NABOKV-L post 0024300, Fri, 31 May 2013 22:42:11 +0000

Re: Vanessa, an Orphic Divinity
Yes, a superb find, and an excellent example of VN's preferring, as he says in the first interview in Strong Opinions, " obscure facts to clear symbols, and the discovered wild fruit to the synthetic jam." I think at this level of hide-and-seek, Nabokov winks straight at the reader through the Kinbote mask.
Brian Boyd

On 1/06/2013, at 7:03 AM, "Roth, Matthew" <mroth@MESSIAH.EDU<mailto:mroth@MESSIAH.EDU>>

Many thanks to Sergey Karpukhin for clarifying the origins of the Vanessa/Phanessa conflation. I had not been able to locate that information myself, so I am grateful to have it. Kinbote’s knowledge of this very obscure connection between the genus name and the divinity remains puzzling to me, as it would seem to be an area of knowledge well beyond his expertise. I feel sure that he makes the connection between the butterfly and Swift, especially since he quotes the lines where Vanessa and Atalanta appear together. But he could hardly have known about this obscure etymological-entomological debate. Perhaps the more important question is why did Nabokov want us to find (as he surely did) the divinity Phanes?


From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU<mailto:L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>] On Behalf Of Sergey Karpukhin
Sent: Thursday, May 30, 2013 9:39 AM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] Vanessa, an Orphic Divinity

I've been rereading Pale Fire and got interested in Kinbote's note on "My dark Vanessa" (270), where he says: "It is so like the heart of a scholar in search of a fond name to pile a butterfly genus upon an Orphic divinity on top of the inevitable allusion to Vanhomrigh, Esther!"

I found Matt Roth's valuable 2010 posting in the NABOKV-L archives where he had identified the divinity as Phanes ("the luminous, enlightening, appearing one"), one of the important Orphic divinities, son of Aether. Matt also wrote in that posting: "Some scientists doubt that this was the origin of the genus name, but VN must have seen the connection somewhere and noted it."

I just wanted to try and fill in a minor gap. The butterfly genus was named Vanessa by Fabricius in 1807 and the name must have come to him from Swift's poem Cadenus and Vanessa (publ. 1726, cited by Kinbote in that note). In 1837, a doctor (and poet) from Riga named Wilhelm Sodoffsky (Karl Heinrich Wilhelm Sodoffsky, 1797-1858) published an article where he suggested to rename the genus Phanessa, in a curious attempt to justify the name classically. According to him, Phanes is a god of love, a nickname (Beiname) for Amor; so Phanesse would be the feminine god of love and thus Venus, which [as a name] is predominant in this department of lepidoptera (he mentions Argynnis, Euploea, Limenitis etc. as other Venus-related generic names). The article ("Etymologische Untersuchungen ueber die Gattungsnamen der Schmetterlinge") was published in the Bulletin de la Société impériale des naturalistes de Moscou Vol. 10, No. 6 (1837), pp. 76-97, with the relevant passage on p. 80, and got a response, published under the signature "R.T." in theAnnals and Magazine of Natural History Vol. 2 (2nd Series), No. 7 (London, 1848), where the link between Swift's poem and the name of the genus was taken for granted and Sodoffsky's suggestion was called a "very superfluous critical conjecture" (p. 68). Indeed, the word Phanesse, or Phanessa, is not listed in any Greek lexicon I consulted and in general seems to have been Sodoffsky's fanciful formation, with rather arbitrary logic behind it (it is not, as some name books keep suggesting, the name of a little-known Orphic goddess). Even though Phanes was the name used by "simpler mortals" for Eros (in the Orphic Argonautica, 15-16), in other Orphic fragments Phanes is an epithet for Dionysus; or is identified with Metis ("counsel, wisdom") and Eros; or is one with the great all-seeing Zeus; or, as an independent deity, is a "repetition of the character Time" with some new features (androgynous, world-illuminating, first-born) added (A. Bernabé, "The Gods in Later Orphism." In: J. N. Bremmer, A. Erskine (eds.), The Gods of Ancient Greece. Identities and Transformations. Edinburgh, 2010, pp. 422-441, esp. pp. 434-5). To sum up, Sodoffsky seems to have been unaware of Swift's poem and strained his ingenuity to justify the name Vanessa relying on his own limited knowledge.

In the note, if I understand it correctly, Kinbote doesn't know (as VN surely did) that the name of the genus must come from either a poem by Swift (Vanessa Fabricius [1807]) or an Orphic divinity (Phanessa Sodoffsky [1837]): he lumps all his references together.

Sergey Karpukhin

Google Search the archive<> Contact the Editors<,> Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"<> Visit Zembla<> View Nabokv-L Policies<> Manage subscription options<> Visit AdaOnline<> View NSJ Ada Annotations<> Temporary L-Soft Search the archive<>
All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: