Did he bring his crocodile?
Portrait V, p. 279: This evening Cranly was in the porch of the library, proposing a problem to Dixon and her brother. A mother let her child fall into the Nile. Still harping on the mother. A crocodile seized the child. Mother asked it back. Crocodile said all right if she told him what he was going to do with the child, eat it or not eat it.
Gifford calls this a “famous conundrum”, but offers no origin for it nor any indication of where and when it is or was “famous.”1 Other annotators (e.g., Anderson, Johnson, Riquelme) have simply neglected the passage, instead eagerly identifying the Shakespeare quotation in the next line.
The “logical” answer (saying that the crocodile means to eat the child) depends on two questionable assumptions. The first is that the crocodile is honest. The specificity of the animal is important – it’s not a lion or a wolf – for the notion of “crocodile tears” dates back at least as far as Plutarch, whose readers knew the expression, and Lepidus refers to those tears in the same passage from Antony and Cleopatra that Joyce quotes.7 The second assumption is that what the crocodile will do and what he means to do are the same thing: the intentional fallacy. This dimension of the problem might well have been of Lucian’s making, and it is interesting that Cranly seems to tell the traditional Stoic version (“what he was going to do”) rather than the ironic, mocking variation from Lucian (“whether he means to”).
The Stoics in fact called this riddle the krokodeilites (κρoκoδειλίτης), by definition a kind of aporia or unsolvable problem. The aesthetic questions Stephen recounts to Lynch in A Portrait and the riddle of the fox in “Nestor” might be read as kindred problems, “verbal involutions” or “word-snares” as different translators have rendered Lucian’s characterization of Stoic philosophy.8 Joyce’s introduction of the Nile into the question smooths the way for his subsequent Antony and Cleopatra allusion and connects with the prospect of “terrible queer creatures at the latter end of the world” (P 212), confirmed by the worldly sailor Murphy’s example of a crocodile as one of the “queer things” he has seen (16.465-66), and of course that “harping on the mother” theme is significant, not least because in Stephen’s version of the krokodeilites, the mother is implied to be to blame for the child’s misfortune (she “let her child fall”).
As unlikely as it is that Joyce read this New York periodical, this version does include the character of the mother, perhaps itself a modern addition.
The conspicuously clipped syntax of Stephen’s paraphrase of Cranly’s apparently winning version probably demonstrates some impatience and more jealousy, and we cannot disallow the possibility that the “source” for this borrowing is not textual at all but perhaps a performance by J. F. Byrne, the model for Cranly, as observed by Joyce. The crocodile problem that we read in A Portrait is thus a muddy problem for annotation and attribution. Is Cranly’s version of the krokodeilites drawn from Lucian, or some other report of Stoic problems of logic? Is Joyce’s version a version of Lucian’s version, distorted or truncated by a clearly nettled Stephen and thus eliding the question of intention? This crocodile is not easily tamed.
1 Don Gifford, Notes for Joyce: Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1967), p.185.
2 Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982), 381fn. 2; Richard Ellmann, The Consciousness of James Joyce (London: Faber, 1977), p. 117. See also Dieter Fuchs, “Joyce, Lucian, and Menippus: An Undiscovered Rewriting of the Ulysses Archetype,” James Joyce Quarterly (2009) 47.1: pp. 140-6.
3 Legend has it that Chrysippus died of unrestrained laughter, but does not record what he was laughing at.
4 James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ed. Marc A. Mamigonian and John Turner (London: Alma Classics, 2014), p. 310.
5 The Works of Lucian of Samosata, vol. 1, trans. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler (London: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1905), pp. 200-1.
6 Lucian, Selected Writings, ed. Francis Greenleaf Allison (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1905), p. 115 n. 22.
7 Bloom is accused of crying “crocodile tears” in “Circe” (15.3218) and the phrase appears in Finnegans Wake (183.24).
8 Fowler 200; A. M. Harmon, trans., Lucian, vol. 2 (London: William Heinemann; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1919), p. 491.
9 Luciano, I dialoghi degli Iddii, dei Morti, ed altre Opere (Milan: Società Editrice Sonzogno, 1900).
10 “The Crocodile Syllogism” in Pleasant Hours (New York: Frank Leslie, 1867), p. 431. See also “The Crocodile’s Syllogism,” Somerset House Gazette, ed. Ephraim Hardcastle (London: W. Wetton, 1824), vol. 1 p. 51.
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