Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015779, Wed, 5 Dec 2007 17:22:27 EST

Re: darker thoughts on Disa in PF

Since I was obviously mistaken in my earlier disbelief of a Swedish Queen
Disa, I trawled the net again and found a Wikipedia reference to both her and to
Messenius. here;


and here:

_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Messenius_ (http://en.wikipedia

I apologise to Priscilla for not having trawled energetically enough in my
previous post: it is easier to hit a button than to rummage through one's
bookshelves, but I was being sloppy and idle.

However, I have now looked through two or three dictionaries of Scandinavian
mythology, and Queen Disa doesn't figure, unlike the rather vague disir who
flit about, somewhat moth and butterfly-like. Messenius's source for his play
remains obscure (perhaps Dieter can supply chapter and verse). Queen Disa is
about as legendary as is possible. I thought the suggestion that Disa is the
Great Mother-Goddess equivalent of Isis rather interesting, but she clearly
has little or nothing to do with Kinbote's Disa. I don't see her as
sinister, though, except in the sense that the womb was also thought of as the tomb
in those far-off, distant times.


In a message dated 05/12/2007 20:18:46 GMT Standard Time,
chaiselongue@EARTHLINK.NET writes:

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_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dis_(Divine_Comedy)) , the
fictional city in _The Divine Comedy_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Divine_Comedy#Inferno) that contains the lower circles of hell also an alternate name
for _Lucifer_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucifer) in the same work
* _Dis Pater_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dis_Pater) , predecessor of
Pluto in Roman Mythology and ancestor of the Gauls according to Roman
* Dís, singular of _dísir_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dísir) , a
group of minor goddesses in Norse mythology
* _Pluto_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluto_(god)) , as the
alternative name "Dīs"
* _Dís (Middle-earth)_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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. --

Von: "Dieter E. Zimmer" <_post@dezimmer.net_ (mailto: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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