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The Virtous Peleg

From: Susan Wenger
Sent: Friday, July 07, 2000 5:09 AM

The Virtuous Peleg:

I think this is one of O'Brian's funniest short stories. Let's open the discussion!

- Susan


From: Martin Watts
Sent: Friday, July 07, 2000 5:54 AM

I read the story the other night in preparation for this. I loved it. I've read some of the Irish legends about voyaging monks, particularly St Brendan of course (what is the term - Imranna or something similar?), and found the humorous style entertaining.

I am familiar with the name Peleg as a whaling captain from Moby Dick. I did a search using google and found a very odd site that compares different bible translations. Peleg was a descendant of Shem. I wonder if there is also a reference to Pelagius, the famous heretic. This is a latinised form of Morgan, which is apparently Welsh for "sea".

Peleg is a real holy innocent and so proof against the traps laid for him by the tormenting demons. He is too short to be racked, he is too tongue tied by the appearance of three succubi in the form of three sisters he knew before becoming a monk to be tempted by any of them, and the subtle heretical text prepared by the demon captain has no illuminated capitals so the illiterate Peleg is unable to derive any information from it at all.

http://www.innvista.com/scriptures/compare/peleg.htm

Martin Watts
50 45' N 1 55' W.
The Borough and County of the Town of Poole


From: Susan Wenger
Sent: Sunday, July 09, 2000 8:14 AM

Here's my contribution, before ever we even discuss the story. The "bad guy" in this story is Kevin. Not St. Kevin, not that Kevin. So who was St. Kevin? I looked it up - (couldn't figure the relevance anyway, but here's what I found):

St. Kevin:

Known in Ireland as Coemgen as well as Kevin, according to tradition he was born at the Fort of the White Fountain in Leinster, Ireland, of royal descent. He was baptized by St. Cronan and educated by St. Petroc. He was ordained, and became a hermit at the Valley of the Two Lakes in Glendalough. After seven years there, he was persuaded to give up his solitary life. He went to Disert-Coemgen, where he founded a monastery for the disciples he attracted, and later moved to Glendalough. He made a pilgrimage to Rome, bringing back many relics for his permanent foundation at Glendalough. He was a friend of St. Kieran of Clonmacnois, and was entrusted with the raising of the son of King Colman of Ui Faelain, by the king. Many extravagant miracles were attributed to Kevin, and he was reputed to be 120 years old at his death.

=====
"Who wishes to be a meagre sailorman if he can be a learned and enter the government service? Why, in time you might be an official and never do anything for remainder of earthly existence. You could grow long fingernails, and become obese and dignified." -
Patrick O'Brian


From: Chris Moseley
Sent: Sunday, July 09, 2000 9:32 AM

Padeen refers to the 'glorious St. Kevin' in _The Commodore_, p. 60, while playing a game with Brigid.

Chris Moseley
Graduate student, Mathematics moseleyc@math.unc.edu
UNC Chapel Hill www.math.unc.edu/Grads/moseleyc


From: u1c04803
Sent: Sunday, July 09, 2000 10:22 AM

He went to Disert-Coemgen, where he founded a monastery for the disciples he attracted, and later moved to Glendalough. He made a pilgrimage to Rome, bringing back many relics for his permanent foundation at Glendalough.

The ruins of which "foundation" you can visit today:

http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/frontpage.html
http://www.irishphotos.com/page13.htm

Lois


From: u1c04803
Sent: Sunday, July 09, 2000 10:29 AM

The ruins of which "foundation" you can visit today:

http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/frontpage.html

Darn, that's one of those websites which doesn't change url's as you go deeper in, sorry, requires clicking on "historic sites" and the Dublin region, through to Glendalough--where I visited in the 1980's, as well as St. Kevin's well.


From: Susan Wenger
Sent: Sunday, July 09, 2000 4:59 PM

"The Virtuous Peleg" is unlike any of the previous O'Brian short stories. Well, I guess the same could be said for most of them. But this one starts off on a humorous note, and what could have been the "twist," the unexpected turn of events, came in the first paragraph:

"Every year a great concourse of people come to the place they call Kevin's tomb in the mountains and they pray him to intercede for them, for although he is not a saint upon the calendar - he is not that Kevin, but another - he is much revered in those parts which is no doubt a great solace to him as he burns for ever in the extreme torment aggravated as it is by every device and artifice known to the fiend of hell. The pilgrims suppose him to be well placed to intercede for them, in which they are right, by far the most of them being false lechers, damned in every inch."

