Ada and the East. Notes
----- Original Message -----
From: Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello
To: don barton johnson
Cc: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Sunday, January 23, 2005 7:59 AM
Subject: Fw: juntando pedaços ada1
Dear Don and List,
Since I am not a Nabokov academic specialist and have no time to write articles connecting certain leads from VN´s texts, I´d like to share the data I´ve been collecting while researching certain words during my " reading of Ada in Portuguese" ( while I´m doing an informal revision of a forthcoming translation of ADA, by Jorio Dauster ) . Most of these informations have certainly already been discussed in the List and correctly examined by Brian Boyd, but I still think that these informal links and reminders might interest the List readers.
My research began with Queen Ada ( historical figure that inspired the name of an oncidean orchid that is also linked ( but imprecisely) to the Butterfly orchis, ruled in Caria ( Anatolia) but indirectly, through the Butterfly orchis, which has been a subject of former mailings to the list, and Queen Ada as well.
'I can add,' said the girl, 'that the petal belongs to the common Butterfly Orchis; that my mother was even crazier than her sister; and that the paper flower so cavalierly dismissed is ...( Ada, Ch.1)
My readings then proceeded to:
ADA: The girl's pale skin, so excitingly delicate to Van's eye, so vulnerable to the beast's needle, was, nevertheless, as strong as a stretch of Samarkand satin and withstood all self-flaying attempts whenever Ada, her dark eyes veiled as in the erotic trances Van had already begun to witness ( Ada,ch17)
There is a poem by Poe that speaks of Samarkand and Tamerlane. It seems that also Marlowe and Lord Byron wrote about Tamerlane. I´ll bring more information on Poe and his poem about Tamerlane at the end of the posting.
Tamerlane, the name was derived from the Persian Timur-i lang, "Temur the Lame" by Europeans during the 16th century. His Turkic name is Timur, which means 'iron'. In his life time, he has conquered more than anyone else except for Alexander. His armies crossed Eurasia from Delhi to Moscow, from the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia to the Taurus Mountains in Anatolia. From 1370 till his death 1405, Temur built a powerful empire and became the last of great nomadic leaders.
Character and Personality
There are abundant ancient sources written about Tamerlane. We have the primary source from Spanish Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, sent by King Henry III of Castile on a return embassy to Tamerlane. There is also a Persian biography of Tamerlane by Ali Sharaf ad-Din and the Arab biography by Ahmad ibn Arabshah; from Marlowe to Edgar Allan Poe, he continues to fascinate us as hero or viper.
Timur claimed direct descent from Jenghiz Khan through the house of Chagatai. He was born at Kesh (the Green city), about fifty miles south of Sarmarkand in 1336, a son of a lesser chief of the Barlas tribe
In 1941, the body of Tamerlane was permitted to be exhumed by a Russian scientist, M. M. Gerasimov. The scientist found Timur, after examining his skeleton, a Mongoloid man about 5 feet 8 inches. He also confirmed Tamerlane's lameness. In his book The Face Finder, Gerasimov explains how he was able to reconstruct exact likenesses of Timur from a careful consideration of his skull.
Different sources indicate that Timur is a man with extraordinary intelligence - not only intuitive, but intellectual. Even though he did not know how to read or write, he spoke two or three languages including Persian and Turkic and liked to be read history at mealtimes. He had aesthetic appreciation in buildings and garden. It has been said that he loved art so much that he could not help stealing it! The Byzantine palace gates of the Ottoman capital of Brusa were carried off to Samarkand, where they were much admired by Clavijo. Ibn Khaldun, who met him outside Damascus in 1401 worte:
"This king Timur is one of the greatest and mightiest kings...he is hightly intelligent and very perspicacious, addicted to debate and argument about what he knows and also about what he does not know!"
Known to be a chess player, he had invented a more elaborate form of the game, now called Tamerlane Chess, with twice the number of pieces on a board of a hundred and ten squares.
Reading further along ADA:
ADA: "Ada had declined to invite anybody except the Erminin twins to her picnic;
but she had had no intention of inviting the brother without the sister. The
latter, it turned out, could not come, having gone to New Cranton to see a
young drummer, her first boy friend, sail off into the sunrise with his
regiment. But Greg had to be asked to come after all: on the previous day he
had called on her bringing a Otalisman from his very sick father, who
wanted Ada to treasure as much as his grandam had a little camel of yellow
ivory carved in Kiev, five centuries ago, in the days of Timur and Nabok. (ch 39)
More collected references, now a link bt. Nabok/Genghis Khan/Tamerlane/Tatar/Anatolia:
There is, to be sure, an impressionistic whirl through the author's family history (including a gallery of Tartar princes and fin-de-siècle oddities) in: Speak, Memory
John Updike wrote: Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on Shakespeare's birthday in 1899, in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad). His family was both aristocratic and wealthy. The family name, indeed, may stem from the same Arabic root as the word nabob, having been brought into Russia by the fourteenth-century Tatar prince Nabok Murza.
On September 3, 1968, Nicholas Garnham interview with VN: " My own life has been incomparably happier and healthier than that of Genghis Khan, who is said to have fathered the first Nabok, a petty Tatar prince in the twelfth
century who married a Russian damsel in an era of intensely
artistic Russian culture".
