s lovers.
Lycas, captain of the guards.
A River God
Act Two, Scene One
LE ROI, PSYCHÉ, AGLAURE, CIDIPPE, LYCAS, SUITE.
Psyche is to be taken to the top of a hill where a monster-serpent will kill her. But in Act Two, Scene One, she is with her father, the king, who very much regrets losing a daughter. He and Psyche know that one cannot escape one’s fate or destiny. Once the Oracle has spoken, Psyche’s fate is sealed. However, she says that she does not deserve to await a monster-serpent. She wishes her father could oppose the oracle’s requests. We sense resistance.
Je ne mérite pas cette grande douleur: / Opposez, opposez un peu de résistance /Aux droits qu’elle prend sur un cœur 605 /Dont mille événements ont marqué la puissance./ Quoi? faut-il que pour moi vous renonciez, Seigneur,/ À cette royale constance,/ Dont vous avez fait voir dans les coups du malheur/ Une fameuse expérience? Psyché à son père (II. ii, p. 26)
[I deserve not this violent grief. Seek, I pray, to resist the claims it asserts over your heart, whose might a thousand events have marked. What! for me, my Lord, you must abandon that kingly firmness of which, under the blows of misfortune, you have shown such perfect proofs?] Psyche to her father (II. 1)
In Scene One, the king bemoans losing what was a gift to him. Psyche’s beauty was a gift from kind gods. Psyche’s beauty is divine, which is an affront to Venus.
Pour m’ôter leur présent, leur fallait-il attendre/ Que j’en eusse fait tout mon bien? 700/Ou plutôt, s’ils avaient dessein de le reprendre, /N’eût-il pas été mieux de ne me donner rien? Le roi à Psyché (II. i, p. 28)
[To withdraw their gift, have they not waited till I had made it my all? Rather, if it was their purpose to remove it, had it not been better to give me nothing?] The king to Psyche (II. 1)
The gods are fickle. Not that Jansenism (predestination) exerted much influence on Molière, but that Molière always described his century, “les mœurs de son siècle.” Moral issues divided 17th-century France. Tartuffe (1664) is a casuiste, a 17th-century heresy. Yet, given the role played by destiny, one could suggest a link between Jansenism and Psyche’s demise.
As we know, Psyche will not be the victim of a venomous monster-serpent, which would have pleased a jealous Venus, Psyche’s jealous sisters, and, perhaps, a jealous Cupid, Venus’ son is a god. I noted an element of magic(al) realism in Molière’s Psyché. Gods and mortals share the stage. They also share such attributes as a jealous heart. At one level, her beauty, Psyche is divine, which is not altogether the case. She is also a mortal. In fact, not only is Venus jealous, but so is Cupid. In Psyché, the gods of mythology share faults with mere mortals.
Psyche climbs to the top of the hill, asking her jealous sisters, whose jealousy she fails to notice, to look after the king, their grieving father. As for her lovers, Cléomène and Agénor, they also follow her and believe they can kill the serpent.
Act Two, Scene Five PSYCHE, CLÉOMÈNE, AGÉNOR
They can’t. An unconscious Psyche is carried away by two Zephirs before their very eyes. Cupid was to kill Psyche, but saved her. However, all is not well. Psyche awakens in a castle quickly built by Vulcan (Vulcain), the god of fire. The Oracle could be a jealous Cupid:
Allez mourir, rivaux d’un dieu jaloux, / Dont vous méritez le courroux,/ Pour avoir eu le cœur sensible aux mêmes charmes./ Et toi, forge, Vulcain, mille brillants attraits/ Pour orner un palais,/ Où l’amour de Psyché veut essuyer les larmes,/905Et lui rendre les armes. Cupid (II. v, pp. 35-36)
[Die, then, rivals of a jealous god, whose wrath you have deserved, since your heart was sensible to the same charms. And thou, Vulcan, fashion a thousand brilliant ornaments to adorn the palace where Love will dry Psyche’s tears, and yield himself her slave.] Cupid (II. 5)
Act Three, Scene One CUPID AND ZEPHIR
In Act Three, Scene One, Cupid, the venomous-serpent, confides to Zephir (Molière’s role) that he fears Venus, his mother. Venus wanted Psyche killed by her son Cupid, the god of Love, but Cupid did not eliminate his mother’s rival. There is a hierarchy among gods and goddesses, and they may be jealous.
Cupid, a god, tells Zephir that he wonders what his mother will do. Moreover, Cupid has also changed his appearance. He now seems an adult.
970Ce changement sans doute irritera ma mère.
[This change will, no doubt, vex my mother.] Cupid to Zephir (II. i, p. 38 ; II, 1)
Act Three, Scene Two PSYCHE
As Act Three, Scene One is closing, Zephir asks Cupid to end Psyche’s “martyrdom.” What is Psyche to think? She may be divinely beautiful, but she is a human being who still awaits her death:
Si le Ciel veut ma mort, si ma vie est un crime,/ De ce peu qui m’en reste ose enfin t’emparer,/ Je suis lasse de murmurer/ Contre un châtiment légitime, 1030/ Je suis lasse de soupirer:/ Viens, que j’achève d’expirer. Psyché(II. ii, p. 40)
[If heaven wills my death, if my life be a crime, dare at length to seize whatever little remains of it; I am tired of murmuring against a lawful penalty; I am weary of sighs; come, that I may end the death I am dying.] Psyche (II. 2)
Act Three, Scene Three CUPID AND PSYCHE
In Scene Three, Love (Cupid) appears and says that he is the monster-serpent. A serpent tempted Eve.