An unusual opening for a short story, she says blithely.

1. How did Kevin's tomb get to be in the mountains of Ireland? He certainly died somewhere else, maybe in Busjus.

2. I enjoyed O'Brian's usual hyperbole about overweight men: "Peleg being the length and breadth of an ox as he was, and that of the larger kind." Being the length and breadth of an ox wouldn't have been large enough in itself.

3. Does the place "Deara" mean anything special to anyone?

4. "He prayed with fervour and his four bones were flayed and his blood soaked into the stone." Four bones?

- Susan


From: Martin Watts
Sent: Monday, July 10, 2000 4:02 AM

Susan wrote:

1. How did Kevin's tomb get to be in the mountains of Ireland? He certainly died somewhere else, maybe in Busjus.

They only call it his tomb. There is no actual suggestion he is buried there. Ambrose Bierce's "Devil's Dictionary" has a definition of cenotaph that includes a memorial placed in an Irish church by a mother, epitaph something like "Here lie my two sons, one buried here and one lost at sea".

2. I enjoyed O'Brian's usual hyperbole about overweight men: "Peleg being the length and breadth of an ox as he was, and that of the larger kind." Being the length and breadth of an ox wouldn't have been large enough in itself.

A sudden thought: Peleg = Padeen!

Martin Watts
50 45' N 1 55' W.
The Borough and County of the Town of Poole


From: Rowen84@AOL.COM
Sent: Tuesday, July 11, 2000 1:24 PM

This is a latinised form of Morgan, which is apparently Welsh for "sea".

Is this true? Is 'Morgan' Welsh for 'sea'?

Rowen


From: Martin Watts
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 1:46 AM

Rowen asked of Pelagius:

This is a latinised form of Morgan, which is apparently Welsh for "sea".

Is this true? Is 'Morgan' Welsh for 'sea'?

I had this from Brewer's "Phrase and Fable" and have since checked with "Chambers English Dictionary", which adds sea-shore as a possible meaning.

Martin Watts

50 45' N 1 55' W.
The Borough and County of the Town of Poole


From: Sherkin@AOL.COM
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 8:58 AM

I decided to go back to some old books to refresh myself on the background of POB's story, and dug out Seumus MacManus' book of Irish history, published in 1921, the unfortunately titled "The Story of the Irish Race." (Of course, in these enlightened times, we know that there is no such thing as the Irish Race, or the English Race, and so on.) Nevertheless, the book is a gold mine of a source for the background of The Virtuous Peleg.

The most famous ST. Kevin was the founder of the monastic school at Glendalough ( the glen of the two lakes) in Co. Wicklow. It is a very popular tourist spot, and one can view, besides the ruins of the monastic buildings and the Round Tower (for protection against the later Viking invaders) , St. Kevin's bed, a very small niche carved in a hillside. Here he was subjected (according to the old manuscripts) to temptations similar to those Peleg experiences from the demons disguised as " the daughters of Peleg."

POB is obviously having a lot of fun with this period, starting in the fifth century and extending up to the Viking invasions. I came upon this interesting POB related fact: St. Brendon the Navigator, author of the medieval best-seller , Navagatio, founded a monastery at Clonfert, on an island in Lough Dearg in the Shannon River. The supernatually propelled "curach" in which Peleg and Kevin sail to the barbarian land is the same as the Welsh "coracle", the Celtic leather boat.

St. Brendon's boat was a much larger version, reconstructed by Tim Severin for his voyage from Ireland to Newfoundland in the seventies. In the two centuries after Patrick,


From: Sherkin@AOL.COM
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 9:00 AM

Sorry. A book fell on my keyboard and sent the previous message.


From: Sherkin@AOL.COM
July 12, 2000 9:19 AM

It happened again.
A wandering demon?

Anyway, in the centuries following Patrick monasticism exploded in Ireland.

