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Notes on ''Dagon''


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#1 Dabbler

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 06:03 PM

DAGON

1. ''Packet'' – a packet-boat, that originally carried mail, but the term was by this time derived to mean a regular scheduled service carrying mail, passengers and freight cargo.

 

2. ''Supercargo'' – the supercargo is a representative of the owner of the ship's cargo on board a commercial vessel, charged with overseeing the cargo and its eventual sale.

 

3. In the early stages of the German war upon Allied shipping – the ''Handelskrieg'', prize rules were followed. A vessel might, as in this case, be seized. Submarines were obliged to surface and search merchantmen and extract the crew to a place of safety prior to sinking the vessel. As the conduct of the German fleet degraded further, unrestricted submarine warfare was instituted in the February of 1915, in which Allied merchantmen would be sunk without warning and with the concomitant death of the entire crew.

 

We must allow the date of ''Dagon'' to be prior to the February of 1915, and hence the supercargo must be employed on an English vessel trading in the Pacific (a very likely possibility), as the United States did not enter the War until the April of 1917. After the barbarous sinking of the ''Lusitania'', with 128 Americans on board, on the 7th May 1915, President Wilson demanded and received the cessation of unrestricted submarine warfare. The continuing atrocities in Belgium, the notorious Zimmermann Telegram and the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in the February of 1917 all contributed to the entry of the United States into the Great War.

 

4. ''the Hun'' – the barbarism of the German Empire in the Great War earned them the name of Huns. The name, however, derived from a far earlier speech by the German Emperor delivered at Bremerhaven on the 27th July 1900, to the German expeditionary force departing to put down the Boxer Rebellion. The relevant passage runs:

 

''Kommt ihr vor den Feind, so wird derselbe geschlagen! Pardon wird nicht gegeben! Gefangene werden nicht gemacht! Wer euch in die Hände fällt, sei euch verfallen! Wie vor tausend Jahren die Hunnen unter ihrem König Etzel sich einen Namen gemacht, der sie noch jetzt in Überlieferung und Märchen gewaltig erscheinen läßt, so möge der Name Deutsche in China auf 1000 Jahre durch euch in einer Weise bestätigt werden, daß es niemals wieder ein Chinese wagt, einen Deutschen scheel anzusehen!''

 

''Whensoever you come upon the enemy, that same enemy shall be smitten down! You shall not give quarter! You shall take no prisoners! When they shall fall into your hands, they shall be forfeit to you! Just as, a thousand years ago, the Huns under their king Attila made for themselves such a name, that even yet shows them mighty in history and in legend, so may the name of German be established in China for a thousand years, in such a manner that no Chinese will ever again dare to look askance at a German!''
 

5. ''Octopi'' – Perhaps ''even Homer sometimes nods''. It would appear at first sight that for once Lovecraft's classical erudition has failed him. The etymologically correct plural of octopus is not octopi, it would actually be octopodes (it is not a Latin second-declension masculine, it is a Greek third-declension masculine). However, I suspect H.P.L. was well aware of this and chose the more elegant, even if erroneous, of the commonly used English plurals (octopuses, octopi) rather than use the obscure correct form.

 

6. An allusion to John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, published in ten books in 1667 and in twelve (in imitation of Virgil's Aeneid). After his fall to Hell, Satan attempts to find if there is any truth in the rumoured creation of Men, andmust pass through Hell-gates and endure a hideous climb through Chaos, ''through the unfashioned realms of darkness.''. The relevant lines are:

 

At last his Sail-broadVannes                                      Vannes = wings
He spreads for flight, and in the surging smoak
Uplifted spurns the ground, thence many a League
As in a cloudy Chair ascending rides [
Audacious, but that seat soon failing, meets
A vast vacuitie: all unawares
Fluttring his pennons vain plumb down he drops       Pennons = feathers
Ten thousand fadom deep, and to this hour
Down had been falling, had not by ill chance 
The strong rebuff of som tumultuous cloud
Instinct with Fire and Nitre hurried him
As many miles aloft: that furie stay'd,
Quencht in a Boggy Syrtis, neither Sea,                         Syrtis was a quicksand on the African coast. See
Nor good dry Land: nigh founderd on he fares,             Pliny's Naturalis Historia.
Treading the crude consistence, half on foot,
Half flying; behoves him now both Oare and Saile.
As when a Gryfon through the Wilderness                       The Arimaspians were a tribe of one-eyed men
With winged course ore Hill or moarie Dale,                    alleged to live in northern Scythia (from the
Pursues the Arimaspian, who by stelth                             Black Sea to the Urals) and said to be at strife
Had from his wakeful custody purloind                             with gold-guarding griffins, regarded with des-
The guarded Gold: So eagerly the fiend                          erved contempt in the first book of the Histories
Ore bog or steep, through strait, rough, dense, or rare, of Herodotus.
With head, hands, wings, or feet pursues his way,
And swims or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flyes:
At length a universal hubbub wilde
Of stunning sounds and voices all confus'd
Borne through the hollow dark assaults his eare
With loudest vehemence.

 

7. ''Stygian'' – murky, black, a reference to the River Styx, which in many sources (but not in Virgil's Aeneid) is the dark river across which Charon ferries the souls of the dead.

