Marianne Moore: Poetry

April 29, 2020

Sick Lions and Apes

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 4:29 pm

Moore has one endnote referring to the title of “Nothing Will Cure the Sick Lion but to Eat an Ape,” –“Carlyle.” In the Marianne Moore Newsletter’s second issue (1977), I posted a query as to the source of that reference in Thomas Carlyle. The response was silence. But that was before the Internet.

Today, the following passage can be found in an article entitled “Some Account of Aelian’s Patchwork” in London’s The New Monthly Magazine, Part the First ([Vol. 64], 1842, p. 292. This anonymous satire on Claudius Aelianus, or Aelian, and his De Natura Animalium draws on that work’s fabulist versions of animal behavior:

”Passing over the spiders and the phalanges, we come to the wild pigs and the hyoscyamus, and the cure for a sick lion. “Wild pigs are not altogether ignorant of medicine and nursing. For when, by accident they may have chanced to eat hyoscyamus, they drag along their paralysed limbs to the nearest water, and there indulge in a feast of crabs. By this means they become free from the effects of the poison, and are made whole every whit.” “Nothing else will do a sick lion any good but an ape. But if he can but eat an ape, his illness departs at once.” Mice and ants, says our author, are true prophets. For the former are the first to perceive the impending ruin of a house—our Scotch neighbours say, of a family,–and forthwith desert their old habitations and go in search of a new city of refuge. Whilst the ants, whenever there is a prospect of a famine, lay up a double store of provender against the evil day.“

However, the author seems to be not Carlyle but Thomas Hood, in 1842 editor of the magazine. The clue is the reference, near the end of this piece, to “Squampash Flatts” in New England, an invention of Hood’s in his satirical “Letter from an Immigrant” published in 1830.

What matters, of course, is not whether Moore mixed up her Thomases but that she wanted her readers to know that the title had an origin beyond her own invention. Had there been an English translation of Aelian available to Moore, we might have seen a great deal more in her poems taken directly from it.

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