C’est l’amour qui pour voir mes feux récompensés/ Lui-même a dicté cet oracle,/ Par qui vos beaux jours menacés/ D’une foule d’amants se sont débarrassés,/ Et qui m’a délivré de l’éternelobstacle/1140 De tant de soupirs empressés,/ Qui ne méritaient pas de vous être adressés. Amour à Psyché (III. iii. p. 43)
[It was Love who, to reward my passion, dictated this oracle, by which your fair days that were threatened have been released from a throng of lovers; and which has freed me from the lasting obstacle of so many ardent sighs that were unworthy of being addressed to you.] Love to Psyche (III. 2)
But Cupid would prefer not to tell his identity.
Ne me demandez point quelle est cette province,/ Ni le nom de son prince,/ Vous le saurez quand il en sera temps: / 1145 Je veux vous acquérir, mais c’est par mes services,/ Par des soins assidus, et par des vœux constants,/ Et bien que souverain dans cet heureux séjour,/ Je ne vous veux, Psyché, devoir qu’à mon amour./ Par les amoureux sacrifices/ De tout ce que je suis,/ De tout ce que je puis,/ 1150 Sans que l’éclat du rang pour moi vous sollicite,/ Sans que de mon pouvoir je me fasse un mérite,/Et bien que souverain dans cet heureux séjour,/ Je ne vous veux, Psyché, devoir qu’à mon amour. Amour à Psyché (III. iii, p. 43) [Ask not of me what this region be, nor the name of its ruler; you shall know it in time. My object is to win you; but I wish to do so by my services, my assiduous care, my constant vows, by a lover’s sacrifice of all that I am, of all my power can effect. The splendour of my rank must not solicit you for me, neither must I make a merit of my power; and though sovereign lord of this blissful realm, I wish to owe you, Psyche, to nothing but my love.] Cupid to Psyche (III. 3)
Cupid wants to be loved for what he is. Rank is secondary and might prevent him from knowing that he is Psyche’s beloved. I hear Alceste telling Philinte that he wants to be certain that praise addressed to him is genuine, that he is “singled out.”
Act Four, Scene One AGLAURE, CIDIPPE
Although she is very happy, Psyche would like to relieve her father and her sisters. They do not know that she was not killed. Zephyr is asked to fetch Psyche’s sisters.
N’en parlons plus, ma sœur, nous en mourrions d’ennui,/ Songeons plutôt à la vengeance,/ Ettrouvons le moyen de rompre entre elle et lui/ Cette adorable intelligence./ 1350La voici. J’ai des coups tous prêts à lui porter,/ Qu’elle aura peine d’éviter. Aglaure à Cidippe (IV. i, p. 50)
[No more of this, my sister; the thought of it would kill us; let us rather think of revenge; let us find means of breaking the spell that fosters this affection between her and him. She comes; I have darts ready, such as she shall find difficult to parry.] Aglaure to Cidippe (IV, 1)
1316 La jalousie est assez fine,/ Et ces délicats sentiments/ Méritent bien qu’on s’imagine/ Que celui qui pour vous a ces empressements,/ Passe le commun des amants./1365Je vous en parle ainsi faute de le connaître./ Vous ignorez son nom, et ceux dont il tient l’être,/ Nos esprits en sont alarmés:/ Je le tiens un grand prince, et d’un pouvoir suprême/ Bien au-delà du diadème/,1370Ses trésors sous vos pas confusément semés/ Ont de quoi fairehonte à l’abondance même,/ Vous l’aimez autant qu’il vous aime,/ Il vous charme, et vous le charmez;/ Votre félicité, ma sœur, serait extrême,/1375Si vous saviez qui vous aimez. Aglaure à Psyché (IV. ii, pp. 50-51)
[Jealousy is very keen, and these nice sentiments well deserve that he who shows such tenderness for you should be considered above the generality of lovers. I speak thus because I do not know him; nor do you know his name, or that of those to whom he owes the light. This alarms us. I hold him to be a mighty prince, whose power is extreme, far above kingly sway. His treasure which he has strewn beneath your feet would put Abundance herself to the blush. Your love for him is as keen as his for you; you are his delight, he is yours; your happiness, my sister, would be perfect if you but knew whom you love.] Aglaure to Psyche (IV. 2)
Psyche loves her sisters, but her sisters are jealous of her, which Psyche does not know. They will use Cupid’s wish not to reveal his identity as reason for Psyche to believe she may be the victim of an enchantment. So, they instill in Psyche fear that she is not loved.
Je n’ai plus qu’un mot à vous dire./1405Ce prince qui vous aime, et qui commande aux vents,/ Qui nous donne pour char les ailes du Zéphire,/ Et de nouveaux plaisirs vous comble à tous moments,/ Quand il rompt à vos yeux l’ordre de la nature,/ Peut-être à tant d’amour mêle un peu d’imposture,/ 1410Peut-être ce palais n’est qu’un enchantement,/ Et ces lambris dorés, ces amas de richesses/ Dont il achète vos tendresses,/ Dès qu’il sera lassé de souffrir vos caresses,/ Disparaîtront en un moment./ 1415Vous savez comme nous ce que peuvent les charmes. Aglaure à Psyché (IV. ii, p. 52)
[I have but one word more to say. This prince who loves you, sways the winds, gives us Zephyr’s wings for a chariot, and every moment lavishes on you new pleasures, when he thus openly breaks the order of nature, may perhaps mingle some little imposture with so much love. Perhaps this palace is nothing more than anenchantment; these gilt ceilings, these mountains of wealth, with which he buys your affection, so soon as he shall be weary of your caresses, will vanish in a moment. You know as well as ourselves what power lies in spells.] Aglaure to Psyche (IV. 2)
Ma sœur, vous me faites trembler. Juste Ciel! pourrais-je être assez infortunée… Psyche (IV. ii, p. 51)
[In my turn, what cruel alarms I feel.] Psyche (IV. 2)
Act Four, Scene Three CUPID, PSYCHE
Cupid senses a change in Psyche. She is worried.