Anatolia, or Asia Minor as it was known in ancient times, has been inhabited for 30,000 years. A bridge land due to its location, it possesses an abundance of natural resources, water, good soil, a fairly suitable climate. It has always been attractive to settlers, such as the Hittites, Urartians, Phrygians and the Greeks.
Anatolia: Greek word that means " Sunrise" ( "oriental" )
ADA: " King Wing, the latter's wrestling master, taught the strong lad to walk on his hands by means of a special play of the shoulder muscles, a trick that necessitated for its acquirement and improvement nothing short of a dislocation of the caryatics (ch 13)
"The Erechteum may look complicated & traditional initially, but strking innovations were made by its unknown architect. The porch of Caryatics is the highlight of this Greek construction. It is well-known for its unique columns, that make use of female figures to replace the more traditional columns...
Caryatid: Figura di donna, o anche di uomo, impiegata come colonna o pilastro. Il nome deriva da Karuai, fanciulla della città di Caria.
This part that deals with Van´s brachiambulation and tarantine sail legs, makes reference to Caria ( city of Ada in Anatolia ) through the word "caryatics" and a few paragraphs before that we find Lady Erminin´s blue eyes lookeing down on the scene from a Persian blue sky...
These references point to VN´s knowledge of Caria´s Queen Ada. I don´t know enough about the geography ( either ancient or modern ) but blood-lineages link Tarento ( through Pyrrhus ) to Persia ( Alexander ) and Caria ( Ada ). I copied an extensive family-tree from the internet that was a bit confusing but which brought this relation in a roundabout way ( Ada as Alexander´s step-mother leads to Olympia, his biological one that is a relative to one Pyrrhus...)
Connections bt. Divan & Ottoman, Arab World and Goethe
I was researching today Goethe´s "West-Oestliche Divan", i.e a collection of poems that links East and West ( Cf. ADA: Greg Erminin "on the previous day had called on her bringing a Otalisman from his very sick father" ) and thinking about the Ottoman empire and an "ottoman" ( couch ) and divan ( also couch) to reach the German poet´s "Talisman" verses, when I discovered how strongly linked to the Arab world, philosophy and writing Goethe had been. It came to me as a truly enormous surprise.
Goethe´s Divan on Talismans:
Gottes ist der Orient!
Gottes ist der Occident!
Nord- und suedliches Gelaende
Ruht im Frieden seiner Haende!
Er, der einzige Gerechte,
Will fuer jedermann das Rechte.
Sei von seinen hundert Namen
Dieser hochgelobet! Amen.
Mich verwirren will das Irren,
Doch du weisst mich zu entwirren.
Wenn ich handle, wenn ich dichte,
Gib du meinem Weg die Richte!
Connection bt. Allan Poe and Tamerlane
Edgar Allan Poe: He also, though few remember it, drew deeply on the culture of the Middle East: history, religion, personages, legends and ideas. And although his sources of information were usually second hand - derived from commentaries and translations, rather than original texts - he put his Saracenic-Arabic-Mongol-Islamic motifs to a wide variety of ingenious uses: slapstick comedy, biting satire, earnest philosophy and sentimental depictions of heroes. Some of his exotic references are admittedly designed to impress the reader with his erudition, but he also displayed a sincere respect for the Eastern materials he imported.
Equally fanciful, but much more delicate in tone, is Poe's treatment of Tamerlane, the 14th-century Mongol conqueror also known as Timur Lang (Timur the Lame). Claiming descent from Genghis Khan, Tamerlane captured Samarkand, led an army against Persia, invaded Russia and subdued parts of India and Asia Minor. A ruthless conqueror, Tamerlane slaughtered thousands of captives, (See Aramco World, September-October 1975) and left pyramids of skulls as monuments to his victories. Yet Poe improvises a love story to humanize or possibly sentimentalize the conqueror.
Original in concept and executed with surprising skill - considering that he was 17 when he wrote it - this poem presents Tamerlane on his deathbed confessing a secret grief that for years has made him sick at heart. In his youth, he says, he had a tender side to his nature that impelled him to seek out the company of a sympathetic young woman to whom he could confide his fears and disappointments. But then, in his daydreams, he heard:
... the crush of empires - with thecaptive's prayer-
The hum of suitors-and the tone
Of flattery round a sovereign's throne.
He said he thought of her as a suitable queen to share his glory but in his impatience left abruptly intending to return later. Of course, when he goes back, the girl has died and their special bower is overgrown with weeds.
This, no doubt, is sentimental and romantic, but the force of its theme triumphs: each individual neglects his deepest feelings only at great peril to his own happiness. Everything considered, "Tamerlane" was a brilliant poetic debut.
The most difficult of all Poe's poems, "Al Aaraaf," is also the work most heavily saturated with Eastern terms and concepts. This relatively lengthy work, which also utilizes elements from Shakespearean drama and Indian lore, is probably the most explicit example of the deep impression Middle Eastern thought made on Poe. The title of the poem-derived from an English version of the Koran - refers to an area between heaven and hell (al-a'raf- dividing lines) where departed souls can distinguish between the blessed and the damned. According to Poe's source - a commentary by the translator - this zone was a sort of limbo where mortals whose lives had been a perfect balance between good and evil remained until purified .
( A geographycal Tartary appears described in Ada. Remember that Tartarus also means the third and profoundest part of the Greek HADES ( Hell ) )