Statue du commandeur (French expression)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by James Brandon, Nov 20, 2005.

  1. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Any ideas re. this one? I asked in the French forum; nearly 70 people had a look at it but no one suggested anything, which has left me terribly depressed :)) )...

    _________

    In the play "Don Juan", the statue of a deceased commander appears from time to time to remind the amoral hero, Don Juan, about his duties and responsibilities. It is a forbidding figure and a harbinger of doom. Eventually, the statue takes Don Juan away... See summary here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Juan

    The expression is sometimes used in French to refer to a widely respected figure (which may embody tradition, respect, duty, etc.), a watchful father-figure. In French politics, one could say that Gen De Gaulle has been "la statue du commandeur" in post-war France. Lionel Jospin, the semi-retired Socialist party leader, would, no doubt, like to be seen as "la statue du commandeur" of the French Left. Mrs Thatcher could play this role for Britain's Conservatives, if she were less old, more active politically, and less of a divisive figure.

    Can you suggest a generic expression, in English, which could convey this idea?

    Thanks
    __________________
    James B.
     
  2. DaleC Senior Member

    Well, for starters, how would you say this differs from an éminence grise? Are there several of them and just one statue du commandeur at a time for a given community? And how about elder stateman or grand old man? Gotta Google "grand old man of" to make sure it's not a figment of my imagination.

    Oh, it's looking good! Now we just have to tweak it to allow access to women.
     
  3. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    DaleC,
    I had thought of "grand old man" and "elder statesman" myself. This would apply to De Gaulle in France, for instance. But "eminence grise" seems wrong to me, although it invariably springs to mind in this case. An eminence grise is the power behind the throne (i.e. the person who actually pulls the strings). Would G Bush Jr have a few of those, for instance? This is not the same as "la statue du commandeur": the statue does not hold power; it reminds those who have it about their duties, past rules, and the respect for tradition, etc. Often, the statue is a dead person/figure (see the play), i.e. an icon or a symbol (perhaps an avenue to explore for a translation). As for a female figure/expression, I cannot think of one. (The character is male in the play, of course.)
    Thanks
     
  4. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Cautionary comment before you read on - I'm trying to explore the nature of this character and his relationship to Don Juan and to the plot. I'm also throwing around some options...

    Is this anything like the Jiminy Cricket role in Disney's Pinocchio? An ever-present conscience?

    What about the role of the various ghosts in Dicken's Christmas Carol?

    Banquo's ghost in Macbeth?

    The Luggage in Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic?

    I'm looking desparately for a literary figure that equates to the Don Juan statue - it's either that or read Don Juan:)
     
  5. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Panjandrum,
    I think all of these are nice suggestions - I like the ref to Jiminy Cricket in Disney's Pinocchio. Indeed, the statue is an ever-present conscience and reminder of proprieties (/tradition/morals). In the play, the statue is also vaguely threatening and ends up taking Don Juan to his death... I cannot claim to be a literary expert at all, but I believe the statue was perceived to be a forbidding but positive figure when the play was written, i.e. someone who brings you back to the straight and narrow. No doubt, today, he would be considered a right old bore and a negative character! On balance, I think that "an ever-present conscience" captures it.
    Many thanks - and further suggestions welcome!
     
  6. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    We have "the poster child" which is one who typifies something, but is not neccesarily any particulal leader.

    We also often have the "father" of a movement.

    For example: Albert Einstein may be considered the father of modern quantum theory.

    Or: McCarthy was the father of his anti-communist witch hunt movement.

    Strong non-founding leaders can be called:

    ambassador
    luminary
    superintendent
    dignitary

    figurehead
    grand master
    grand marshall
    crusader

    Just some ideas.
     
  7. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    Ahh.. reminds me of a Portuguese word which is almost untranslatable:
    incontornável

    It means effectively the same thing... that it can't be avoided due to its omniprescent nature. Like Nicole Kidman on the red carpet.
     
  8. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Now, it would be a terrible dilemma, if one had to choose between meeting the Statue of the Commander and Nicole Kidman on the red carpet... :)
     
  9. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    I don't know. My French roommate has never heard the expression. Where do you hear it?