1445 Mais d’où vient qu’un triste nuage/ Semble offusquer l’éclat de ces beaux yeux?/ Vous manque-t-il quelque chose en ces lieux?/ Des vœux qu’on vous y rend dédaignez-vous l’hommage? Amour à Psyché (IV. iii, p. 53)
But wherefore does a cloud of sadness seem to dim the brightness of those beautiful eyes? Is there aught which you can want in these abodes? Scorn you the homage of the vows here paid to you? Cupid to Psyche (IV.3)
She wishes to know his identity, which he reveals reluctantly and to Psyche’s detriment. He is the god of Love and he has come of age.
1540 Vous me forcez vous-même à vous quitter,/ Vous me forcez vous-même à vous ôter/ Tout l’effet de votre victoire:/ Peut-être vos beaux yeux ne me reverront plus,/ Ce palais, ces jardins, avec moi disparus/1545 Vont faire évanouir votre naissante gloire;/ Vous n’avez pas voulu m’en croire,/ Et pour tout fruit de ce doute éclairci,/ Le Destin sous qui le Ciel tremble,/ Plus fort que mon amour, que tous les Dieux ensemble,/1550Vous va montrer sa haine, et me chasse d’ici. Amour à Psyché (IV. iii, p. 57)
Psyche is transported to a river.
Is it fate, or is it jealousy? At this point, we could say jealousy. We will learn that Psyche’s lovers committed suicide. She speaks to their ghostly selves. As for Psyche’s jealous sisters, Psyche’s lovers tell her that they were brutally killed for suggesting that their sister may be the victim of an illusion. It is as though only gods remained. Remember that we are looking at two frames, mortals and gods, that Molière is retelling a myth, and that the myth of Psyché is an “all’s well that ends well” narrative.
___________________  The following quotation reveals Alceste’s vanity and fear.
Je veux qu’on me distingue, et pour le trancher net,
L’ami du genre humain n’est point du tout mon fait. Alceste à Philinte (I. i, p. 3)
[I must be singled out; to put it flatly,
The friend of all mankind’s no friend for me.] Alceste to Philinte (I. 1) (Le Misanthrope )
Animals in literature are, for the most part, humans in disguise, or anthropomorphic. As Jan M. Ziolkowski writes, “beasts override genre.”Fables and fairy tales are genres, but beast literature is not.
Fables and Beast Epics
However, although beasts override genre, speaking animals are associated first with fables, such as Æsop’s Fables and Jean de La Fontaine’s, and, second, with beast epics, such as Reynard the Fox, or Le Roman de Renart, which narrows a much broader area of knowledge. Anthropomorphic animals are humans in disguise. In the Roman de Renart,all animalshave a name. In fact, Renart was so popular that foxes ceased to be called goupils in French. They became renards. Reynard the Fox is entitled Le Roman de Renart, where renard is spelled with a “t.”Renart is a trickster whose nemesis is the wolf named Ysengrin.
Le Roman de Renart, a French beast epic, is rooted in the Ysengrimus, a lengthy Latin mock-epic: 6,574 lines of elegiac couplets, written in 1148-1149 and attributed to Nivardus of Ghent. In the Isengrimus, Renart is Reinardus and will become the most famous and beloved animal in European beast literature. Renard is the fox of the “Fox and Crow” and other “fox” fables. In fact, the Roman de Renart, the first “branches” of which were written in the late twelfth century by Pierre de Saint-Cloud, is an outer fable containing inner fables (Ausserfabel and Innerfabeln), including Æsopic fables.Æsopic fables preceded the Roman de Renart by a more than a thousand years.
“dire sans dire”
The main characteristic of anthropomorphic animals is their ability to speak a human language. Animals are very useful to writers because, when all said and done, animals have not said a thing. Jean de La Fontaine’s (1621-1695) fables have been described as a “dire-sans-dire” (to say without saying). They are “enveloped” tales, writes German scholar Jürgen Grimm. Therefore, anthropomorphism is an oblique literary discourse, a fiction within a fiction.
Russian satirist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin (27 January 1826 – 10 May 1889) first used the word Aesopian to describe a language unclear to outsiders, thereby allowing authors to say what they please with relative impunity. In 1945, George Orwell wrote an allegorical novella entitled Animal Farm. His animals are humans in disguise, hence their saying what they will not have said. Their own tongue is a language, but it is not a human language. Babe, the protagonist, a piglet, of a 1995 Australian film directed by Chris Noonan and produced by George Miller, is an anthropomorphic animal. The film is an adaptation of Dick King-Smith‘s 1983 novel: The Sheep-Pig.
La Fontaine did make each of his animals speak, but he also emphasized the power of fiction, in which he may have further distanced his speaking animals. In the Preface to his first collection of fables, books one to six, La Fontaine notes that Jesus of Nazareth spoke in parables. Parables are stories and, as such, they empower speech. To illustrate the power of stories, La Fontaine’s wrote a fable entitled Le Pouvoir des fables (VIII.4). It contains an inner fable about a speaker the people of Athens would not listen to until he turned to fiction, a story about Cerēs,the Roman goddess of agriculture. The moral of the “Power of Fables” is that we are all Athenians. La Fontaine writes that if Donkeyskin, a fairy tale, was told to him, it would give him enormous pleasure. The world is old, writes the fabulist, yet it is like a child we must amuse.
Moreover, a story is pleasurable and is not easily forgotten.
Nous sommes tous d’Athène en ce point, et moi-même, Au moment où je fais cette moralité, Si Peau d’âne m’était conté, J’y prendrais un plaisir extrême. Le monde est vieux, dit-on, je le crois; cependant Il faut l’amuser encor comme un enfant. Le Pouvoir des fables (VIII.4)
We’re all from Athens in this point of view, And I myself, while moralizing too
If I the tale of the Ass-skin should hear, I’d listen to it with a well-pleased ear.
