Monday, January 17, 2011

"117" in No Country For Old Men and The Road, Part 1 of 2

Soon after No Country For Old Men was published in 2005, a heated discussion quickly ensued on the meaning of the "117" in the Cormac McCarthy Society Forum, brought up first by Richard L., if I remember correctly. Most of the theories early on and even today relate to Biblical references, by chapter and verse of 1:17 in one book or another. I believe I still am the only one to strongly believe "117" is foremost a date, January 17. When the "117" appeared again in the next novel The Road, I became even more certain, just as others were equally certain about Biblical interpretations. Hence, on January 17 in subsequent years I have observed "117" on the McCarthy Forum. Today is January 17, and so it is only natural that I am my first blogpost on "117" in No Country For Old Men and The Road, product of a compilation of my scattered posts from the Forum, with corrected or updated senses.

The archvillain Chigurh's first name Anton is named for two saints by the same name of Anthony. McCarthy conflated the two Anthonys (whereas I confused the two Anthonys in 2005). St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of retrieving lost or stolen items, and lost people and lost souls as well. This attribute explains Anton's role as retriever of the drugs, and pursuer of the money and of the fugitive pilferer, and perhaps even the claimer of the souls of the underaged runaway hitchhiker and the hidden-away wife. (Anton's raison d'etre thus parallels Bell's as well as Billy's in The Crossing: setting things right by putting or returning people and things to their proper places. This sense of propriety, or justice, forms the thesis of Plato's Republic, a work believed to inform Blood Meridian as well.)

Furthermore, San Antonio, TX was named after St. Anthony of Padua, and the city is close to the location of the McCarthy's archives. St. Anthony of Padua is also the patron saint of the maritime: of sailors and shipwrecks and fishermen, of travelers in general. The early history of San Antonio, TX includes settlement by immigrant boat people from the Canary Islands. Canary Islands and shipwreck harken The Road because Tenerife, a Canary Island, of the shipwrecked boat is one of only a few proper nouns in The Road. "Tenerife" is the name of three different but related regions: The province of "Santa Cruz de Tenerife", which contains the island of "Tenerife", which contains the provincial capital city of "Santa Cruz de Tenerife". And the "cruz"="cross" is very McCarthy, as Blackhiller has noted that McCarthy frequently uses that word across his novels.

(In addition, "Fishermen" and "shipwreck" harken the first and last chapters of Suttree; "lost souls" and "travelers" harken the Epilogue of Blood Meridian. In Texas, the historic Camino Real de los Tejas runs from Nacogdoches (early border town), through San Antonio (capital of Spanish/Mexican province), to just south of Eagle Pass (current border town): the route from Blood Meridian to No Country For Old Men.)

The "117" resonance is with the other, more major, saint named Anthony, whose feast day is January 17, hence the "117": St. Anthony of the Desert, or St. Anthony the Great, is known as "the father of monasticism" because he was the first desert hermit to gather like-minded fellow desert hermits into a community (hermit community is oxymoronic) in the desert. (Aside: The gathering of men in the desert for a common purpose is also the activity of drug traders in No Country For Old Men and of scientists at Santa Fe Institute.)

In the desert, St. Anthony consumed only bread and water, and did so only after sunset. St. Anthony believed he himself was the first desert hermit, until he was told there was one who preceded him, St. Paul of Thebes. When St. Anthony went to the desert to find St. Paul, Satan tested him: Satan first tried to tempt him with women, and when that failed, Satan tried to frighten him with phantom wild beasts, such as scorpions, but notably with lions and wolves. St. Anthony finally managed to find St. Paul with the guidance of a she-wolf. When St. Anthony arrived, he was greeted by a raven. St. Paul told St. Anthony that he (St. Paul) would soon die, and sent St. Anthony to retrieve a valuable cloak. When St. Anthony returned, he saw that St. Paul had already died and that some tamed lions were digging his grave. (The wolf and the lion have a malicious as well as a benign side in the story.)

Note the parallels in No Country For Old Men: Llewellyn thinks of bringing water to agua-man only after dark. Agua-man expresses the fear of "leones, lobos"="lions, wolves" in the desert. "Llewellyn" means "lion", and Chigurh's antecedent character "Ralston" (which I only recently learned from reports out of the archives), means "wolf"; there are "scorpions" in the desert. When Llewellyn makes a return visit, agua-man is (presumed) already dead. "Pablo"= "Paul" and his men precede Anton into the desert. And, one of the meanings of "Cormac" is "raven", as told to be by Blackhiller.

Furthermore, St. Anthony the Great is the patron saint of pigs. One version of the origin: In 13th C. London, St. Anthony's hospital, founded by monks of his order, treated skin diseases, in particular ergotism, aka St. Anthony's fire. The monks kept pigs both for food and for treatment of the disease. The hospital's pigs, distinguished by bells around their necks, were free to roam and scavenge in the streets around the city. The association of St. Anthony with the pig is the source of the term "tantony pig", which acquired the meaning of "a petted follower" and "a servile adherent", according to The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language (1889), prepared under the superintendence of William Dwight Whitney. According to the Lexicon, "To follow like a Tantony pig" is "to be constantly at the heels of a person". A "tantony pig" in idiomatic usage seems to have taken on negative connotations: not a leader, but an obsequious follower, a whiner. In later art iconography, St. Anthony the Great would be depicted with pigs and with bells, usually tied around the tau cross but sometimes around the pigs.

Sheriff Bell is the tantony pig with bell, in appellation, character, and action: not a leader but a whiner, and a scavenger of wasted scraps left behind by others on the street. Though a bell/Bell hangs around as protection for the flock against the deadly St. Anthony's fire/Anton's fire, it is merely a symbolic gesture and offers no real protection.

1 comment:

  1. Arthur Schopenhauer was born at No. 117 of the Heiligengeist Strasse, at Dantzic, on February 22, 1788.