in Three Clerks

Chapter 46 – The Fate of the Navvies

Hercules and the Augean stables

Because of its negative reputation in the network of offices that comprise the civil service, the Internal Navigation Office is likened to “the foulest in the whole range of the Augean stables.” This is a direct reference to the cleaning of the stables of King Augeas by the hero Hercules (Greek Heracles) as one of his twelve legendary labors. The stables were so foul that the hero rerouted the River Alpheus into the stables to clean them. The narrator says that Alaric’s replacement is a Hercules—that he is determined to make clean the civil service. Trollope had used the same image to characterize reform in his chapter on the civil service (see commentary for Chapter 28). On a minor note, it is ironic that such an office that deals with travel on rivers and waterways would be worried that it “was to be officially obliterated in the flood” of the redirected River Alpheus. [GZ & RR 2016]



Greek for “unmoved one.” This seems to be a reference to a character in the epic poem Orion, written by Richard Henry Horne and published in 1843. The poem takes its title from the Greek mythological hero, who is figured by Horne as a giant builder; Akinetos is another giant who sees no point in work. Once a mythological Hercules (see commentary for Chapter 11), Sir Gregory is now an epic Akinetos, sitting quietly unmoved by the zealous pursuits of the new commissioner. [RR 2017]


thundercloud and bolt

The dissolution of the Internal Navigation Office is announced from on high, and the news comes from the Lords of the Treasury as if a declaration from Jupiter, accompanied by his signature thunder and lightning. [RR 2017]


Cimmerian darkness

When the Internal Navigation Office is closed, its record are consigned to “Cimmerian darkness.” The Cimmerians are mentioned in book 11 of Homer’s Odyssey as living in a land at the edge of the earth where the sun does not shine. Odysseus and his companions travel there in order to talk with the spirits of the dead. Archival exile and bureaucratic oblivion are depicted in mythological terms. [RR 2017]


propitious fate and Elysium

The narrator says that Charley came to work at the Office of the Weights and Measures, “an Elysium,” by way of a “propitious fate.” Elysium was a location in the underworld that served as the final resting place of some of the greatest heroes of ancient mythology. In order to acquire entrance to Elysium, one would surely have to have “propitious fate,” and if one has “propitious fate,” it is likely that they would go to Elysium. In this way, Charley’s fate seems to be doubly safeguarded by a higher power. [GZ 2016]