The world is old, they say; I own it-still
We must sometimes indulge its childish will. The Power of Fables (VIII.4)
It should be noted, however, that La Fontaine believed in a “boundless universe,” where tout parle, everything speaks, which is anthropomorphism.
Car tout parle dans l’Univers; Il n’est rien qui n’ait son langage. (XI.Épilogue)
For in this boundless universe
Ther’s none that talketh, simpleton or sage
More eloquent at home than in my verse.
Everything does speak. For instance, Milo Winter‘s illustrations for “The North Wind [Boreas] and the Sun” (“Phoebus and Boreas”) constitutes an example of elements, the wind and the sun, who speak as though they were humans. In short, anthropomorphism resembles a form of personification, which it is in“Phoebus and Boreas .”
giving animal features to anything (e. g. furniture)
Zoomorphism is a more complex concept than anthropomorphism and may be the reverse of anthropomorphism. Mythologies and myths are home to zoomorphic animals that combine the features of a human and an animal or the features of many animals. The centaur of Greek mythology is part human and part beast. Centaurs have the lower body of a horse, but the upper body of a human.
The Minotaur is the offspring of Pasiphaë, the wife of Cretan king Minos and the Cretan bull. He is part human and part bull and so evil a creature that he is kept in a labyrinth built by Daedalus. He is slain by Theseus who finds his way through the labyrinth using Ariadne‘s thread. These two hybrid creatures, the centaur and the Minotaur may hold a mirror to mankind’s duality. Humans possess a mortal body and an immortal soul.
However, mythology also features composite animals. Cerberus, the vigilant dog guarding the gates to the Underworld is a three-headed dog. J. K. Rowling used Cerberus in her Harry Potter series. Her fifth book in the Harry Potter series is entitled Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Mythological animals have long inhabited the human psyche and are therefore somewhat familiar to readers. To my knowledge, no one escapes Cerberus’ attention, except Psyche. (See Cupid and Psyche, Wikipedia.) Pegasus, the winged horse, is also a well-known mythological being.
Mythologies are origin myths or aetiological. The Bible itself, the Scriptures or “the Word,” could be described as an aetiological text. It features fanciful angels who are human-like but have wings. In Greek mythology, for instance, animals have a lineage or a pedigree, as is the case with the above-mentioned Minotaur. In the growingly popular area of children’s literature, aetiological tales are called “Pourquoi” tales. The most famous example of a “Pourquoi” tale is Rudyard Kipling‘s (30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936) Just so stories.
Zoomorphic beasts may also be symbols. As mentioned above, those who mix the features of a human being may reflect the fall of mankind. Besides, an anthropomorphic serpent talked to Eve.
Mythologies and Myths
J. K. Rowling used not only Cerberus but the Phoenix, a symbol of rebirth. Symbolic beasts are mostly mythical rather than mythological, but readers and scholars tend to blur that line. The distinguishing criterion would be lineage. By and large, mythological beasts, such as the above-mentioned Minotaur and centaurs have a pedigree.
Mostly mythical animals are the phoenix, the unicorn, the dragon, the griffin and the irresistible Sirens, mermaids mostly. Mermaids have the upper body of a woman and the lower body of a fish. These legendary beings may make an appearance in mythologies, but they are somewhat ubiquitous and often transcultural. The phoenix has often been described as a mythological animal and he has a story as does the Unicorn, but he does not possess the Minotaur’s lineage.
The dragon is our most ubiquitous imaginary animal and may be good or bad depending on his environment. In the West he is bad, but not so in the East. Unicorns and Sirens are also transcultural. These mythical animals are zoomorphic, but, in Medieval Bestiary, they are symbols.
The dragon‘s characteristics change from culture to culture. He is feared in the West, but not in China.
The griffin, shown at the top of this post, a lion mostly, with the head of an eagle, is a guardian. In antiquity, he was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.
The unicorn has one horn and plays various roles from culture to culture. In Western culture, he is emblematic of chaste love and faithful marriage.
Given that he rises from his own ashes, the phoenix is a symbol of rebirth and very popular.
The word zoomorphic is also used to describe pieces of furniture and architectural elements. For instance, the legs of wing chairs often imitate the feet of an animal. Besides wing chairs have wings. Among architectural element, the animal-like Gargoyle is a favourite. He is a waterspout with an open mouth. Bas-reliefs (shallow carvings on a flat surface, such as a wall) may also contain animal-like architectural elements. They embellish buildings. All animal-like creatures inhabiting the medieval bestiary are allegorical or symbolic.
Both the terms anthropomorphism and zoomorphism include morphism. Morphism suggests a metamorphosis, or a transformation in a being’s appearance, which may be a wish human beings share, just as they share the wish to fly. Roman writer Ovid (20 March 43 BCE – CE 17/18) is the author of the extremely influential Metamorphosesand Berber Latin writer Apuleius (c. 124 – c. 170 CE) wrote The Golden Ass, which contains the lovely tale ofCupid and Psyche. Lucius, the protagonist of The Golden Ass, is mistakenly transformed into an ass when attempting to be transformed into a bird.
In the Preface to his translation of Æsop’s Fables, John Fyler Townsend writes that animals are types, much like the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte.
The introduction of the animals or fictitious characters should be marked with care and attention to their natural attributes, and to the qualities attributed to them by universal popular consent. The Fox should be always cunning, the Hare timid, the Lion bold, the Wolf cruel, the Bull strong, the Horse proud, and the Ass patient. [EBook #21]
Zoomorphic animals are not types. However, there is a commonality between animals and humans, Darwinism is a subject we will not discuss. Mythical and mythological animals may be up to no good, but they are not mutating. Moreover, I consider totemism, animal ancestry, the preserve of anthropologists.
