Chapter 2

The Dual Grip of Necessity

Baudelaire’s “terrible hand of hysteria” indicates that hysteria is driven by necessity. This is fitting, since the former is rooted in conflict, while the latter is dual, indeed in conflict with itself, inasmuch as it promotes life and death at once.

§2.1 The terrible hand of hysteria and the iron hand of necessity

In his drama of force and defiance, Prometheus observes that “art (τέχνη, craft) is far weaker than necessity.”[1] In the portrait of the saltimbanque, necessity has visibly overcome art, has driven the artist to a deathlike fixity. With envy and scorn he gazes at the world of the living from his position beyond life.[2] The poet understands his knowing gaze, and recognizes his own future in the motionless figure before him. His throat is stopped, his tears will not fall, as if in sympathy with a blocked and blocking womb. Voiceless with horror like Aeneas, he feels “the terrible hand of hysteria” gripping his throat.

This description of his experience is somewhat surprising. It is true that reports of horror and fear stilling the voice or taking over the tongue go back to Homer, Aeschylus, and Terence, and the idea that strong emotion, expecially terror, seizes one by the throat (or heart) has long been commonplace. At the news of the death of Patroclus, with the loss of the armor he had from Achilles and the danger of losing his corpse as well, Antilochus is “horror-stricken … . Long was he speechless (lit. Long did speechlessness grasp (λάβε) his words (or speech)), and his eyes were filled with tears, and the flow (or vigor, fullness) of his voice was checked.” Montaigne writes of “la peur qui serra, saisit et glaça … le cœur d’un gentil-homme” [the fear that gripped, seized upon, and froze … the heart of a gentleman] at a siege, and Pascal alludes to “the sight of all our miseries which affect (touchent) us, which take us by the throat.” Gautier, soon to be (if not already) Baudelaire’s friend, tells of his Militona (1847) that in anxiety “she wanted to cry out, but her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, terror squeezed her throat with its iron hand (lui serrait la gorge de sa main de fer).”[3] And nowadays one speaks of being gripped by, or in the grip of, hysteria. But before Baudelaire, did hysteria take one by the throat, did it have a “terrible hand”? The hysteric felt suffocated from within, not throttled from without. Baudelaire appears to have put the external grip of fear together with the internal blockage of hysteria to contrive the hand at the throat.[4]

Whether or not Baudelaire’s image is original with him, I propose that there is more to it than this combination. As a series of examples will show, there is another candidate for the possessor of the “terrible hand,” and that is necessity, or Necessity. Consequently the particular experience of hysteria suffered by the poet expresses his recognition of necessity in the figure of the saltimbanque, as once the suitors of Penelope were overcome in their own way upon perceiving the same feature of the world (§1.3).

To begin with, in the nineteenth century necessity’s iron or brazen hand was a conventional figure. “The brazen hand of Necessity (die eh’rne Hand / Der Noth) commands” Iphigenia in Goethe’s play (1787, first performed in public in 1800). “Cruel necessity with its iron hand (main de fer) bent Julien’s will” in Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir (1830). Balzac remarks in the second part of Les Illusions Perdues (1839) that “A man succeeds only when squeezed by the iron hand (pressé par la main de fer) of necessity.” In Dumas’s L’Orestie (1856) Clytemnestre tells Cassandre, “Quand la nécessité … / Fait sur notre destin peser sa main de fer, / … / Il faut bien qu’au niveau du sort le front se courbe” [When necessity … lets her iron hand weigh upon our destiny … one’s head must bend down to the level of one’s fate]. The same agent is at least implicit in Dumas in 1844.[5] Gautier, in his Notice of 1868 (the year after the poet’s death) to the Fleurs du mal, says of Boissard that there is “no doubt that, if necessity had constrained him with its iron hand (main de fer), he would have been an excellent painter.”[6] And Andrew Lang in 1880 translates from Theocritus the “necessity’s bond” (δεσμοῦ ἀναγκαίου) of Heracles’ hands as “grasp of iron.” Later instances are in Nietzsche (1881) and Hardy (1886).[7]

§2.2 Classical sources for necessity’s hand

Allusions like those of the last section presumably stem from such classical references as the following.

(i) Homer, although he lacks the metaphor, has “heavy hands” and many instances of “irresistible hands”—hands that compel.[8]

(ii) Pindar, addressing the goddess Hora of youthful beauty, suggests the possibility that necessity itself has hands: “You hold one person with gentle hands of necessity, but another with others [i.e. rough hands].”[9]

(iii) In the ode to Necessity (Ἀνάγκα, Ananka = Anank­ē) of Euripides’ Alcestis we read that the Chorus has found “nothing stronger than Necessity”: “Even the iron of the Chalybes you [Necessity] overcome with your force.” To Admetus the Chorus pronounces, “The goddess [Necessity] has grasped you too with the inescapable bonds (δεσμοῖς) of her hands”—because Death has carried off his wife.[10] The hands of necessity are irresistible and stronger than iron.

