2010 edition FW pages 100-133
1939 edition FW pages 126-168
For convenience, our commentary on this chapter does not follow the division into bibliographically definable sections; rather, we divide the chapter into its 12 question and answer segments.
Shem (‘Jockit Mic Ereweak’) sets Shaun (‘Mac Irewick’) a quiz of twelve questions, a ‘nightly quisquiquock of the twelve apostrophes.’ These deal with the several Wake characters and characteristics, including the book itself and the dream state. I.6 was composed late, in the Spring of 1927, and inserted into an already well-fleshed-out and more-or-less rigidly structured Book I. It disrupts of the otherwise smooth transition from the end of I.5 — the invocation of Shem — to the beginning of I.7, a portrait of him as scribe. The episode is basically static and does not constitute an active component in the ongoing narrative. Joyce described it as a ‘picture gallery.’
The questions (with responses) deal successively with:
1. H HCE
2. A ALP
3. N The Inn
4. X The Four Annalists
5. S Sigurdsson
6. } Kate
7. O The Twelve Customers
8. Q The Leap-year Girls
9. o The Dream
10. J Issy
11. D Shaun
12. C Shem
Throughout the Wake Shaun, more than anybody else, is interrogated. He is the answerer par excellence; and here, as indeed in III.3, he not only answers questions posed by Shem, but does so in the voices of others. Truly he has the Holy Spirit's gift of tongues. Thus, though we are told that it is Shaun speaking, what emerges is in each case the ‘voice’ of the subject character. In the Issy question, Issy speaks; in the Kate question Kate, and so on. What they say is not really a direct reply to the question or riddle asked (itself barely constituting a question), but is rather a personal statement. It is less a quiz than a who's who and a what's what.
1. H HCE
The first (and longest) question Shem poses is remarkable for its detail. What Shem asks is who, what second-to-none mythical master-builder and pontifex maximus, accomplished the long catalogue of feats that he enumerates. Who is it, he wants to know, did this, did that, and did the other. The person that Shem is asking about is, of course, HCE and in describing him Shem expands the big man's nature to encompass practically everything. He is at once man, mountain, myth, monster, tree, city, egg, Humpty Dumpty, Russian general, ectoplasm, actor, card-sharp, hallucination, hero, sage, prophet, chronological unit, measure of weight, piece of fruit, plant, god, bridge, heavenly body, and so on down to spa, inn, hound, fox, colossus, cabbage, sheep, emir, bug, king, acreage, and herring. Many of the details are hilarious (‘called to sell polish and was found later in a bedroom’ or ‘killed his own hungry self in anger as a young man’). The reader is invited to read through the question as it is given in the Wake. There is no complication of plot.
Having gone through literally pages and pages of predications, Shem concludes: ‘stutters fore he falls and goes mad entirely when he's waked; is Timb to the pearly morn and Tomb to the mourning night; and an he had the best bunbaked bricks in bould Babylon for his pitchingplays he'd be lost for the want of his wan wubblin wall.’
Shaun has no difficulty answering. He gets it right straight away: Finn MacCool!
2. A ALP
Turning next to the subject of ALP, Shem asks his brother, Does your mother know you're out? Shaun replies, to the lilt of Prout's ‘Bells of Shandon’, that when he turns his eyes to behold HCE, ‘that pontificator, and circumvallator’, and then ALP, so garrulous, ‘slipt by his side’, he is filled with pride. He describes ALP in fantastic terms, such as that poets kneel before her, and he contrasts her in short couplets to HCE: ‘If Dann's dane, Ann's dirty, if he's plane, she's purty’.
3. N The Inn
The Container question asks for the ‘true-to-type motto-in-lieu for that Tick for Teac thatchment’, that is, the correct name for HCE's shack, which is not One Square Room or Antwerp or the Arch or The Dutch House or any other of the twenty-four names Shem specifies. As Joyce was writing this episode he conducted his own quiz, asking his long-suffering benefatress, Harriet Weaver, the same question: What name or names would you give N? In other words, what is the secret title of his book, then known only as “Work in Progress”. He sent her clues: The title is very simple and as commonplace as can be. It is not Kitty O'Shea as some wit suggested, though it is in two words.