Beast literature is a huge topic. We cannot escape any of the categories mentioned in this post. Yet, anthropomorphism is its chief characteristics because of the prominence of fables and the Roman de Renart, Reynard the Fox. One could define the usefulness of anthropomorphic animals by using Gertrude Stein‘s a rose is a rose is a rose.
Well, at the end of the day, a fox is a fox is a fox, therein the wizardry of a large part of beast literature. However, we remember the story. Dear La Fontaine.
[I] Jan M. Ziolkowski, Talking Animals: Medieval Latin Beast Poetry, 750 – 1150(The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), p. 1. [II]Jean Batany, Scène et coulisses du « Roman de Renart » (Paris: Cedes, 1989), p. 57.
If the myth of the phœnix did not exist, we would probably invent it. Mythical creatures are usually born of a human need, which, in this case, is the need for rebirth. Moreover, given that the Phœnix is a transcultural and nearly universal figure, we can presume that the need for rebirth is widely and profoundly rooted in the human imagination.
Our phœnix is the mythical singing bird that is reborn from its ashes. It [le phénix] is associated with a 170 elegiac-verse poem written by Lucius CæciliusFiminatureLactantius, an early Christian author (c. 240 – c. 320) and an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I. The Ave Phœnice is about the death and rebirth of a mythical bird, a bird that rises from its own ashes. This poem was retold in English as The Phœnix, an anonymous Old English poem composed of 677 lines, based on Lactantius’s Ave Phœnice.
Given that the phœnix rises from its ashes, it constitutes a powerful symbol that one can associate with survival, as is the case with Évangéline and Maria Chapdelaine‘s mythic “pays de Québec.” The phœnix is a source of hope to the inhabitants of lands decimated by wars or natural disasters. As a symbol of rebirth, the phœnix also brings hope to those who, like Job, who have lost everything. This is how it appears in the Hebrew Bible:
I thought I would end my days with my family/ And be as long-lived as the phœnix. (Job.29:18) [i]
Mythical and Mythological Animals
Although it appears in the Bible, I am tempted to consider the phœnix as a mythical rather than mythological figure. Mythological figures have ancestors and descendants, or a lineage, which can hardly be the case with the immortal phœnix. However, given that it can rise from its ashes and is therefore immortal and godlike, this distinction may be rather artificial and insignificant. In other words, whether mythical or mythological, the phœnix is a more powerful symbol than the dragon, the unicorn and the griffin, creatures that also lack a lineage, or mostly so.
In beast literature, he is zoomorphic in that he combines features borrowed from many animals, except obviously human features. Remember that Machiavelli’s centaur was half human and half horse. Our phœnix is an animal, albeit legendary.
In Greece, the phœnix (purple) was an “Arabian bird, the only one of its kind, which according to Greek legend lives a certain number of years, at the end of which it makes a nest of spices, sings a melodious dirge, flaps its wings to set fire to the pile, burns itself to ashes and comes forth with new life.”[ii]
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica “in ancient Egypt and in Classical antiquity, [the phœnix] was a fabulous bird associated with the worship of the sun. The Egyptian phœnix was said to be as large as an eagle, with brilliant scarlet and gold plumage and a melodious cry.[iii] Besides, it had a life span of no less than 500 years and “[a]s its end approached, the phœnix fashioned a nest of aromatic boughs and spices, set it on fire, and was consumed in the flames. From the pyre miraculously sprang a new phœnix, which, after embalming its father’s ashes in an egg of myrrh, flew with the ashes to Heliopolis (“City of the Sun”) in Egypt, where it deposited them on the altar in the temple of the Egyptian god of the sun, Re.”[iv] The Egyptian phœnix symbolized immortality.
Phoenix depicted in the book of mythological creatures by F. J. Bertuch (1747-1822).
In Islamicmythology the phœnix was identified with the ‘anqā,’ also a bird, but one that “became a plague and was killed.”[v]
Fantasy Literature and elsewhere
The phœnix was used by J. K. Rowling in the fifth book of the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phœnix, 2003. It is also featured in Jean de La Fontaine, “Le Corbeau et le Renart,” (Book I.2), or the “Raven and the Fox,” where the Fox tells the crow that because of its beautiful voice, it is a phœnix among the guests of forests: “Vous êtes le phénix des hôtes de ces bois.” In French, blackmail is translated by le chantage. The fox makes the corbeau sing and the cheese drops.
Even the ageless Cinderella narrativehas phœnix-like dimensions. The word Cinderella (Cendrillon) is derived from ashes: cinders and cendres. Through the mediation of her fairy godmother, the ash-girl, reduced to that role by jealous sisters and a mean stepmother, a second wife, becomes the princess of fairy tales.
Moreover, we cannot leave aside the phœnix as a Christian symbol. For Christians, the immortal bird represents the resurrection of Christ. On the third day, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead as the phœnix rises from his ashes. In the liturgical year, Christians go from Ash Wednesday to the Resurrection: Easter.
We cannot escape death as we are mere mortals, but life is nevertheless perpetuated. Outside my window there are naked trees, but they will again be adorned. And even if one’s land is a paper land, a literary homeland, that too is a land. In 1889-1890, Henri-Raymond Casgrain, the author of Pèlerinage au pays d’Évangéline was President of the Royal Society of Canada and quite lucid. Yet there is no “real” Évangéline. She was created by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in 1847.
The manner in which humanity copes with its condition often leads to mythification and once the myth is in place, it can be as real and powerful as is Évangéline to Acadians and her “pays de Québec” to Maria Chapdelaine.
Phoenix, from Aberdeen Bestiary
[i]Donald Ray Schwartz, Noah’s Ark: an Annotated Encyclopedia of Every Animal Species in the Hebrew Bible (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 2000), p. 400, p. 405, pp. 408-409.
[ii] “phœnix,” in Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, revised by Adrian Room (London: Cassel House, 2001).
