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  1. sherishine's Avatar
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    #1

    Question She was evolving. So power changed hands

    “After the meal and herb teas Clifton brought out a bottle of cognac he had hidden from everyone till this moment. The whole bottle was to be drunk that night during Madox’s account of our journey, Clifton’s funny song. Then she began to read from The Histories—the story of Candaules and his queen. I always skim past that story. It is early in the book and has little to do with the places and period I am interested in. But it is of course a famous story. It was also what she had chosen to talk about.

    This Candaules had become passionately in love with his own wife; and having become so, he deemed that his wife was fairer by far than all other women. To Gyges, the son of Daskylus (for he of all his spearmen was the most pleasing to him), he used to describe the beauty of his wife, praising it above all measure.

    “Are you listening, Geoffrey?”
    “Yes, my darling.”

    He said to Gyges: “Gyges, I think that you do not believe me when I tell you of the beauty of my wife, for it happens that men’s ears are less apt of belief than their eyes. Contrive therefore means by which you may look upon her naked.”

    There are several things one can say. Knowing that eventually I will become her lover, just as Gyges will be the queen’s lover and murderer of Candaules. I would often open Herodotus for a clue to geography. But Katharine had done that as a window to her life. Her voice was wary as she read. Her eyes only on the page where the story was, as if she were sinking within quicksand while she spoke.

    “I believe indeed that she is of all women the fairest and I entreat you not to ask of me that which it is not lawful for me to do.” But the King answered him thus: “Be of good courage, Gyges, and have no fear, either of me, that I am saying these words to try you, or of my wife, lest any harm may happen to you from her. For I will contrive it so from the first that she shall not perceive that she has been seen by you.”

    This is a story of how I fell in love with a woman, who read me a specific story from Herodotus. I heard the words she spoke across the fire, never looking up, even when she teased her husband. Perhaps she was just reading it to him. Perhaps there was no ulterior motive in the selection except for themselves. It was simply a story that had jarred her in its familiarity of situation. But a path suddenly revealed itself in real life. Even though she had not conceived it as a first errant step in any way. I am sure.

    “I will place you in the room where we sleep, behind the open door; and after I have gone in, my wife will also come to lie down. Now there is a seat near the entrance of the room and on this she lays her garments as she takes them off one by one; and so you will be able to gaze at her at full leisure.”

    But Gyges is witnessed by the queen when he leaves the bedchamber. She understands then what has been done by her
    husband; and though ashamed, she raises no outcry... she holds her peace.

    It is a strange story. Is it not, Caravaggio? The vanity of a man to the point where he wishes to be envied. Or he wishes to be believed, for he thinks he is not believed. This was in no way a portrait of Clifton, but he became a part of this story. There is something very shocking but human in the husband’s act. Something makes us believe it.

    The next day the wife calls in Gyges and gives him two choices.

    “There are now two ways open to you, and I will give you the choice which of the two you will prefer to take. Either you must slay Candaules and possess both me and the Kingdom of Lydia, or you must yourself here on the spot be slain, so that you mayest not in future, by obeying Candaules in all things, see that which you should not. Either he must die who formed this design, or you who have looked upon me naked.”

    So the king is killed. A New Age begins. There are poems written about Gyges in iambic trimeters. He was the first of the barbarians to dedicate objects at Delphi. He reigned as King of Lydia for twenty-eight years, but we still remember him as only a cog in an unusual love story.
    She stopped reading and looked up. Out of the quicksand. She was evolving. So power changed hands. Meanwhile, with the help of an anecdote, I fell in love.

    Words, Caravaggio. They have a power. ”

    The above is from The English Patient.


    1 What does" There are several things one can say" mean? Does it mean that the narrator had already foresee his falling in love the woman?

    2 What does the "something" refer to?

    3 I feel somewhat dizzy when I met this sentence"She was evolving. So power changed hands".

  2. mayita1usa's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: She was evolving. So power changed hands

    Quote Originally Posted by sherishine View Post
    He said to Gyges: “Gyges, I think that you do not believe me when I tell you of the beauty of my wife, for it happens that men’s ears are less apt of belief than their eyes. Contrive therefore means by which you may look upon her naked.”