(iv) By “iron hand” (χεὶρ σιδηρᾶ) Thucydides means the grappling iron of a warship, which aims to compel.[11]

(v) With Horace’s ode 1.35, to Fortuna—a rather grand Fortuna, ancestor of the one of whom Dante’s Vergil teaches that “Necessity makes her swift”—we reach the metaphor at last, with bronze instead of iron. These metals are readily associated, as when Hesiod says that Death’s “heart is iron, and the pitiless heart in his breast is bronze,” using two near-synonyms for “heart.”[12] Bronze, of course, is the material of Homeric weaponry and armor, because it is hard, tough, and inflexible—Horace calls a clear conscience a “wall of bronze”; works of art are made of it, because it is durable—Horace’s poetry is aere perennius, “more lasting than bronze”; and it binds in powerlessness or death, as when Homer’s warrior “fell, and slept a sleep of bronze.” Prometheus too is bound with bronze (elsewhere called adamant).[13] On Aeschylus’s reference to the “bronze beak” of a warship at Salamis, Edith Hall comments: “Although the ramming fixtures were made of iron, ‘bronze’ remained the traditional epithet in poetry of armaments of all kinds, and Pindar even characterises bronze as ‘grey,’ like iron…!”[14] Vergil pictures Rage (Furor) as “bound with a hundred brazen knots behind his back,” and imitates Homer with “stern repose and iron slumber press upon [a fallen warrior’s] eyes.” Rousseau remembers Horace—“Let the ‘no’ [of necessity] pronounced [to a child] be a wall of bronze …”—and Chateaubriand, Vergil, representing the shades of the republican Romans as rising from their tombs, breaking their “iron slumber” to plead the cause of the old religion.[15] Thus bronze and iron are compelling, irresistible, and permanent, like Necessity.

The first and fifth stanzas of the ode run as follows.

O diva, gratum quae regis Antium,
praesens vel imo tollere de gradu
     mortale corpus vel superbos
          vertere funeribus triumphos, …

te semper anteit saeva (or serva) Necessitas,
clavos trabales et cuneos manu
     gestans aena, nec severus
          uncus abest liquidumque plumbum.

O goddess that rule pleasant Antium, mighty to raise our mortal body from the lowest estate or change proud triumphs into funerals, …

Before you ever goes fierce (or your servant) Necessity, bearing spikes and wedges in her brazen hand, nor is the grim hook lacking, and the liquid lead.[16]

To supplement this picture we have the opening of ode 3.24, in which Necessity’s nails are of adamant—after Pindar, who asks concerning the Argonauts, “What danger bound them with strong nails of adamant?”[17]

     Intactis opulentior
thesauris Arabum et divitis Indiae
     caementis licet occupes
terrenum omne tuis et mare publicum;

     si figit adamantinos
summis verticibus dira Necessitas
     clavos, non animum metu,
non mortis laqueis expedies caput.

Though, richer than the unrifled treasures of the Arabs or rich India, with your blocks of stone you occupy all the land and the public sea,

if dire Necessity fixes her nails of adamant in the top of your head (or your topmost roof), you will not free your soul from fear nor your head from the noose of death.

Milton echoes the double sense of “verticibus” in telling how Samson, “tangl’d in the fold / Of dire necessity,” cannot but bring the roof down upon his own head.[18]

§2.3 Necessity grips the throat

Finally, necessity grips the throat in Montaigne (if not earlier): of the avaricious man’s attachment to his savings he writes, “Il faut que la necessité vous prenne à la gorge pour l’entamer” [Necessity must take you by the throat for you to cut into it]. Florio translates, “Necessitie must first pinch you by the throat,” from which may come “Necessity’s sharp pinch” in the scene of Lear cited above (at n. 1.7).[19] Other modern images of necessity’s grip are in Wyatt, Johnson, Burke, and Hugo. The first improves upon Seneca with his account of the necessity (not explicitly so called) that confounds the ambitious climber: “For hym death greep’the right hard by the croppe / That is moche knowen of other; and of him self alas, / Doth dye unknowen, dazed with dreadfull face” (as of one strangled).[20] Johnson presents a suitor who, thinking better of his courtship, told the lady “that destiny had ordained us to part, and that nothing should have torn me from her but the talons of necessity.”[21] Burke speaks to citizens of Bristol of “things wrung from you with your blood, by the cruel gripe of a rigid necessity.”[22] Jean Valjean, “sunk in that night as in a gouffre” (see above at n. 1.12), driven on by he knows not what compulsion, holding back yet moving forward, finds himself blocked through no fault of his own: “He breathed freely and deeply for the first time since Javert’s visit. It seemed to him that the iron hand (le poignet de fer) that had gripped his heart for twenty hours had just let it go.” But when the way was opened again, “He thought he saw the hand (main) which had let him go reappear in the shadow behind him, all ready to seize him again,” and a moment later “The fatal hand (main) had gripped him again.”[23] Baudelaire praised Gautier’s poem “Ténèbres” [Darkness] and used the following stanza, which descends directly from Horace’s ode 1.35, as an epigraph to a work on Poe. It refers to poets not favored by Nature, who suffer “after the obscure life a ridiculous death.”

Sur son trône d’airain, le Destin qui s’en raille
Imbibe leur éponge avec du fiel amer,
Et la Nécessité les tord dans sa tenaille.

On his brazen throne, Destiny mocking them
steeps their sponge in bitter gall,
and Necessity twists them in her pincers.[24]

Here Destiny is Fatum (Fate), close allied to Fortuna, and Necessity may be his servant. The verb “tord” [twists, wrings] suggests strangling (tordre le cou = wring the neck), and the pincers are like an iron or bronze hand or claw: the bitter drink cannot be swallowed, as when the throat is stopped.[25] A tortured poet resembles Prometheus and Christ. Baudelaire himself writes of the sick at nightfall,

La sombre Nuit les prend à la gorge; ils finissent
Leur destinée et vont vers le gouffre commun.

Dark Night takes them by the throat; they complete
their destiny and go to the common abyss.[26]

Night plays the role of Necessity, putting an end to destiny.