Romulus and Remus suckling Lupa (Photo credit: Google Images)
The above image shows Romulus and Remus, born to Vestal VirginRhea Silvia and the god Mars or the demi-God Hercules. Amulius had seized power from his brother Numitor and had forced Rhea Silvia, Numitor’s daughter, to become a Vestal Virgin so she would not bear children.
After the birth of Romulus and Remus, Amulius threw the babies into the river Tiber and sent their mother to jail. However, Romulus and Remus were saved by shepherds and fed by a she-wolf, Lupa, in a cave called Lupercal, perhaps located at the foot of Palatine Hill. They were then discovered by Faustulus, a shepherd.
The feral twins killed Amulius when they learned about their mother, but Romulus killed Remus who wanted Rome founded on Aventile Hill rather than Palatine Hill. Whence, the existence of Lupercus (from lupus: wolf), the Roman god of shepherds, and that of the Lupercalia, a yearly Roman festival honoring Lupa.
Romulus and Remus being given shelter by Faustulus, oil by Pietro da Cortona(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Lupercalia & Candlemas
In ancient Rome, the Lupercalia (Lupercus) took place between 13th and 15th of February. This “pagan” feast is sometimes associated with Candlemas, celebrated on the 2nd of February. The Julian Calendar ceased to reflect the seasons, the degree of lightness or darkness, and was therefore replaced with the Gregorian calendar. The Eastern Church reflects this discrepancy.
As we will see, there was a motivation to transform the Lupercalia into a Christian feast. However, the Lupercalia endured until the 5th century CE and was celebrated beginning on the Ides of February, i.e. the 13th, ending two days later, on the 15th.
At the start of the Lupercalia, two goats and a dog were sacrificed. Next, two young Luperci, members of a corporation of priests, were led to the altar and anointed with the blood of the sacrificed animals. Luperci then dressed themselves in thongs, called februa, taken from skin of the of the sacrificed goats and dog and ran around the walls of the old Palatine city carrying thongs and striking the crowd.
Pancake Day or La fête des crêpes
Later, salt meal cakes prepared by the Vestal Virgins were burnt, which is interesting because in France, Candlemas, celebrated on 2nd February, is “la fête des crêpes” or Pancake Day and today, 12th February is International Pancake Day. It would be my opinion that the pan of pancakes is the pan of pots and pans, but would that it were Pan the “Greek god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music, and companion of the nymphs” (Pan, Wikipedia).
Pan’s Roman counterpart was Faunus. But Pan protected the flocks from wolves, which would suggest that he was also the counterpart of Lupercus, the above-mentioned Roman god of shepherds who replaced an earlier god named Februus (see Lupercalia, Wikipedia).
However, for our purposes, the ancient and “pagan” Lupercalia was an event which Pope Saint Gelasius I (494–96) wanted to abolish. Senators opposed him, so he invited them to run nude themselves. Gelasius I did not replace the Lupercalia, but a Christian feast would be celebrated on 2nd February, 40 days after Christmas. It would commemorate the “Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” to be observed on Candlemas. It was a noble thought, but Lupercalia was not replaced. However, a St Valentine would be commemorated, but other Valentines would be celebrated on Saint Valentine’s Day, the 14th of February which were the Ides of February. [i] According to Britannica, “[i]t came to be celebrated as a day of romance from about the 14th century.”[ii] That would be in Chaucer’s (born c. 1342/43 died 25 October 1400) lifetime.
The many Saints called Valentine
There was a St Valentine a convert and a physician, who may have restored the sight of his gaoler’s blind daughter. According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, this Valentine was clubbed to death c. 270. His feast day is the 14th of February. However, there could be other beatified Valentines. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there are three saints named Valentine, one of whom would the bishop of Terni, formerly Interamna. The fact remains that Roman Martyrology recognizes only one St Valentine, a martyr who died on the Via Flaminia and whose feast day is the 14th of February. (See Saint Valentine, Wikipedia.)
I will break here. We have gone from the Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day and stumbled upon la fête des crêpes (2nd February) or Pancake Day, which is quite a journey. Let us return to the Lupercalia. Pope Saint Gelasius I may have abolished Lupercalia, but Lupercalia remained. However, although there is at least one saint named Valentine, Valentine’s Day is very much as described in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It is a “relic” of a pagan feast celebrated in February that remains a celebration of love and friendship and a bit of a carnival. It should be noted that Epiphanytide, which beings on the 6th of January, ends on the 2nd of February, on Candlemas. As for Carnival season, it also begins on Epiphany, but it ends on Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday), a few days before Easter.
Capitoline Wolf, bronze, 13th and late 15th century CE or c. 500 – 480 BCE.
“The Song of Hiawatha,” The Children’s Own Longfellow, 1908 (Photo credit: Gutenberg #9080)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (27 February 1807 – 24 March 1882), could create characters that would seem real to his readers. For Acadians who were deported (see Deportation of the Acadians), Longfellow’s fictional Évangéline, the heroine of an epic poem he published in 1847, is real. She spent years seeking Gabriel, her fiancé. When she found him, he was one of the dying she was attending to as a Sister of Mercy. Longfellow gave Acadians a heroic past that elevated them. Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha would not return their homes to North-American Indians, but it would mythicize them by giving them the obligatory glorious past in the person of Hiawatha, a Noble Savage.
The plight of Amerindians was greater than that of Acadians. The Removal Act of 1830 and the Cherokee Removal Act of 1838 deprived a large number of North America’s aboriginals of a territory that had been theirs since time immemorial.
The history of this Cherokee removal of 1838, as gleaned by the author from the lips of actors in the tragedy, may well exceed in weight of grief and pathos any other passage in American history. Even the much-sung exile of the Acadians falls far behind it in its sum of death and misery. (James Mooney, Myths of the CherokeesEBook #45634, p. 130.)
