A ROSE FOR AZOR’S PAW.

I’ve long been familiar with the Russian palindrome а роза упала на лапу Азора [a roza upala na lapu Azora] ‘and a/the rose fell onto the paw of Azor’—I don’t know if it’s the most famous, but it’s the example given in the first paragraph of the Russian Wikipedia article on palindromes—but I had no idea it had any real-world meaning. Now I learn from yesterday’s gilliland post that there’s a whole backstory, which I am going to share.
When we think of late-eighteenth-century opera, we think of Mozart and maybe Gluck, but the leading composer of comic opera (which I’m guessing was more popular at the time) was André Grétry, and one of his best-known works was Zémire et Azor, which premiered in Paris in 1771 and was staged in Saint Petersburg in 1774. (Berlioz thought highly of it in the 1830s: “ces chants si vrais, si expressifs.”) It was based on the story of Beauty and the Beast, first published in 1740, and Azor was the prince who had been turned into a monstrous beast-like creature by enchantment; Zémire, of course, was the merchant’s youngest daughter who eventually changed him back with her tears of love, and as gilliland points out, the rose falling on his paw is an excellent symbol of that second transformation. He adds all sorts of further material about various rulers of the day and their joint attendance at a performance of the opera, but since he admits to tossing in some ringers (for instance, he says “they had all read Аленький цветочек [The Scarlet Flower],” but he knows as well as I do that Aksakov’s Russian version of the story wasn’t published until 1858), I’ll let people who read Russian go to the link to get his version. Me, I’ll add some interesting information I turned up about the names:

The names Zemire and Azor link Oriental to American slavery in French theatrical history. They derive directly from a 1742 comedy Amour pour Amour, which takes place near Baghdad, featuring Azor as a genie…. But these names, in turn, refer to and invert those of Zamor and Alzire, the heroes of Voltaire’s Alzire, ou les Américains, which appeared six years earlier and is set in Peru.
–Carolyn Vellenga Berman, Creole Crossings: Domestic Fiction And the Reform of Colonial Slavery, pp. 94-95.

I love these hidden threads running back through forgotten history.

Comments

  1. This post hasn’t got many comments yet, but I think it is extremely fun–almost as much fun as your recent post on sonica. I’ve been looking for some Grétry to try out out on Spotify and YouTube. Thanks for posting!

  2. Since you’re still getting hit with comment spam, here’s my post about Livefyre. I haven’t had it long enough to know how well it works, but for what the tip is worth:
    http://theartpart.jonathanmorse.net/2013/07/technical-well-milton-did-specify-a-good-book/

  3. Patrick: Glad you liked it! And yes, I’ve been listening to Grétry on YouTube myself—very nice stuff.

  4. I thought Aksakov built on the Cupid and Psyche tale from Apuleius. It’s amazing how closely he seems to have followed the libretto and yet his tale seems as Russian as the story of Peter and Theuronia or the Sadko and Vasily Buslayev cycles. These are all pre-Muscovite; Aksakov makes no mention of the time or place; the Soviet animation film places the merchants home in old Novgorod – anachronistic but sweet.
    BTW, “The Scarlet Flower” doesn’t sound quite right because scarlet is unavoidably a color of sin and carnal passions. The two diminutive suffixes scream against this interpretation.

  5. Sir JCass says:

    I like Grétry a lot. There’s been quite a revival of interest in his work in the past few years, so I’m not alone. Plus, the old Beecham recording of the dance suite from Zémire et Azor is a classic.
    There are a few other Russian connections. In Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, the old Countess, remembering her youth in Paris, sings a few bars of an aria from Grétry’s most famous work, Richard Coeur de Lion. This is just before her fatal encounter with Herman. And to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of Saint Petersburg in 2003, there was a revival of Grétry’s opera Pierre le Grand (about Peter the Great disguising himself as a carpenter and his love affair with his future wife Catherine).

  6. David Marjanović says:

    the Soviet animation film places the merchants home in old Novgorod – anachronistic but sweet

    …and possibly ideological in that old Novgorod was a republic.

    The two diminutive suffixes scream against this interpretation.

    Three: цветочек is a double diminutive (цвет – цветок – цветочек).

