In this might dire Squamuglia ape the Gaul,

aroohat

Member
Persian
Hello,

This is from Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. I don't get the line in red:

This pitchy brew in France is "encre" hight; In this might dire Squamuglia ape the Gaul, For "anchor" it has ris'n, from deeps untold.

(Some context: The guy is talking about ink made of charcoal that is made of human bones which were buried in a lake.)
 
  • Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    This pitchy brew in France is "encre" hight; In this might dire Squamuglia ape the Gaul, For "anchor" it has ris'n, from deeps untold.

    (Some context: The guy is talking about ink made of charcoal that is made of human bones which were buried in a lake.)
    I really hope that I'm being in some way helpful when I say I haven't the faintest idea what this means. The words I don't know at all are 'hight' and 'Squamuglia'.
    I feel sorry for you if you have to read this!
     

    Minnesota Guy

    Senior Member
    American English - USA
    Just because no one has mentioned it: "dire" is an adjective modifying Squamuglia, meaning roughly "fearful" or "ominous."

    There could be yet another pun involved......if "anchor" echoes French "encore," i. e. "it has risen again."
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    This pitchy brew in France is "encre" hight; In this might dire Squamuglia ape the Gaul, For "anchor" it has ris'n, from deeps untold.

    Someone is trying to write in old English of some kind. Is this from a play within the novel?

    Here's a translation into slightly more contemporary English:

    This concoction which looks like tar is called 'encre' in France; by covering himself in this the terrible Squamuglia may be able to make himself look like a Gaul, for it has come up, like an anchor, from the mysterious depths of the ocean.
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I read this book 20 years ago or more, and don't remember this part at all.

    But from Florentia's link I found this information: Squamuglia is a place in the play, but in this sentence may refer to Angelo, the evil Duke of Squamuglia, in the usual way that a place is used to refer to the person who is a titled lord of that place.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Squamuglia is a place in the play, but in this sentence may refer to Angelo, the evil Duke of Squamuglia, in the usual way that a place is used to refer to the person who is a titled lord of that place.
    I don't think a place would imitate a Frenchman. Referring to dukes by their dukedoms is a common habit in old plays:

    Look at King Lear, I,1.

    Call France! Who stirs?
    Call Burgundy! Cornwall and Albany,
    With my two daughters' dowers digest this third;

    I wonder if this is studied disrespect in Lear. I'm not clear that it is.


     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    You and I are in agreement entirely, Thomas.

    It makes more sense that the place name is used to refer, as in common habit in old plays (which this one is not, really, but in the fiction of the novel it is), to the person.

    It would only be disrespectful if it was used in direct address by an underling, I think. In 3rd person, or in address from an equal or superior, it's a normal abbreviation; instead of "the duke of Squamuglia" (or "your grace") they just say "Squamuglia" alone.
     

    crypto_cuttlefish

    New Member
    English - USA
    Hello

    I found this thread today googling "squamuglia" since this line inspired the name of my blog.

    For what it's worth I think this line is a key that explains Pynchon's purpose in writing Crying of Lot 49, and it's impossible to really understand any of the lines in "The Courier's Tragedy" in isolation - you need to crack the code Pynchon used to construct the book to understand how they fit Pynchon's themes.

    The "Courier's Tragedy," the Play-Within-The-Novel, functions like the Murder of Gonzago in Shakespeare's Hamlet (as one of the links posted above points out) It's a fictional retelling of a real crime, meant to trigger the guilty conscience of the criminals, but Pynchon was dropping hints of real-life misdeeds, in this case the CIA's medical experiments on unwitting subjects with LSD. The entire text of Crying of Lot 49 also functions this way, exposing real crimes using coded language and images the criminals would recognize.

    There's an elaborate but consistent use of Christian Pentecost imagery throughout the book that is connected to LSD - the Pentecost was the miracle when "Tongues of Fire" descended upon the Apostles and filled them with the Holy Spirit, letting them preach in every language. It's also where "speaking in tongues" comes from. One act of "The Courier's Tragedy" ends with a character having his tongue cut out and burned, literal "tongues of fire."

    In 1951, all the residents of a village in France called "Pont-Saint-Esprit" (The Holy-Spirit-Bridge) were poisoned by a mysterious hallucinogen, suspected of being planted by the CIA Frank Olson, a CIA doctor who knew of the experiment, was going to expose this crime but was murdered. The "tongues of fire" / "speaking in tongues" imagery in the book refers to this incident.

    The drugged frenzy of the people in this French village (The Gaul) is the behavior that "Dire Squamuglia" might imitate ("ape"). "Dire Squamuglia" is California of the mid-1960s (the present time of the story). Although "Squamuglia" is a made up word I think it's meant to connote to "squamous" which means scaly, and refers to a kind of skin cancer, hence "Dire Squamuglia" - a sick society in a crisis.

    "Ink" is metaphorically linked elsewhere in the book to drugs, chemistry, and the mark of the Trystero conspiracy (the CIA).

    So, "In this Might Dire Squamuglia Ape the Gaul" refers to a plot to drug people in "Dire Squamuglia" (California with its race riots and student protests) to make them behave like the drugged French did. Later in the story, a "liberal Nazi" articulates the history and reasoning behind this drugging scheme. There's "speaking in tongues" / "tongues of flame" imagery that connects these 2 scenes, even though they aren't connected in the action of the plot.

    Despite seeming surreal and convoluted on the surface, Crying of Lot 49 actually a neatly constructed text that exposes crimes of the CIA (the assassination of Kennedy, drug experiments on unwitting subjects, and harboring Nazi war criminals employed as scientists) - Charles Hollander presents a "Magic Eye" reading of the book that can help crack this code to show that cryptic sequences like the Couriers Tragedy are actually referring to concrete historical events.

    Sorry if this is lengthy or out of scope for this forum but I thought it would be helpful to give some context and a key to understanding Lot 49 as a whole - even after you parse Pynchon's dense Jacobean English, the lines don't really mean anything until you understand how they connect to the larger themes in the book.
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Sorry if this is lengthy or out of scope for this forum but I thought it would be helpful to give some context and a key to understanding Lot 49 as a whole - even after you parse Pynchon's dense Jacobean English, the lines don't really mean anything until you understand how they connect to the larger themes in the book.
    Thank you crypto cuttlefish. Not out of scope for this forum at all - you have very helpfully provided the missing context that was needed to answer the question.

    Your final comment is relevant to a great number of the questions here - while they are about individual words or phrases, sometimes the greater context is vital to interpreting that word or phrase. And this is especially true when the language is archaic or purposely mimicking archaic usage, because the context is, in such a case, historical.

    Also - would you say that rather than Thomas's version above, the sentence might mean:

    This concoction which looks like tar is called 'encre' in France; it may cause trouble in Squamuglia/California similar to the trouble it caused in France, since it has come up [on the coast of Squamuglia/California], like an anchor, from the mysterious depths of the ocean.
     
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