Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0008828, Thu, 30 Oct 2003 10:43:22 -0800

PALE FIRE: Disa - butterfly and orchid
EDNOTE. Dieter Zimmer is the foremost German authority on VN. In addition
to his book on VN's butterflies, he is the editor of the Rowohlt edition of
Nabokov Collected Works.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dieter E. Zimmer" <mail@d-e-zimmer.de>
To: "Don Barton Johnson" <chtodel@cox.net>
Sent: Tuesday, October 28, 2003 10:47 PM
Subject: Disa - butterfly and orchid

> Berlin, Oct 29, 2003 -- 7:30am
> mail@d-e-zimmer.de
> I don't know whether Nabokovians are meant or entitled to join the Pynchon
> fray, but nabokv-l readers should know that there is a much more likely nd
> specific explanation of the name 'Disa' than the one offered in
> pynchon-l-digest V2 #3617. Here is a quote from my "Guide to Nabokov's
> Butterflies and Moths 2001", pp. 147-148:
> <In the index of Pale Fire, there is "Disa, Duchess of Payn, of Great
> Payn and Mone; my [Kinbote's] lovely, pale, melancholy Queen, haunting my
> dreams, and haunted by dreams of me." The name certainly is a reference to
> [the butterfly] Erebia disa (Thunberg, 1791);the next entry in the indexis
> "Embla," another northern Erebia [alpine or ringlet] very close to disa
> (Erebia embla) also named by Swedish entomologist Carl Peter Thunberg
> (1743-1828). 'Disa' is one of Nabokov's cryptic butterflies, hidden in a
> name. As to the etymology of the species' name, [Ernst Hofmann's butterfly
> atlas]gives "Disa, daughter of Pluto,"the god of Greek mythology who ruled
> the underworld, perhaps prompted by the fact that Pluto's other names are
> Hades and Dis. However, Pluto and his wife Persephone had no children; in
> fact, there seems to be no Disa in all of Greek and Roman mythology. It is
> more likely that the name is taken from local Swedish lore. Thunberg who
> bestowed Nordic names on several boreal butterfly species (embla, freija,
> frigga, lappona, norna)and who was Carl von Linne's successor as Professor
> of Natural Historyat the university of Uppsala used the name of an Uppsala
> celebrity, Disa the clever maiden who won her king's hand in marriage for
> giving him a piece of advice. Frej, a legendary Uppsala king, had
> regretfully decided to save his people from starvation during a famine by
> having the sick and the old killed. Disa (short for Desideria),the aughter
> of a town councillor in near-by Venngarn, suggested he rather send themoff
> to settle in the uninhabited north of Scandinavia [which was another but
> perhaps kinder way of putting them to death]. It was on her fate that the
> Protestant pamphletist and Uppsala professor of law, Johannes Messenius,
> wrote the first Swedish play (Disa, 1611). It was performed by Uppsala
> students during the market revels in that town.
> When exiled King Charles of Zembla visits his spurned wife Disa in her
> Villa (Para)Disa on Cap Turc, Fleur de Fyler, her lady in waiting, "turned
> to go with the Disa orchids"(p. 213). These are not just "Disa's orchids."
> They are the "flowers-of-the-gods" Charles had brought her (p. 206) in
> tribute to her name."Flower-of-the-Gods" is a striking orchid species,Disa
> uniflora (Bergius, 1767) syn grandiflora, from Cape Province, SouthAfrica.
> The flowers are large (c. 10 cm) and usually red, but there are alsoyellow
> and orange ones.The S and E African genus Disa has some 125 species and is
> very popular with orchid cultivators. The generic name has also puzzled
> orchid lovers. The explanation is that the Swedish botanist,Peter Jonas
> Bergius (1730-1790), had also studied with Linne at Uppsala and probably
> chose the generic name Disa for the same reason Thunberg did,in memory ofa
> legendary Uppsala queen.>
> Dieter E. Zimmer
> Berlin, October 29, 2003 -- 7:30pm
> mail@d-e-zimmer.de

D. Barton Johnson