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A strange fellow here

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Jul. 3rd, 2010 | 10:05 am
posted by: leopold_paula_b in thefirstfolio

He [Shakespeare] puts Bohemia on the seacoast and makes Ulysses quote Aristotle.
John Eglinton in the Library chapter of Ulysses.

Weldon Thornton (Allusions in Ulysses, 1961) and Don Gifford (Ulysses Annotated, 1974) both agree that the first half of the sentence refers to a "much-cited boner in The Winter's Tale", and the other one to Troilus and Cressida, "though it is Hector and not Ulysses who 'quotes' Aristotle."

I'm currently re-reading Troilus and Cressida, which has been one of my favourite plays since I was a schoolboy. Only now I realize what a bitter satire it is, but it turns out that I still like it. About this quoting of Aristotle: It is true that Hector very obviously does so in Act II, sc. ii (...not much/ Unlike young men, whom Aristotle thought/ Unfit to hear moral philosophy), but what about Ulysses in Act III, sc. iii?

What are you reading?

A strange fellow here
Writes me that man-how dearly ever parted,
How much in having, or without or in-
Cannot make boast to have that which he hath,
Nor feels not what he owes, but by reflection;
As when his virtues shining upon others
Heat them, and they retort that heat again
To the first giver.

This is not strange, Ulysses.
The beauty that is borne here in the face
The bearer knows not, but commends itself
To others' eyes; nor doth the eye itself-
That most pure spirit of sense-behold itself,
Not going from itself; but eye to eye opposed
Salutes each other with each other's form;
For speculation turns not to itself
Till it hath travell'd, and is mirror'd there
Where it may see itself. This is not strange at all.

I do not strain at the position-
It is familiar-

And familiar it is indeed. I haven't got a decent commentary* at hand, but a quick internet research proves the ideas Ulysses quotes (and Achilles' replies) to be so commonplace, that possible contenders for their authorship range from Plato, Cicero and Seneca, via John Stobaeus, Thomas Aquinas and Erasmus, to Montaigne, Thomas Nashe, John Davies, John Marston and Thomas Wright. Even Luke 6:19 (vertue vvent forth from him, and healed al) and James 2:17 (Euen so the faith, if it haue no workes, is dead in it self) are brought into consideration, but surely neither of them qualifies as "a strange fellow".

I also found a (promising?) snippet from William R. Elton's essay "Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida" (Journal of the History of Ideas - Volume 58, Number 2, April 1997, pp. 331-337): ... Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, ed. H. N. Hillebrand and T. W. Baldwin (Philadelphia, 1953), 411-15, which ignores Aristotle in favor of Plato, on the "strange fellow." ... Does Elton show how the author in question might have been Aristotle? I would really like to know that, but unfortunately I cannot access any more context.

Here's a passage in Aristotle's Magna Moralia (1213a13-26) that sounds a little bit like that strange fellow:
Since then it is both a most difficult thing, as some of the sages have said, to attain a knowledge of oneself, and also a most pleasant (for to know oneself is pleasant) — now we are not able to see what we are from ourselves (and that we cannot do so is plain from the way in which we blame others without being aware that we do the same things ourselves; and this is the effect of favour or passion, and there are many of us who are blinded by these things so that we judge not aright); as then when we wish to see our own face, we do so by looking into the mirror, in the same way when we wish to know ourselves we can obtain that knowledge by looking at our friend. For the friend is, as we assert, a second self. If, then, it is pleasant to know oneself, and it is not possible to know this without having some one else for a friend, the self-sufficing man will require friendship in order to know himself.

Mind you, I'm not trying to defend James Joyce or "John Eglinton" against Thornton and Gifford. Someone may have been sloppy or overly pedantic there, but I don't care much who. I'm just genuinely curious about that book. And fictional characters that go about with their noses in some writing have always been close to my heart: Rosalind and the papery tongues that Orlando hangs on every tree of the Forest of Arden; Hamlet and the "words, words, words" of the "satirical slave" of his (lisant au livre de lui-même); book-loving Prospero in his rotten carcass of a boat still prizing his volumes above his dukedom; Silvia, using Valentine as a secretary to write and read her billets-doux to himself; poor deluded Malvolio and all the other people deceived by forged and misleading letters.

* By the way, I'd be grateful for any recommendation of a good Shakespeare commentary. Kenneth Muir edited Troilus and Cressida for Oxford World's Classics, and David Bevington for the Arden Shakespeare. Which series is to prefer? And does the Arden series differ very much from Bevington's Longman editions of the Complete Works (available in one or in four volumes)?

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