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Commentary on Emblem 32

A satirical epigram, with a standard legal problem as its basis, but with a moral-mythological interpretation appended.

Marius and Subbardus (the latter sub bardus meaning "extremely stupid") are typical upstarts, who have built a wall that blocks out the light of their neighbour, the speaker of the poem. A scene typical of city life today.

This unhappy speaker likens himself to the Thracian king Phineus, who was plagued by the Harpies. The Argonauts encountered Phineus in their voyage, and he made an arrangement with two of them, Zetes and Calais (sons of the wind-god Boreas), to drive the Harpies off. The story comes from Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica and its interpretation in Fulgentius' Mythologies 3.11, where the names of the heroes make a pun on zetein kalon, "to seek the good." To overcome one's troublesome enemies, then, one must seek the good.

The emblem picture shows Zetes and Calais driving off the three Harpies (Aello, Ocypete, and Celaeno). The poem calls them geminae which can mean "identical" as well as "twin."

The legal actual problem is discussed in Alciato's De verborum significatione (1530) 1.139, and is also the subject of Erasmus' adage 4.6.8 (Officere luminibus, to shut out the light).

These notes follow in large part a commentary on the emblem by Virginia Callahan.

The emblem first appeared in the unauthorized edition of 1531. We give the illustration which first appeared on sig F2r. In the first authorized edition of 1534 the illustration appeared on page 107.

There is a French translation of this emblem by Lefevre, conventionally numbered 101 in the unpaged edition of Paris: Wechel, 1536 at the Glasgow University emblem site. You may compare the Latin and French in frames.


Last modified 2 December 1996