Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0008847, Thu, 30 Oct 2003 10:32:49 -0800

Fw: Disa - butterfly and orchid
----- Original Message -----
From: "Dieter E. Zimmer" <mail@d-e-zimmer.de>
To: "Don Barton Johnson" <chtodel@cox.net>
Sent: Tuesday, October 28, 2003 10:47 PM
Subject: Disa - butterfly and orchid

> Dear Don, I cannot imagine a reason why you should not send out the
> I sent you twice a week ago. So probably it got lost in the course of your
> computer problems, and here it comes again. (Disa is still being discussed
> by the Pynchon crowd, and a chat group on orchids also is wondering about
> the name, to no avail.) After all, the explanation of the name was one of
> genuine discoveries and did not come easy, and nobody will ever find it in
> my "Guide". Best, Dieter
> Berlin, Oct 29, 2003 -- 7:30am
> mail@d-e-zimmer.de
> I don't know whether Nabokovians are meant or entitled to join the Pynchon
> fray, but nabokv-l readers should know that there is a much more likely
> specific explanation of the name 'Disa' than the one offered in
> pynchon-l-digest V2 #3617. Here is a quote from my "Guide to Nabokov's
> Butterflies and Moths 2001", pp. 147-148:
> <In the index of Pale Fire, there is "Disa, Duchess of Payn, of Great
> Payn and Mone; my [Kinbote's] lovely, pale, melancholy Queen, haunting my
> dreams, and haunted by dreams of me." The name certainly is a reference to
> [the butterfly] Erebia disa (Thunberg, 1791); the next entry in the index
> "Embla," another northern Erebia [alpine or ringlet] very close to disa
> (Erebia embla) also named by Swedish entomologist Carl Peter Thunberg
> (1743-1828). 'Disa' is one of Nabokov's cryptic butterflies, hidden in a
> name. As to the etymology of the species' name, [Ernst Hofmann's butterfly
> atlas] gives "Disa, daughter of Pluto," the god of Greek mythology who
> the underworld, perhaps prompted by the fact that Pluto's other names are
> Hades and Dis. However, Pluto and his wife Persephone had no children; in
> fact, there seems to be no Disa in all of Greek and Roman mythology. It is
> more likely that the name is taken from local Swedish lore. Thunberg who
> bestowed Nordic names on several boreal butterfly species (embla, freija,
> frigga, lappona, norna) and who was Carl von Linné's successor as
> of Natural History at the university of Uppsala used the name of an
> celebrity, Disa the clever maiden who won her king's hand in marriage for
> giving him a piece of advice. Frej, a legendary Uppsala king, had
> regretfully decided to save his people from starvation during a famine by
> having the sick and the old killed. Disa (short for Desideria), the
> of a town councillor in near-by Venngarn, suggested he rather send them
> to settle in the uninhabited north of Scandinavia [which was another but
> perhaps kinder way of putting them to death]. It was on her fate that the
> Protestant pamphletist and Uppsala professor of law, Johannes Messenius,
> wrote the first Swedish play (Disa, 1611). It was performed by Uppsala
> students during the market revels in that town.
> When exiled King Charles of Zembla visits his spurned wife Disa in her
> Villa (Para)Disa on Cap Turc, Fleur de Fyler, her lady in waiting, "turned
> to go with the Disa orchids"(p. 213). These are not just "Disa's orchids."
> They are the "flowers-of-the-gods" Charles had brought her (p. 206) in
> tribute to her name. "Flower-of-the-Gods" is a striking orchid species,
> uniflora (Bergius, 1767) syn grandiflora, from Cape Province, South
> The flowers are large (c. 10 cm) and usually red, but there are also
> and orange ones. The S and E African genus Disa has some 125 species and
> very popular with orchid cultivators. The generic name has also puzzled
> orchid lovers. The explanation is that the Swedish botanist, Peter Jonas
> Bergius (1730-1790), had also studied with Linné at Uppsala and probably
> chose the generic name Disa for the same reason Thunberg did, in memory of
> legendary Uppsala queen.>
> Dieter E. Zimmer
> Berlin, October 29, 2003 -- 7:30pm
> mail@d-e-zimmer.de