In the peninsula of Bithynia…

[Text found in an old notebook, dated 1983.6.11 — slightly edited]

In the peninsula of Bithynia, in about 120 B.C. — the chronicles are not very precise, saying only "in the reign of the Elders of the House of Baal" —a girl was seen near the Temple of Tanit with a T-shirt (for this would seem to be the garment described) inscribed thus: "Ravissez-moi, je suis vièrge. Estienne."

When asked what that meant, the girl said she wasn't sure (the characters themselves were quite unlike the Phoenician script known to the region) but that it was her father's idea, that it was addressed to the Carthaginians and would assure her — and thus the House — of eternal existence in the fiction of Flaubert.

The interlocutor, a young acolyte of Tanit, was not troubled by the reference to the unknown foreign god Flaubert — there were so many gods, and it was well to respect them all — but he was puzzled by the severe and undecipherable characters. How, he asked, were the Carthaginians — who in all events were not expected in the area — how were they to understand a message in a strange language?

"Oh, my father says the Carthaginians of Flaubert understand it perfectly," replied the girl.

[I must have been reading Salammbô; "Estienne" may be a reference to the type-face used for at least some editions of Flaubert's works.]


Dirk van Nouhuys said...

Jeez, I hardly have ever heard of anyone else who has read Salammbô. I recommended it to my hair cutter who read A Gift for the Sultan and is interested in Hannibal, but she hasn’t done it yet. I liked it al lot. How evocative it is of a distant, half imaginary time and place! What research! (Though succeeding archeology disabled some of it.) The battlefield scenes are harrowing, especially the wounded elephants. Hard French from the viewpoint of vocabulary. Have you read his Herodias? When I was about 14 I read Théophile Gautier’s La toison d'or, a rather precious tale of decadent, idle rich, mid-century youth, that deeply colored my idea of what romance should be for several years. Years later, after I was married and settled down, I read L'Éducation sentimentale and thought that’s what I should have read when I was 14.

gef said...

You remember Salammbô more clearly than I. I'll have to reread it, along with other things by Flaubert. When I reread Mme Bovary recently, it was a strangely refreshing experience, stirring shadows in my memory from when I read an abridged version in my high school French course. It wa a struggle the first time, delicious the second. I still haven't read L'Éducation sentimentale, though I have it on my shelves.