miércoles, 29 de enero de 2014

DAS GALLEY

The following post is not intended to be racist or otherwise offensive.

Recipe for a successful social critique plus reflection on human nature

  • Take a diverse and minimalistic cast with clear power dynamics.
  • Place your cast in a secluded setting. A boarding school, a snowed-in country estate, an outpost community, a desert island, or even a ship (whether ocean ship or space ship) will do. It takes what Lew Wallace refers to as the community crowded within the narrow walls.

Stories like Othello, Lord of the Flies, Master and Commander, Alien, Billy Budd, or And Then There Were None follow these steps. They're the finest explorations of human nature there ever were. Plus social critiques.

Sometimes an episode within a story can illustrate such power dynamics. "There is Death in the heart of the pearl", says the young ruler in the lesser known Oscar Wilde tale about the second of three lurid dreams. I was tempted to title this post "Death in the Heart of the Pearl"… but then, I thought of how power is illustrated in the episode, thought of the renowned WW2 film Das Boot, with its thirty-something "Old Man (der Alte)" and his discontented crew… Hence the title!

Death is, of course, a leitmotif in the Second Dream. A nomadic rider and a young captive forfeit both their lives during its course. And, upon awakening at his own Occidental palace at the crack of dawn, the heir to the throne "woke, and through the window he saw the long grey fingers of the dawn clutching at the fading stars.

Long gray fingers clutching. Like the bony fingers of the Ghost of Christmas Future, or those of his alter ego the Grim Reaper. Clutching at fading stars… why?

Lunar/feminine imagery
The oceanic/coastal/nautical setting conjures up images of being "far from dry land/Occident/kosmos", which is reinforced by the Oriental setting. "A little bay", shaped like a crescent; "a painted bow", sharing that shape; the pearl for the royal sceptre, "fairer than all the pearls of Ormuz (a strait in the Middle East)", the young captive's face being "strangely pale" (when we return to the captives, we'll discuss the theme of pallor mortis and "white death"). Lunar/feminine imagery permeates this episode.
The ocean and the moon seem to have power over mortal men in the outpost setting of Othello: a storm wrecks the Turkish fleet, the characters' changes in mood and behaviour are attributed to the full moon ("lunacy" comes from "luna"), and of course the ocean and the moon are both the cause of the tides. The outpost community being on the fringes of Europe/Christendom, its people are close to passion and chaos (and the Orient): they're Christians... yet they thank the ocean for the victory, and they blame the moon for the lieutenant's drunken quarrel and the general's loss of mettle. "Chaos is come again", the play can be summed up in four words from it.









The Master (the galley master)
The captain is referred to with the rank of "master of the galley", as if he owned the craft and all of its crew. Right when the hero falls asleep, he gets to see a glimpse of the Master: 
On a carpet by his side the master of the galley was seated. He was black as ebony, and his turban was of crimson silk. Great earrings of silver dragged down the thick lobes of his ears, and in his hands he had a pair of ivory scales.
The Master is a powerful character and the leader/ruler on board. Seated on a Persian carpet, wearing a turban of crimson silk and great silver earrings, weighing the wares (pearls) on ivory scales… the dark colour of his skin immediately seems to contradict the luxury and elegance of his attire. He appears as a self-made outsider, having made a fortune and found a niche in the system (here, the European realm whose young ruler he serves) through trade, in his case (the ivory scales, instead of the ornate sword of an Othello or Wallenstein, the microphone of One Direction Zayn, or Zlatan's/Ronaldinho's boots). The figure of the self-made outsider catches many an eye: a discriminated person who rises to prominence through merits (trade, warfare, entertainment) tends to suggest both well-deserved success and indignation. In our days, the master and his officers would have been respected had they lived… but, as secondary characters in a literary text, they have frequently been subject to racist interpretations.
Furthermore, the master is neither good nor evil, but just taking orders from above (the would-be monarch wanted the best pearls in the world for his sceptre). Yet he appears as a corrupt deputy ruler in charge of an overseas affiliate or branch, ruthlessly enforcing his own will (Compare Wallenstein! Upon speaking of the deaths, I will refer to the master's aloof, "Mr. Fawlty-like" attitude).
The character of the master of the galley, like for instance that of Wallenstein, is both attractive and repulsive to me. Repulsive because of the way he treats both the rider and the pearl fisher. And attractive just because he is a self-made outsider. The luxurious, ostentatious attire he wears and the position of power he has got, considering the historical context of the story, are at odds with the colour of his skin. I imagine that he has had to strive and struggle a lot, even risking his life, honour, dignity... to get his galley, carpet, earrings, turban, and scales, and a niche in the establishment.




