in Three Clerks

Chapter 15 – Norman Returns to Town


In Chapter 11 Trollope suggested that “Excelsior” would be a fitting motto for Alaric; see commentary. Here Alaric exhorts himself with that Latin word for higher. It is ironic or paradoxical that Alaric’s ambition to move up in the world prompts him to buy shares in a mine, investing in something down beneath the earth’s surface—and Alaric’s efforts to rise in status lead to a moral movement downward. [RR 2016]


pro hac vice

This Latin phrase, which can be translated as “for this occasion,” is used to describe the nature of the circumstantial alliance between Alaric and Undy as they speculate on the Mary Jane Wheal. Their speculation itself is a secretive and exclusive activity, and the use of Latin serves to further remove Alaric and Undy from others, reinforcing their perceived superiority. [GZ 2016]


Damon and Pythias

The narrator compares the friendship of Harry and Alaric to that of Damon and Pythias, a pair of friends whose sacrifices for one another represent an ideal friendship. Pythias, who was supposedly condemned to death by the tyrant Dionysus I of Syracuse, asked if he could be granted temporary leave to make proper arrangements for his death. However, so that the punishment would still occur if Pythias had decided to run away instead of making preparations, Damon filled Pythias’ spot while Pythias was gone. Soon before Damon was set to be executed, Pythias returned and offered himself up. Dionysus I was so amazed by their friendship that he pardoned Pythias. (Note: some versions of the story place Damon and Pythias in the reverse roles.) However, Harry and Alaric let success come in the way of their friendship. The ironic application of this legendary tale to the friendship of Harry and Alaric highlights the surprising and devastating ruin of their relationship. [GZ 2016]

source: Cicero, De Officiis 3.45.


Mr. Embryo

Mr. Embryo is the name of a new worker at the office of Weights and Measures. His name comes from the ancient Greek en (in) and bryō (grow), which refers to his status as a newcomer. A junior clerk in the office, he gives to Alaric a sheet with many numbers and calculations on it. Although he is new to his job, he bears the eager and dedicated attitude associated with a beginner, just as his name suggests. [GZ 2016]