Thursday, October 08, 2009

"this Monster eating beast"

After a frustrating few weeks with, initially, a failing broadband connection, and then all the chores of getting started with a new ISP, I can at last return to my neglected blog.

I was reading Robert Baron’s An apologie for Paris for rejecting of Juno and Pallas, and presenting of Ate’s golden ball to Venus (1649). This fawning, over-written and highly derivative book re-tells the story of the Judgment of Paris. I was initially interested in how Venus is described, for instance in getting Paris’s full attention with a timely wardrobe malfunction:

“faire Aphrodite approached with a world of winning majesty in her looks; and as the Elixar turneth all things into gold, so the Sunny beames of this illustrious Deities eyes, (whose every motion shot ten thousand Cupids into the hot Phrygians soule) reflecting upon his, soon affected him with her passion, and made him ready to prostrate (without further cunctation) the Ball, with his glowing heart, at her feet. First she slipt downe her loose flower-embroydered mantle, and inriched his gullon eyes with the wealth of her lovely breasts, those nectar running fountaines, as farre excelling those two Pallaces of pleasure which Juno even now promised, as they did the humble colleges that were the mothers of the Capitoll; and before she opened the cherry of her lips, she emparadised him with a winning smile…”

Prior to this, Minerva had told Paris that, if he awarded the ball to her, he would as a reward:

“make a new edition of, and addition to, Arithmeticke, and compleate her with numbers enow to count those many Atomes whose accidentall concourse made this big-bellied earth, and how many minutes have thrust out one another since that accident happened”.

Not exactly tempting, so when Venus offers Paris a ravishingly beautiful partner (Helen of Troy, of course), it’s a done deal that she gets the golden ball. She entices him with these reflections: “Tell me for Loves sake, is it not more lovely to lie intwined in her foulding armes, like a Lilly imprisoned in a Jaile of snow, or Ivory in a band of Alablaster, than to sit muffled in furres like a bedrid Miser?” - where of course Baron is having his goddess quote Shakespeare’s poem about her -

(“Full gently now she takes him by the Hand,
A Lilly prison’d in a Jayl of Snow,
Or Ivory in an Alabaster Band,
So white a Friend ingirts so white a Foe…”)

But Baron writes by assembling poeticisms. A more original expression struck me: I was interested by how Venus “inriched his gullon eyes with the wealth of her lovely breasts”: what does ‘gullon’ mean?

The OED is not immediately helpful, but rooting around with the stem of the word gets you to the animal depicted above in Topsell’s The history of four-footed beasts (1658 edition, p.205), the ‘Gulon’.

Baron is simply transferring the nature of this beast to Paris’s eyes, which are greedy, or gluttonous. But Robert Baron’s prim excursions into erotica lack all interest compared to the ‘gulon’ itself. We call it a wolverine,

but Topsell’s account of it largely ignores the real animal, and embroiders upon the ‘gulon’ as a signal instance of four-footed beastliness: it has been ordained by God to typify the gluttony of the men in Russia, Lithuania, and other intemperate zones.

In the illustration, the gulon is performing its unpleasant and signature habit of squeezing its fully-gorged body between two closely adjacent trees, so that it excretes copiously (as shown), and is able to resume eating. In case this seems at all implausible, Topsell goes into the details of what happens if the creature can’t find trees close enough together.

This is Topsell's whole entry:

Of the GVLON.

This Beast was not known by the Ancients, but hath been since discovered in the Northern parts of the World, and because of the great voracity thereof, it is called (Gulo) that is, a devourer in imitation of the Germans, who call such devouring creatures Vilsiuss, and the Swedians, Gerff; in Lituania and Muscovia, it is called Rossomokal. It is thought to be engendered by a Hyaena and a Lioness, for in quality it resembleth a Hiaena, and it is the same which is called (Crocuta:) it is a devouring and an unprofitable creature, having sharper teeth then other creatures. Some think it is derived of a Wolf and a Dog, for it is about the bigness of a Dog: it hath the face of a Cat, the body and tail of a Fox; being black of colour: his feet and nails be most sharp, his skin rusty, the hair very sharp, and it feedeth upon dead carkases.

