Part Two, Chapter Four, Section 3
by Dennis Abrams
“All in Expectation” “Pyotr Stepanovich indeed had certain designs on his parent. In my opinion, he meant to bring the old man to despair and thus push him into some outright scandal of a certain sort. He needed this for some further, unrelated purposes, of which we shall speak later.” Pyotr has in mind another martyr: Anton Antonovich von Lembke. Lembke “…belonged to the favored (by nature) tribe which in Russia, according to the records, numbers several hundred thousand, and which is itself perhaps unaware that within her, by its sheer man, it constitutes a strictly organized union.” His education “at one of those higher Russian institutions filled with young men from families well endowed with connections of wealth.” Groomed to occupy significant positions in one of the departments of the government service. And although he “had one uncle who was a lieutenant colonel in the engineers, and another who was a baker…he wormed his way into this higher school and met there quite a few similar tribesmen. He was a merry companion; quite dull as a student, but everyone liked him.” His talent at nose blowing and playing his nose. His slovenliness. His flirtation with literature. But three years later, “Lembka” is now “von Lembke,” the protege of a distant relative who happened to be a general. His love for the general’s fifth daughter, her marriage to an old German factory owner, an old comrade of the general. The theater made of paper. As his career progressed, always under his tribesman’s command. “In secret from the authorities, he sent a novella to a magazine, but it was not published. His paper train station, “and again it came out as a most successful little thing: people left the station with suitcases and bags, children and dogs, and got into the cars. Conductors and porters walked about, the bell rang, the signal was given, and the train started on its way. He sat for a whole year over this clever piece.” His need to get married, his inheritance from his uncle the baker. “…here, instead of some anticipated Mina or Ernestina, all at once Yulia Mikhailovna turned up…The modest and precise von Lembke felt that he, too, was capable of ambition.” Yulia’s two hundred souls, her connections — “he was handsome, she was already past forty.” His wedding day verses. Her ambitions for him, “In her opinion, he was not without abilities, knew how to make an entrance and show himself, knew how to listen with a grave air and say nothing, had picked up a few quite decent poses, could even make a speech, even had some odds and ends of ideas, and had picked up the gloss of the latest indispensible liberalism.” His need for peace. The German cardboard church, “Yulia Mikhailovna, even with some sort of fright, took the whole work from him as soon as she found about it, and locked it away in her drawer; she allowed him to write a novel instead, but on the quiet.” Yulia decides to rely on herself. The governorship. Pyotr Stepanovich shows up and, “from the very first step the young Verkhovensky showed a decided disrespect for Andrei Antonovich, and assumed some strange rights over him, and Yulia Mikhailovna…simply refused to notice…The young man became her favorite, ate, drank, and all but slept in the house.” Pyotr, uninvited, asleep on the sofa in von Lembke’s study. Von Lembke reads selections of his novel to Pyotr and loans him the entire manuscript, which he claims to have lost. “Von Lembke decidedly took to pondering, and pondering was bad for him and was forbidden by his doctors.” Yulia defends Pyotr, “We should cherish our young people; my way is to indulge them and keep them on the brink.” Pyotr’s claim that the Russian government used vodka to brutalize the population and keep them from rebelling. A conversation between von Lembke and Pyotr: von Lembke tries to convince Pyotr that he is a liberal, but Pyotr will have none of it. Pyotr tells von Lembke that hiring two sentries won’t be enough to earn him respect. Von Lembke ‘loans’ his collection of political tracts to Pyotr, much to Yulia’s dismay. Yulia’s conviction that, along with Karmazinov, she can help guide the youth of the capital, “if through him I can attract them and gather them all around me, I can divert them from ruin by showing a new path for their ambition…” But, the narrator ends the chapter by pointing out, “I will not, anticipating events, that had it not been for Yulia Mikhailovna’s self-importance and ambition, perhaps none of the things these bad little people managed to do here would have taken place. Much of it is her responsibility!”
I now feel so badly for poor von Lembke…he’d be so much happier making his cardboard churches and such. And I love the warning of the role that Yulia’s ambition and devotion to the radical youth will play in the disasters to follow…
And from George Steiner’s Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, his take on Stavrogin:
“Much has been written of him. As I have suggested earlier, he represents a Dostoevskyan variant on the Satanic heroes of Byronism and the Gothic. but he is much more than that. He is the supreme example of how the religious imagination enters into the art of the novel. As so often with Dostoevsky, the character is introduced against a background of drama and in the image of a particular play. Stavrogin is first referred to as “Prince Harry.” The princely title is born by Muishkin and by Alyosha Karamazov (in several preliminary drafts and once in the novel itself). In Dostoevskyan mythology it would seem to have gnostic and messianic connotations. But as is made plain by specific allusion, Dostoevsky is here referring to Shakespeare’s Prince Hal. Stavrogin is presented to us in the image of the wild Prince of Wales. Like his Shakespearean prototype, he has been rioting in the underworld of crime and debauchery. Throughout [Demons] he will be surrounded by a mock-court of parasites and ruffians. Like Hal, he is an enigma to his intimates and to outside observers. They do not know whether he will
be more wond’red at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him
or whether he will everlastingly
permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world.