She made guesses: One Squared.
He replied: As regards the title, ‘one squared’ can be used in the ‘math’ lesson by the writer of Part II if he, or she, is so ‘dispogedrsquo;. The title I projected is much more commonplace and accords with the J J & S and A.G.S. & Co sign (John Jameson and Sons, Arthur Guinness and Co.) and it ought to be fairly plain from a reading of w (I.1). The sign in this form means H.C.E. interred in the landscape.
She next tried: Dublin Ale.
He responded: Your guesses get nearer but N is the name of a ‘place where’ not a ‘thing which’ or a ‘person who‘.
She made three more guesses: Ireland's Eye; Phoenix Park; Dublin Bay.
He wrote: Phoenix Park is rather close but it is a place not built by hands—at least not all—whereas N is.
She sent her best guess yet: Finn MacCool! Coincidentally, this is the same answer that Shaun gave to Question 1.
He responded, now tired of the game (I.6 had been finished and sent off): the first word of your guess is right with an apostrophe ‘s’ so I suppose you can finish it.
She wouldn't give up: Finn's Town; Finn's City.
But he gave up. She was getting too close. The correct answer, as it happens, for the title of the book as it then was (it only much later became “Finnegan's Wake”) as well to question 3, is: Finn's Hotel.
Shaun, somewhat less astute than the real-life answerer, comes up with a distorted version of the motto of the City of Dublin: ‘Thine obesity, O civilian, hits the felicitude of our orb’ (The Obedience of the Citizen is the Felicity of the Town). Like Harriet Weaver he emphasises the city aspect of the container. The question properly asked is: what is he name of Earwicker's tavern. One wonders why Joyce didn't set him right.
4. X The Four Annalists
Shem's fourth question is appropriately quadripartite. What Irish capital city, he asks, can boast of having the most extensive public park anywhere; the most expensive brewing industry; the most expansive people's thoroughfare ever built; and the most ‘phillohippuc theobibbous paupulation’ in the world.
To make it easier for Shaun to answer, Shem hints that the name has two syllables and six letters, begins with a ‘D’ and ends with an ‘n.’
Shaun offers not one but four answers and a coda as he considers in turn the four great divisions of Ireland: Ulster, Munster, Leinster, and Connacht, here as elsewhere in the book associated respectively with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the four gospellers. It should be mentioned that the provinces of Ireland are sometimes known as the ‘four fifths’, on the grounds that one of them (Leinster) is (or once was) a double. Speaking in the accent of each province, and alluding to their main industrial and social situations, Shaun offers his solutions, adding to each an entreaty to some unspecified female to come and live with him (the four are always going on about their lack of women): Delfas, he guesses, Dorhqk, Nublid, and, finally, Dalway! Harmonising the four parts of his answer into an ass's bawl, he shrieks: ‘A bell a bell on Shalldoll Steepbell, ond be'll go massplon pristmoss speople, Shand praise gon ness our fayst moan neople, our prame Shandeepen, pay name muy feepence, moy nay mon Aequallllllll!
5. S Sigurdsson
The fifth question concerns pub's chief bottle-washer and all-round servant. As he is elsewhere associated with Scandinavia, Shem's question is peppered with Norwegian. Even so, the reader can easily follow the gist. What sort of a Lochlann (foreigner), he queries, would wash dirty bottles; empty out dregs; clean wastepaper-baskets; behave as well when out as when in; water flowerbeds; fetch newspapers, tobacco and sweets; keep the place tidy; toll the church-bell; boot out unwanted guests; shout help! help! at the sight of burglars; help look after three children; polish all the glasses; tend to the fires; serve his time till death him depart, and hone the knives? Who would be a pious and good man and now and then do errands on the train. Who will, when asked, be bacon and stable hand? Who will fully understand the Irish language? A Jutlander or Norwegian is preferred who will, when asked, accept all duties and no rights. Professional drinkers are excluded.
