Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024885, Thu, 12 Dec 2013 19:41:50 -0200

Re: Sighting & Quiz
C.Kunin: Interesting that in Pale Fire the insect is a cicada - in English the usual translation of the fable is "the Grasshopper and the Ant." Can anyone tell the difference between cicada and grasshopper? They don't resemble each other, I know that much. I purchased some cloth napkins recently with a design made up of what I took to be bees (a la Napoleon), but the owner of the shop said no, they are cicadas. as it Nabokov or La Fontaine who changed grasshopper to cicada? and what was it originally in Aesop's Greek.

Jansy Mello: Hi, Carolyn. I suggest we let Charles Kinbote do the explaining. In his words to Line 238: empty emerald case

"This, I understand, is the semitransparent envelope left on a tree trunk by an adult cicada that has crawled up the trunk and emerged. Shade said that he had once questioned a class of three hundred students and only three knew what a cicada looked like. Ignorant settlers had dubbed it "locust," which is, of course, a grasshopper, and the same absurd mistake has been made by generations of translators of Lafontaine’s La Cigale et la Fourmi (see lines 243-244). The cigale’s companion piece, the ant, is about to be embalmed in amber."

Matt Roth: “Mandible” chimes with “Mandevil,” the surname of the Zemblan cousins Mirador (good) and Radomir (bad). So there may be some connection to Kinbote’s tale. But I have never been able to shake a supplementary echo from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (IV.2), which ends with a song by the clown, Feste (who has been engaged in trying to convince a sane man, Malvolio, that he is mad) [ ] Vice was the devil’s fool in the old morality plays, wherein he tried to pare the devil’s long nails with his wooden sword. If we look back at the passage in “PF,” we see that the next line after the “mandible” line reads: “And so I pare my nails . . . .” In my fever dream, then, Shade is the mad lad (“in my demented youth”), the man-devil, paring his nails. And if “man devil” = “mandible,” we can then can read the passage as “Shade is dead, but his poem will live on by way of Kinbote.” As I said, highly speculative, but one of those private associations that nonetheless vibrates a little in my upper spine.

Carolyn Kunin: Not ready to join you on your twig (though as usual I can find no argument against it), but as it happens I recently found my old high school book on Shakespeare's songs (from my time in high school, I mean). I thought I knew most if not all of the hundred songs by heart, but did not recognize the one you quoted.Well, it' not in the book, but Tom Kines, the collator, says that the New York Library alone has some 200 songs that were sung in the plays. As more of a poprigunya (grasshopper) than an ant, I salute your efforts. ..

Jansy Mello: Interesting connection between morality play's Vice, the man-devil paring his nails and Shade's lines about his nail paring after a reference to mandible. Such a pleasure to learn about it! Nabokov must have been familiar, then, with the song and with the devil's fool wooden sword.
I cannot follow you on "Shade is dead,but his poem will live on by way of Kinbote" (it's not as metaphoric as, say, the cicada's song lives in spirit and the thrifty ant is merely embalmed in 'amber')

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