When it hath found a dead carkass he eateth thereof so violently, that his belly standeth out like a bell; then he seeketh for some narrow passage betwixt two trees, and there draweth through his body, by pressing whereof, he driveth out the meat which he had eaten: and being so emptied returneth and devoureth as much as he did before, and goeth again and emptieth himself as in former manner; and so continueth eating and emptying till all be eaten. It may be that God hath ordained such a creature in those Countries, to express the abominable gluttony of the men of that Countrey, that they may know their true deformed nature, and lively ugly figure, represented in this Monster eating beast: for it is the fashion of the Noble men in those parts, to sit from noon till midnight, eating and drinking, and never rise from the table, but to disgorge their stomachs, or ease their bellies: and then return with refreshed appetites to ingurgitate and consume more of Gods creatures: wherein they grow to such a heighth of beastliness, that they lose both sense and reason, and know no difference between head and tail. Such they are in Muscovia, in Lituania, and most shameful of all in Tartaria.

These things are reported by Olaus Magnus, and Mathias Michou; But I would to God that this same (more then beastly intemperate gluttony) had been circumscribed and confined within the limits of those unchristian or heretical-apostatical countries, and had not spread it self and infected our more civil and Christian parts of the World; so should not Nobility, Society, Amity, good fellowship, neighbourhood, and honesty, be ever placed upon drunken or gluttonous companions: or any man be commended for bibbing and sucking in Wine and Beer like a Swine: When in the mean season no spark of grace, or Christianity, appeareth in them: which notwithstanding they take upon them, being herein worse then Beasts, who still reserve the notes of their nature, and preserve their lives; but these lose the markes of humanity, reason, memory and sense, with the conditions of their families, applying themselves to consume both patrimony and pence in this voracity, and forget the Badges of Christians, offering sacrifice to nothing but their bellies. The Church forsaketh them, the spirit accurseth them, the civil world abhorreth them, the Lord condemneth them, the Devil expecteth them, and the fire of Hell it self is prepared for them; and all such devourers of Gods good creature.

To help their digestion, for although the Hiena and Gulon, and some other monsters are subject to this gluttony, yet are there many creatures more in the world, who although they be Beasts and lack reason, yet can they not by any famine, stripes, or provocations be drawn to exceed their natural appetites, or measure in eating or drinking. There are of these Beasts two kindes, distinguished by colour, one black, and the other like a Wolf, they seldom kill a Man, or any live Beasts, but feed upon carrion and dead carkasses, as is before said; yet sometimes when they are hungry, they prey upon Beasts, as Horses, and such like, and then they subtilly ascend up into a tree, and when they see a Beast under the same, they leap down upon him and destroy him. A Bear is afraid to meet them, and unable to match them by reason of their sharp teeth.

This Beast is tamed, and nourished in the Courts of Princes, for no other cause then for an example of incredible voracity. When he hath filled his belly, if he can finde no trees growing so near together, as by sliding betwixt them, he may expel his excrements; then taketh he an Alder-tree, and with his fore-feet rendeth the same asunder, and passeth through the midst of it, for the cause aforesaid. When they are wilde, men kill them with bows and gins, for no other cause than for their skins which are precious and profitable; for they are white spotted, changeably interlined like divers flowers; for which cause the greatest Princes, and richest Nobles use them in garments in the Winter time, such are the Kings of Polonia, Sweveland, Goatland, and the Princes of Germany; neither is their any skin which will sooner take a colour, or more constantly retain it. The outward appearance of the said skin is like to a damaskt garment, and besides this outward part, there is no other memorable thing worthy observation in this ravenous Beast, and therefore in Germany, it is called a four-footed Vulture.

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