NABOKV-L post 0015778, Wed, 5 Dec 2007 11:54:40 -0800

darker thoughts on Disa in PF
from Carolyn Kunin to

Dear Dieter Zimmer,

I think I did know that Disa referred to both butterfly and orchid,
but the Uppsala Swedish link is new to me and I'm sure to all of us.
What strikes me as interesting is that your legendary Queen Disa
seems to have a dark side as dis-turbing as her bright side is more
fairy-tale than mythological. She rather reminds me of Stalin sparing
some by sending them off to starve to death in cold dark places
(there's a new biography out of the young Stalin that shows he too
had his bright side).

I have also felt a rather infernal something about the name Disa,
hazily supposing it to be from the Aeneid, so being lazy I googled
up the name and here is what I found on Wikipedia:

Religion, mythology, and fiction

Dis, the fictional city in The Divine Comedy that contains the lower
circles of hell also an alternate name for Lucifer in the same work
Dis Pater, predecessor of Pluto in Roman Mythology and ancestor of
the Gauls according to Roman thought
Dís, singular of dísir, a group of minor goddesses in Norse mythology
Pluto, as the alternative name "Dīs"
Dís (Middle-earth), a female Dwarf from J. R. R. Tolkien's universe
I think we can safely dis-miss the female Dwarf, but can our highly
cultured VN with his Can' Grande ancestry not have been aware of the
Dantesque meaning and other Pluto-esque meaning of Dis? It could be
dis-missable I suppose were it not for the similar name of her
husband - - hades/shade.

Can this really not be of any importance?


On Dec 5, 2007, at 9:11 AM, NABOKV-L wrote:

> [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" <>
> 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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