The officers
The officers are referred to as "negroes", a rose-tinted word for Sub-Saharans in English (see the United Negro College Fund): they share the master's skin colour. However, they are portrayed in as negative a light as the master, whose commands they obey (when we come to the deaths, their attitude will be compared to their commander's):
The negroes ran up and down the gangway and lashed them (captives) with whips of hide. 
While the captive is underwater, they show a particularly "racist" attitude:
 The negroes chattered to each other, and began to quarrel over a string of bright beads.
"A string of bright beads". Since the days of the Spanish Habsburgs, glass beads (the "bright beads") were traditionally one of the European gifts used to subjugate dark-skinned natives. The other one was brandy ("liquid fire" or "firewater"). Knowing that "natives are like children (naive)" is enough to offer them beads or liquor like Jacob offered Esau a mess of pottage. And Esau being naive as a child, and besides, the hunter/macho in the nomadic clan, Jacob being the feminine cook/"mother's boy"…
(Enlightened critics employed the story of Esau and the mess of pottage to explain the way non-Europeans sold their rights for "bright beads" and "liquid fire"!)
Again, this attitude can be viewed through another glass. The officers may view their beads as currency, like Western children use marbles and trading cards… the same way Western adults use money. Dark natives or Caucasians, children or adults… From the captives' viewpoint, they must be crazy. They might as well be quarreling over a heap of bright disks. For their duty is to give and take orders. To punish the rebel subordinates and hope for reward from their superiors. And then squabble over the reward: they're the middle-class foremen in this affiliate/foreign branch, of which the Master of the Galley is chairperson.

The drummer
Amidst the officers, one alone does not wield a whip. He sets the tempo for the galley captives to row: At the prow of the galley sat a shark-charmer, beating monotonously upon a drum. This is the galley drummer featured, for instance, in Ben-Hur.

The captives
The setting is described by Wilde as a huge galley that was being rowed by a hundred slaves. The place is "huge", yet secluded, like the setting of Othello, Alien, or And Then There Were None. I should quote my favourite words by Lew Wallace à propos (an expression to refer to the galley in Ben-Hur): 
"the community crowded within the narrow walls".
It just precisely describes any of these secluded settings like those quoted above.
There is one master and a dozen officers, plus the drummer. And there are a hundred rowers, all of them indentured servants, perchance prisoners of war. They stretched out their lean arms and pulled the heavy oars through the water. Malnutrition has made them "lean" and weak, which makes us imagine the master's waistline as at least slightly broader, and the officers' shoulders as more developed.
"The slaves were naked, but for a ragged loincloth, and each one was chained to the one beside. The hot sun beat brightly upon them, and the negroes ran up and down the gangway and lashed them with whips of hide. They stretched out their lean arms and pulled the heavy oars through the water. The salt spray flew from the blades. ".
Their childlike nudity is due to "the hot sun" of Oriental and Mediterranean latitudes, that still sends its lethal UV rays over their unguarded shoulders and "lean arms". One can imagine them as dark, but when the youngest one, selected for pearl fishing, dies, "his face was strangely pale". 
Are they, thus, rosy Caucasians (turned "strangely pale", the colour of the moon and pearls, by pallor mortis)? So it appears to be. Furthermore, it appears to be rather subversive to portray the Master and his officers as Sub-Saharans... and the rowers as Caucasians. Subversive in the way that only the "proletariat", the vast overworking majority, is shown to be fair-skinned (Perchance because socialites, unlike factory workers, had the privilege of sunning themselves in Victorian Britain? Or did Wilde want to equate, metaphorically, "fair of face" and "fair in grace"?)! Caucasians subservient to dark masters, and yet worth but chicken feed to them (when we get to the death of the young rower, we will find out). Also noteworthy that the elite of the galley consists of self-made, more-than-integrated outsiders!

