in Three Clerks

Chapter 09 – Mr. Manylodes

Boeotian crew

When Alaric tells Undy about the nature of the miners with whom he has interacted at Devonshire, Undy responds by calling them a “Boeotian crew.” The adjective Boeotian refers to Boeotia, a region of Greece where the famous ancient city of Thebes is located. Boeotia was commonly thought to be inferior culturally and intellectually to its neighbor, Athens. When Undy refers to the “lowly” miners with his elevated language, he simultaneously heightens their inferiority and his own rank. [GZ 2016]

source: OED.



Undy also uses this word to describe the miners during a conversation with Alaric. Vandals were an ancient tribe from northwestern Europe, and their sacking of Rome in 455 CE is thought to be one of many factors that eventually led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. Although vandal is an English word that is used to describe individuals who damage or deface property, because it is here spelled with the uppercase V and because Undy has already used a Classical phrase to describe the miners (“a Boeotian crew”), we can infer that he similarly is using the Classical meaning of the word. That is, Undy is suggesting that these miners lack an appreciation for, and understanding of, Classics—and by extension, they don’t have a respectable education. Just like with the phrase “a Boeotian crew,” Undy is mocking the intelligence of the miners. [GZ 2016]


no faith in Fidus

In trying to convince Alaric that other civil service employees speculate, Undy declares that he has no faith in Fidus Neverbend’s integrity. The fact that Fidus’ first name in Latin means faithful or even trustworthy highlights Undy’s own lack of trustworthiness here. [RR 2016]



While Undy attempts to convince Alaric to speculate on the Mary Jane Wheal, he describes Mr. Manylodes—a stock-jobber and fellow speculator—as a “vulgar” individual. This adjective is related to the Latin noun vulgus, meaning common crowd or mob, and is clearly meant to remind us that Undy thinks that Mr. Manylodes’ status is inferior to his own and to Alaric’s. Mr. Manylodes’ clothes manifest his “vulgar” social position: we are told that he wears a “common hat” and that “no man alive could have mistaken him for a gentleman.” [GZ & RR 2016]


irritamenta malorum

This Latin phrase, which means “the incentives of evil things,” comes from book 1 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which Ovid describes how early humans were compelled by wickedness to commit a variety of crimes against one another. In fact, this phrase is used by Ovid to refer specifically to the greed that accompanies the mining of rare minerals, such as gold and iron, and so its use in the narration in The Three Clerks becomes doubly applicable. Not only is one’s involvement in the excavation of minerals morally wrong (according to Ovid), but also speculation is itself immoral (according to the narrator). [GZ 2016]

source: Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.140.


genus homo

Undy uses the Latin-based scientific term genus homo to describe Mr. Manylodes to Alaric. Just like his earlier use of “Boeotian crew,” “Vandals,” and “vulgar,” Undy is again attempting to distance himself socially by highlighting others’ inferiority. Genus is a Latin word meaning class or kind, used in the scientific classification of organisms, and homo is Latin for man. Used together, and with the words “specimen” and “species” (which are nouns in Latin and have been taken up by English), Undy gives a scientific and removed description of Mr. Manylodes. This reminds us how Undy perceives Mr. Manylodes as being of a different social class and beneath himself. [GZ 2016]


the good the gods provide you

Undy urges Alaric to speculate on the mining stock and nearly quotes a line from the Classically situated poem “Alexander’s Feast” by John Dryden: “Take the goods the gods provide thee.” Dryden’s sentiment itself recalls one expressed by Paris in Homer’s Iliad. Alaric responds to Undy’s Classically laden chiding with a nod to Christianity: “The gods!—you mean the devils rather.” Undy returns to Classical ground by admitting that though misfortune may be considered a “devil,” “Fortune has generally been esteemed a goddess.” The tension between Classics and Christianity is enlisted in the tussle for Alaric’s integrity. [RR 2016]

sources:  Homer, Iliad 3.65.
Dryden, “Alexander’s Feast” 106.