§2.4 Necessity as dual, in her nature and her tools

The foregoing examples have made it plausible that our poet feels the grip of necessity. How does this agent bring on hysteria? In view of the conflict at the root of the disorder, we may look for doubleness in its cause. Perhaps it is no accident that Necessity has been figured by an image inherently dual, that of a hand. In any case, as conceived in the odes of Horace she exhibits a duality which corresponds well to the hysterical dividedness recognized in §1.3. After all, fate is naturally contemplated in its two extremes: “By an impartial law Necessity assigns the lots of the eminent and the humblest” (ode 3.1). In ode 1.35 she is the forerunner of Fortuna, who is presented in the opening stanza as two-sided, bestower of good and evil alike, like the god of Job: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”[27] In view of this characterization the title of “diva” [goddess] which opens the poem suggests divisa [divided]; indeed, the “vel … vel … vertere” [either … or … change or turn] calls attention to the V of “diva,” which has the shape of diverging paths.[28] In ode 3.24—where the quoted stanzas of Fortuna and Necessity each contain twelve Vs—Necessity is the similar “dira” [dire] (an r/w lisp would confound them); a few lines before we find “divitis” [rich], and in the same line as “dira” is “verticibus” [top of the head or topmost roof], like “vertere.” For Aeneas torn between conflicting loyalties (above at n. 1.27) Vergil chose similar language: “animum nunc huc celerem, nunc dividit illuc / in partisque rapit varias perque omnia versat” [his swift mind he divides now hither, now thither, and speeds it in various directions and turns it rapidly through everything].[29] It so happens that in etymology dira goes back to the idea of being in doubt, being of two minds; ignorant of this, Horace nevertheless had reasons both of sound and sense to associate the epithet with Fortuna’s doubleness.[30]

The hand of Necessity bears tools that are each two-edged, capable of both fixing in place and stirring up.[31] A spike pokes a hole in wood, and fastens it down; a wedge shifts or splits things to open up space, and tightens one thing against another; a hook tugs and moves, or else attaches things; and molten lead flows, burns, melts, and also hardens, setting around things to hold them fast. They are instruments of building, and also of destruction, torture, and death—opposites which unite in the notion of establishment in fixed form, whether of a dwelling or a corpse.[32] Then in 1.35 is Necessity a builder’s servant, “serva,” or a slayer’s minion, “saeva” [fierce]? Both words occur in good manuscripts and have seemed right to editors; both work well poetically. In fact the root of uncus (hook)—unc, or ank, ang, ἀγκ-, meaning “bent, curved,” as in ankle, angle (in the old sense of a fishhook, and also a corner), and ἄγκων (elbow)—may be present in ἀνάγκη (anankē), if the original sense of that word is “take in the (bent) arms, bind close, constrain”;[33] regardless of etymology, the poet’s ear would make the connection, so that his “severus uncus” [grim hook] could echo either “saeva Necessitas” or “serva Necessitas,” the former more closely in sense, the latter by more elements of sound. Perhaps Horace wrote one and revised it to the other. In any case, it so happens that the textual uncertainty nicely captures the duality in question. Likewise, the ambiguity of “verticibus” in 3.24 is between building and torture to death; and as noted above, the word is similar to that for the change or turn in 1.35—the point at which a switch occurs. With the reading “top of your head,” Necessity produces one of the chief symptoms of hysteria (above at n. 1.8), and in that way the fearful (dira) goddess fixes her victim firmly in the condition of fear (metus) and death—perhaps shameful execution by hanging, as when Telemachus settles the fate of the misbehaving women of Odysseus’s house, perhaps even suicide, like Jocasta’s.[34] With the other reading she puts the finishing touch on a rich pile, only to terrify its owner with finality.[35] In general, positive and negative are inseparable in Fortuna: “mortal” comes between “raise” and “body” (“tollere … mortale corpus”), “funerals” comes in the midst of proud triumphs (“superbos … funeribus triumphos”). She continually reminds us of “et in Arcadia ego,” as when dire Necessity appears atop the splendid buildings, or the rich man’s body (it comes to the same thing, his real estate is himself); the resulting hysterical condition of fear, of fatal entrapment, is again associated with the breaching of the boundary between life and death.

The essential duality of Necessity’s tools, and especially their usefulness on the side of torture and death, is explained in more detail in the appendix to this chapter.

§2.5 Contrary functions of Necessity: Parmenides

Recalling the sympathy of higher with lower (above, after n. 1.22), in search of necessity’s duality we may ascend from the Roman realm of worldly vicissitudes, with its powerful physical images, to the sphere of the mind. Although (to reverse the metaphor of ascent) “Greece and her foundations are / Built below the tide of war, / Based on the crystalline sea / Of thought and its eternity,” the diverging paths or contrary functions of necessity are evident in the very structure of things and the consequent fate of mortals, as laid out long before Horace in the poem of Parmenides.[36] There a goddess tells a visiting youth about the two “routes of inquiry…for thinking”:

The one—that [it] is, and that [it] cannot not be,
Is the path of Persuasion (for it attends upon truth);
The other—that [it] is not and that [it] needs must not be,
That I point out to you to be a path wholly unlearnable.


Here the subject supplied for “is,” etc., can be understood as “what is there for speaking and thinking of” (6.1), or briefly “what-is.”[37] The positive route is that of existence, of thought, speech, and knowledge; the negative, of non-being, of nonsense, silence, and ignorance. The latter is utterly rejected. As “the path of Persuasion” of and to what-is, the positive route is the way prescribed by a divinity that has several aspects, which represent “a complete spectrum from brute force to gentle agreement”; its faces, Constraint/Necessity (Ἀνάγκη), Fate (Μοῖρα), Justice (Δίκη), and Persuasion (Πειθώ), are “aspects of the modality of necessity that controls what-is, and of the same modality as it applies to the [positive] route.”[38] Necessity fixes the goal—

                             neither [its] coming-to-be
Nor [its] perishing has Justice allowed, relaxing her shackles [πέδηισιν],
But she holds [it] fast


                changeless in the limits of great chains [δεσμῶν, bonds]
[It] is un-beginning and unceasing


                                           strong Necessity
Holds [it] fast in the chains [δεσμοῖσιν] of a limit, which fences it about


                                 nothing else <either> is or will be
Besides what-is, since it was just this that Fate did shackle [ἐπέδησεν]
To be whole and changeless


—while the goddess who guides the youth to travel the positive route, herself “probably identical with one of the four faces” (likely Justice or Persuasion),[39] is firm in the “modality of necessity”:

you could not know what-is-not (for that is not feasible)


<I restrain> you from that first route of inquiry


(here “first route” means the negative one).