  7. “The Scarlet Flower” doesn’t sound quite right because scarlet is unavoidably a color of sin and carnal passions. The two diminutive suffixes scream against this interpretation.
    I agree; I was just quoting the standard translation.

  8. A little scarlet flower tale with the themes of Beauty / Beast / miraculous return to life may be a distant evocation of Adonis myth and poppy anemone flower?

  9. Interesting, and certainly plausible.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    From the following thread, which is now closed:

    “hocus est corpus meum”

    Hoc est enim corpus meum – “because this is after all my body”.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    From the thread about Woolf’s voice:
    I was probably wrong about Croatian.
    The lord’s inimitable year is simply [jɪˑɐ̯]; I could imitate that all day long. :-)
    I have yet to hear a native speaker use [ɔ] for THOUGHT; true Scotsmen probably do it… in my experience, Americans without the cot-caught merger have [ɒ] there, and Britons use something that’s very close to [o] or even reaches it – indeed, the LOT vowel of some Britons other than the aforementioned true Scotsmen possibly reaches [ɔ].

    By the way, does the word Umlaut in German ever refer to the two dots over the letter as opposed to the sound change represented by it (as it so often does in English)?

    It never refers directly to the dots; and people don’t generally talk about the sound change much. The common use is as follows: Umlaut A is the perhaps most common name of the letter Ä, and analogously for Ö and Ü.

  12. I have yet to hear a native speaker use [ɔ] for THOUGHT
    Well, of course you haven’t heard me speak, but I assure you a low-mid back rounded vowel is what I use. I have no cot/caught merger.
    My mother (born in Thuringia in 1919, but not a dialect speaker) called the letter Ä A Umlaut, of course pronouncing the letter A in German fashion when speaking German, in English fashion when speaking English.

  13. It never refers directly to the dots
    So what do they call the dots?

  14. They don’t call them anything, unless they are typographers. What do ordinary anglophones call the tail on J, the horizontal stroke on G, or the ligature between the two parts of W?

  15. Treesong says:

    But the tail on J is not a thing, and I would expect umlauts to be–they’re associated with certain -er plurals and suchlike Umlaute. Do ordinary Francophones not talk of cedillas or accents aigus et graves?
    And the horizontal stroke on G is the cantilever.

  16. What do ordinary anglophones call the tail on J, the horizontal stroke on G, or the ligature between the two parts of W?
    That’s a surprisingly illogical question coming from you. As Treesong points out, the umlaut dots are clearly separate; furthermore, they make an obvious difference when left out, and sometimes they are left out (which is how the whole issue arose); do Germans simply not talk about it when that happens because they have no way to do so?

  17. My point is that historically Ä is derived from A (specifically from AE), as G is from C, J is from I, and W is from VV, all by adding a little something. It’s true that the something added to A is physically separate, but the dot on lower-case i is physically separate too. In Swedish, where Ä is a separate alphabetic letter, it’s perfectly obvious that it’s not “A with something”.
    And indeed, one of the less-common names of Ä in German is Ä; that is, the word pronounced [æː]. In Swedish, I believe, it is always named so, but pronounced [ɛː].

  18. It’s surprisingly difficult to find any information about this. The German Wikipedia s.v. Umlaut says: “Mit Umlaut … bezeichnet man auch die Buchstaben, die im Deutschen zur Darstellung umgelauteter Vokale benutzt werden, also Ää, Öö, Üü. Umlaute werden in der Schriftkunde von den Vokalen mit Trema unterschieden, die identisch aussehen können, aber verschiedene Bedeutungen haben (zum Beispiel die getrennte Aussprache der Vokale „A“ und „e“ in „Aëlita“). … In der Schreibschrift gibt es neben den zwei übergestellten Punkten auch noch andere Schreibweisen…” From which I conclude that when German speakers want to refer to the dots above an umlaut-vowel, they call them Punkten, but it would be nice to hear from an actual German speaker.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    So what do they call the dots?

    Dots. Punkte. Just like the dot on the i (I-Punkt) or the j.
    (-n is specifically the dative plural, required by neben “besides” in the quote.)

    And indeed, one of the less-common names of Ä in German is Ä; that is, the word pronounced [æː].

    That’s the one I use by default, even though I don’t have a native /æː/ otherwise.

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