Chapter 08 – Plumstead Episcopi


See Vocabula.  There is a certain irony or humor to Trollope’s use of the word, given its generally religious connotation yet its application here to the Grantly’s dressing-rooms.  [TH & RR 2005]

Chapter 07 – The Jupiter

The Jupiter

See entry in Proper Names list.  In naming the newspaper after the king of the gods in Roman mythology, Trollope suggests both the power of the press and the press’ own elevated notion of itself.  [RR 2011]



Archdeacon Grantly refers to a famous 18th century writer of political letters who signed his work with this Classically resonant pseudonym.  “Junius” could recall Lucius Junius Brutus, oft cited as the founder of the Roman Republic.  [RR 2014]

Chapter 06 – The Warden’s Tea Party

the consolation of a Roman

The ideal Roman citizen was one who was supposed to place the success of the state and fulfillment of duty above his own personal interests.  John Bold adheres to these ideals by pursing that which he believes is his own duty and which is also the best thing for the country.  He is determined to continue his case against the hospital, regardless of how this will affect his personal relationship with Eleanor Harding.  [MD 2005]



When Mary Bold urges her brother to give up his involvement in the debate about the warden’s position, she calls her brother’s investment in the situation “a chimera—a dream” and “a suicidal thing.”  Mary’s use of “chimera” refers to a fire-breathing mythological monster—part goat, part lion, part snake—eventually overcome by Bellerophon.  While the word “chimera” came to be used in English as a way to name a fanciful notion, perhaps its deployment here encourages some additional resonance:  Mary is criticizing her brother’s self-image as a heroic fighter and suggests that his battle with the imagined monster will be to his own detriment because it will endanger his relationship with Eleanor.  [RR 2014]


Barchester Brutus

This could be a reference to Lucius Junius Brutus who helped found the Roman Republic by overthrowing the ruling Tarquin kings.  Brutus also became a consul who had to condemn his own two sons to death for their conspiracy to try and restore the Tarquins to the throne.  If this is the case, then this allusion shows us that John Bold is entirely devoted to the laws and the system of the English government.  Even members, or potential members of his own family, such as Eleanor Harding, will not be an obstacle to his pursuit of justice.  However, this could also be an allusion to the later Roman, Marcus Junius Brutus, who helped assassinate Julius Caesar in what he claimed was a defense of the state and its systems. The methods used by Brutus to kill Caesar might be seen as a parallel to John Bold’s back-stabbing of Eleanor Harding and her father, Bold’s friend, Septimus Harding.  Brutus was an associate of Caesar for many years, yet was one of the main conspirators who helped plan the death of Caesar, and was actually one of the people who killed him.  [MD 2005]

Sources:  Livy, History of Rome, end of book 1-beginning of book 2 (for the stories about Lucius Junius Brutus).


mock epic battle, Apollo, and a nymph

In this scene, Trollope describes a party at Mr. Harding’s home, and uses a number of different classical allusions.  The flirting of the young men and women in the room is compared to a battle between two armies advancing, retreating, and fighting.  Apollo (the god of music) is mentioned several times as a member of the party, who is in the corner playing music.  One of the young women with whom Eleanor is sitting at the piano is also referred to as a nymph.  These elements combine to make the entire scene seem like it has come straight out of ancient mythology.  The idea of presenting flirting between men and women in terms of battle imagery may also be seen as humorous and poking fun at epic battle scenes which classical authors described.  [MD 2005]


Eleanor’s heart as sacrifice

Mr. Harding is aware of Eleanor’s affection for Mr. Bold, and as contention over the warden’s position escalates Mr. Harding “tried to arrange in his own mind how matters might be so managed that his daughter’s heart should not be made the sacrifice to the dispute which was likely to exist between him and Bold.”  Trollope’s use of “sacrifice” here paves the way for the more developed references to the sacrifice of Iphigenia later.  Unlike Agamemnon, Mr. Harding would like not to sacrifice his daughter, even metaphorically, to defend his own position.  [RR 2014]


Mr. Harding apologises

Trollope tells us that when Mr. Harding spoke with his daughter, he “apologised” for Mr. Bold.  Trollope here uses “apologise” in a sense corresponding to the meaning of the ancient Greek verb to which it is related:  apologeisthai, “to defend.”  [RR 2014]


“I shall always judge my father to be right….”

Eleanor shows that she is staunchly behind her father and his decisions; she will believe that he is correct and his opposing party is wrong, no matter what the scenario. This sets Eleanor up to partake in a continuing allusion to Iphigenia in the following chapters.  [MD 2005]

Chapter 05 – Dr. Grantly Visits the Hospital

mock epic simile

Trollope writes, “As the indomitable cock preparing for the combat sharpens his spurs, shakes his feathers, and erects his comb, so did the archdeacon arrange his weapons for the coming war, without misgiving and without fear.”  This simile is very reminiscent of the epic similes found in the Iliad.  Compare Trollope’s simile with this Homeric simile from Iliad 8:  “As a hound grips a wild boar or lion in flank or buttock when he gives him chase, and watches warily for his wheeling, even so did Hector follow close upon the Achaeans…”  It is also impossible to miss the humor in the simile that Trollope concocts.  Rather than comparing Dr. Grantly with a fierce animal such as a hound or lion, he compares him to a rooster.  [JC 2005]

Sources:  Samuel Butler translation of Iliad book 8 quoted.