Shaun gets this one right: ‘Pore ole Joe!’
6. } Kate
Shem asks what is meant by ‘saloon slogan Summon In The Housesweep Dinah.’
Shaun replies with a mocking rendition of Kate complaining: Glory be to the Saints of God now and I have to beeswax the floor bringing in all of the mud of the parks to us how I thought I knew his stain on the floor if I was asked and could speak and he called me by my maiden name I am your honeysuckle you are the bee and who broke the candles and who seen the blackcurrant jam for tomorrow's big picnic I hope it'll pour please the primate of all Ireland I heard the birds and I skimming the crock on all your sandwiches fippence per leg per drake and who ate the last of the gooseberries that was moulding from last year and who left that there and who put that here and who let the cat steal the chop and who was it you was it propped the pot in the yard and what in the name of Saint Luke are you rubbing the side of the floor of the lobby with? Shite! Will you have a plateful?
7. O The Customers
The seventh question deals with the undifferentiated Twelve, the general public, the jurors, HCE's customers, and asks: what is the collective name of those component partners of our civic society: the doorboy, the cleaner, the soldier, the crook, the squeezer, the lounger, the carman, the tour-about, the mushroom-sniffer, the tramp, the gunpowder-plotter, and the boxer. They hail from their salt marshes and Donnybrook fields and Roebuck fields and Roundtown fields and Crumlin fields and Kimmage fields and Ashtown fields and Cabra fields and Finglas fields and Santry fields and the fields of Raheny and Baldoyle. They are late-comers all the year round by anticipation, ‘are the porters of the passions in virtue of retroratiocination, and, contributting their conflingent controversies of differentiation’, they unify their voices in a vote of inspiration.’. They chew the cud, drain their mead, condone every evil and condemn any good, are ‘ruled, roped, duped and driven’ by parish priests, keep the law, nightly consternate, fortnightly fornicate, monthly commiserate, and year-round recreate. They are Doyles when not Sullivans: namely, James, Thaddeus, Simon, John, Simon Peter, Andrew, Bartholomew, Philip, James, Thomas, Matthew, and Judas.
Shaun knows the answer to this one: the Murphys!
8. Q The Leap-year Girls
Shem asks, imitating one of the motifs from the Boston letter, How are you, Maggy?
In reply, Shaun explains the Maggies, the twenty-eight or nine leap-year girls. They wage war loving, love laughing, laugh weeping, weep smelling, smell smiling, smile hating, hate thinking, think feeling, feel tempting, tempt daring, dare waiting, wait taking, take thanking, and thank seeking.
9. o The Dream
The ninth is a more philosophical, psychologoical question. Could a human being, fatigued after a day in the city, if given in sleep a synchronic view of Copenhagen whereby he could behold the vast unfolding panorama of its history, the countless events and vicissitudes that were enacted there over the centuries, could such a one, assuming the vision continued throughout the night, could he or she integrate or differentiate all the millions of particulars, make sense out of the whole or even of a part, discern what is static and what kinetic? In short, what would such a dreamer seem to himself seemingly to be seeing?
Shaun is not to be foxed and answers succinctly: a kaleidoscope!
10. J Issy
What is love but mourning, what is desire but a self-burning, till she that hates doth love return?
