NABOKV-L post 0018681, Mon, 19 Oct 2009 01:38:13 -0200

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Re: Nabokov and Jules Verne
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A.Sklyarenko:I didn't notice horns in "Corneville."
Fran Assa: "To tweak a point even further, cornuate would be related to crown. So by cornuating ones husband one could be crowning him. BTW do women ever receive antlers, horns, crowns etc. when husbands cuckold them?"

JM: The dictionary I consulted ( A.Houaiss, "Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa") offers the option for a "crowned" betrayed woman ("cornuda") but, apparently, this use is not as illustriously ancient as its application for a betrayed male seems to be. Probably Nabokov found an entry in his special Webster's edition (which I don't have by me), for the Latin etymology offers "cornutus" in registers that go as far back as 1470 ( for the Italian husbands) and 1618 ( for the Portuguese husbands).
It has also been found in Greece (Artemidorus, Efeso, II a.C) as "kérata poiein"!
The "cuckold" indicates the "cuculus" bird to suggest a "fool." ( In "Ulysses" James Joyce approaches both terms using a pun & it makes sense to me.)

Thanks to Nabokovian inventiveness ( "to help in cornuating somebody"), by the special way he rendered the phrase ( when Van indicates the importance of Cordula's participation), I realized that this is a rare instance of an "oedipal verb," that is unlike most verbs in which the action depends solely of the person performing the act. To be able "to cornuate," two participants are necessary and each subject, of the pair, must confirm the other in the role of "cornuating" a third party. It is not a simple matter of "cumplicity." Actually, this is what establishes the specific "threesome" meaning when it is expressed by a single verb ("to cornuate") to suggest, figuratively, "crowning with antlers" or "applying horns" to a betrayed third element. Why this image was chosen since Artemidorus, at least, remains a mystery to this day.


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