Henry Schoolcraft by the Beal Brothers, 1855 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
However, at that time in history, disciplines such as folkloristics and ethnology were emerging. As we have seen in earlier posts, the Brothers Grimm were folklorists. The two brothers scoured German-language lands collecting folklore in the hope that tales would yield a unifying identity to scattered German-speaking Europeans.
As for Longfellow, his Song of Hiawatha would use Amerindian tales told to the rhythm of the trochaic meter of the Finnish Kalevala (see Trochaic tetrameter, Wikipedia), but he could not return to Amerindians the territory that was taken from them. Amerindians had been dispossessed and relocated. He could however ennoble America’s crushed aboriginals. To a large extent, Hiawatha is yet another chapter in the history of the Noble Savage which, according to Stith Thompson, finds its beginning in the Jesuit Relations, the yearly report Jesuit missionaries to New France sent to their superiors in France.
The Jesuits (Thompson: 297-298) recorded the tales told by the Amerindians and, by the same token, were witnesses to what I will call ‘natural virtue,’ virtue that was not related to Catholicism and Christianity. One of our colleagues, Françoise Duhamel, wrote a comment associating the Noble Savage to Romanticism. French Romantic author François René, vicomte de Chateaubriand wrote Atala (1801), René (1802), Les Natchez (1790s) Voyage en Amérique (1826), thus invigorating the concept of the Noble Savage. Chateaubriand travelled to the United States in 1791. As an aristocrat, he was forced to leave France during the French Revolution. He was an émigré.
The Song of Hiawatha did elevate Amerindians. However, Native Americans also became a subject matter in emerging disciplines such as folkloristics and ethnology. In this regard, Longfellow’s main source would be Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an Indian agent for the American government and an ethnologist. In 1846, eight years after the Cherokee Removal Act, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft “was commissioned for a major study, known as Indian Tribes of the United States, which was published in six volumes from 1851 to 1857.” (See Henry Schoolcraft, Wikipedia.) Britannica refers to two volumes.
Henry Schoolcraft had been married to Jane Johnston (1800 – 1842), the “mixed race daughter of a prominent Scotch-Irish fur trader and Ojibwa mother, who was the daughter of a war chief.” (See Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Wikipedia). She had taught her husband Ojibwa. Jane Johnston is the first American Indian writer.
Longfellow also drew his subject matter from the Narratives of John Heckewelder (12 March 1743 – 21 January 1823), a missionary to the Indians, from Ojibwe Chief Kahge-ga-gah-bowh “during his visits at the author’s,” and from “Black Hawk and other Sac [Sauk] and Fox Indians Longfellow encountered on Boston Common.” (See The Song of Hiawatha, Wikipedia.) Hiawatha is an Ojibwa and there can be no doubt that Longfellow knew Amerindian tales. One need only read North American Indian Fairy Tales, Folklore and Legends (Amazon), illustrated by R. C. Armour and published in 1905. Would that this book were online! It may be, but I have not found it.
R. C. Armour’s book features Mudjikewis, Hiawatha’s father in The Song of Hiawatha, the mischievous Paupukkewis (p. 15) whose name is Pau-Puk-Keewis in Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha. More importantly, the book R. C. Armour illustrated, tells the adventures of Manabozho.
For instance, Manabozho is swallowed whole by the king-fish, a sturgeon named Nahma. So is Hiawatha. After giving a name—Ajidanneo (animal tail)—to a squirrel that has entered the fish, depicted in the image at the top of this post, Manabozho-Hiawatha “recommenced his attack of the king-fish’s heart, and by repeated blows he at last succeeded in killing him.” (p. 71) Gulls, whom he calls “my younger brothers” helped open the mouth of the sturgeon to free Hiawatha. As we have seen, for North-American Indians, there is no difference between humans and animals, hence the “my younger brothers” referring to the gulls. Manabozho names the gulls Kayoshk, a word meaning “noble scratchers” (p. 71). Moreover, Manabozho “made the land” (p. 11), in which he would be a creator.
The killing of Nahma is one of Hiawatha’s legendary deeds (geste, in chanson de geste). Two other legendary deeds are the killing of Mondamin, the Corn Spirit (canto v), and that of Pearl-Feather, the sender of death (canto viii). So is, to a lesser extent, the killing of Pau-Puk-Keewis (canto xiv).
Were The Song of Hiawatha a fairy tale, it would end with the marriage of Hiawatha and Minnehaha. Moreover, the wedding-feast is followed by cantos that are looked upon as idyllic.
“As unto the bow the cord is, So unto the man is woman; Though she bends him, she obeys him, Though she draws him, yet she follows; Useless each without the other!” (Canto x of xxii)
Canto (xi)The Wedding-Feast (appearance of Pau-Puk-Keewis)
Canto (xii) The Evening Star (metamorphoses)
Canto (xiii)Blessing of the Corn-Fields (the food of Amerindians)
Canto (xiv)Picture writing (to be able to write)
However, Hiawatha will lose his friends Chibiabos, the musician (canto xv) and Kwasind (canto xviii). We know moreover that the white man is arriving. Finally, having lost the beautiful Winnehaha, Hiawatha will walk into the sunset to go and rule the kingdom of the Northwest.
“In the wigwam with Nokomis [Minnehaha’s mother], With those gloomy guests that watched her, With the Famine and the Fever, She was lying, the Beloved, She, the dying Minnehaha.” (canto xx of xxii)
I am inserting a video, a lovely reading of the Pau-Puk-Keewis episode, and will then close because this post is already very long and my computer has slowed down.
 Antti Aarne would publish his first index of folk-literature: Verzeichnis der Märchentypen, in 1910. Stith Thompson would continue Aarne’s work and publish his six-volume Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (1955-1958). It is an online publication.