There is beauty in Stavrogin, and a dark royalty. As Irving Howe writes in his essay on Dostoevskyan politics: ‘Stavrogin is the source of the chaos that streams through the characters; he possesses them but is not himself possessed.’ Even in his early pranks there is a kind of desperate wisdom, suggesting another Shakespearean prince. A fatuous citizen affirms that he cannot be led by the nose. Stavrogin seizes upon his literal meaning and translates the cliche into a grotesque pantomime. There is something of Hamlet in that, of Hamlet’s interest in the nature of language and of his acid wit. The analogy is reinforced by various speculations as to whether or not Stavrogin was in his ‘right mind’ when he performed his bizarre and cruel tricks. He is banished from the town and undertakes a long voyage. His itinerary is significant. He visits Egypt, the traditional place of gnostic mysteries, and to Jerusalem, the site of messianic fulfillment. He travles to Iceland, recalling to our minds that there are eschatologies in which hell is imagined not as a world of fire but as an eternity of ice. Like the Prince of Denmark and Faust (a figure with whom Ivanov seeks to identify him(, Stavrogin spends some time at a German university. But deep longs and fierce expectations solicit his return.
Suddenly he appears, on that tremendous occasion in Varvara Petrovna’s house, and the Cripple whom Dostoevsky has endowed with the ultimate clarities of unreason asks: ‘May…kneel down… to you now?’ Gently Stavrogin denies her. But there is every implication that the query is a natural one, that there is something in Stavrogin’s person to justify submission and the primordial gesture of worship. Shatov, who is also among the authentic carriers of Dostoevsky’s vision, confirms Marya’s action. He says to Stavrogin: ‘I’ve waited too long for you. I’ve been thinking of you incessantly.’ He asks: “Shan’t I kiss your footprints when you’ve gone?’ The attitudes of the other characters towards ‘Prince Harry’ are similarly excessive. Each has his own image of Stavrogin and seeks to invoke Stavrogin’s powers in behalf of some private lust of sacrificial intent. But, like Zeus in the myth of Semele, Stavrogin destroys those who draw too near to him in passion or observance. Pyotr Verkhovensky knows this: his cult is wary and treacherous:
‘Why do you look at me? I need you, you; without I am nothing. Without you I am a fly, a bottled idea; Columbus without America.’
True, but Columbus was the discoverer, perhaps even the contriver of the new world. Pyotr is puzzled to the last whether it was not he who had ‘invented ‘ Stavrogin. He says to him: ‘You are proud and beautiful as a god.’ But this god is strangely dependent on men’s worship even where they kneel to him in corruption or greed. Do Verkhovensky’s frantic posturings direct our thoughts to a paradox often put forward by modern existentialism: ‘It is God who is need of man?”
And for those of you who wondering, as I was, about the myth of Semele…
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Semele (play /ˈsɛməliː/; Greek: Σεμέλη, Semelē), in Greek mythology, daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, was the mortal mother of Dionysus by Zeus in one of his many origin myths. (In another version of his mythic origin, he had two mothers, Persephone and Semele.) The name “Semele”, like other elements of Dionysiac cult (e.g., thyrsus and dithyramb), is manifestly not Greek but apparently Thraco-Phrygian; the myth of Semele’s father Cadmus gives him a Phoenician origin. Herodotus, who gives the account of Cadmus, estimates that Semele lived sixteen hundred years before his time, or around 2000 B.C.
* 1 Seduction by Zeus and birth of Dionysus
* 2 Impregnation by Zeus
* 3 Locations
* 4 Semele in Etruscan culture
* 5 Semele in Roman culture
* 6 Semele in later art
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
* 9 External links
Seduction by Zeus and birth of Dionysus
In one version of the myth, Semele was a priestess of Zeus, and on one occasion was observed by Zeus as she slaughtered a bull at his altar and afterwards swam in the river Asopus to cleanse herself of the blood. Flying over the scene in the guise of an eagle, Zeus fell in love with Semele and afterwards repeatedly visited her secretly.
Zeus’ wife, Hera, a goddess jealous of usurpers, discovered his affair with Semele when she later became pregnant. Appearing as an old crone, Hera befriended Semele, who confided in her that her lover was actually Zeus. Hera pretended not to believe her, and planted seeds of doubt in Semele’s mind. Curious, Semele asked Zeus to grant her a boon. Zeus, eager to please his beloved promised on the River Styx to grant her anything she wanted. She then demanded that Zeus reveal himself in all his glory as proof of his godhood. Though Zeus begged her not to ask this, she persisted and he was forced by his oath to comply. Zeus tried to spare her by showing her the smallest of his bolts and the sparsest thunderstorm clouds he could find. Mortals, however, cannot look upon Zeus without incinerating, and she perished, consumed in lightning-ignited flame.