Probably the best place to view the "beehive" huts and a relatively untouched monastic establishment is on Skellig Michael, a hard-to -get-to island off the Kerry coast.

The Irish hermits were an interesting lot. The recounting of a milestone as a craft in 'Peleg is' taken from the history of at least one of them.

They were also mad about animals, birds, and nature in general. They were also mad about poetry. Here is a translation from the Irish by the great Celtic scholar Kuno Meyer:

Hermit's Song

I wish, O son of the living god, O ancient, eternal King,
For a hidden little hut in the wilderness that it may be my dwelling.

An all-grey lithe little lark to be by its side,
A clear pool to wash away sins through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Quite near, a beautiful wood around it on every side,
To nurse many-voiced birds, hiding it with its shelter.

A southern aspect for warmth; a little brook across its floor,
A choice land with many gracious gifts such as be good for every plant.

A few men of sense - we will tell their number-
Humble and obedient, to pray to the King:-

Four times three, three times four, fit for every need,
Twice this in the church, both North and South:-

Six pairs besides myself,
Praying forever to the King who makes the sun shine.

A pleasant church and with the linen altar cloth a dwelling for God from Heaven;
Then, shining candles above the pure white scriptures.

One house for all to go to for the care of the body,
Without ribaldry, without boasting, without thought of evil.

This is the husbandry I would take, I would choose, and will not hide it:
Fragrant leek, hens, salmon, trout, bees:

Raiment and food for me from the King of fair fame,
And I to be sitting for a while praying God in every place.


From: Charles Munoz
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 9:41 AM

In a message dated 7/12/0 11:29:02 AM, Sherkin@AOL.COM sent us:

Hermit's Song

I wish, O son of the living god, O ancient, eternal King,
For a hidden little hut in the wilderness that it may be my dwelling.

Seems to be the source (full of echoes) of Yeats' famous poem (but far from his best poem) "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."

Charlezzzz, who thinks Yeat's poem is too sentimental to be great


From: Sherkin@AOL.COM
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 9:54 AM

Charlezzzz wonders if the ancient "Hermit's Song" inspired Yeat's famous The Lake Isle of Innisfree."

The same thought occurred to me. And I have also thought that it was not one of Yeat's best efforts:

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now,
And go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there,
Of clay and wattles made.
Nine bean-rows will I have there,
A hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I will have some peace there,
For peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of evening
To where the cricket sings.
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon's a purple glow,
And evening's full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day,
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
As I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grewy,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Jean A.


From: Susan Wenger
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 10:06 AM

The angel had two messages for Peleg:

Heaven helps those as help themselves.

and

There are those who seem more than they appear to others or themselves notwithstanding the appearance of some as they would appear in the first place; or the contrary.

The first is a familiar adage, with "as" thrown in for its Irishness. The second is intended to show that the angel was drunk, or that Peleg was addled by his fasting and labors.

Any interpretations or comments or special meaning to these?

- Susan


From: Susan Wenger
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 10:03 AM

Here's a bit about Brothen (the saint mentioned in "The Virtuous Peleg):

Brothen and Gwendolen

6th century. Only their names and place names honoring these Welsh saints remains of their history, and the fact that they were given a public cultus in Wales. Saint Brothen is the patron of Llanbrothen in Merionethshire, Wales. Dolwyddelen and Llanwyddelan in Montgomeryshire suggest a Saint Gwendolen; this and similar names are diminutives of Gwen (meaning 'white'), equivalent to the French Blanche (Benedictines).


From: Sherkin@AOL.COM
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 1:34 PM

While reading stuff about the period of "The Virtuous Peleg" I came upon this story about Kathryn's ancestor, 'King Guaire the Hospitable" which probably will explain how he got his title.

Charlezzzz, as list poet, probably knows already that in pagan and Christian Ireland, the status of the poet was second only to that of the king. They had to undergo rigorous years of training. Ancient history, law, and genealogy were in verse. When the Chief Poet of Ulster, before the Christian Era, discovered that there was a plot to kill two kings at a feast, he saved their lives by seating each of them between poets, because to kill or injure a poet would bring calamity upon the land.