The Provencal-rich answer Shaun comes up with when this is put to him is rather The answer is a private and intimate conversation, rich in Provençal words, that Issy has with her image in a mirror: I know, pet, of course, dear, but listen, precious. Looking at her hands, she feels sure they are exquisite … if only her nails weren't so gnawed … she must take care to mind the wind doesn't ruin them … well creamed, thrice a day, after her shower, after her clean-up, and, of course, before retiring… it was her Irish accent, she says, that won his admiration, the footballer she knows, as it did all the other mauling full-backs and champion hurley-stars, batsmen, and egg-and-spoon racers … the current subject of her attention and favours is seeking an opening and wants her to be his belle … she must play jealous. Anyway, she thinks, peering into her looking-glass, what does she care for him anyhow? Shit! She wouldn't give three halfpence for the whole lot of them! And, O, she must remember to pick up a pair of those fashionable new red shoes and snappy garters, and also a pair of gloves. She has to laugh; she was always one for charm even if he was umpteen times her age, soliciting her, and a reverend at that, creaking about like a corncrake on his old bicycle. My, what a funny spot to have a finger! May you never, she scolds herself, see me in my pelt and may your white hands rot leprous off you, going around like a flirt, you winking whore! Of course, she knows she (her other) is as considerate as could be and knowledgeable and all that and ever so fond of greens, but why is she crying so? Did a few get past the gates of her pride? Did she hear his tread on the floor? Buttercups, she sighs, I'll kiss you back to life! Why, isn't that what girls are for? And who could read her eyes now, all misted so in tears. And doesn't she try to improve herself by reading a novel once a week. And scare herself silly with that Bram Stoker chap. She's only any girl, of course, and can't help a man ‘assoiling’ her behind that way … what a nerve he had, thinking that's what that's for! The lecher! She'll show him how to wear his roman collar.
How vain's that hope in cleric's heart
Who still pursues th' adult'rous art,
Cocksure that rusty gown of his
Will make fair Sue forget his phiz!
She applies her lipstick, pursing her lips in the mirror as she urges: Move your mouth towards mine, more, precious, more on more! To please me, treasure. Don't be a …, I'm not going to! Sh! Nothing!
It is her tête-à-tête with herself, a person over whom she is incurably jealous and impossibly erotic. She hears church-bells toll and puts a pet name on each. The ringing makes her think of Lent. Fasting and absolution and the four-and-twenty blackbirds that were baked in a pie. But she must be careful with the lipstick: Close your, notmust look, now open, pet, your lips, pepette, like I used my sweet parted lipsabuss with Don Holohan.
She is enjoying herself. She swears she is. And why is it she prefers it under the cover of darkness, she wonders. But hush, she hears a bat. She imagines herself courting by moonlight. No, sweetest, why would that annoy me? But don't! You want to be slap well slapped for that. Your delighted lips, love, be careful! Simultaneously thinking about lipstick and male sperm, she asks her image/phantom lover to mind not to spoil her dress. And she'll tell no one. No one. She wouldn't, not for all the jewels in the world, not for all the stars in the Milky Way! I could snap them when I see them winking at me in bed. But, shshsh! Don't start like that, you wretch! Dear, she mustn't swear; but tell her, she asks, did you … did I really never, never in all a long life, speak so close to a girl before? No! Not even to a chambermaid? How marvellous! And why, yes, of course she believes it! But she must go, so till always, thou lovliest! Shshshsh! So long as the lucksmith. Laughs!
11. D Shaun
Shem asks Shaun a personal question. Shaun, this time speaking as himself, adopts a professorial tone and is not content with a straight answer. What would you do, Shem asks, if you happened to meet ‘on the binge’ a poor exile from Ireland, a poet (clearly meaning himself, Shem) who begged you to save his immortal soul, would you be prepared to do so?
