Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015774, Wed, 5 Dec 2007 12:11:57 -0500

[EDNOTE. Unfortunately, Dieter Zimmer's illuminating post, printed below, was purloined (as they say) by the listserv when originally sent. We have now straightened out the problem and wish to thank Dieter for his patience. -- SES]

Von: "Dieter E. Zimmer" <post@dezimmer.net>
An: "Vladimir Nabokov Forum" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
Betreff: Disa in PF
Datum: Mittwoch, 21. November 2007 14:27

Dear Editors,

as the message I sent nabokv-l last weekend has not been posted so far, and as there have been further comments in this thread, I am sending you my e-mail once more. Please do send it out. It may really help to clarify an issue that has puzzled many.

Best, Dieter Zimmer, Berlin
21 Nov 2007 - 2pm


As concerns the name 'Disa,' I am making an altogether different suggestion in my notes to 'Pale Fire' (in press), anticipated in my 'Guide to Nabokov's Butterflies and Moths' (2001).

To make a long story short: 'Disa' is the scientific name of both a butterfly and an orchid, Erebia disa (Thunberg, 1791) and Disa uniflora (Bergius, 1767). The insect and the flower were named by two Swedish or more precisely Uppsala naturalists who with this choice of name independently honored a mythical figure of local renown, Queen Disa of Uppsala in Svealand, the title character of the first Swedish play, by Messenius, for a time annually performed by Uppsala students. Kinbote may have been oblivious to this derivation, but Nabokov certainly was not. There is a strong hint in 'Pale Fire' that 'Disa' is indeed a reference to that Scandinavian butterfly: the next entry in Kinbote's index is 'Embla,' a Zemblan town, and that is another figure of Scandinavian mythology (the first woman) as well as another Erebia butterfly, also named by Thunberg in the same year and closely related to Erebia disa; their habitat overlaps.

There even is a special point to the reference to Queen Disa which nobody so far seems to have noticed. Disa was famous as a clever and good queen. Her fame rested mainly on a piece of advice she had given the king. In fact it
had seemed so ingenious to him that it made him marry her though she was only a village mayor's daughter. During a time of desperate famine, an Uppsala "thing" had decided to have the old and the sick killed. Disa suggested a
way to to avoid this severe measure: instead of killing them, to send them away to Norrland (the north of today's Sweden). Her advice was accepted, parts of the population were deported to Norrland, and the chances of those
remaining to survive the famine were again on the rise.

Now if this ever happened in reality, the chances of the old and sick to survive in wild, cold and dark Norrland would have been very small, and sending them there would have been just another way of sentencing them to death. But not if in the place of Norrland there would have been kindly Zembla, as Kinbote's tales suggest! In this case everybody might have survived, the deportees would have become Zembla's first settlers, and clever Queen Disa would have been a kind of founding patron of this country.

Dieter E. Zimmer, Berlin

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