Death I: the nomadic rider
At last they reached a little bay, and began to take soundings. A light wind blew from the shore, and covered the deck and the great lateen sail with a fine red dust. Three Arabs mounted on wild donkeys rode out and threw spears at them. The master of the galley took a painted bow in his hand and shot one of them in the throat. He fell heavily into the surf, and his companions galloped away. A woman wrapped in a yellow veil followed slowly on a camel, looking back now and then at the dead body.
Upon reaching the "little bay", the crew notice a few spear-carrying nomadic riders attacking them. The master counterattacks. Why this skirmish? The crew and riders may have perceived each other as intruders, which calls to mind the first murder in the Book of Genesis: brothers Cain and Abel, who represent the antagonism between settled farmers and nomadic shepherds (when flocks wandered into the villages and lived upon the farmers' crops, shepherds and farmers would clash violently, and even wage war). The "little bay" seems to be a Royal Pearl Reserve of sorts, the riders being unaware, then taking the galley for a war ship and throwing their spears in self-defense.
The riders' leader, "shot in the throat", "fell heavily". Already Homer (in The Iliad) had pointed out the throat as the place "where life can be quenched the quickest". It's a vital point, comprising the trachea and the spinal cord, the jugular vein and the carotid artery. Any major injury to the throat of a vertebrate would be lethal, ensuring a quick death through either air choke, blood choke, paralysis of the respiratory muscles, or hypovolemia/blood loss (the fate of the rider corresponding to this one), or drowning in one's own blood. The breastplated warriors of the olden days would occasionally wear a collar (for instance, a frilled "Elizabethan" collar, like Francis Drake or 't Serclaes de Tilly) to shield such an important point: one of the most vulnerable and targeted by opponents. (Note the laconic description of death: "he fell heavily". Three words!
A fourth nomad, a veiled female, follows the three males "slowly" and seems to have some connection to the fallen leader, being loved ones to each other (married? betrothed? siblings? father and daughter?). She represents the mourning female loved one/s in quintessential war stories (Mary Eleanor in most Thirty Years' War fiction).

Death II: the young captive



The death of the riders' leader serves as prelude and foreshadowing of the death of a younger character of lower standing, whose fate may symbolize that of the average child worker:
As soon as they had cast anchor and hauled down the sail, the negroes went into the hold and brought up a long rope-ladder, heavily weighted with lead. The master of the galley threw it over the side, making the ends fast to two iron stanchions. Then the negroes seized the youngest of the slaves and knocked his gyves off, and filled his nostrils and his ears with wax, and tied a big stone round his waist. He crept wearily down the ladder, and disappeared. 
A few bubbles rose where he sank. Some of the other slaves peered curiously over the side.
After some time, he rose up out of the water, and clung panting to the ladder with a pearl in his right hand. The negroes seized it from him, and thrust him back. The slaves fell asleep over their oars.
Again and again he came up, and each time that he did so he brought with him a beautiful pearl. The master of the galley weighed them, and put them into a little bag of green leather.

This use of a young person may recall Kurtius wading into the icy, surging Lech: stark naked, with a pole "as long as a Leaguer's pike" not to sink or be carried away by the stream (in The Ringstetten Saga). Though this young pearl fisher won't be that fortunate.

His ears and nostrils plugged with wax, the fact that he was already weak ("weary"), more than probably burned out by rowing, at the start of the expedition, "panting" to fill his lungs as he produces the pearls he holds in his right hand (because he's right-handed like most humans... and/or subservient to the system?), and the officers "thrust him back" for more, as the master weighs his personal gain in the scales of injustice, indifferent to the youth's plight (They take his pearls, which he risks his health for, and still ask for more: doesn't that remind you of what one Karl M**x once said about "alienation of the proletariat"?). 

In the end, too many changes of pressure (also, of "being under pressure" from superiors) take their toll upon the captive's battered system:

Then, he came up for the last time, and the pearl that he brought with him was fairer than all the pearls of Ormuz, for it was shaped like the full moon, and whiter than the morning star. But his face was strangely pale, and as he fell upon the deck the blood gushed from his ears and nostrils. He quivered for a little, and then he was still. The negroes shrugged their shoulders, and threw the body overboard.

