Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Zahir and Asterion

Sorry... I know I promised to finish that last post about 2 weeks ago... I'll get around to that soon. In the mean time, I've just started reading The Zahir by Borges, which I somehow haven't read. I could have sworn I had read the whole of The Aleph, but I digress. I stumbled upon the following passage (I don't know who the translator is):

Until the end of June I distracted myself by composing a tale of fantasy. The tale contains two or three enigmatic circumlocutions: “water of the sword”, it says, instead of blood, and “bed of the serpent”, for gold, and is written in the first person. The narrator is an ascetic who has renounced all commerce with mankind and lives on a moor. (The name of the place is Gnitaheidr.) Because of the simplicity and innocence of his life, he is judged by some to be an angel; that is a charitable sort of exaggeration, because no one is free of sin. He himself (to take the example nearest at hand) has cut his father’s throat, though it is true that his father was a famous wizard who had used his magic to usurp an infinite treasure for himself.

Protecting this treasure from mad human greed is the mission to which the he has devoted his life; day and night he stands guard over it. Soon, perhaps too soon, that watchfulness will come to an end: the stars have told him that the sword that will cut him off forever has already been forged. (Gram is the name of the sword.) In an increasingly tortured style, the narrator praises the luster and flexibility of his body; one paragraph offhandedly mentions “scales”; another says that the treasure he watches over is of red rings and gleaming gold. At the end, we realize that the ascetic is the serpent Fafnir and the treasure on which the creature lies coiled is the gold of the Nibelungen. The appearance of Sigurd abruptly ends the story.

This sounds rather amusingly like... The House of Asterion which was published in the same collection. This is one of the things I really like about Borges: He makes very subtle references to other works of his. Can anyone think of any other specific examples of this?

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