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Humanist Archives: March 3, 2019, 7:50 a.m. Humanist 32.500 - Frye & nested boxes?

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 500.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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        Date: 2019-03-03 01:08:51+00:00
        From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: Nested?

Willard and Company

An appeal.

Northrop Frye in the preface to the _Well-Tempered Critic_ (1963) writes
that the lectures “are intended to fit inside one another, like the boxes
of Silenus” [9]. Frye references Silenus in a review of Robert Graves's
collected poetry (Hudson Review vol. 9 no. 2 Summer 1956) but the Graves
poem "Warning to Children" that Frye points towards although constructed
in a most marvellous mise en abyme does not mention Sileni of any sort nor
play on the inside-outside associations of Sileni boxes. Frye's reading
characterizes the link between imbrication and the Sileni as a theme. The
association of Sileni boxes and nesting appears throughout Frye's career.
It is also found in one of the notebooks from the early 1970s where  Frye
remarks "Also Egyptian is the boxes-of-Silenus mummy cases, of one inside
another: Rabelais."

But there is no mention of nesting in Rabelais (Preface to Gargantua). Nor
in Erasmus. Nor in Plato. My quandary: where does Frye get the image of
nesting boxes? What can account for the leap from a multiplicity of boxes
to nesting?

I have also located another reference to nesting Sileni: in Charles L.
Griswold, Jr. _Adam Smith and the Virtues of Enlightenment_ (1999)
describing his own work with the figure of nesting Sileni:  "my discussion
here will resemble a series of Sileni, one nested inside the next."

Andrew Ford in "Alcibiades's Eikon of Socrates and the Platonic Text:
Symp. 215a-222d"
in _Plato and the Power of Images_ (2017) has a pointed aside: "There is
no archeological evidence for anything like the nested 'Russian Dolls' we
may picture to ourselves."

Frye's figure of the nested Sileni is of course an instance of a model of
text at work in generating readings. One that remains for me opaque. I
would be grateful to anyone who could enlighten me as to the origins of
the connection between Sileni boxes and nesting.

Francois Lachance

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