And the master of the galley laughed, and, reaching out, he took the pearl, and when he saw it he pressed it to his forehead and bowed. 'It shall be,' he said, 'for the sceptre of our young King,' and he made a sign to the negroes to draw up the anchor.


Our young wretch has finally produced the pearl that will crown the royal sceptre. But which price has he paid? His face is "strangely pale" as the moon or the final pearl, but "the blood gushes from his ears and nostrils", "crimson" like the master's elegant silk turban. "He quivered for a little, and then he was still" ("he was still": death described in just three words once more!) Decompression has brought on the cranial internal bleeding that put a freeing end to a short life of suffering. The wax plugs would either have loosened or fallen out.
Note that the youth, who is not his own man, has his life sacrificed for a pearl—not for another's life, but just for an ornament.

Unlike the riders' leader, this captive has met his end after gradual exposure to pressure changes, rather than a lightning-fast bleeding from without by means of a puncture wound. And he is revealed to be rather expendable, one petty pawn out of one hundred. He is "thrust back" (="thrown") into the ocean by the shrugging officers for the last time, as the master laughs to his heart's content. So different was the fate of the self-made bourgeois socialite from that of the orphaned and indentured child worker. An underage miner or chimney sweep cramped in a tight passage means as little to the master of the company/factory/mine, as an underage captive bled to death through decompression to the master of the galley.

In Othello, the General's fair-skinned lady is also compared to a pearl, the moon, and a star. So does he love her. When deceived to believe in her unfaithfulness, he strangles her. No blood did gush, no blood did flow, but still "she quivered for a little, and then she was still", before he threw her back on the bedsheets and laughed. Upon seeing the light, he regret and burst into tears, stabbing himself.

The master of the galley, unlike Othello, is not a warrior or a lover, but a capitalist/businessman, through and through. The young rower identified with a male Desdemona is not his beloved, but an expendable tool that can be easily replaced. No suicide fills the master's thoughts: it's his reward that motivates him. In that sense, he may be an Iago masked as an ostensible Othello (didn't the honest ensign say: "I am not what I am"?).  


Death in the heart of the pearl

Once slain, the nomadic rider is referred to as "the dead body". The late captive becomes, in a similar vein, "the body". Both have become forms bereft of life, left to their fate.

Parallel is also the mention of the part through which the life-blood surges away, followed by a laconic yet impressive three-word description of death (in the former case: "he was shot through the throat", "he fell heavily"; in the latter case: "the blood gushed from his ears and nostrils", "he was still")… which identifies both deaths with each other. That of the enemy and that of the child worker, both of them condemned by the system. Both of them bodies with life, yet without souls.

Lastly: those "long gray fingers of the dawn clutching at the fading stars", those of the Grim Reaper or the capitalistic system, are they ready to clutch star-shaped souls leaving their mortal bodies… (or rebel souls, steering away from the "little bay", into the reddish horizon to the left?)


Lilies whiter than fine pearls, and their stems of bright silver

Thus, the young ruler steps into the throne room in the guise of a peasant lad, with austere regalia such as a wooden wand for a sceptre, amidst the courtiers' jeers and irony. To their amazement, the regalia are transformed by the light of day. The wand blossoms:
Whiter than fine pearls were the lilies, and their stems were of bright silver.
The Fourth Story of The Snow Queen lets a faint echo in: also a Marian or Desdemonian echo of whiteness as the colour of purity rather than that of pallor mortis (the true sense of whiteness in Othello happens to be, like the lily-bed of the Clever Princess, that of Desdemona's and Cassio's innocence... the purity threatened by others, yet triumphant in the end). The whiteness of feminine purity (star, moon, silver, lily, spray) rather than that of a "strangely pale" face, that of a tortured innocent.
Wilde does not give away the end of the Master, but we are left to presume that he is broke and has nowhere to go... I feel a little sorry for him, after all of this climbing to a niche of his own...

Ann Trugman comments:

The second dream is about a galley master making a slave dive deep in the bay for pearls. One after another he brings them up, and each time the galley master forces him to dive again. Finally he brings up a pearl that "was fairer than all the pearls of Ormuz, for it was shaped like the full moon, and whiter than the morning star."As the galley master says that this pearl is to be given to the Young King for his sceptre, the slave dies.

