in Three Clerks

Chapter 10 – Wheal Mary Jane

the triumph of descending alone to the nether world

The morning after his meeting with Undy and Mr. Manylodes, Alaric is recovering from a hangover. Although Alaric knows that he needs to get out of bed and prepare to meet with the miners at the Wheal Mary Jane, he is in too much pain to get moving.  At one point, Alaric exclaims that he would rather let Neverbend have “the triumph of descending alone to the nether world” than leave the comfort of his bed. Also known as a katabasis, the descent into the underworld is associated with heroes of ancient Greek and Roman mythology. While use of this phrase shows how important it is for Alaric to inspect the Wheal Mary Jane, the fact that he would relinquish the task to Mr. Neverbend underscores the pain that Alaric must be experiencing. [GZ 2016]


the mine as underworld

Trollope’s depiction of the mine as the Classical underworld continues with the contrast between “upper air” and “lower world” and the mention of “infernal gods.” [RR 2016]


cock on a dunghill

After having donned the clothing and apparatus necessary to descend into the mine, Mr. Neverbend is described as “a cock who could no longer…claim the dunghill as his own.” This is a reference to Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis in which the Roman emperor Claudius realizes that his status does not have the same value outside Rome. Seneca uses the metaphor of a cock on a dunghill to tell readers that we are most powerful when on our own turf. Through this metaphor and the description of the hopeless Mr. Neverbend, we realize that in the mines he is out of his element. The reader is reminded that he is different from the miners with whom he interacts and that social “superiors” may occasionally find themselves beneath their “inferiors.” [GZ 2016 & RR 2017]

source: Seneca the Younger, Apocolocyntosis 7.


Facilis descensus Averni

This Latin phrase can be translated as “easy is the descent of Avernus.” One supposed route to the underworld was located near Lake Avernus in Italy, and the lake’s name was sometimes used to refer to the underworld itself. This Latin phrase appears in book 6 of Vergil’s Aeneid, when the poem’s hero, Aeneas, asks the sibyl of Cumae for help in journeying to the underworld to visit his father. The sibyl explains that, while the trip to the underworld is easy, returning is difficult. In our context, this phrase literally describes Mr. Neverbend’s quick descent into the mines.  However, eventually (and ironically) the descent does prove difficult, and Mr. Neverbend finds it easier to re-ascend rather than continue downward; Mr. Neverbend’s incomplete trip and quick return demonstrate his non-heroic status. Metaphorically, Trollope’s use of this phrase alludes to Alaric’s ethical transformation and moral descent—from upstanding to corrupt. [GZ & RR 2016]

source: Vergil, Aeneid 6.126.



Pandemonium is the name given to the capital of hell by John Milton in Paradise Lost. The word was coined by Milton and contains the Greek elements pan (all) and daimon (demon or spirit). Milton incorporates many mythological and Classical features into his depiction of Pandemonium, so Trollope’s invocation of “Pandemonium” continues the Classical underworld motif in this chapter. [RR 2016]


terra firma

“Solid ground” in Latin. When the miner suggests that Mr. Neverbend is “too thick and weazy” to continue his descent into the mine, Mr. Neverbend concurs with the assessment because it justifies his return to the surface. Trollope wonders, however, how Mr. Neverbend would receive such a comment in more stable circumstances, on terra firma. The use of the Latin phrase (rather than the equivalent in English) may subtly suggest that when on solid ground Mr. Neverbend’s sense of self and status would lead him to object to the miner’s description of him. [RR 2016]


dictator and charioteer

Trollope contrasts Mr. Neverbend’s confident trip to the mine in the morning with his less than glorious retreat from the depths of the mine later. Setting out for the mine, Mr. Neverbend held himself like a “great dictator” who “rebuked the slowness of his charioteer.” The mention of a dictator and charioteer seem to present Mr. Neverbend in the image of a commanding and triumphant ancient Roman, an image which Mr. Neverbend ultimately fails to live up to. [RR 2016]


Aequam memento

Trollope quotes the opening words of an ode by Horace. The entire first stanza of the ode is relevant here: “Remember to preserve a calm mind in difficult circumstances and also in good times a mind kept apart from excessive happiness, Dellius, you who are going to die.” Trollope follows his invocation of aequam memento with “&c., &c.,” prompting his readers to supply the rest. At the end of the paragraph he echoes the close of Horace’s stanza with “O Neverbend, who need’st must some day die.” Trollope acknowledges that, as is common, Mr. Neverbend is unable to remember this Horatian counsel in the heat of his disappointment, but Trollope’s quotation of it rehearses and reinforces it for his audience. [RR 2016]

source: Horace, Ode 2.3.1-4


nectar from the brewery of the gods

The narrator uses this phrase when describing the intensity with which Mr. Neverbend drinks the beer given to him once he has left the mines. In Classical mythology, nectar was the drink of choice for deities. The scene is a humorous depiction of Mr. Neverbend shamelessly downing an alcoholic beverage, something that he had been so ready to chide Alaric for earlier. [GZ 2016]


Pythagorean club

Alaric and Harry’s club in London is called the Pythagorean after the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c. 6th century BCE). Although the club has no ostensible connection to Pythagorean philosophy, its name draws on the cultural cachet of Classics. [RR 2016]