 Stith Thompson, The Folktale (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: The University of California Press, 1977 ), pp. 297-298.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s The Song of Hiawatha, published in 1855, will be posted today or early tomorrow, but it may require a short follow-up article. I have retold the entire story ‘succinctly,’ but it nevertheless made for a long article.
Hiawatha becomes a hero through legendary deeds and marries the beautiful Minnehaha. But we sense a tragedy. Ghosts come to haunt Winnehaha. They are famished, so she gives them food. This is a premonition. Famine kills Winnehaha and devastates Hiawatha’s people.
Much was expected of Hiawatha, much that he could not accomplish. The white man was arriving. After the death of Winnehaha, Hiawatha marches West to the Isles of the Blest in Keewaydin, where he will rule what I believe is the evanescent kingdom of the “Northwest Wind.”
“I beheld, too, in that vision All the secrets of the future, Of the distant days that shall be. I beheld the westward marches Of the unknown, crowded nations. All the land was full of people, Restless, struggling, toiling, striving, Speaking many tongues, yet feeling But one heart-beat in their bosoms. In the woodlands rang their axes, Smoked their towns in all the valleys, Over all the lakes and rivers Rushed their great canoes of thunder.
“Then a darker, drearier vision Passed before me, vague and cloud-like; I beheld our nation scattered, All forgetful of my counsels, Weakened, warring with each other: Saw the remnants of our people Sweeping westward, wild and woful, Like the cloud-rack of a tempest, Like the withered leaves of Autumn!(Canto xxi of xxii )
Before leaving, Hiawatha tells his people not to fear the Black Robes, the missionaries. I think we are now hearing Longfellow’s own voice.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Postage Stamp issued on 16 February 1940 (Photo credit: Google Images)
The Song of Hiawatha (1855) was enormously successful, as had been Longfellow’s Évangéline, published in 1847.
Évangéline is the lesser tragedy. Acadians were deported. They were put aboard ships dividing families and betrothed. The Cajuns, descendants of Acadians, live in Louisiana, but many returned home or went into hiding, a large number went to Quebec, protected by Amerindians. For the most part, Acadians live in the Atlantic provinces of Canada, but their farms were not returned to them. However, they have been mythicized by Longfellow, which is a form of redemption, poetical as it may be.
To a certain extent, the same is true of The Song of Hiawatha. It ennobled a people. But Amerindians had been relocated; they had been torn away from the land that had always been theirs.
Ethnologists, two of whom are Claude Lévi-Strauss and Franz Boas, devotedlong and insightful studies to Amerindians, totemism in particular, and the interest they have taken in Amerindian folklore and mythology has served to dignify North America’s Indians, which is not insignificant, but …
Trickster tales are the most popular Amerindian tales, but we are looking at a wider selection. For instance, James Mooneygives anaccount of the plight of Amerindians in the United States. Between 1830 and 1838, Amerindians had to leave their hunting grounds one-third of the Mississippi and settle west of the Mississippi, in geographical areas often, if not always, chosen by the government. Good land was reserved for the white.
I doubt American officials could have removed Amerindians west of the Mississippi had it not been for the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Financially, Louisiana was purchased at a low-cost to the United States’ government, yet at too high a cost to Amerindians living in the Southeast of the United States.
I have suggested that deported Acadians may have told their stories to black slaves in Georgia US. They could not leave those boats that sailed down Britain’s Thirteen Colonies. It is an honest theory, but one-third of the current contiguous United States belonged to France and French-Canadian voyageurs grew to include African-Americans and Amerindians. George Bonga, who was of American African and Objiwe descent, was a voyageur and a fur trader. He was educated in Montreal. In other words, stories could circulate quite easily. (See David Vermette, RELATED ARTICLES.)
Stith Thompson (of the Aarne-Thompson-Üther classification index) has provided insightful information regarding the manner in which North-American folklore was collected. He writes that:
“[s]ome of the Jesuit Fathers in Canada, however, interested themselves greatly in listening to such stories. They were, of course, much concerned to learn exactly what kinds of error they must combat in their attempt to convert these simple folk. But their curiosity went far beyond this immediate need, and they recorded a number of stories merely because they were interesting.”
With the activities of the Jesuit Fathers, the collecting of American Indian began.”
During their forty-one year mission in New France, from 1632 to 1673, Jesuit missionaries sent their Relations to their superiors in France. The Jesuit Relations were a yearly and detailed report of the activities of missionaries and the daily life of the people of New France. Although converting Amerindians was the main role of Jesuit missionaries, they incorporated in their Relations stories told by Amerindians. The Relations may be read online, but the text may not be complete.
In fact, we could compare the work of the Jesuits with the Brothers Grimm travels in German-language lands, collecting a past for German-speaking Europeans. It was not long before composer Richard Wagner followed in their tracks providing a nascent Germany with operas that told its epic past. Der Ring des Nibelungenis an example. But the Jesuits also transferred an oral tradition into a learned (written) tradition.
The “Noble Savage”
Stith Thompson looks upon the Jesuits as folklorists. They recorded the “folklore” of Amerindians. However, we can also associate the Jesuit Relations with the growth of the notion of the Noble Savage. We have already linked this concept with John Dryden‘s heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672) and to the Baron de Lahontan‘sAdario. (See RELATED ARTICLES.)
It was difficult for certain Jesuits not to see in Amerindians a form of lay virtue, virtue not associated with a religion.
Stith Thompson writes that “[b]y far the best known of all American Indian creation myths is that made famous by Longfellow’s Hiawatha.” Hiawatha was a historical Iroquois” whose name was Manabozho. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft who wrote a six-volume study of American Indians in the 1850s (see Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Wikipedia), was an inspiration as well as a source to Longfellow (see Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Wikipedia). Longfellow’s sources were Ojibwe Chief Kahge-ga-gah-bowh, Black Hawk a Sauk leader and other Sauk and Fox Indians.