In fact the negative route is a delusion, a mockery, and a snare. There is no such route, in the sense in which the positive one exists. It is not a legitimate path of investigation.[41] Yet mortals, those of them at least to whom it is not given to visit the house of the goddess, which “lies far indeed from the beaten track of men” (1.27), will turn aside to it from the positive route: apparently it is in their nature to do so. “They make some progress along the ἐστι-route [the is-route, the positive one] but soon, without realizing it, they veer to the negative route.”[42] What is this but another compulsion, a counter-Necessity suffered by men? The goddess deplores it, but must acknowledge the fact:

<I restrain> you from that first route of inquiry,
And then also from this one, on which mortals knowing nothing
Wander, two-headed [δίκρανοι];[43] for helplessness in their
Breasts guides their distracted [πλακτὸν, sent adrift][44] mind; and                  they are carried
Deaf and blind alike, dazed, uncritical tribes [ἄκριτα φῦλα],
By whom being and not-being have been thought both the same
And not the same; and the path of all is backward-turning.


Like Aeneas paralyzed by two-headed dread (above at n. 1.26), they see and hear ghosts of things, confounding what-is with what-is-not. As “uncritical tribes” they lack the judgment that distinguishes (κρίσις);[45] they fail to articulate things, as one might fail to articulate words—speechless Aeneas fails altogether. Indeed, by a Homeric echo they recall “the Carians, barbarous of speech (βαρβαροφώνων), who held … the mountain of Phthires, ἀκριτόφυλλον”—which means “of undistinguishable, i.e. closely blending, leafage”; “with foliage massed together, so that the eye could not distinguish separate trees.”[46] The uncritical tribes, deficient in the logos that discriminates—“judge by logos,” urges the goddess (7.5)—are themselves like the masses of indistinguishable leaves: mere generations of men, not singled out like the youth, nor capable of singling out the true way.[47] Even Bellerophon, distinguished by Glaucus from those generations, when once he failed to differentiate heaven from earth, fell backward-turning from the sky and “wandered alone, … eating his heart (θυμὸν) out,” a hero helpless as a child.[48] The compulsion that sends men along the path of non-being destroys them. Parmenides would never call it necessity, but as natural fate it deserves the name. Nothing is more necessary than mortals’ tendency to destruction. “Just as are the generations of leaves, such are those also of men ….”[49]

§2.6 Contrary functions of Necessity: Aristotle

If thought is to live, one necessity demands the positive route; thought dies because another necessity turns the would-be thinker aside, driving him into the desert way. Undertaking to set forth the meaning of “necessary” in general, Aristotle arrives at a duality which subsumes this one. The root sense of the term, he explains, is “that because of which a thing cannot be otherwise,” and two applications of this are to be distinguished. The necessary is (1) “that without which, as a joint cause (συναιτίου), a thing cannot live; e.g. breathing and food are necessary for an animal”; or that without which good cannot arise, or evil be dismissed; and also (2) “the compulsory and compulsion, i.e. that which impedes (ἐμποδίζον) and tends to hinder, contrary to impulse and purpose. … something that cannot be persuaded …, for it is contrary to the movement which accords with purpose and with reasoning.”[50] Thus necessity establishes fixity of circumstances—what purpose fulfilled requires, what purpose thwarted obeys—and this fixity expresses itself by a duality of opposed functions: fostering and impeding. Necessity has a hand in respiration and expression, nourishment and enjoyment, thinking and knowing—in life, and the good life; but no less in repression and silence, aporia and paralysis and confusion—in death, which is stillness. It is the conflict between these functions from which the hysteric suffers; the clench which holds him powerless takes its force from the tension between mighty opposites. Their common origin makes it no wonder that the disorder appeared in the examples of §1.3 as death and life breaking in upon one another.

The power of this conception is felt in Dante’s Inferno, whose horror springs from the hold of necessity upon the lifelike dead. Fixed in their final portraits, still as the frozen figures at the end of Gogol’s Government Inspector, the souls exhibit the future as the past—and the past is eminently that which cannot be otherwise. They repeat what they became, in a grim interpretation of Pindar’s “Become such as you are, having learned what that is.”[51] This is fearful to contemplate: “As an unperfect actor on the stage, / Who with his fear is put besides his part,” we do not like to acknowledge necessity’s hook that pulls us off and leaves only the impression of our performance. The hysteric, whose anxiety prevents access to his character, finds a like fixity, as he himself repeats a symbol of a hidden feature—presenting a sort of Dantean shape as the symptom of sins past.

