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the Goliard

October 2003


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Goliardly discoveries in the First Eight Pages of Finnegans Wake 

First let it be said that for the sake of only one reference, that being "Sir Tristram, violer d'amores," it was necessary to consult four books, those being a French dictionary, Bulfinch's Mythology, a compendium of stories concerning King Arthur and his milieu and the Harvard Dictionary of Music. 

In any case, violer d'amores: literally, violator of loves, not only of other peoples' marital unions through the knightly (one may surmise nightly) blandishment of his love-sword in the bedrooms of sundry ladies, but also of the love King Mark had for him as a nephew and champion of his cause, the latter because he was in love with Mark's wife Isolde, Iseult, La Beale Isoud or whatever you want to call her. This was said to be the result of a magic potion, but in fact it's pretty clear that they were in love long before he agreed to go to Ireland to fetch her for his uncle. Since the match was Tristram's idea, it isn't hard to figure out what his ulterior motives might have been. Chivalry was curious that way. 

Violer, from violence, is also proper in its root form, and I quote: "And there Sir Marhaus [or Moraunt, or whatever you want to call him] fell down on his knees, the edge of Sir Tristram's sword left in his brain-pan." 

Then there's viola d'amore, an instrument of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a member of the viol family, distinguished from the violin family by its sloping shoulders and sound holes shaped like flaming swords. In its later incarnations it also tended to have sympathetic strings, there for the sake of reverberation only and not to be bowed. This pun is presumably a reference to the fact that Tristram was renowned as a musician (the harp was actually his axe, but the possible harp puns-harpie, Twyla Tharp-have to do with women, not men, therefore would have been inadmissible). "

…on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war." This is Tristram again, penisolate, using his penis to desolate, and certainly also isolate, in the sense that the "war" of Tristram was largely an internal war against his better judgment; also possibly peninsulate, since he hailed from Cornwall, which was I believe is located on the peninsula of Brittany, across the English Channel from England proper, a peninsula to be contrasted with the scraggy isthmus, just because of the delicious penility of peninsulas (it had to be a deliberate joke by the forces of continental formation that Manhattan and Brooklyn outline the largest flaccid cock'n'balls the world has ever seen, while San Francisco is undeniably erect). 

And the so-called "Peninsular War" in which Napoleon (who figures prominently in the museum below) tried to gain control of British-controlled Portugal by disrupting Spain, ridiculously referred to as a "peninsula," no doubt has some relevance as well. One of Napoleon's schemes was to pit Charles IV of Spain against his son Ferdinand, so perhaps that reminded Joyce of the conflict between Tristram and his reputedly cowardly uncle Mark, the King of Cornwall. Charles IV was said, like Mark, to be more befuddled than competent. Why isn't Italy the peninsula? Too obvious? Penisolate also in the sense that all wars are fought with variations on the penis (take note, Mr. Bush) and this was especially evident when they were fought with the penile utensils of the spear and sword. This is the secret reason why women should be denied access to the military. They just don't get it. 

Knightly (courtly) love was also a war in some ways, undoubtedly penisolate and one which Tristram fought to excess in Ireland, a war of circumcession, say, or better a war of circumspection, penistically speaking, lest one should tread where the syphilitic, for example, has gone before. But I digress. 

At the end of the section of Finnegans Wake known as "Tales Told of Shem and Shaun" occurs the line: "In the name of the former and of the latter and of their holocaust. Allmen." In early pages of the work there is a description of the death of Finnegan: "His howd feeled heavy, his hoddit did shake. (There was a wall of course in erection) Dimb! He stottered from the latter. Damb! He was dud." So stottering from the latter, on the one hand, he fell from the ladder. On the other, he fell from the latterly mentioned wall against which the ladder was presumably leaning. And since at the end of Shem and Shaun God is the former and Christ the latter, it seems that Christ is the ladder too, without which poor Finnegan might still be with us. The blessed ladder we may climb to heaven assuming we haven't already fallen off of it, the drunken stotterer, trowel in hand. 

And not at all leastly: "They laid him brawdawn alanglast bed. With a bockalips of finisky fore his feet. And a barrowload of guenesis hoer his head. Tee the tootal of the fluid hang the twoddle of the fuddled, O!" Compare this last sentence with the following, from Genesis 1:6 (Revised Standard Edition): "And God said, 'Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.'" On the other hand, perhaps the fuddled is I and he should back off a little on the fluid himself. 

The early and compulsive references to Sir Tristram, musicien extraordinaire and certainly a secular figure, facilitation of the baptism of Sir Palamedes (or Palomides or, oh, never mind) the Saracen notwithstanding, make it clear that Joyce was a secret goliard. Or was it such a secret? A museum tour, toward the end of the section of which the foregoing has been an extremely haphazard and fragmented discussion. The guide is indicating paintings of Wellington, celebrated defeater of Napoleon at Waterloo. I quote: "This is the Willingdone on his same white harse. This is the big Sraughter Willingdone, grand and magentic in his goldtin spurs and his ironed dux and his quarterbrass woodyshoes and his magnate's gharters and his bangkok's best and goliar's goloshes and his pulluponeasyan wartrews. This is his big wide harse." 

In the absence of any evidence at all that Wellington himself was a goliard, we can only assume that he borrowed the boots from someone who was. Might that not have been Joyce himself, in exile in France a hundred years before he was born? We leave it to more informed minds to decipher. In the meantime we sing and we tell our tales, and we do what goliards do.


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