...
Also, "'There is Death in the heart of the pearl.'"
...
The pearl fisher who is not his own man has his life sacrificed for a pearl—not for another's life, but just for an ornament. 
People toil and suffer not for the important things in life but for ornaments to enhance the shallow life of the privileged.

Other comments:


The (second) dream reveals the death of the black (?) (sic) slaves who fish for pearls for the royal sceptre.


The second dream shows the young King a slave galley run by a black master. The youngest of the slaves is forced to dive for pearls till he dies finding what is truly a pearl of great price, "fairer than all the pearls of Ormuz [. . .] shaped like the moon, and whiter than the morning star".


The young King’s second dream corresponds to the albedo phase. This is evident through the presence of ‘feminine’ alchemical signifiers: water, pearls, the full moon, the morning star.


For example, those beautiful pearls are obtained at the price of slaves’ lives.

Within this dream there is time movement; a galley is journeying on a sea. A long voyage is semantically encapsulated in the adverbial phrase ‘. . . At last they reached a little bay . . .’; the painfully slow movement of dream events is conveyed in adverbial phrases like ‘. . . followed slowly . . .’, ‘. . . crept wearily . . .’and ‘. . . beating monotonously . . .’ The young slave looking for pearls surfaces ‘. . . after some time . . .’ and the painfully dragging length of time realized in adverbial phrase ‘. . . again and again . . .’, or adjectival modification,’. . . each time . . .’ and ‘. . . the last time . . .’ The protagonist wakes up and the real world time has moved further towards the day, the time expressed with a preposition and captured metaphorically this time in ‘. . . and through the window he saw the long grey fingers of the dawn clutching at the fading stars.’ The prepositional phrase ‘through the window’ orients the reader towards the two time scales on which this tale is moving: the dream time that is inside the room and real world time that is glimpsed outside the window. 
Wilde uses the comparative adjectival degree to bring out the quality of whiteness in phrases like, ‘. . . pearls of Ormuz . . .whiter than the morning star . . .’, ‘. . . and the bare lilies were whiter than pearls.’ and the inverse phrase ‘Whiter than fine pearls were the lilies . . .’ Silver is again used as complementary to the quality of whiteness of the noun in ‘. . . and their stems were of bright silver.’ 
Within this dream there is time movement; a galley is journeying on a sea. A long voyage is semantically encapsulated in the adverbial phrase ‘. . . At last they reached a little bay . . .’; the painfully slow movement of dream events is conveyed in adverbial phrases like ‘. . . followed slowly . . .’, ‘. . . crept wearily . . .’and ‘. . . beating monotonously . . .’ The young slave looking for pearls surfaces ‘. . . after some time . . .’ and the painfully dragging length of time realized in adverbial phrase ‘. . . again and again . . .’, or adjectival modification,’. . . each time . . .’ and ‘. . . the last time . . .’ The protagonist wakes up and the real world time has moved further towards the day, the time expressed with a preposition and captured metaphorically this time in ‘. . . and through the window he saw the long grey fingers of the dawn clutching at the fading stars.’ The prepositional phrase ‘through the window’ orients the reader towards the two time scales on which this tale is moving: the dream time that is inside the room and real world time that is glimpsed outside the window. 

It begins like the earlier similar sentence with a stylistically marked and at the beginning of the sentence that is chronological in its semantic import. The second and is also chronological, after falling asleep he dreams and third additive and serves as a lead into the description of his second dream. The dream this time is located away from his land takes him to wild seas, ships, galley masters and slaves. The dream narrative is made of predominantly additive and chronological and relations. The next two passages comprise of seven descriptive sentences containing five additive and one chronological and-conjunctions. The Young King finds himself on a galley being rowed by ‘a hundred slaves’. The master of the galley is painted with two additives: ‘On a carpet by his side the master of the galley was seated. He was black as ebony, and his turban was of crimson silk. Great earrings of silver dragged down the thick lobes of his ears, and in his hands he had a pair of ivory scales.’ The second passage describes the slaves and their plight with three additive and one chronological and relations: 

