Thirty-Two Stories

By Edgar Allan Poe; Stuart Levine et al. | Go to book overview
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SHADOW

This powerful story can stand without explanation. But Poe, as he wrote, had very specific meanings in mind, meanings which are not apparent to any reader who has not just read two of Poe's favorite books. So a few paragraphs of explanation should be helpful.

"Shadow" is constructed of material which Poe took from a chapter of Thomas Moore's The Epicurians(Pollin 12). It is not, however, really a satire on Moore: as Pollin notes, the tale's poetic evocation of the voices of the departed is too "beautifully wrought" not to be compelling even for the reader who knows what game Poe is playing. We think Poe here, as in "Silence," is deliberately writing a virtuoso piece, demonstrating how well he can take another man's materials and make them work for him.

The other basic source of "Shadow" suggests as much: Jacob Bryant's Mythology. We are certain that Poe connects Bryant to this story (see note 4 especially); he also praises Bryant elsewhere. Bryant was one of a group of speculative and imaginative mythologists; Poe loved his book. Bryant thought he recognized interrelations among ancient religions, and between them and modern beliefs. Although his Mythologyis, as Poe knew, terribly unsound, it is still haunting and evocative. Bryant's work presents, in its analysis of ancient myth, the philosophical and mythical framework of Poe's tale; it also contains much of Poe's language and even the proper names Poe uses--including the "foul Charonian canal" which has hitherto puzzled scholars.

"Zoilus" is likely Poe's rendition of Jacob Bryant's "Coilus," which ". . . in the original acceptation certainly signified heavenly. . . . [Coilus] was a sacred or heavenly person" ( Bryant, Vol. I, 140).

Bryant also seems to be the source of the name Oinos. In a complicated explanation, he equates the Dove from the Ark with Ion, Ionah [Jonah], and Oinas of the Greeks, "the interpreter of the will of the Gods to man." Bryant identifies Oinas with Eanus (Janus), whom he consequently equates with other deities--Apollo, Diana, Helius, Dionysus, and Saturn.

Bryant describes Janus as having "two faces"--one pointing toward the past and one toward the future--and as representing "the end and the beginning of all things." He presides, Bryant says, "over everything that could be shut or opened; and . . . [is] the guardian of the doors of Heaven." In rites in honor of both the gods Saturn and Dionysus, originally a sacrifice was made, representing the end of one period and the beginning of another. ( Dionysus is, in fact, listed in Greek dictionaries as one of the meanings of οἰ + ̑νος.) The name Oinos, its form in Poe, is identical to an archaic Latin form for the modern unus, "one." With or without the classical wordplay, clearly

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