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Notes on ''The Cats of Ulthar''


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#1 Dabbler

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Posted 23 September 2017 - 06:14 PM

Once again - I only publish my notes in the hope that they might help novice readers of H.P.L.'s works with the many allusions and cross-references. If they are not of use, I will cheerfully stop.

 

''Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai'' – the city of Ulthar is alluded to Passim in ''The Other Gods'' (e.g. In Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, once dwelt an old man avid to behold the gods of earth; a man deeply learned in the seven cryptical books of Hsan, and familiar with the Pnakotic Manuscripts of distant and frozen Lomar.'') and also passim in ''the ''Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath'', (e.g.  in Ulthar, beyond the river Skai, there still lingered the last copy of those inconceivably old Pnakotic Manuscripts). 
 
The repeated use of the phrase is notable – akin to the repeated epithets of the Classical writers, as ''rosy-fingered Dawn'' (Odyssey), Mycenae ''rich in gold'' (Iliad), ''dutiful Aeneas'' (Aeneid). See also The Silver Key (It is rumoured in Ulthar, beyond the river Skai, that a new king reigns on the opal throne in Ilek-Vad).
 
''In Ulthar...no man may kill a cat'' – this significant law is alluded to in ''The Other Gods'' (Barzai knew so much of the gods that he could tell of their comings and goings, and guessed so many of their secrets that he was deemed half a god himself. It was he who wisely advised the burgesses of Ulthar when they passed their remarkable law against the slaying of cats, and who first told the young priest Atal where it is that black cats go at midnight on St. John’s Eve. ) and in ''Kadath'' (in Ulthar, according to an ancient and significant law, no man may kill a cat), a story wherein the Cats of Ulthar play a significant part.
 
''Aegyptus'' – a beautifully elegant Latin form of ''Egypt'', derived from Greek Αἴγυπτος, Mycenaean ''ai-ku-pi-ti-jo'', a corruption of the Egyptian ''the temple of the ka (soul) of Ptah'', a great temple at Memphis. 
 
The name is thus a synecdoche – the naming of a whole after some part, or a part after the whole. This are synecdoches pars pro toto, a part for the whole, thus ''The Sublime Porte'' for the Ottoman Turkish state,  there exist also synecdoches totum pro parte, the whole for a part, as ''America'' for the United States.
 
''Meroë'' – a ruined city on the banks of the Nile, capital of the pseudo-Egyptian kingdom of Kush.
 
''Ophir'' – a region celebrated in antiquity for its gold. Its exact location is disputed, most likely in Arabia.
 
'' strange figures with human bodies and the heads of cats, hawks, rams, and lions'' – these are very much akin to the Aegyptian gods and goddesses – in order, Bastet, Horus or Ra, Amun, Sekhmet.
 
''a head-dress with two horns and a curious disc betwixt the horns'' – a head-dress identical in shape to  an  Egyptian painter's trope or attribute of various gods, e.g. worn by the goddess Hathor (the horns reflect perhaps her aspect as a mother, often depicted as a cow, the Sun-disc as a sky goddess of many different aspects) and transferred to Isis as she assimilated aspects of Hathor, and to Ra and Horus as a sun-crown.
 
''Menes'' – the name Menes is shared by an obscure and perhaps legendary Pharaoh, the traditional founder of the First Dynasty, cf the much-garbled Egyptian History of Manetho. He was said to have reigned thirty or sixty years, won renown abroad and to have been carried off by a hippopotamus.
 

''Atal, the innkeeper's son'' –  this little boy is met with again in ''The Other Gods'' as a disciple of Barzai the Wise, despite the fact that he was ''only the son of an innkeeper''. He occurs passim in the story itself and is left as ''the holy priest Atal. Atal recurs in ''Kadath''.  over two hundred years later, as a patriarch in the Temple of the Elder Ones in Ulthar (the patriarch Atal... Atal, seated on an ivory dais in a festooned shrine at the top of the temple, was fully three centuries old; but still very keen of mind and memory.). The possibility of a mere similarity in name between the Ulthar-Outer Gods Atal and the Kadath-Atal is removed altogether by two passages alluding to the events of ''The Outer Gods'' (''Atal’s companion Barzai the Wise had been drawn screaming into the sky for climbing merely the known peak of Hatheg-Kla'' and ''At least twice in the world’s history the Other Gods set their seal upon earth’s primal granite; once in antediluvian times, as guessed from a drawing in those parts of the Pnakotic Manuscripts too ancient to be read, and once on Hatheg-Kla when Barzai the Wise tried to see earth’s gods dancing by moonlight. So, Atal said, it would be much better to let all gods alone except in tactful prayers.')'

