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Humanist Archives: March 5, 2019, 6:14 a.m. Humanist 32.509 - Frye & nested boxes

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 509.
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        Date: 2019-03-05 02:40:28+00:00
        From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.500: Frye & nested boxes?

Willard and Company

A possible solution.

I had observed:

> 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.

In rereading the instances where Frye mentions the Sileni boxes (as either
"theme" or "image"), I see what I had missed: the reference is always to
Rabelais. So this called for a more careful reading of the Prologue to
Gargantua in English.

Because of Frye's repeated references, Rabelais was the key. Although one
doesn't find direct reference to nesting Sileni boxes, one does encounter
in the Prologue to Gargantua the mention of onion, the peel to be exact,
and from this emblematic vegetable might we assume the notion arose of
layer upon layer upon layer? And hence to nested boxes? (Have we here an
example of how test the reading of a keyword in context or how best to
judge the extent of the scope of a metaphor?)

[...] Just such another thing was Socrates. For to have eyed his outside,
and esteemed of him by his exterior appearance, you would not have given
the peel of an onion for him, so deformed he was in body, and ridiculous
in his gesture. He had a sharp pointed nose, with the look of a bull, and
countenance of a fool: he was in his carriage simple, boorish in his
apparel, in fortune poor, unhappy in his wives, unfit for all offices in
the commonwealth, always laughing, tippling, and merrily carousing to
everyone, with continual gibes and jeers, the better by those means to
conceal his divine knowledge. Now, opening this box you would have found
within it a heavenly and inestimable drug, a more than human
understanding, an admirable virtue, matchless learning, invincible
courage, unimitable sobriety, certain contentment of mind, perfect
assurance, and an incredible misregard of all that for which men commonly
do so much watch, run, sail, fight, travel, toil and turmoil themselves.

Fran├žois Rabelais translated by Thomas Urquart

The proximate image of the onion likely lodged itself in memory and the
subsequent application (1956) of the "theme" by Frye to Graves's poem
("Warning to Children") cemented the association that we find decades
later in the notebooks (1970-72) in the link he makes between Egyptian
sarcophagi and Sileni boxes. Further comment: although "peel" gives rise
to the notion of layer, the French "copeau d'oignon" is more like a sliver
or shaving and less connected to the image of a layer as to that of a

I must admit that the primary reason the nested reference caught my
attention in my reading of Frye was the lively discussion on Humanist
about content objects and their relations -- what it might mean to be

Francois Lachance

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