Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015786, Thu, 6 Dec 2007 08:28:36 -0800

Re: darker thoughts on Disa in PF
Charles and N-Lsters:

Thank you for the fascinating comments about Kinbote's Disa and the
Wikipedia reference to Disa "the heroine of a Swedish legendary
saga.believed to be from the Middle Ages.." At the bottom of that web
page I found a link to Uggleupplagan (what a wonderful Zemblan-sounding
word!), "The Owl Edition," the second edition (published 1904-1926 in 38
vols.), of the "Nordic Family Book," known in Swedish as Nordisk
familjebok. I was struck by the "bok" in the title of this popular
encyclopedia, about which Nabokov could have known. Following the link
leads to the logo of The Owl Edition. Please have a look-could the logo
be something like a sirin, the owl from which Nabokov took his nom de
plume when starting out as a Russian writer in Berlin? In Nabokov's
favorite Russian dictionary, that of Vladimir Dal', "sirin" is described
as a "filin" or eagle owl, and further as "a long-tailed owl similar to
a hawk-flies day and night."

Could "Disa" be another instance of Nabokov transitorily, Alfred
Hitchcock-like, peeking out from within PF and winking at the reader to
say "I'm really behind Shade's poem and Kinbote's commentary"?

Jerry Katsell

-----Original Message-----
From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On
Behalf Of Chaswe@AOL.COM
Sent: Wednesday, December 05, 2007 2:22 PM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] 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:


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

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

* <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dis_%28Divine_Comedy%29> Dis, the
fictional city in
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Divine_Comedy#Inferno> The Divine
Comedy that contains the lower circles of hell also an alternate name
for <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucifer> 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

* D?s, singular of <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%ADsir> d?sir,
a group of minor goddesses in Norse mythology

* Pluto <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluto_%28god%29> , as the
alternative name "Dīs"

* D?s (Middle-earth)
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%ADs_%28Middle-earth%29> , 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" <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

Dieter E. Zimmer, Berlin

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