Chapter 08 – The Hon. Undecimus Scott

December 30th, 2016 § 0 comments

Undecimus as an eleventh son

Undecimus Scott was briefly introduced in Chapter 6, but now Trollope confirms for us that Undy’s Latin first name is literally true: he is the eleventh son Lord Gaberlunzie. See commentary for Chapter 6 or the entry in the Proper Names list. [RR 2016]

 

res angusta domi

When the narrator provides us with a lengthier description of Undecimus, he begins by detailing his upbringing and the general atmosphere of his paternal home. Undy’s family is described as being “accustomed to the res angusta domi,” or “narrow circumstances at home.” This Latin phrase comes from Juvenal’s third Satire, in which the author’s friend Umbricius lists many reasons why Rome has become deplorable to him. Umbricius complains that straightened domestic resources prevent many Romans from attaining social prominence if they don’t come from affluent families. Trollope ironically applies this phrase to Undecimus’ family, who, despite not financially supporting him, provide him with a noble name with which he can claim and build social capital. Furthermore, the fact that the very phrase res angusta domi is used to refer to the Scotts’ “poverty” shows that they are genteel and suggests they don’t know what true “narrow circumstances” are—even the mention of their resourcelessness is described in the language of privilege. [GZ & RR 2016]

source: Juvenal, Satires 3.165.

 

Undecimus’ filial piety

When Undecimus sells himself in marriage, he is described as doing so with “filial piety” and having “taken his father exactly at his word.” The ancient Roman social construct of filial piety required children to obey and respect their father, the head of the household. Piety was an important and powerful motivating force for Romans, and its influence extended to the state and to the gods as well. Undy’s adherence to the principles of a Classical tradition and his subsequent ability to secure a large dowry for himself highlights the connection between the Classics and social prestige, though here there is also a humorous or ironic overtone, given that the father’s directive is so blatantly materialistic. [GZ & RR 2016]

 

sacrifice, altar, wings of Hansom, Treasury Argus, Morpheus

In the scene in which Undecimus, as the secretary of Mr. Vigil, fails to hold in check the man who advocates closing all parks on Sundays, we see the narrator using dramatic and Classical imagery to vivify the setting. The use of the words “sacrifice” and “altar” resonate with conceptions of religion in Classical antiquity, and the hansom cab and Mr. Vigil are transformed into mythological entities: “Hansom” becomes the winged horse Pegasus, and Mr. Vigil is figured as Argus. To refer to Mr. Vigil as Argus, an ancient mythological creature who was often depicted with 100 eyes, reveals his watchful and attentive nature. In the ancient mythology, Argus fell asleep and was killed by Hermes—likewise, Mr. Vigil is put to sleep by Morpheus, the god of dreams himself. Rather than dying, however, Mr. Vigil loses an important political battle. [GZ & RR 2016]

 

Mr. Whip Vigil

As the “whip-in-chief” of his party’s parliamentary members, Mr. Whip Vigil ensures the rallying of enough votes to accomplish the party’s goals. While his first name refers to his role in the story, his last name is a Latin word from which we get the adjective vigilant. In Latin, vigil can be an adjective meaning awake or alert as well as a noun meaning guard or watchman. Thus, Whip Vigil’s last name speaks to his ability to safeguard the interests of his party. Ironically, however, our introduction to the character of Mr. Whip Vigil details a scene in which he is not awake and fails to guard his party’s interests. [GZ & RR 2016]

 

arch-numberer

Trollope uses this whimsical phrase to describe Mr. Vigil’s work to count and ensure his party’s votes. The prefix arch- comes from the Greek element arch-, found in such words as the Greek noun archon (ruler or chief) and archein (to rule), while number derives from the Latin numerus (number), and -er is an English suffix. The etymological hybridity of Trollope’s locution lends it a humorous texture. [RR 2016]

 

esoteric and exoteric

Undy has a thorough grasp of politics as it pertains to both the governmental elite and the general public, and Trollope explains this by saying that Undy “understood the esoteric and exoteric bearings of modern politics.” Here Trollope plays with Greek prefixes. Esoteric contains es- (in), and exoteric contains ex- (out): with this slight change in spelling these seemingly similar words take on opposite meanings. [RR 2016]

 

Elysium of public life

Although Undy lost his secretarial job under Mr. Vigil after his mistake in the parliament, Undy’s social rank grants him ways to remain visibly present in the public sector. The narrator states that he was able to stay connected to “the Elysium of public life.” In Classical mythology, Elysium is a place of peace in the underworld, reserved for heroes and glorified individuals. That the public sector is referred to as an Elysium underscores the social (and potentially financial) status of politicians in Trollope’s time and suggests the interconnected relationship of a privileged upbringing and education (including instruction in Classics) with the capacity to successfully participate in politics. [GZ 2016]

 

halcyon bliss

When Undy is appointed as the secretary to the examination review committee, the position gives him a “fleeting moment of halcyon bliss.” The adjective halcyon derives from the Classical myth of Alcyone and Ceyx: after the husband Ceyx is drowned at sea, his spouse Alcyone grieves until both are eventually turned into birds for whom the sea remains calm during their nesting period. Trollope often uses the adjective in the context of betrothal or marriage, which reinforces the word’s connection to the myth behind it. Here, however, “halcyon bliss” comes not from Undy’s actual marriage (which is a bit of a mystery to his associates) but from his governmental appointment, and this demonstrates the degree of Undy’s attachment to a life in politics. [RR 2016]

source: Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.410-748.

 

Alpha and Omega

Undecimus Scott and Fidus Neverbend are opposites in their attitudes about working for the government, and Trollope conveys this by designating them as the “Alpha and Omega”—the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. [RR 2016]

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