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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 550 Response

To Haides and Back

by Don Webb

Visalakshi Viswanathan’s “The Minstrel’s Tryst” appears in this issue.

Why might the author choose the Greek form of the name “Pluton” rather than the Latin “Pluto”?

The choice of name could go either way. Latin borrowed “Pluton” from Greek as “Pluto.” Both are euphemistic nicknames; “Pluton” became popular out of sheer superstition, to avoid uttering and inadvertently invoking a “real” name of the god of the underworld, Haides (commonly spelled “Hades” in English).

Pluton was looked upon with understandable ambivalence. His name gives us the geological term “pluton,” which refers to an igneous rock. But Pluton was also the god of wealth (fertile soil, precious minerals, etc.). That’s how we got the word “plutocrat,” from which we may infer that there’s more than one handbasket in which to go You Know Where.

What is the mythical connection between Pluton and Persephone?

The story is one of those endless Greek soap operas. To cut to the end: Zeus relented and did not force Persephone to marry Hades. But since Persephone had eaten of the pomegranate, she had to return to Hades once a year. The story may explain the arrival of winter and may be a kind of backhanded recommendation for a staple of a health-food diet.

Are the rhymes in -[ist] easier or more difficult than those in -[ix] in Stéphane Mallarmé’s famous “Sonnet du Ptyx”?

They’re probably more difficult, if only because end rhymes are harder to find in English than in French. As a result, they seem to impose a length limit to “The Minstrel’s Tryst.”

Mallarmé’s poem about the “Ptyx” is the classic case of “Poems are not made with ideas, they are made with words.” In a way, it resembles Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” in Alice in Wonderland:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

The function words and forms make both “Jabberwocky” and “Ptyx” grammatically coherent, but the meaning words are unintelligible. Lewis Carroll has Humpty Dumpty explain what the made-up words mean, but Mallarmé did not have that luxury. Rather, he chose real words that very few people would know.

Mallarmé must be chortling in his grave at the success of his joke. Literary critics and historians have been knocking themselves out for a century now, trying to explain what his poem means.

“The Minstrel’s Tryst” demonstrates technical flair, and the poem itself is no joke: it recounts very briefly but quite accurately the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Copyright © 2013 by Don Webb
for Bewildering Stories

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