Last week for Wondrous Words Wednesday, I learned about the word gnomon from this quote in “The Sisters,” a story in Dubliners by James Joyce:
Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism.
This week, then, I’m focusing on the word simony. The annotations of this volume of Dubliners are by John Wyse Jackson (who I heard speak a couple of weeks ago, Book Review: Stories for Children by Oscar Wilde and a Wilde visit to St. Louis) and Bernard McGinley. These notes quote the Catechism of 1877 by Rev. Joseph Deharbe to define simony:
Who is guilty of simony?
He who buys or sells spiritual things, preferments and the like, for money or money’s worth; as Simon, the magician, intended to do.
The notes add that Simon Magus of Samaria was a sorcerer who tried to buy spiritual advancement from the Apostles. I looked it up — that story is Acts 8:9-24. According to Wikipedia, simony is named for Simon Magus.
In the afterword of “The Sisters,” the annotators explain the significance of the three words paralysis, gnomon, and simony as being descriptions of what James Joyce saw as wrong with Dublin (or perhaps all of humanity) and hoped to illuminate and cure with his stories.
Joyce uses [simony] as a sign for many ‘sins against the light’, and tacitly accuses many of his characters of it….Exchanging love for money or status, betraying or buying friendship, exploitation of the poor, lonely or miserable, reneging on political principles, abuse of high office, nepotism, and many forms of pandering and hypocrisy are all covered by the term. For Joyce, it is no longer merely a personal sin; it is also a crime against society and against life. p. 11
Other characters in Dubliners are victims of simony and these can be described in images of paralysis like illness and imprisonment. Remember the gnomon figure from last week? It can be seen as a damaged or incomplete form. According to the notes, both those committing simony or victims of it are incomplete.
As the simoniacs have lost their ‘wholeness’ through their simony, so too the paralytics are incomplete by virtue of their paralysis. p. 11
Whew! It’s been a long time since I’ve worked this hard to understand what I’m reading!
Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion’s Weblog. Kathy says: “Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.”