"The slaves were naked, but for a ragged loincloth, and each one was chained to his neighbour. The hot sun beat brightly upon them, and the negroes ran up and down the gangway and lashed them with whips of hide. They stretched out their lean arms and pulled the heavy oars through the water."
When this oriental galley reaches its destination we get the description of the place in two sentences. The first one contains a chronological and joining the two clauses. The second sentence contains a chronological and an additive and-conjunctions; ‘At last they reached a little bay, and began to take soundings. A light wind blew from the shore, and covered the deck and the great lateen sail with a fine red dust.’ The wildness and cruelty of the site is established by a violent attack on the galley crew that seems to have no link with the movement of the action in the dream except to 
introduce an element of fear. The clip contains action and we find it narrated with three chronological and-conjunctions in three sentences. The fourth sentence contains and as part of a phrase: 
"Three Arabs mounted on wild asses rode out and threw spears at them. The master of the galley took a painted bow in his hand and shot one of them in the throat. He fell heavily into the surf, and his companions galloped away. A woman wrapped in a yellow veil followed slowly on a camel, looking back now and then at the dead body."
Having got rid of the raiders, the crew gets to work and we get three passages in which they carry out their operation. Ten chronological, one additive and one phrasal and conjunctions are used to describe the activity: 
"As soon as they had cast anchor and hauled down the sail, the negroes went into the hold and brought up a long rope-ladder, heavily weighted with lead. The master of the galley threw it over the side, making the ends fast to two iron stanchions. Then the negroes seized the youngest of the slaves, and knocked his gyves off, and filled his nostrils and his ears with wax, and tied abig stone round his waist. He crept wearily down the ladder, and disappeared into the sea. A few bubbles rose where he sank. Some of the other slaves peered curiously over the side . . .
After some time the slave rose up out of the water, and clung panting to the ladder with a pearl in his right hand. The negroes seized it from him, and thrust him back . . .
Again and again he came up, and each time that he did so he brought with him a beautiful pearl. The master of the galley weighed them, and put them into a little bag of green leather."
The impact of this spectacle is so much more overwhelming than the first dream that the Young King is unable to speak. His predicament is shown in one sentence comprising of three clauses joined by two conjunctions, one of them an additive and; ‘The young King tried to speak, but his tongue seemed to cleave to the roof of his mouth, and his lips refused to move.’ The world of the galley is ruthlessly going on; so is the natural world. An additive and a phrasal and-conjunction describe the scene; ‘The negroes chattered to each other, and began to quarrel over a string of bright beads. Two cranes flew round and round the vessel.’ The final haul of pearls ends in his death. Two additives describe the precious pearl that he brings up and one additive and three chronological and applications narrate the process of his miserable and ruthless death:
"Then he came up for the last time, and the pearl that he brought with him was fairer than all the pearls of Ormuz, for it was shaped like the full moon, and whiter than the morning star. But his face was strangely pale, and as he fell upon the deck the blood gushed from his ears and nostrils. He quivered for a little, and then he was still. The negroes shrugged their shoulders, and threw the body overboard."
The next long sentence beginning by a stylistically marked chronological and joined by five more chronological and-conjunctions give us the reason and the conclusion to the whole adventure. The sentence gives the indifferent attitude of the galley master to the death adds to the cruelty of the scene:
"And the master of the galley laughed, and, reaching out, he took the pearl, and when he saw it he pressed it to his forehead and bowed. `It shall be,' he said, `for the sceptre of the young King,' and he made a sign to the negroes to draw up the anchor."
The Young King’s unasked question is answered to the worst that he fears. The conclusion to this narrative is similar to the first dream , the sentence begins by stylistically marked resultative and-conjunction, contains another chronological and that imports him back to the reality of the waking world and the third additive and links the passing night that is now close to dawn. In one sense the additive and conjunction serves to establish the temporal parameter of the tale at this point: 
"And when the young King heard this he gave a great cry, and woke, and through the window he saw the long grey fingers of the dawn clutching at the fading stars."

A retelling of the tale here:


Afterword: The absurd of "glorious war" and Moor echoes of Stuart-era Shakespeare

That was the second dream of our young royal, but the third one, set in a lush and exotic rainforest (a cloth factory in the Western world, in the dreamer's own kingdom, was the setting of the first one), featuring a conversation between Death and Greed ("Two Grim Reapers meet in the Amazon…" sounds like a good start for a joke)… takes the casualties of the second dream up to thirteen: from a couple of deceased to thousands of them!