Shaun replies emphatically: No! But lest Shem think he lacks sufficient and compelling reasons for this refusal he goes on to explain himself at great length. To confute the begging question, he drags in distorted notions from the ‘sophology’ of Bergson and from Einstein's theory of relativity, the two contending views of time that were in the air at the time (1920's). All he succeeds in doing is to hopelessly confuse the issue. ‘To put it all the more plumbsily’, he declares, ‘the speechform is a mere surrogate.’ It is clear, he claims, that one has ‘talis’ and one has ‘qualis’ and we must distinguish between the two. Talis is a word misused by many persons, because it originally meant the same as qualis. But perhaps he can illustrate what he means through an anthropological metaphor. Consider Levi-Bruhl. Have they not reached exactly similar conclusions? Is not the inception, the descent, and the end of man ‘temporarily wrapped in obscenity?’ And can he not, as a mathematician, believe whole-heartedly in his own ‘most spacious immensity’ when he is reassured ‘by ratio’ that the ‘cube of [his] volumes is to the surfaces of their subjects as the sphericity of these globes is to the feracity of Fairynelly's vacuum.’
He need not apologise for any unintentional ‘downtrodding on [his] foes.’ Levi-Bruhl, he points out, by conducting experiments with watches has found that the number of feet in weekly circulation will not be appreciably augmented by the nether-slogging ‘of his couple of clogs’. That is to say, he could not help his brother even if he wanted to. As an individual, he cannot significantly alter a general situation. What the pathetic romantic in rags in question (Shem) is hankering after, he summarises, is the purest waste of time. His toes are always sticking out through the tops of his worn-out boots! But is this not to be expected? With his when this and when that and when the other! His plea is transparently stuff and nonsense on a grand scale. It was never a question of when. It is always a question of where.
Shaun, who has hitherto addressed Shem as ‘Schott’, fancies he is in a classroom lecturing a bunch of brats. As his explanations so far may have been a little over the heads of the sniffly-nosed squad of urchins in front of him, a little too technical, he decides to illustrate his point with a fable: the ‘Mookse’ and the ‘Gripes.’
Abhorring anything time-oriented, space-loving Shaun begins his fable thus: Once within a space, and a weary, wide space it was, there lived a Mookse. The Mookse, he explains, was lonely in his spaciousness so one grand summer day he went off for a walk. He brushed his eyes with a fan, wiped his nose in a pall, picked the wax out of his ears, cleared his throat, clapped on his crown, put on his impermeable, took hold his sceptre, stepped out of his immobile mansion (which was chockfull with masterpieces and with gorgeously laid-out gardens) and set off to see how ‘badness was badness in the weirdest of all pensible ways.’
In reading through the fable, the Mookse, a Shaun know-it-all, and the Gripes, a wine-loving Shem, are carefully associated with one or the other of a string of both direct and indirect opposites. Nuvoletta, a form of Issy, also appears in the story and is implicated in these sets. A sample tabulation follows:
Shaun, Shem, Issy
Mookse, Gripes, Nuvoletta
Fox, Grapes, Squirrel/Rose
Space, Time, Time-space
London, Dublin, Brittany
Stone, Tree, Cloud/Rain
Apron, Handkerchief, Nightdress
Latin, Greek/Russian, Celtic
Deaf, Blind, Love-sick
Right Bank, Left Bank, River
Pope, Heretic, Atheist
Adrian IV, Barbarossa, Princess
The fable elaborates on these contradistinctions. No particular aspect is more important than another. It is an allegory of the dynamic between time and space as well as being as a fairy-story about some articles of clothing laid out to dry by the riverbank.
When he set off, the Mookse took with him his father's sword. He had not travelled very far, clanking only some ten paces or so from his asylum, when he came upon a stream, the most ‘boggylooking’ stream (the river Liffey) he had ever clapped an eye on. It was little and it was brown and it ran narrowly, deviously and shallowly, rippling as it went along. And what was there on the far bank of the river, perched on a limb of an elm, bolt downright, but a Gripes! And no doubt the Gripes was fit to be tied, for wasn't he after having the ‘juice of his times’!
Adrian (that was the Mookse's assumed name) stood still face-to-face with the Gripes in an instant of indignation. He saw a stone and on that stone he sat, fairly covering it ‘quite poposterously’, and there, with his jewelstudded ‘pederect’ and the ‘frisherman's blague’ by his side: the staff he always walked with and his bag that was everyday added-to as the fatter it got and the broader it grew. He looked the spit of, a striking royal likeness of, ‘Quartus the Fifth and Quintus the Sixth and Sixtus the Seventh giving allnight sitting to Lio the Faultyfindth.’