Appendix to Chapter 2: Necessity’s tools

The spike, Latin “beam nail,” appears in a common expression: “to fix with a spike” is to fix firmly.[52] At one time the Romans marked the year by driving a nail into the wall of the temple of Jupiter, and later thought the ceremony might relieve pestilence, even appointing a special dictator “for fixing the nail.”[53] We have already noted the binding adamantine nails in Pindar (above at n. 17). The family of images includes coffin nails, as in Baudelaire’s phrase “cloué sous la lame” [nailed under the slab] for the fate of Samuel Cramer, or in “Ténèbres”— the poet’s advice is to “let the last nails be planted in your coffin”—and nails of the crucifixion and similar spikes, such as the “piercing fetters” that hold Prometheus; Hugo imagines that hero nailed upon the skull of Aeschylus, while Baudelaire portrays Jesus with nails “planted in your living flesh” and thorns “driven into your skull,” and complains that “Anguish … on my inclined skull plants his black flag”—as a funeral train files into his soul.[54] It is not unlikely that Plato’s adamantine spindle of Necessity, the fixed axis of the universe, belongs in the same family; Marvell thought so, ridiculing one who, ambitious of universal dictatorship, fancied himself to embody a Platonic necessity that “drove the great Iron nail thorough the Axle-tree of Nature.”[55]

The wedge is similar to a nail—driven in, it makes its own opening; and if cuneus can also refer to a tapered connecting peg or dowel in building construction, it joins as a nail does. It was among other things an instrument of torture. In Prometheus Bound Power instructs Hephaestus, “Now drive the adamantine wedge’s stubborn edge through his chest with your full force.” There the victim is immortal, but the wedge was also used on mortals: Plutarch mentions this, even using the verb “to wedge” (σφηνόω) in the sense of “to torture,” and the instrument is in a list of torture devices in Maccabees. In Aristophanes’ Frogs the wedge is to be applied to Aeschylus’s tragedies, possibly to torture them. Wedges keep Marvell’s star-crossed lover from his Love, with a hint of suffering Prometheus: “And yet I quickly might arrive / Where my extended Soul is fixt, / But Fate does Iron wedges drive, / And alwaies crouds it self betwixt.” And for Dumas’s M. Bonacieux they are the very definition of torture in the Bastille: “ ‘Do you know what torture is? Wooden wedges that are driven in between your legs until your bones break apart!’ ”[56]

Besides the general association between the hook, uncus, and necessity and constraint, the uncus had a special connection to punishment and death: it was fastened to the bodies of criminals, for a purpose indicated by Ovid’s curse: “By the executioner’s hand will you be dragged, as the crowd applauds, and his hook will be fixed in your bones.”[57] Regarding Necessity as a builder’s assistant, some understand the word to mean a clamp which is set in the molten lead next mentioned in order to fasten a facing of stone to a core—a different kind of binding and fixing in final form.[58] The work of Necessity in our poem is to display “la misère affublée … de haillons comiques” [misery rigged out … with comical rags]. Here affublée, from Latin fibula, “hook, clasp, buckle,” can be understood to mean “hooked up,” a fitting expression of this costumer’s style.

The molten lead that sets around things to hold them fast takes on a sinister sense in Euripides’ Andromache. Hermione, eager to kill the heroine, threatens to burn her at the altar of the sea-goddess Thetis, in whose shrine she has taken refuge; but not daring that, she declares, “I shall soon make you leave this seat willingly: such is the lure (or bait, δέλεαρ) I possess to entice you. … even if molten lead all about you should hold you fast, I shall make you get up.”[59] The thought of burning Andromache perhaps leads Hermione to the notion of hot lead all around her, so that compulsion, torturing to death, and setting in place come together in her mind; she is thinking also of angling, drawing her enemy with baited hook up out of the sea-goddess’s cool temple. Torture by hot metal is explicitly proposed in Sophocles’ Antigone, when the guards offer “to hold red-hot pieces of iron in [their] hands and to go through fire and to swear by the gods” that they have not buried Polyneices; the Romans tortured with red-hot metal plates; perhaps following a tale told of the Parthians, Shakespeare’s Cleopatra threatens, “The gold I give thee will I melt and pour / Down thy ill-uttering throat”; and the Mikado recollects a punishment as “something humorous, but lingering, with either boiling oil or melted lead.”[60]


[1] The epigraph to the present essay: Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 514, trans. after Herbert Weir Smyth, LCL (1922). On ἀνάγκη (anankē, necessity) see generally Heinz Schreckenberg, Ananke: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Wortgebrauchs, Zetemata 36 (München: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1964)—a very extensive investigation. Cited below as “Schreckenberg.”

[2] Ross Chambers, “«L’Art sublime du comédien» ou le regardant et le regardé,” Saggi e Ricerche di Letteratura Francese, n.s., 11 (1971): 242–243. This essay is discussed in §4.2 below.

[3] Iliad 17.689–696, trans. after A. T. Murray, rev. William F. Wyatt, LCL (1999): Antilochus’s θαλερὴ … φωνή is checked. A thrown charioteer at the games suffers similarly (23.394–397), as does Penelope upon learning that her son is gone and his death is plotted, Odyssey 4.700–705: “Her knees were loosened where she sat, and her heart melted. Long was she speechless ….” See also text below at n. 5.20. γλῶσσαν ἁρπάζει φόβος [fear snatches away my tongue]: Aeschylus, The Seven Against Thebes 259; “lingua haeret metu” [my tongue sticks {cleaves to my mouth} with fear]: Terence, Eunuchus 977; Montaigne, Essais 1.18, in Œuvres complètes, ed. Albert Thibaudet and Maurice Rat (Paris: Gallimard, Pléiade, 1962), 75; Pascal, Pensées 633 (Lafuma), 411 (Brunschvicg); Théophile Gautier, Militona, chap. 5. Cf. Ovid, Tristia 1.1.43–44; Racine, Andromaque 5.5, line 1627, Athalie 2.7, line 621, etc.; La Fontaine, Fables 2.19.

[4] The phrase “main terrible” occurs also in “Le Calumet de paix,” i, published before our poem in the same year: Œuvres 1:243.