Of course their status, at times, led to abuse. Several times in the early centuries the people rose against the poets and their followers and proposed to banish them from the land. One of the poets' chief weapons was the satire. If one refused to pay a poet's price "he did so at the risk of being satirised with a biting poetic satire, which would make him the laughing-stock of the land, and his children's children's children the laughing stock of generations yet unborn. And so gifted in this malicious art were some that it was legended their satires could not only blight the crops of the satirised, but actually raise blisters on his face."

One impudent poet, in pagan times, appeared before the great hero Cuchullain and demanded, in return for reciting a poem praising him, his "spear of victory." Cuchullain offered him many gifts, which the poet refused. When the froward bard threatened to satirize the hero, Cuchullain cried "Then take your gift!", and threw the spear at him, transfixing him through the skull. The satirist exclaimed," This indeed is an overpowering gift!" and dropped dead.

In the sixth century, a national poet called Senchan Torpeist, visited the court of King Guaire. He brought his whole entourage with him, which proceded to eat poor Guaire out of castle and home. Of course, he didn't dare to ask him to leave, for fear of the dreaded satire that would be forthcoming. The king's brother, the holy hermit Marban, rescued him by sending the poet and his followers on a literary mission, to find the lost manuscript of 'The Tain Bo Cuailgne", the Ulster cycle of Irish legends, "which promised to take years, if not eternity, for its fulfilment."

Here is Senchen's final ode to Guaire:

"We depart from thee, O stainless Guaire!
We leave with thee our blessing;
A year, a quarter, and a month,
Have we sojourned with thee, O high-king!
Three times fifty poets, -good and smooth,-
Three times fifty students in the poetic art,
Each with his servent and dog;
They were all fed in one great house.
Each man had his separate meal;
Each man had his separate bed;
We never arose at early morning,
With contentions without calming.
I declare to thee, O God
Who canst the promise verify,
That should we return to our own land,
We shall visit thee again, O Guaire, though now we depart."


I daresay Guaire got no comfort from the last verse.

Jean A.
(Wondering what it would be like to live under a Tyranny of Poets.)


From: John Finneran
Sent: Monday, July 17, 2000 5:28 PM

Susan Wenger wrote:

The angel had two messages for Peleg:

Heaven helps those as help themselves.

and There are those who seem more than they appear to others or themselves notwithstanding the appearance of some as they would appear in the first place; or the contrary.

The first is a familiar adage, with "as" thrown in for its Irishness. The second is intended to show that the angel was drunk, or that Peleg was addled by his fasting and labors.

Any interpretations or comments or special meaning to these?

These are simple phrases made to seem humorous or profound or poetic by unnecesary verbiage: quite common in Irish writing and rhetoric. Consider James Joyce's opening to Finnegan's Wake:

"riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."

or a throw-away line from the Scottish singer Harry Lauder: "It starts by commencing at the beginning..."

John Finneran


From: Charlezzzz@AOL.COM
Sent: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 2:30 PM

In a message dated 7/17/0 4:32:48 PM, John.Finneran@PILEOFSHIRTS.COM writes:

These are simple phrases made to seem humorous or profound or poetic by unnecessary verbiage: quite common in Irish writing and rhetoric. Consider James Joyce's opening to Finnegan's Wake:

"riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."

John, John, John, it is against all the rules of civilized behavior to discuss Joyce and unnecessary verbiage in one sentence together. Oh, how that "commodius vicus of recirculation," ever sings in my mind, round and round, all fluid and philosophical of history, and how the sentence bends back to recirculate riverrun, and how HCE is everpresent everwhere with the Liffey, the Anna Livia Plurabelle, in the swirling center of dear dirty Dublin, and couldn't one just go on like this forever, in a commodius etc.

Charlezzzz


From: P. Richman
Sent: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 5:39 PM

Gentlemen, PLEASE! It's hard enough to understand O'Brian's short stories.

<g>


From: Rowen84@AOL.COM
Sent: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 2:41 PM

Dare we inquire whether the currents are clockwise or widdershins riverrunning down that commodius?

Rowen


From: Charlezzzz@AOL.COM
Sent: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 3:08 PM

It all depends on whether Joyce's Cultic Twoillet is in the northern or the southern hemisphere.

Charlezzzz, who gives no nevermind to the spelling of key words