“The archdeacon, who was a practical man, allowed himself the use of everyday expressive modes of speech when among his closest intimates, though no one could soar into a more intricate labyrinth of refined phraseology when the Church was the subject, and his lower brethren were his auditors.”  The use of “labyrinth” here is clearly reminiscent of the Greek myth of father and son Daedalus and Icarus.  In this myth, Daedalus was commissioned by King Minos to build a labyrinth in which to hold the Minotaur, a monster that was half-man, half-bull.  After having built the labyrinth, Daedalus and his son Icarus found themselves trapped inside.  Daedalus realized that the only way out would be through the top, and so he  fashioned wings with which they escaped, though Icarus subsequently drowned.  The comparison with the archdeacon perverts the myth.  Dr. Grantly’s craftiness is in his eloquence, but instead of using it to escape entrapment, he employs his eloquence in trapping his conversational partners.  He uses his special skills to soar into the labyrinth rather than out of it.  [JC 2005]


St. Cecilia

See gloss in commentary for Chapter 3.


Dr. Grantly as a statue

Trollope’s description of Dr. Grantly just as he is about to make his speech to the bedesman is very classical in its detail.  Just as Homer devotes many lines to the clothes, hair, and build of his characters, Trollope devotes a lengthy paragraph to a detailed description of everything from the archdeacon’s shovel hat–“large, new, and well pronounced”–to “his heavy eyebrows, large open eyes, and full mouth” to his “decorous breeches.”  Compare this passage from Book 6 of the Odyssey:  “When [Odysseus] had thoroughly washed himself, and had got the brine out of his hair, he anointed himself with oil, and put on the clothes which the girl had given him; Minerva then made him look taller and stronger than before, she also made the hair grow thick on the top of his head, and flow down in curls like hyacinth blossoms; she glorified him about the head and shoulders as a skilful workman who has studied art of all kinds under Vulcan and Minerva enriches a piece of silver plate by gilding it–and his work is full of beauty.”
  [JC 2005]

Sources:  Samuel Butler translation of Odyssey book 6 quoted.



At the end of chapter 5, Mr. Harding begins to worry that he will end up like “that wretched octogenarian Croesus, whom men would not allow to die in peace–whom all the world united to decry and abhor.” He refers to the Lydian king Croesus, whose story Herodotus tells in book 1 of his History.  Croesus suffered in fulfillment of an oracle that was given after an ancestor five generations before him committed regicide.  Croesus was very successful in the beginning of his life, conquering many lands and accumulating a large amount of wealth.  Herodotus tells us that at his high point, Croesus was visited by Solon, a wise Greek man.  Croesus asked Solon to name the happiest people he knew, and was insulted that Solon named various men who had died happily, but not Croesus himself.  Croesus imagined that all his wealth and success was sufficient to secure his place on that list, but Solon warned him that anything could happen to destroy his happiness while he was still alive.  According to Herodotus, Croesus eventually did lose all his wealth and almost lost his life, but was spared. Croesus is often held up as a figure who suffers due to hubris, or excessive pride, and also as a figure of the extreme wealth that was the source of his pride.  [JC 2005]

Sources:  Herodotus, History 1.

Chapter 04 – Hiram’s Bedesmen

fiat justitia ruat coelum

The phrase means “let justice be done, [although] the world may perish.”  It is often attributed to Gnaeus Piso.  Seneca writes an account of the story.  Piso ordered a man executed for murder.  When the man was about to be executed the supposed victim stepped out of the crowd saying that he was alive.  Next, the centurion in charge returned to Piso and explained the events to him.  Piso’s response was that all were to be executed:  the centurion for not following his orders, the murderer because a death sentence cannot be revoked, and the man supposed to have been murdered because he had caused the deaths of two innocent men.  The phrase is used to say that the letter of the law must be followed.  In the end the results are still tragic.  It signifies a sense of just injustice and law without conscience.  To John Bold, however, it seems to mean that justice must be carried out despite his personal feelings.  He uses the phrase to comfort himself.  Regardless of his concern for Eleanor he feels that the letter of the law must be carried out.  [TH 2005]

Although the phrase is commonly linked to the story about Piso told by Seneca in his De Ira, Seneca does not use this phrase itself.  Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations identifies the phrase in use in English by the early 17th century and a similar phrase (fiat justitia et ruat mundus) in use by the 16th.  [RR 2011]

Sources:  Entry in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
Entry in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.


non compos mentis

The phrase literally means “not in possession of one’s mind.”  However, it is often interpreted as “not of sound mind.”  Finney proposes that a petition signed by all of the bedesmen and addressed to the bishop would help increase the support for John Bold’s side in the suit.  Realizing, however, that Bunce would never sign the petition, Finney says that 11 signatures would be enough.  He says that Bunce can be declared non compos mentis.  It is an attempt by Finney to claim that Bunce can’t speak for himself.  If he is not able to speak for himself, then not having his signature would be less of an issue.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary the earliest recorded use of the phrase in English was in 1607.  [TH 2005]

Sources:  OED. for non compos mentis and compos mentis.


Skulpit’s clouded brow

Job Skulpit’s hesitation to endorse the other bedesmen’s petition may stem in part from his uncertainty about his penmanship.  It had been a point of his pride that he–unlike his peers–could write his name, but when the time comes to put pen to paper, he delays.  His worry dissipates when Abel Handy suggests that Skulpit could use a mark instead of a signature so that his sign of endorsement does not seem different from the rest.  Trollope tells us that at this suggestion “the cloud began to clear from Skulpit’s brow.”  The image of a clouded brow may have a Classical origin:  in one of his Epistles, Horace urges his addressee to strike the cloud from his forehead (deme supercilio nubem) in order to appear more pleasant.  [RR 2014]

Source:  Horace, Epistle 1.18.94.