    Z.
     
  10. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Isotta,
    If you go back to my original query, it is a literary reference - not commonly used, but used nevertheless. (If you input "statue du commandeur" in Google, you will see that it crops up quite a bit...) It goes to show that you cannot always trust your room-mate.
     
  11. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    Touché.

    Anyway, I don't really see how your first paragraph connects to your second. In the first it is a "harbinger of doom," and in the second it is a "watchful father-figure?" So the expression we are meant to find is something that can be both? Or the latter? Or the former?

    Would it be like Mufasa in "The Lion King?"

    "Guiding light?"

    Z.
     
  12. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Isotta,
    Well, you see, life ain't simple... Neither is the play. If you read the suggested overview (I read the play when I was at school, so that's rather a long time ago...), the Statue is both. Initially, it warns/lectures Don Juan; when he refuses to listen, it zaps him, to put it into video-game language.
    James B.
    PS I like the quote you have got with your signature. But I do not believe Goethe said it.
     
  13. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    So we're talking about an ominous porte-parole of guidanceness?

    Z.

    He did indeed say it.
     
  14. Agnès E.

    Agnès E. Senior Member

    France
    France, French
    No, Isotta. :)
    I have asked some American friends I know, and look what their replies were:

    I think he was spot on the right meaning of commandeur in French.

    A very sarcastic and humoristic author added:
    Which won't help much, I'm afraid... :(

    Edit: For those interested to discuss about the translation in French, or who might like to get a comparison between both languages, I am adding the link of the thread posted by James in the Fr-En forum, which most unfortunately got even not one single reply....
     
  15. I.C. Senior Member

    D
    Yeah, I'm just rambling, I know...
    There is the "doyen", the "overlord" (don't even know if that one can be used figuratively, then again, what do I know anyway… ), in German we have "Nestor" and "Übervater", the latter literally translated as "overfather" or "überfather", I guess.
    None of them principally resemble any likeness to the statue of Don Fernando, though an Übervater can.
     
  16. zonbette Senior Member

    France
    French
    I would not use in every day conversation but the metaphore is quite famous in France.
     
  17. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Carry Nation was known for swooping down among sinners in a saloon and making like the Grim Reaper with her hatchet. The archetype in question would be something like an Avenging Angel.
    .
     
  18. Agnès E.

    Agnès E. Senior Member

    France
    France, French
    Yes, good parallel, foxfirebrand! This woman figure is a perfect commandeur! :thumbsup:
     
  19. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It seems like a mixture, in unspecified proportions, of:
    Avenging Angel,
    Guardian Angel,
    Mufasa,
    Jehovah,
    Grim Reaper,
    DEATH on the Discworld,
    Jiminy Cricket,
    Nicole Kidman.

    But despite deep thought, I can't come up with either an idiomatic or a literary analogy that matches this concept.

    [Well, I'm less sure about Nicole Kidman:p]
     
  20. I.C. Senior Member

    D
    Ain't Nemesis, Valkyrie or Norn either.
     
  21. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Of all the suggestions, "an ever-present conscience" would seem the best one to me. The problem with "guardian angel" is that the Statue is implacable and stern, as pointed out, hence ends up doing away with Don Juan's life, because he has failed to listen to him... As "guardian angels" go, one could argue that the Statue would not score 100%... There does not appear to be the equivalent in English-language culture/literature. The closest in common parlance would be "the grand old man of..." Eg Edward Heath, the ex-leader of the Conservative Party in the UK, who was very bitter to the end of his life, precisely, I believe, because he felt that the party would not grant him the status of the Statue of the Commander, i.e. he felt betrayed (also by Thatcherism, which he disapproved of) - in other words, he would have wanted to be the Statue but failed to be accepted in that role, and became a cantankerous old man ignored by most... RIP.
     
  22. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    Hey, what about "Doppelgänger?"

    Z.
     
  23. I.C. Senior Member

    D
    To my knowledge a Doppelgänger is impersonating someone else or being a doubled version of a person, the first meaning being much more common. You might be thinking of a "Wiedergänger", someone who raises from the grave to finish some business, like taking vengeance.
     