    There are several things one can say. Knowing that eventually I will become her lover, just as Gyges will be the queen’s lover and murderer of Candaules. I would often open Herodotus for a clue to geography. But Katharine had done that as a window to her life. Her voice was wary as she read. Her eyes only on the page where the story was, as if she were sinking within quicksand while she spoke.
    1 What does" There are several things one can say" mean? Does it mean that the narrator had already foreseen his falling in love the woman?
    I think it means that he is thinking a lot of things at the same time here: that the events in the story of Gyges are connected to the story of him and Katharine; that maybe she chose to read this story because of how she was feeling about her life; that she was becoming lost in the story, as she was lost in her life...
    This is a story of how I fell in love with a woman, who read me a specific story from Herodotus. I heard the words she spoke across the fire, never looking up, even when she teased her husband. Perhaps she was just reading it to him. Perhaps there was no ulterior motive in the selection except for themselves. It was simply a story that had jarred her in its familiarity of situation. But a path suddenly revealed itself in real life. Even though she had not conceived it as a first errant step in any way. I am sure.
    ...
    It is a strange story. Is it not, Caravaggio? The vanity of a man to the point where he wishes to be envied. Or he wishes to be believed, for he thinks he is not believed. This was in no way a portrait of Clifton, but he became a part of this story. There is something very shocking but human in the husband’s act. Something makes us believe it.

    2 What does the "something" refer to?
    In this case, I don't think "something" refers to anything specific; it is intended to communicate the idea that even though we don't know exactly why, we do believe the husband could do such a shocking thing. Or maybe "something" refers to the idea that we can understand the husband's vanity and his shocking act because we are vain and human, too.
    So the king is killed. A New Age begins. There are poems written about Gyges in iambic trimeters. He was the first of the barbarians to dedicate objects at Delphi. He reigned as King of Lydia for twenty-eight years, but we still remember him as only a cog in an unusual love story. She stopped reading and looked up. Out of the quicksand. She was evolving. So power changed hands. Meanwhile, with the help of an anecdote, I fell in love.

    Words, Caravaggio. They have a power.”

    3 I feel somewhat dizzy when I met this sentence"She was evolving. So power changed hands".
    Yes, I can understand your feelings!
    I'm not sure about this one either (maybe Michael Ondaatje is here somewhere to help us!), but here is my idea:

    While she was reading, she was in "quicksand", submerged in the story, not looking at or thinking of anything but the story she was reading. The story had power over her, and was changing her.

    "So power changed hands," probably has both a literal meaning - in the story, Gyges takes power from the king - and a figurative one - the narrator (or the idea of having an affair with him) is gaining power over Katharine while her husband is losing power.

    My goodness! This is a challenge for native speakers to read and comprehend on first reading! I really commend you for your efforts!

    I hope this helped. I would love to read other people's interpretations as well.

  3. sherishine's Avatar
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    #3

    Smile Re: She was evolving. So power changed hands

    Thank you mayita!

    I really appreciate your interpretation,it is indeed helpful and informative!

    It is a real challenge to read this book, yet I can't help love it. Someone said it is a poem disguised as a novel



    sheri

  4. BobK's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: She was evolving. So power changed hands

    I agree on all points with mayita1usa - especially the last one. I'd add that you could probably could have worked out the meaning of 'There are several things one can say' if there had been a 'that' in it - that is, if you had met this use of 'one' to mean 'a person unspecified'. Most (all?) European languages have a word (or syntactic device) that does this, but I don't know if your language does.

    b
    Last edited by BobK; 19-May-2010 at 12:14. Reason: Fix typo

  5. sherishine's Avatar
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    #5

    Smile Re: She was evolving. So power changed hands

    Thank you Bob:)

    Now I seem to understand a little bit the last one.

    Yet, one more thing, I don't quite understand why the author put "So powers took hand" behind "She was evolving."? What's the connection between them?




    PS
    In Chinese, perhaps the word"we"( In Chinese, it is 我们), has the similar fuction with the"one"here. However, I think the "one" is more unspecified. Actually, in Chinese we don't use this syntactic device so much.

  6. mayita1usa's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: She was evolving. So power changed hands

    Quote Originally Posted by sherishine View Post
    Yet, one more thing, I don't quite understand why the author put "So powers took changed hands" behind "She was evolving."? What's the connection between them?
    I had a lot of trouble with this, too; I'm sorry I didn't make it clearer! I think they are connected because "evolving" and "changing" mean almost the same thing. Katharine was changing as she read this story of a woman who exchanged one husband for another, of one man who gained power while the other lost it. So at the same time that "power changed hands" in the story, "power [over Katharine] changed hands" in their lives.

    Bob?!?

  7. BobK's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: She was evolving. So power changed hands

    That makes sense - probably more than I could have worked out on my own! But as sheri said (quoting someone else) 'it is a poem disguised as a novel' (so there's no chance of pinning down its literal meaning).

    b

  8. mayita1usa's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: She was evolving. So power changed hands

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    But as sheri said (quoting someone else) 'it is a poem disguised as a novel' ...
    Yes, I love that quote - and it's so applicable! It's been such a long time since I read the novel that I don't remember it in much detail, but I do remember it as being very non-linear - like poetry often is. Nice!

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