 

8. ''Cyclopean'' – technically, resembling a characteristic type of Myceanaean (Bronze Age proto-Greek) masonry consisting of massive boulders. Pliny reports in his Naturalis Historia the (obviously false) tradition that the Cyclopes or one-eyed giants of Greek myth devised towers of masonry, certainly the name derives from a belief that only giants could have made them. Here is used loosely to indicate a maddeningly immense mass of solid stone.

 

9. ''Doré'' – a reference to Gustave Doré, prolific French nineteenth century engraver much esteemed by H.P.L. (cf. Pickman's Model) for his careful, exact, evocation of dim shapes of archetypal horror. Particular attention should be paid to his engravings, many of which capture the grotesque contortion of form and maddening perspective of Lovecraft's horrors.

 

10. ''Poe'' – Edgar Allan Poe, (1809-49), American poet and author of weird fiction much admired by H.P.L. Works include; in poetry The Raven (1845), Ulalume, a Ballad (1847– see At the Mountains of Madness); in prose The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838), The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), The Pit and the Pendulum (1842), The Tell-Tale Heart (1843), among many others.

 

11. ''Bulwer'' – Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton (1803-1873), prolific novelist, poet, playwright. Composed several occult or esoteric works – e.g. The Last Days of Pompeii (1834 – decadent phase of Roman culture) Zanoni (1842 – Rosicrucianism), The Coming Race (1871 – a lurking race of subterranean folk that may destroy Man).

 

12. ''Piltdown... Man'' – a reference to ''Eoanthropus dawsoni'' or ''Homo piltdownensis'', a series of fragmentary pseudo-fossils found in 1912 in the Pleistocene gravel beds at Piltdown, East Sussex, and proposed to represent an early hominid dated to c. 500,000 years ago and roughly contemporareous to the genuine Homo heidelbergensis. Finally discredited as a deliberate fraud in 1953. The culprit remains unknown.

 

13. ''Neanderthal Man'' – Homo neanderthalensis, the Neanderthaler of H.P.L.'s and other contemporary works, a coarse-featured stocky near-hominid parallel to and not directly ancestral to modern Man, ranging from 250,000-40,000 years distant from our own time.

 

14. ''Polyphemus-like'' – Polyphemus was a Cyclops, son of Poseidon and Thoosa. We meet with him as a savage giant who vilely devours men in the ninth book of the Odyssey. He is made drunk and blinded by Ulysses, who escapes from his cave by clinging to the under-side of one of the Cyclops' sheep. Here used to suggest a great and foul giant.

 

15. ''the ancient Philistine legend of Dagon'' – Dagon was an ancient Mesopotamian and Levantine deity. The Old Testament mentions him as a god of the Philistines with temples at Ashdod (1. Sam. v. 1), Gaza (Judg. xvi, 21, 23) An association of his name with the Hebrew element dāg, fish, is very ancient, dating at least to a Jewish author of the eleventh century and perhaps as far as the third century B.C. (Berossus' Odakon, a fish-god).

 

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the fish-man motif of Assyrian and Phoenician art was taken to represent Dagon. Some authority is given to this theory by the Biblical account of the shattered idol at Ashdod (1. Sam. v. 4), which had lost hands and head so that ''only Dagon was left to him''. A Jewish commentator glosses this as ''the form of a fish''.

 

Another possible etymology is Ugaritic dgn, grain, Hebrew dagan, suggesting a fertility-god. There is a record of ''Dagon, after he discovered grain and the plough, [who] was called Zeus Arotrios'', that is, ploughman, in Philo Byblius' history of the Phoenicians, said to be derived from an original by ''Sanchuniathon'', which the Encyclopaedia Brittannica of 1911 describes as ''a euhemeristic re-heating (rechauffe) of Phoenician theology and mythology''.


''In theory, I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist.''



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#2 yockenthwaite

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Posted 15 September 2017 - 01:41 PM

This was the first story I read and reviewed here at Yoggie as part of my Lovecraftathon, back in early 2015. I'm not going to keep posting the reviews below yours, unless there's a key point to be made. But you may want to check them out. They're all in my Yog Blog. I'm now into the second phase of my Lovecraftathon, reading the Eldritch Tales collection. But there's a handy index to the first phase looking at the Gollancz Necronomicon, including my overall thoughts on that book, favourite stories so far, and a link to all my reviews up to that point. See here.

Edited by yockenthwaite, 15 September 2017 - 01:43 PM.


#3 Dabbler

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Posted 15 September 2017 - 02:02 PM

Thank you. Most interesting. Incidentally I need to revise the translation of the German a little:

 

''Whensoever you come upon the enemy, that same enemy shall be smitten down! You shall not give quarter! You shall take no prisoners! When they shall fall into your hands, they shall be forfeit to you! Just as, a thousand years ago, the Huns under their king Attila made for themselves a name, that even yet shows them mighty in history and in legend, so may, through you, the name of German be established in China for a thousand years, in such a manner that no Chinese will ever again dare to look askance at a German!''

 

The changes are -- omission of ''such a'' name, insertion of ''through you'' to answer the ''durch euch'' of the original.


Edited by Dabbler, 15 September 2017 - 02:02 PM.

''In theory, I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist.''