[ilds] RG Justine 1.19 -- my sister, my bride (bridegroom)

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Wed May 2 11:09:27 PDT 2007

On 5/1/07, Michael Haag writes:

>I wonder what people make of that last sentence in Justine 1.19: 'I 
>think of Melissa once more: hortus conclusus, soror mea sponsor'.  The 
>Latin is from the Song of Solomon, 4.12: 'A garden enclosed is my 
>sister, my bride'.  Except that in Latin that would be: 'Hortus 
>conclusus, soror mea sponsa'.  Sponsor is presumably Durrell's attempt 
>at the masculine, which I think ought to be sponsus.  In any case he 
>seems to have deliberately altered the feminine to the masculine, so 
>that the phrase reads: 'A garden enclosed is my sister, my bridegroom'.
                               * * * * *

Michael's observation is intriguing and makes me wonder what Durrell had in mind.  The alteration of the Latin is probably deliberate, although possibly a lapse in memory.  I find it hard to imagine, however, that Durrell committed any part of the Latin Vulgate to memory.  Indeed, I find it hard to imagine he even carried along a copy of it anywhere.  Who does, besides old Catholic priests?  So what's the actual source?  That might help.

My first reaction was similar to Godshalk's:  Durrell's sponsor/bridegroom alludes either to bisexuality, or to incest, my preference.  Byron came to mind.  But I can't find Byron using "hortus conclusus" anywhere.  Incest comes up with Pusewarden and Liza, but why Darley would associate incest with Melissa is not entirely clear.

Another alternative.  As Michael points out, at this point in Justine, 1.19, we're entering the world of Hellenistic philosophy.  Justine herself is introducing Plotinus.  The hortus conclusus bears similarity to Epicurus's "Garden," which is the main emblem associated with the Epicureans.  You'll recall that philosophy was pleasure based (but not hedonistic) and advocated a kind of withdrawal from the ills of the world, freedom from fear, etc.  Hence the appropriateness of the enclosed garden as symbol of such.  Epicureanism has always struck me as a tired philosophy, just as Melissa, "the patron of sorrow," is tired and exhausted from both sickness and pleasure.  She is Greek, and Epicurus was Greek (4th-3rd cen. BC).  She's from Smyrna, he from Samos -- similar names, same general location in the Aegean.  Justine is born an Alexandrian Jew.  Plotinus was born in Egypt, had a Roman name, but his language was Greek.  He, of course, was an Alexandrian (3rd cen. AD).  I seem recall some bit of apocrypha that he was Jewish, but I may be wrong here.

So, perhaps Durrell's recollection of Melissa as "hortus conclusus, soror mea sponsor" marks a transition from one kind of life (living with Melissa) to another (carrying on with Justine), from one set of philosophical underpinnings (Epicureanism) to another (Neo-platonism/Gnosticism).  The temporal progression of philosophical schools also fits, 3rd cen. BC to 3rd cen. AD.  Appropriately enough, the next sections begins with Justine speaking, "'Regard derisoire,' says Justine.  'How is it you are so much one of us and yet . . . you are not?'"  Well, the answer is, things are about to change.  Darley is about to leave his incestuous garden with Melissa and enter another secret world. 


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