William Golding's the Double Tongue as Hypertext of Euripides's Ion

By Pauw, Francois | Acta Classica, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

William Golding's the Double Tongue as Hypertext of Euripides's Ion


Pauw, Francois, Acta Classica


1. Introduction

On his sudden death in June 1993, British author William Golding left behind a shortish historical novel, or novella, in near-final draft form. From among several other titles in Golding's handwriting at the head of the drafts, The Double Tongue has been chosen by the editors. (2)

Golding attained literary immortality with his first and most celebrated novel, Lord of the Flies, in 1954. In the next forty years, a staggering ten million copies of this work would be sold in the U.K. alone, and it would be translated into thirty languages. (3) Golding's reputation would be consolidated with works such as The Inheritors, 1955 (about a group of Neanderthal Men being nearly wiped out by their homo sapiens successors), The Spire, 1964 (about the aspirations of a mediaeval cathedral builder), and The Paper Men, 1982 (about the relationship between an academic and his biographer); to cap it all, he was a Nobel Laureate in 1983. (4) Since Golding is convinced of man's fall from grace, (5) of his Hobbesian proclivity for greed and egoism, his works invariably manage to illuminate la condition humaine with what David Lodge describes as 'a fable of spiritual crisis'. (6)

In Golding's posthumous novel, the metaphor of a double tongue is used twice. Early on, it alludes to the forked tongue inherited by Apollo when he killed the mythological Python (7) (a serpent holding sway before him) at the Delphian shrine. Later, it describes the notorious ambiguity of Pythian hexameters and thus of the oracle as institution. (8)

In keeping with the title, the text of The Double Tongue is presented as the memoirs of a priestess of Delphi in the first century BC. (9) Like Golding, when he wrote this novel, the narrator, Arieka, is an octogenarian (p. 17). Having spent her adult life as an oracle staring into the future, she now looks back at a life devoted to Apollo as his Pythia (priestess).

Arieka's tale is told in simple, unadorned prose, a mixture of straight firstperson narrative and reported dialogue. The events that constitute her life are arranged in diachronic sequence, as befits a genre such as memoirs. Postmodernist narratological games are avoided, with the notable exception of the novel's unusual ending.

2. Hypo--and hypertexts

As it will shortly transpire from a textual analysis, Golding based his novel in large measure on the Ion of Euripides. (10) The rest of this article will thus be devoted to a comparison of Euripides and Golding. As tool in studying the relationship between texts, the critical vocabulary of hypertextuality is employed.

In the introductory chapter to his magisterial work on hypertextuality, Gerard Genette distinguishes five types of hypertextualite: (11) (i) intertextualite (Julia Kristeva's term), where text A is present in text B in the form of quotations or allusions; (12) (ii) paratextualite, according to which literary conventions such as title and subtitles, notes, prefaces, marginal notes, illustrations and mottos are regarded as paratexts; (13) (iii) metatextualite, where text B is a commentary on text A; (14) (iv) architextualite, in terms of which generic types are identified and grouped together; (15) and (v) hypertextualite, (16) where text B (the hypertexte) is derived from text A (the hypotexte) without B being a commentary on A. (17) Of these five types of textualite, the first (intertextualite) and the last (hypertextualite) are clearly of most interest to a comparatist.

Genette compares the process by which text A is transformed into text B to the creation of a palimpsest. (18) According to Little et al., a palimpsest can be defined as '1. Paper, parchment, etc., prepared for writing on and wiping out again, like a slate (1706). 2. A parchment, etc., which has been written upon twice, the original writing having been rubbed out (1825)'. (19) A real-life palimpsest is thus the result of one or more texts written over the original on a vellum or papyrus manuscript. …

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