[5] Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris 4.4, lines 1680–1681 (cf. 4.5, lines 1707–1708); Stendhal, Le Rouge et le Noir, chap. 23; Balzac, Les Illusions Perdues, 2: Un grand homme de province à Paris, in Œuvres complètes de Honoré de Balzac, vol. 12 (Paris: Louis Conard, 1913), 292; Alexandre Dumas (père), L’Orestie 1.8; see text below at n. 3.7.

[6] Œuvres Complètes de Charles Baudelaire, Édition définitive, Comprenant les variantes des éditions parues en 1857–1861–1866. I. Les Fleurs du mal, précédées d’une notice par Théophile Gautier (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, n.d.; Notice dated 1868), vi. Gautier also speaks here of the “suffocation de terreur” [suffocation of terror] caused by Poe’s Pit and the Pendulum (xlix) and says that in taking hashish it can happen that “une angoisse terrible vous saisit à la gorge” [a terrible anguish seizes you by the throat] (lix). Cf. text above at n. 3.

[7] Theocritus 24.33; Andrew Lang, Theocritus, Bion and Moschus, rendered into English prose, with an introductory essay (London: Macmillan, 1889); the “iron hands of Necessity which shake the dice-box of chance”: Friedrich Nietzsche, Morgenröte [Daybreak], Zweites Buch, §130; “the iron hand of necessity”: Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge, chap. 36.

[8] The latter, χεῖρες ἄαπτοι, are attributed to Zeus, Agamemnon, Achilles (Iliad 20.503, Odyssey 11.502), Patroclus, Odysseus (Odyssey 22.70, 248), and Hector, among others. The root sense of the adjective is apparently “not to be touched.”

[9] Pindar, Nemeans 8.1–3, trans. after William H. Race, LCL (1997). If in this ode the idea of ill-treatment at the hands of necessity looks forward to the sufferings of Aias, it is interesting that he succumbs because he is “tongueless” (24).

[10] Alcestis 962–994. Cf. “Where can I escape my mother’s hands?” Medea 1271. Trans. after David Kovacs, LCL Euripides, 6 vols. (1994–2002). See also text below at n. 3.30.

[11] Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 4.25.4, etc.

[12] Dante, Inferno 7.67–96; Hesiod, Theogony 764–765 (κραδίη, ἦτορ). Cf. “I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass”: Leviticus 26.19; “ein Gewissen gestählt, ein Herz in Erz verwandelt würde” [a conscience would be steeled, a heart turned to bronze]: Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse [Beyond Good and Evil] 203.

[13] Horace, Epistles 1.1.60–61, Odes 3.30; Iliad 11.241; Prometheus Bound 19, 6. Homer’s bronze is ἀτειρής—“not to be worn away,” “tough,” “unyielding” (Iliad 5.292, etc.)—as is the heart of Hector, according to Paris (Iliad 3.60), and the spirit or might of Heracles (Odyssey 11.270).

[14] Aeschylus, Persians, ed. Edith Hall (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1996), note to lines 408–410. The Pindar reference is to Pythians 3.48, 11.20. Hall continues: “Aeschylus may be equating the battle of Salamis here and at [line] 456 with the heroic struggles of the Iliad by describing it as though it were fought with bronze” (citing G. Thomson).

[15] Aeneid 1.294–296, 10.745–746 (again at 12.309–310); Rousseau, Émile, Book 2, in Œuvres complètes, vol. 4 (Paris: Gallimard, Pléiade, 1969), 320; Chateaubriand, Les Martyrs, xvi, in Œuvres romanesques et voyages, vol.2 (Paris: Gallimard, Pléiade, 1969), 358–359.

[16] Trans. after C. E. Bennett in Horace, The Odes and Epodes, LCL (1978).

[17] Pindar, Pythians 4.71.

[18] Samson Agonistes 1646–1668. “Tangl’d” suggests “strangle,” and also “angle” (see text below at n. 33)—cf. “Thy bayted hookes shall tangill me no more”: Thomas Wyatt, “Farewell Love and all thy lawes …,” in The Anchor Anthology of Sixteenth-Century Verse, ed. Richard S. Sylvester (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1983 [reprinted from Doubleday, 1974]), 132.

[19] Montaigne, Essais 1.14, in Œuvres complètes (above, n. 3), 65. In Florio the essay is no. 1.40. The Arden Lear, 2.4.209, makes the connection to Florio in a note.

[20] Thomas Wyatt, second chorus of Seneca’s Thyestes, in The Anchor Anthology (above, n. 18), 168. Cf. the passage from Oedipus in the text below at n. 4.9. A climber faces fear too: “the art o’th’ court, / As hard to leave as keep, whose top to climb / Is certain falling, or so slipp’ry that / The fear’s as bad as falling” (Cymbeline 3.3.46–49).

[21] The Rambler, no. 113 (1751). The “destiny” of the quotation belongs to a theme of doom and fate. In another connection this suitor invokes Horace’s “wall of brass.”

[22] Edmund Burke, Sp. Bristol prev. Election (1780) Wks. III 368 (so cited in OED2 gripe, n.1); in The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, vol. 2 (Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1826), 222.