— Good appetite, Sir Mookse, how do you do? cheeped the Gripes in a very muggy maudlin voice and all the asses within earshot bawled and brayed to hear him. I am really blessed to see you, mister. Will you not perhaps tell me everything if you are pleased to? (Think of it! O most pitiable tempter!)
— Rats! bellowed the Mookse most loudly and all the mice in their mouse-holes trembled and quailed to hear his horse's roar. Blast yourself! Hang you! I am superbly and supremely pontifical. Get thee behind me! O rocks!
But the Gripes, wine having quite gone to his pulpy head, letting on to be greatly obliged and all to that, had the tmerity to ask the Mookse: What time is it?
What was the time! Can you believe it? To the space-loving Mookse!
— You can ask my arse, roared the Mookse, rapidly changing colour. What hour? That is quite precisely what I have come about on my mission to settle with you, barbarian! Measure your length! Estimate my capacity! Well, sir, is this space too dimensional for you? Do you give up?
— I was just thinking about that, said the Gripes (you should have heard his miserable little whimper), but if I connow make my submission, I cannos give you up. My temple is my own. My velocity is two feet in one second. But I will never be able to tell you (here the whimpering misery nearly fell off his limb) whose o'cloak you ware.
Incredible, eh! Well, hear the inevitable.
— Your temple, pig! I regret to proclaim that it is out of my power to help you from being killed by inches, announced the Mookse to the squashed Gripes. We met each other too late. My side is as safe as houses and I can see what it is to be seen. Praise, you see, belongs to him who praises himself. And here I must leave you, subject, for the present. I can prove it against you in a moment, my good enemy. By this dozen odd.
Here the Mookse, composing himself, lifted his stick up to the ceiling and knocked out a few lights. He gathered together the odd dozen of volumes he had with him, Greek, Latin and Rosicrucian, piling them in between his legs and set about his proof. He proved his argument over and over again, one hundred and thirty three times, to the extinction of the rascally Gripes altogether, by one source and then by the other, by theory and by formula, by legend and by rule, by all the lessons and all the laws and all the manuscripts in the British Museum.
— After a thousand years, O Gripes, upon my books, you will be blind to the world, said the Mookse in conclusion.
— After a thousand years, repliedthe Gripes with finality, by the beard of the prophet, you shall be even deafer to the world.
— I shall be chosen as the first of the last, observed the Mookse nobly, for I stand in the right cattle-stall and that is what my ruby and robes stand for.
— I, confessed the Gripes limply, shall not even be the last of the first. I am relying entirely on the weight of mere breath.
And so they vituperated each other, like cats and dogs, in wild abandon. But Nuvoletta in her ‘lightdress, spunn of sisteen shimmers, was looking down on them, leaning over the bannistars and listening all she childishly could.’ O, how she brightened up when the Mookse hoisted his walking stick and, O, how she was over-clouded when the Gripes with his drivel made such a fool of himself. She was alone. All her sisters were off asleep on her. A last rose of summer, she listened and she listened and she listened, and she tried all she could think of to make that Mookse look up at her and to make that Gripes hear how coy she could be; but it was all love's labour lost. Not even her faint reflection, Nuvoluccia, would they take notice of; for their minds were addled with Roman history and whatever the dickens their damp old papers and books said. As if that was life! As if that rot could duplicate her queendom! As if she would stand idly by and be third party in such proceedings! She tossed her hair and she rounded her arms and she smiled and she sighed but, sweet Madonna, she might as well have carried flowers to Florida, for the Mookse was not amused, and the Gripes was painfully oblivious.
— I see, she sighed. They are menhirs.