 

''singular beetles crawling in the shadowy corners'' – given the Aegyptian inclinations of this story it is  possible  to associate these beetles with the scarab or dung-beetle, associated with the god Kephri, who was believed to roll the sun over the horizon as the scarab did its ball of dung, but to state this as proven does unnecessary violence to the text and over-systematises and renders mundane a tale of strange worlds of dream.
 
''Hatheg'' -- the village of Hatheg, and the peak of Hatheg-Kla which bears its name, are of great importance in ''The Other Gods'', e.g. (Hatheg-Kla is far in the stony desert beyond Hatheg, for which it is named, and rises like a rock statue in a silent temple. Around its peak the mists play always mournfully, for mists are the memories of the gods, and the gods loved Hatheg-Kla when they dwelt upon it in the old days. Often the gods of earth visit Hatheg-Kla in their ships of cloud, casting pale vapours over the slopes as they dance reminiscently on the summit under a clear moon.). It is also alluded to more briefly in ''Kadath'': (where the rushing Skai flows down from the slopes of Lerion, and Hatheg and Nir and Ulthar dot the plain.)
 
''Nir'' -- the village or town of Nir is alluded to several times in ''The Other Gods'', e.g. ( there resounded on Hatheg-Kla that terrible peal of thunder which awaked the good cotters of the plains and the honest burgesses of Hatheg and Nir and Ulthar), and also in ''Kadath''  (where the rushing Skai flows down from the slopes of Lerion, and Hatheg and Nir and Ulthar dot the plain.)

Edited by Dabbler, 24 September 2017 - 04:57 PM.

''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 Ningauble

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Posted 24 September 2017 - 03:44 PM

''Atal, the innkeeper's son'' – it is possible that this little boy is met with again in ''Kadath''.  over two hundred years later, as a patriarch in the Temple of the Elder Ones in Ulthar (the patriarch Atal... Atal, seated on an ivory dais in a festooned shrine at the top of the temple, was fully three centuries old; but still very keen of mind and memory.). Against this possibility is the unlikelihood that a mere inkeeper's son would become patriarch. It must be considered unsettled and unsettlable.

 
Not at all. In "The Other Gods", Barzai the Wise brings his disciple Atal, "who was only the son of an innkeeper", when climbing Hatheg-Kla. In The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Atal the patriarch mentions to Randolph Carter that his "companion Barzai the Wise had been drawn screaming into the sky for climbing merely the known peak of Hatheg-Kla."



#3 Dabbler

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Posted 24 September 2017 - 04:23 PM

Well done, I missed that story altogether. Considerable revision will be necessary. Those who love learning love correction, and I am most grateful.


Edited by Dabbler, 24 September 2017 - 04:26 PM.

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


#4 Nescio

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Posted 26 September 2017 - 12:13 PM

''Ophir'' – a region celebrated in antiquity for its gold. Its exact location is disputed, most likely in Arabia.

 

Perhaps best known to modern readers as the location of the titular mines in Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (which places it in Africa). The only hint the Bible gives to its location is that expeditions thence sailed from the Gulf of Aqaba - latter-day identifications rival those of Atlantis for variety.

 

There's also an Ophir in REH's Hyborian Age, but it cannot very well have been intended to to actually be the Biblical one: presumably REH simply liked the name for its associations of wealth and wonder.



#5 yockenthwaite

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Posted 26 September 2017 - 02:53 PM

Looking through your notes it's striking how many fantastical places and names are introduced to the reader. But as I read I found the world building remarkably light. Yes it's set in a strange setting, with strange names, fantastical, magical, dream-like. But we don't get a firm visualisation of any of the places, and it could almost happen anywhere. I think this story is one of the most deft pieces of writing by Lovecraft, with a lightness of touch you rarely get from him. I really like it. And for a story about cats it's also remarkably gruesome!