[23] Les Misérables (Paris: Ollendorff, 1908), 1.7.5, pp. 247, 252–253 (trans. after L. Fahnestock and N. MacAfee, after C. E. Wilbour [New York: New American Library, 1987]). Although this work appeared in 1862, our saltimbanque in his misère belongs with poor old Champmathieu: “On est vieux tout jeune dans cet état-là” [You get old very young in this trade {of “handling iron,” manier du fer}], 1.7.10, p. 276. Hugo had brought anankē, necessity—or, as he translates it, “fatalité” [fatality, fate]—into prominence in 1831 in Notre-Dame de Paris (Paris: Ollendorff, 1904), Préface and 7.4, and wrote in 1866, “A triple anankè weighs upon us: the anankè of dogmas, the anankè of laws, the anankè of things…. With these three fatalities which envelop man is mingled the interior fatality, the supreme anankè, the human heart” (Les Travailleurs de la mer, Préface). The poignet de fer occurs in Balzac and Dumas (along with poignet d’acier, see n. 25 below), and in Hugo, “Joyeuse Vie,” ii, Les Châtiments (Paris: Ollendorff, 1910) 3.9, p. 104; cf. Baudelaire’s use of poignet, text below at n. 3.31. Cf. “I find [Death’s] grasp turning every day caulder at my heart”: Walter Scott, The Antiquary, chap. 33.

[24] “Ténèbres” (published 1838), lines 67, 73–75, in Théophile Gautier, Poésies complètes, vol. 1 (Paris: Eugène Fasquelle, Bibliothèque-Charpentier, 1922), 192–193; the tercet is the second epigraph to Baudelaire’s Edgar Poe, sa vie et ses œuvres, Œuvres 2:296. “There are poems [of Gautier] … in which the vertigo and the horror of nothingness are revealed. Reread, for example, … the prodigious symphony called ‘Ténèbres.’ I say symphony, because this poem at times makes me think of Beethoven”: Théophile Gautier [I], v, Œuvres 2:125–126.

[25] Hugo writes of “les deux mains de fer du forgeron, une tenaille et une pince; la tenaille étreint, la pince manie; l’une agit comme le poignet, l’autre comme le doigt” [the two iron hands of the smith, a pair of pincers and a pair of tongs; the pincers grasp, the tongs manipulate; the one acts as the grip, the other as the finger]: Les Travailleurs de la mer (Paris: Ollendorff, 1911), 2.2.1, p. 287. Pincers, tenaille(s), as instruments of torture are for tearing flesh, but in Dumas hands for strangling are “pareilles à deux tenailles de fer” [like two iron pincers], and a “poignet d’acier … ferme comme une tenaille” [steel hand … firm as a pair of pincers] takes a soldier by the neck, stifles him, and pulls him in as Tobit pulled in his fish (by the gills, says D’Artagnan—through which he breathed): Vingt ans après, 2 vols. (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1967), chap. 20, 1:226; chap. 90, 2:381–382. The hand with which the Count of Monte-Cristo—a man of bronze with arm of steel, Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, 2 vols. (Paris: Flammarion, 1998), chap. 106, 2:709–710 (cited below as Monte-Cristo)—grips and twists a villain’s wrist is called “tenailles de chair” [pincers made of flesh] (chap. 83, 2:452), and the diminutive tenaillon has been used for the scorpion’s claw (1567—see Dictionnaire Historique de la Langue Française (Paris: Dictionnaires Le Robert, 1992), s.v. “tenaille”). Cf. “The [smith’s] pincers (καρκίνος, ‘crab’, cf. Fr. écrevisse) will firmly grasp the neck of the guest-eater”: Euripides, Cyclops 608–610. With Hugo’s iron hand that grips the heart cf. Spenser’s “A paire of Pincers in his hand he [Griefe] had, / With which he pinched people to the hart”: The Faerie Queene 3.12.16.

[26] “Le Crépuscule du soir” (1851–52), Œuvres 1:95.

[27] Job 2.10. Cf. the end of ode 1.34, and the two urns of Zeus, Iliad 24.527–528—a foolish error, says Plato’s Socrates (Republic 379c–e).

[28] Latin had capital letters only; u and v were both written V. With the V here one may compare the lambda that is significant in Oedipus Tyrannus, as when Λάιος (Laius) strikes Oedipus with a twofold (διπλοῖς) goad at the threefold (τριπλαῖς, -ῆς) point where a road divides (716, 730, 800–809). Before 403 BCE the Athenians wrote lambda as a sort of V with the right arm shorter than the left, like a backwards checkmark. In that year they adopted the Ionian form Λ.

[29] Aeneid 4.285–286.

[30] Dirus is akin to δεῖνος [terrible, wondrous, able]; their Indo-European root is dwei = “to fear,” which has the original meaning stated in the text and is related to dwo = “two”: The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, ed. Calvert Watkins (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985), s.v. dwei. (Divisa is from weidh, diva and divitis from deiw.)

[31] Cf. “A fetter (Fessel) has two functions primarily, one can lead someone away with it or hold him fast”: Schreckenberg 14–15; and see text below at n. 3.19.

[32] R. G. M. Nisbet and Margaret Hubbard, in A Commentary on Horace: Odes, Book 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), citing several passages “for nails and bolts as emblems of fixity” find them “sufficient to refute the old notion (seen, for instance, in Lessing and in Gray) that Horace is referring in this stanza to instruments of torture or violence” (394). I think it wiser to respect those uninstructed readers Lessing and Gray and allow Horace his ambiguity. (The references are to Laokoon 10, note at end, and Gray, “Hymn to Adversity.”) The same scholars also favor a conjectural emendation (aenos for aena, 395) which would make the wedges (or “dowels”) bronze, rather than the hand. This would affect the poem, but not literary history.

[33] Chantraine, s.vv. ἀνάγκη, ἀγκ-.

[34] Odyssey 22.462–473 (see text below at n. 3.21); Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus 1234–1264.

