Thursday, June 08, 2006
Classical Allusions in The Secret Agent
His jovial purple cheeks bristled with white hairs; and like Virgil's Silenus, who, his face smeared with the juice of berries, discoursed of Olympian Gods to the innocent shepherds of Sicily, he talked to Stevie of domestic matters and the affairs of men whose sufferings are great and immortality by no means assured.This is an allusion to Vergil, Eclogues 6.13-26 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
Proceed, Pierian maids! The lads Chromis and Mnasyllos saw Silenus lying asleep in a cave, his veins swollen, as ever, with the wine of yesterday. Hard by lay the garlands, just fallen from his head, and his heavy tankard was hanging by its well-worn handle. Falling on him — for oft the aged one had cheated both of a promised song — they cast him into fetters made from his own garlands. Aegle joins their company and seconds the timid pair — Aegle, fairest of the Naiads — and, as now his eyes open, paints his face and brows with crimson mulberries. Smiling at the trick, he cries: "Why fetter me? Loose me, lads; enough that you have shown your power. Hear the songs you crave; you shall have your songs, she another kind of reward."Most of the rest of the eclogue is devoted to the songs of Silenus.
And across the length of the table covered with brown oil-cloth Winnie, his wife, talked evenly at him the wifely talk, as artfully adapted, no doubt, to the circumstances of this return as the talk of Penelope to the return of the wandering Odysseus. Mrs Verloc, however, had done no weaving during her husband's absence.This is an allusion to Homer's Odyssey, especially 2.89-110 (tr. Samuel Butler):
For it is now the third year and the fourth will soon pass, since she has been deceiving the hearts of the Achaeans in their breasts. To all she offers hopes, and has promises for each man, sending them messages, but her mind is set on other things. And she devised in her heart this guileful thing also: she set up in her halls a great web, and fell to weaving — fine of thread was the web and very wide; and straightway she spoke among us: "Young men, my wooers, since goodly Odysseus is dead, be patient, though eager for my marriage, until I finish this robe — I would not that my spinning should come to naught — a shroud for the lord Laertes, against the time when the fell fate of grievous death shall strike him down; lest any of the Achaean women in the land should be wroth with me, if he, who had won great possessions, were to lie without a shroud." So she spoke, and our proud hearts consented. Then day by day she would weave at the great web, but by night would unravel it, when she had let place torches by her. Thus for three years she by her craft kept the Achaeans from knowing, and beguiled them; but when the fourth year came as the seasons rolled on, even then one of her women who knew all told us, and we caught her unravelling the splendid web. So she finished it against her will, perforce.
He turned away his heavy eyes, saying huskily: "Well, let him come along, then," and relapsed into the clutches of black care, that perhaps prefers to sit behind a horseman, but knows also how to tread close on the heels of people not sufficiently well off to keep horses — like Mr Verloc, for instance.This is an allusion to Horace, Odes 3.1.38-40 (tr. Christopher Smart):
Nor does gloomy [atra = black] care depart from the brazen-beaked galley, and she mounts [sedet = sits] behind the horseman.