And the wind rustled the reeds by the riverbank and shades began to grow and gather in the gloaming and it was getting as gloomy as gloom could be. The river was soon a uniform brown. The Mookse had a ‘sound eyes right but he would not all hear’ and the Gripes had ‘light ears left yet he could but ill see.’ And the Mookse ceased. And the Gripes ceased. And dusk crept up on both of them. Yet the Mookse still pondered on all the profound thoughts he would pronounce on the morrow and the Gripes still thought of all the scrapes he would escape if by grace he had luck enough.
It was dusk. How it was dusk! From valley to plain was a veil of dew. It was so dusk the ‘tears of night’ began to fall, for the skies were weeping, as we weep with them now. And there came down to one bank of the river a woman and she gathered up the Mookse where he was spread and carried him away with her to her little home, for he was the holy, sacred and solemn spit of her bishop's apron. And down to the other bank there came another woman and, as he was exactly alike to her handkerchief, she plucked down the Gripes from his limb and carried him away to her little home. And the Mookse ‘had reason’ and the Gripes ‘got wrong’. And there was left then only an elm tree and a stone. And Nuvoletta, a lass.
Nuvoletta reflected for the last time in her short life and she made up all her drifting minds at once. She cancelled all her engagements. She climbed over the stairs. She gave a tiny stifled cry. A nightdress fluttered. She was gone. And into the river there fell a tear, a single tear, the loveliest of all tears;, for it was a ‘leap-tear.’ And the river tripped on, unable to stay.
The fable ended, Shaun reverts to a more formal approach in answering the question (which by now we must all have forgotten), subjecting it to various kinds of analysis. He claims to love and admire Shem (that Shem is the beggar spoken of in the verse in question is obvious) but at the same time he wishes that he would remove himself off to a remote rock somewhere. To Inaccessible maybe, in the middle of the ocean, where he could experience a change of ideas. He tries pithily to summarise his thinking for the umpteenth time into a single maxim proving, he hopes, his point absolutely: ‘I cannot now have or nothave a piece of cheeps in your pocket at the same time and with the same manners as you can now nothalf or half the cheek apiece I've in mind.’
Speaking of cheese reminds him of his favourite subject, food. He is only too happy to illustrate his thinking in food metaphors, casting himself as ‘Burrus’ (the best butter) and Shem as ‘Caseous’ (some smelly cheese), and Issy as ‘M’ (margarine). Having spoken of their interactions with another individual (making a trio of the twosome) called ‘Antonius’, Shaun draws his usual conclusion: the situation, with M. eloping with A., spurning B. and C., is comparable to the talis-qualis set-up, an x being to y as y is to z sort of thing. Which is why, he explains, coming at last, at long last, to his point, any blasted fool of a brother one cares to mention may be one thing in one way and another thing in a different way and whatever you like, but that will not stop him from appearing in his eyes as a ‘boosted blasted bleating blatant bloaten blasphorus blesphorous idiot.’
Shaun concludes his long-winded response by reiterating his original reaction. No! He is afraid he would not. Sentiment aside, friendship aside, family aside, all things aside, though he hates to say it, say it he must. He would not. No!
12. C Shem
The words of the twelfth and last question, ‘Sacer esto?’, derive from the condemnatory clause in a provision in the Roman Law of the XII tables, foreshadowed at the end of the eleventh question. Tradition dates it 451-450 BC and it reads: Patronus si clienti fraudem fecerit, sacer esto: if the patron abuses the client, let him be accursed.
As this is Shem's question, Shaun must answer in the voice of Shem. So he does: Semus sumus, one meaning of which is ‘we are Shem.’
These four words, though seemingly straightforward Latin, are among the most ambivalent in the Wake. Yet, despite the mutually contradictory interpretations possible, the root message is clear. If, taking our cue from the confusion of questioner and answerer, we reverse the order of the phrases, and if we recall that it might be brother, father, or son speaking to brother, son, or father, we may read:
— Are we the same?
— You are accursed!