[35] Both readings find support in context and usage. It may be noted that the custom of driving a nail into the temple (templum) of Jupiter (see the next paragraph but one of the text) suggests the temple (tempus) of the head; the Roman custom derived from a similar Etruscan one in which the temple was that of Nortia, the Etruscan Fortuna; the custom marked time (tempus); wreathing the temples was associated with temple rites; and “temple” in singular and plural was used by Roman poets for “head” (e.g. Catullus 61.155). Cf. Hamlet: the “basket on the house’s top” from which birds (symbolizing secrets) fly (3.4.195–196) recalls the head from which “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below” (3.3.97). Jael nails Sisera’s temples in Judges 4:21. See the discussion in Richard Broxton Onians, The Origins of European Thought (Cambridge University Press, 1951), 371–377, especially 373–375. Cited below as “Onians.”

[36] Parmenides of Elea, Fragments, ed. David Gallop, Phoenix Pre-Socratics vol. 1 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984). References are by fragment number and line number(s). Cited below as “Gallop” when reference is not to Parmenides’ text.

[37] Gallop 7–9, 26–27.

[38] Alexander P. D. Mourelatos, The Route of Parmenides (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 25–26, 75, 160–161. Cited below as “Mourelatos.”

[39] Mourelatos 161.

[40] The conjecture “I restrain” is widely accepted. See Mourelatos 77 (note 7), Gallop 61.

[41] The imperfect V of lambda (above, n. 28) would represent the two routes well.

[42] Mourelatos 92.

[43] Recall anceps, text above at n. 1.26. Other such Greek expressions are noted in Mourelatos, 228–231.

[44] ‘Sent adrift’ is R. J. Cunliffe’s literal interpretation of πλαγκτός, the usual form of the word, in A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977).

[45] Cf. Gallop 12.

[46] Echo: Mourelatos 10; Carians: Iliad 2.867–868; leafage: LSJ; foliage: The Iliad, ed. Walter Leaf, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1900), note to line 868. “Barbarous” may here mean no more than “harsh” (Cunliffe [above, n. 44], Leaf) or “foreign” (LSJ).

[47] Barbarians, whose unintelligible speech sounds like babbling, “bar-bar,” are sheeplike, according to Alan Dugan’s “How We Heard the Name,” in which a Greek soldier speaks to them of “a man / named Alexander, whom / all of you ba-bas / will hear of as a god”: Poems (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), 36. The barbarians are undiscriminated and undiscriminating.

[48] Iliad 6.144–202; Pindar, Isthmians 7.43–48.

[49] Iliad 6.146–149.

[50] Metaphysics 1015a20–b6, trans. after W. D. Ross, in The Works of Aristotle, vol. 8, Metaphysica, 2nd ed., ed. W. D. Ross (London: Oxford University Press, 1928). See also 1072b11–13 and Physics 2.9.

[51] γένοι’, οἷος ἐσσὶ μαθών: Pythians 2.72.

[52] The spike is clavus trabalis (clavus = nail), the saying trabali clavo figere.

[53] Livy, Ab urbe condita 7.3; the dictator was clavi figendi causa.

[54] Baudelaire, La Fanfarlo, Œuvres 1:580 (see the editor’s note to the phrase); “Ténèbres” (above, n. 24) 108; Prometheus Bound 76; Hugo, Les Contemplations (Paris: Ollendorff, 1905) 1.9, p. 29; Baudelaire, “Le Reniement de saint Pierre,” “Spleen” (“Quand le ciel bas et lourd…”): Œuvres 1:21, 75. Lucian speaks of Prometheus as being “crucified”: Prometheus 1. —In Notre-Dame de Paris (above, n. 23) 7.4, pp. 222–224, Dom Claude rages for want of the magic word by which the blow of a hammer upon a nail would drive an enemy into the earth, then after a silence writes ἈΝΆΓΚΗ (anankē) on the wall (with the accent). He is prey to an inner conflict akin to hysteria.

[55] Plato, Republic 616c; Andrew Marvell, The Rehearsall Transpros’d: The Second Part (London: Printed for Nathaniel Ponder, 1673). The object of Marvell’s attack, who has written a Censure of the Platonick Philosophie, is suspected of identifying himself with “a necessity … pre-eternal to all things,” which “exercised dominion not only over all humane things, but over Jupiter himself and the rest of the Deitiess [sic] and drove,” etc.; he has “claim’d to [him]self that … Universal Dictatorship of Necessity over God and Man, though it were but Clavi figendi causa [above, n. 53], and to strike thorow all Government, Humane and Divine[,] with the great Hammer” (189–190). On nailing see the reference to Onians in n. 35 above.

[56] Prometheus Bound 64–65; Plutarch, Moralia 498d; 4 Maccabees 7; Frogs 797–802 (the foregoing references are found in LSJ); Marvell, “The Definition of Love,” in The Poems & Letters of Andrew Marvell, ed. H. M. Margoliouth, vol. 1 (London: Oxford University Press, 1952), 37; Dumas, Les Trois Mousquetaires (Paris: Flammarion, 1984), chap. 17, p. 206; cf. Dumas, La Reine Margot (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), chap. 58, “La torture du brodequin.”

[57] Ovid, Ibis 165–166.

[58] E.g. Nisbet and Hubbard (above, n. 32), 395. Vitruvius (2.8) recommends such a clamp in lead, but his word is different (ansa). Herodotus speaks of a stone bridge whose blocks are bound together with iron and lead (1.186); Thucydides, of a wall similarly strengthened (1.93.5).

[59] Andromache 257–268. LSJ understands τηκτός here to mean “melted, molten,” but in view of later uses of the word perhaps it only means “fusible.”

[60] Antigone 264–267; Roman laminae, see the Oxford Latin Dictionary, ed. P. W. Glare (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), s.v. “lamina”; Antony and Cleopatra 2.5.34–35, perhaps after the treatment of Crassus, Dio Cassius 40.27; Gilbert & Sullivan, The Mikado, Act II.