  24. I.C. Senior Member

    D
    Forgot:
    Someone is also commonly called a Doppelgänger of someone else if there simply is a striking resemblance between the two people in question.
     
  25. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    This may be a case of the English use being different from that of the language of origin. I was thinking of "Doppelgänger" in the way it is used in English literature, sort of a menacing unheimlich double, a character that almost goes against you. I am thinking of M'Coy (if I remember correctly) as Bloom's Doppelgänger in Ulysses.

    It sounds like "Wiedergänger" is better for this, but unfortunately we don't say it in English. It does fit perfectly with Banquo's ghost though.

    This has become difficult, for I am still unclear what the expression means. Does it mean a voice of propriety? Or a harbinger of doom? Carry Nation? A banshee? Nicole Kidman? A revered political leader? A chimera? I feel like we're playing tennis with the nets down?

    Z.
     
  26. Chabada Senior Member

    France (French)
    Perhaps the best solution would be to have a look at the explanation of Mozart's opera as found in the Wikipedia article mentioned by James Brandon. You would surely understand the exact meaning conveyed! :)
     
  27. I.C. Senior Member

    D
    I actually thought of that possibility when writing the above, a potentially sinister version, incorporating darker elements of a character, the potential for evil a person has within himself and the possibility to live a live without constraints, devoted to more bestial sides of the self. I think I remember themes like that in German literature, but at the moment can't remember from where. E.T.A. Hoffmann, I think, Gustav Meyrink would be another obvious candidate. From childhood reading I remember a short story of Dorothy L. Sayers where, I think, a man believes his personality is split in half, into a good and an evil version.
    But even if the word existed in English, the average Wiedergänger is not exactly an authority figure.
     
  28. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    Yes, I read that, but my difficulty was reconciling the multiple examples for their differences.

    Though your emphasis on the Don Juan legend reminds me that we can probably translate it literally into English, since the character's appearances are not limited to French versions.

    Z.
     
  29. Chabada Senior Member

    France (French)
    This is exactly what I meant, Isotta. :) Please forgive me if I appeared a bit rude, I just realised how dry my reply was; I just wished to point out that this figure is not a specifically French one, and that it just happens that French has integrated it into the language. Any French enough educated to use it does refer to the opera.
     
  30. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Chabada is right in his assessment of how the term is used in French and the fact that it does not relate to something intrinsically French (even if the phrase has become part of everyday language). To go back to what one contributor said, there is no doubt that there is the idea of an apparition - an apparition that intends to remind the living about their duties in relation to family, society and tradition. By extension, the Statue becomes a harbinger of doom, since he knows that the living will not be listening to him, hence that they are doomed. At any rate, this is how I interpret it.
     
  31. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    So now we're trying to assess whether "statue of the commander" has become part of the English language? Or what near-rhyme we might have for it in English?

    Z.
     
  32. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Z.,
    It has not become part of the English language, as the various postings suggest. For that matter, not everyone is aware that it is part of the French language, judging from your room-mate's reaction (and he is French, as I recall)!
    All best
     
  33. zonbette Senior Member

    France
    French
    In fact, in France we refer to Moliere's play : Don Juan, from which it is said the opera librettist of Mozart's opera drew his inspiration.
     
  34. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    I'd hazard a guess that more people in English would be familiar with Mozart's Don Giovanni than Molière's Don Juan.

    In Mozart it is the statue of the Comandatore.

    I've never heard a reference to anything like the "Statue of the Comandatore/Commandeur" in English.
     
  35. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I have checked a...1975 copy of the text of the play that I have at home, and they explain in the intro. that the original Dom Juan story (apparently the correct spelling, by the way - my mistake) was by an author called Tirso de Molina, who was Spanish, under the title "El burlador de Sevilla y combidado de piedra", a direct ref to the statue (= the cheat of Seville and the guest of stone). The oldest edition dates back to 1630. Then it was adapted by various Italian writers, and finally by Moliere. It may well be the case that the Italian version is better known in English-speaking countries, also through the medium of the opera. In France, Moliere's version is obviously the better-known one and the statue has turned into an idiomatic expression.
     

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