Death said, 'I am weary; give me a third of them and let me go.' But Avarice shook her head. 'They are my servants,' she answered.

And Death said to her, 'What hast thou in thy hand?'

'I have three grains of corn,' she answered; 'what is that to thee?'

'Give me one of them,' cried Death, 'to plant in my garden; only one of them, and I will go away.'

'I will not give thee anything,' said Avarice, and she hid her hand in the fold of her raiment.

And Death laughed, and took a cup, and dipped it into a pool of water, and out of the cup rose Ague. She passed through the great multitude, and a third of them lay dead. A cold mist followed her, and the water-snakes ran by her side.

And when Avarice saw that a third of the multitude was dead she beat her breast and wept. She beat her barren bosom, and cried aloud. 'Thou hast slain a third of my servants,' she cried, 'get thee gone. There is war in the mountains of Tartary, and the kings of each side are calling to thee. The Afghans have slain the black ox, and are marching to battle. They have beaten upon their shields with their spears, and have put on their helmets of iron. What is my valley to thee, that thou shouldst tarry in it? Get thee gone, and come here no more.'

Weeping, Avarice tells Death to go away. "'There is war in the mountains of Tartary, and the kings of each side are calling to thee" and the "Afghans have slain the black ox, and are marching to battle.'"

Here, we find many an interesting commonplace: battle as the quintessence of war, as well as another exotic locale (Tartary/Afghanistan: one that remains a war zone in our days!) as the setting of the conflict, tribal kings (khans) arming their men with shields, spears, and iron helmets (no firearms!)… the slaying of a black steer: as either sacrifice to the gods for good luck and victory on the battlefield, or as a symbolic declaration of war (I would like to quote Marvin Harris's essays on the Tsembaga Maring war-peace cycle, in which the truce is broken by uprooting the local "peace tree" planted at the end of last conflict… and the massacre of warriors on the battlefield is followed by the slaughter of a great number of pigs for a feast to which all survivors, both winners and losers, are summoned. The people of both feuding villages conclude the feast by planting the peace tree, and spend some time recovering from the wounds of war by having sons, farming yams, and raising pigs… until the boys and pigs have come of age and are ready to meet their destinies, as the tree is uprooted once more).

According to the notes by John Sloan in Oscar Wilde's Complete Short Stories:
48: Tartary: the name used by Europeans from the Middle Ages to designate the lands of the Mongols and Tatars in northern and central Asia.

Grim visions of cruelty and oppression are painted in distant lands of Afghanistan. A third level of space is introduced here than that of the dream world and the real world. The translocation is achieved in a mental space through very graphic descriptions.
What she says is another exotic picture of faraway lands, and like previous such pictures, each sentence consists of two clauses connected by additive and-conjunctions:
There is war in the mountains of Tartary, and the kings of each side are calling to thee. The Afghans have slain the black ox, and are marching to battle. They have beaten upon their shields with their spears, and have put on their helmets of iron. What is my valley to thee, that thou should'st tarry in it? Get thee gone, and come here no more. 

The enemy kings are calling for Death to come. That's interesting. 
Yesterday evening, I saw The Book Thief, a wonderful film about the value of love and literature, set against the backdrop of Third Reich Bavaria, and featuring a dynamic and clever heroine in plucky orphan Liesl, whose parentage and backstory remain unknown (we only know that she comes from the Protestant North, that the Red Cross nurse who brought her to the Hubermanns' is not her mother, that the dark-haired boy who died on the train was merely her foster brother [different surnames], that she was illiterate when she came to Bavaria, that she is left-handed), but whose present and future life are full of optimism and excitement, hope and loving care.
The narrator is Death, a self-proclaimed "faithful servant to the Führer" and many other tyrants,  (highlight for spoilers) who takes the lives of Liesl's loved ones, sparing her alone, during the Russian invasion (the heroine lives to the ripe old age of 90, happily married with children and grandchildren, a worldwide celebrity and prize-laureated novelist living in Sydney!). That's an interesting viewpoint, a demythification of the "pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war"… a dark view only known to scarred veterans like Othello and Iago. Frederick Pfander-Swinborne, in Gustavus Adolphus, and the author of this blog, in The Ringstetten Saga, have explored such a view of warfare without glory, but full of tears.














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