Zeus rescued the fetal Dionysus, however, by sewing him into his thigh (whence the epithet Eiraphiotes, “insewn”, of the Homeric Hymn). A few months later, Dionysus was born. This leads to his being called “the twice-born”.
When he grew up, Dionysus rescued his mother from Hades, and she became a goddess on Mount Olympus, with the new name Thyone, presiding over the frenzy inspired by her son Dionysus.
Impregnation by Zeus
There is a story in the Fabulae 167 of Gaius Julius Hyginus, or a later author whose work has been attributed to Hyginus. In this, Dionysus (called Liber) is the son of Jupiter and Proserpine, and was killed by the Titans. Jupiter gave his torn up heart in a drink to Semele, who became pregnant this way. But in another account, Zeus swallows the heart himself, in order to beget his seed on Semele. Hera then induces Semele to ask Zeus to come to her as a god, she dies, and Zeus seals the unborn baby up in his thigh. There is no suggestion in the text that Semele is a virgin, however. As a result of this Dionysus “was also called Dimetor [of two mothers] … because the two Dionysoi were born of one father, but of two mothers”
Still another variant of the narrative is found in Callimachus and the 5th century AD Greek writer Nonnus. In this version, the first Dionysus is called Zagreus. Nonnus does not present the conception as virginal; rather, the editor’s notes say that Zeus swallowed Zagreus’ heart, and visited the mortal woman Semele, whom he seduced and made pregnant. In Dionysiaca 7.110 he classifies Zeus’s affair with Semele as one in a set of twelve, the other eleven women on whom he begot children being Io, Europa, the nymph Pluto, Danaë, Aigina, Antiope, Leda, Dia, Alcmene, Laodameia, mother of Sarpedon, and Olympias.
The most usual setting for the story of Semele is the palace that occupied the acropolis of Thebes, called the Cadmeia. When Pausanias visited Thebes in the 2nd century AD, he was shown the very bridal chamber where Zeus visited her and begat Dionysus. Since an Oriental inscribed cylindrical seal found at the palace can be dated 14th-13th centuries BC, the myth of Semele must be Mycenaean or earlier in origin. At the Alcyonian Lake near the prehistoric site of Lerna, Dionysus, guided by Prosymnus or Polymnus, descended to Tartarus to free his once-mortal mother. Annual rites took place there in classical times; Pausanias refuses to describe them.
Though the Greek myth of Semele was localized in Thebes, the fragmentary Homeric Hymn to Dionysus makes the place where Zeus gave a second birth to the god a distant one, and mythically vague:
“For some say, at Dracanum; and some, on windy Icarus; and some, in Naxos, O Heaven-born, Insewn; and others by the deep-eddying river Alpheus that pregnant Semele bare you to Zeus the thunder-lover. And others yet, lord, say you were born in Thebes; but all these lie. The Father of men and gods gave you birth remote from men and secretly from white-armed Hera. There is a certain Nysa, a mountain most high and richly grown with woods, far off in Phoenice, near the streams of Aegyptus…”
Semele was worshipped at Athens at the Lenaia, when a yearling bull, emblematic of Dionysus, was sacrificed to her. One-ninth was burnt on the altar in the Hellenic way; the rest was torn and eaten raw by the votaries.
Semele was a tragedy by Aeschylus; it has been lost, save a few lines quoted by other writers, and a papyrus fragment from Oxyrhynchus, P. Oxy. 2164.
Semele in Etruscan culture
Semele is attested with the Etruscan name form Semla, depicted on a bronze mirror back from the fourth century BCE.
Semele in Roman culture
When the initiatory cult of Dionysus was imported to Rome, shortly before 186 BCE, to great public scandal, Semele’s name was rendered Stimula. The groves in which the initiation rites took place were deemed sacred to Semele/Stimula. Ovid’s Fasti shifts the origin of the Bacchanalian rites in Rome to a mythic rather than a historic past:
“There was a grove: known either as Semele’s or Stimula’s:
Inhabited, they say, by Italian Maenads.
Ino, asking them their nation, learned they were Arcadians,
And that Evander was the king of the place.
Hiding her divinity, Saturn’s daughter cleverly
Incited the Latian Bacchae with deceiving words:”
“lucus erat, dubium Semelae Stimulaene vocetur;
maenadas Ausonias incoluisse ferunt:
quaerit ab his Ino quae gens foret. Arcadas esse
audit et Euandrum sceptra tenere loci;
dissimulata deam Latias Saturnia Bacchas
instimulat fictis insidiosa sonis:”
Semele in later art
In the 18th century, the story of Semele formed the basis for three operas of the same name, the first by John Eccles (1707, to a libretto by William Congreve), another by Marin Marais (1709), and a third by George Frideric Handel (1742). Handel’s work, (based on Congreve’s libretto but with additions), while an opera to its marrow, was originally given as an oratorio so that it could be performed in a Lenten concert series; it premiered on February 10, 1744.
The Weekend’s Reading:
Part Two, Chapter Five, Sections 1-3
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.