Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Prince of the City of Books

Anatole France, Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard (tr. Lafcadio Hearn), from the third paragraph:
"Hamilcar, somnolent Prince of the City of Books—thou guardian nocturnal! Like that Divine Cat who combated the impious in Heliopolis—in the night of the great combat—thou dost defend from vile nibblers those books which the old savant acquired at the cost of his slender savings and indefatigable zeal. Sleep, Hamilcar, softly as a sultana, in this library, that shelters thy military virtues; for verily in thy person are united the formidable aspect of a Tartar warrior and the slumbrous grace of a woman of the Orient. Sleep, thou heroic and voluptuous Hamilcar, while awaiting that moonlight hour in which the mice will come forth to dance before the 'Acta Sanctorum' of the learned Bolandists!"

"Hamilcar, prince somnolent de la cité des livres, gardien nocturne! Pareil au chat divin qui combattit les impies dans Héliopolis, pendant la nuit du grand combat, tu défends contre de vils rongeurs les manuscrits et les imprimés que le vieux savant acquit au prix d'un modique pécule et d'un zèle infatigable. Dans cette bibliothèque silencieuse, que protègent tes vertus militaires, Hamilcar, dors avec la mollesse d'une sultane! Car tu réunis en ta personne l'aspect formidable d'un guerrier tartare à la grâce appesantie d'une femme d'Orient. Héroïque et voluptueux Hamilcar, dors en attendant l'heure où les souris danseront, au clair de la lune, devant les Acta sanctorum des doctes Bollandistes."
Lafcadio Hearn had more French in his little finger than I do in my whole body, but I think I'm correct in pointing out that, in this passage, the library does not shelter Hamilcar's virtues, but rather Hamilcar's virtues protect the library—the subject of protègent (3rd person plural) is vertues and the object of the verb is que (with antecedent bibliothèque). Also, read Bollandists (the normal spelling) instead of Bolandists. In Hearn's defence, his biographer tells us that he made the translation in just a few weeks, at a time when he was "in sore distress for money," cause enough to explain mistakes of this sort.

If you're a book lover seeking a name for a cat, Hamilcar would be a good one, based on this passage.

On the events in Heliopolis, see e.g. The Book of the Dead, tr. E.A. Wallis Budge, vol. I (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. 1901), p. 103 (from the Papyrus of Nebseni, British Museum No. 9900, sheet 14, l. 16 ff.):
I am the Cat which fought (?) hard by the Persea tree (19) in Annu (Heliopolis), on the night when the foes of Neb-er-tcher were destroyed.
Related posts:


<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?