UMBERTO ECO : THE PRAGUE CEMETERY
T H E P R A G U E C E M E T E R Y
A L SO B Y U M B E R T O E C O
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
The Island of the Day Before
The Name of the Rose
Postscript to The Name of the Rose
Confessions of a Young Novelist
The Infinity of Lists
History of Beauty
Turning Back the Clock
Five Moral Pieces
Kant and the Platypus
How to Travel with a Salmon
Six Walks in the Fictional Woods
Travels in Hyperreality
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language
A Theory of Semiotics
The Open Work
U M B E R T O E C O
T H E P R A G U E
C E M E T E R Y
Translated from the Italian by
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT
Boston • New York
First American edition
Copyright © 2010 RCS Libri S.p.A.
English translation copyright © 2010 by Richard Dixon
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
[Cimitero di Praga. English]
The Prague cemetery / Umberto Eco ;
translated from the Italian by Richard Dixon. — 1st American ed.
ISBN 978-0-547-57753-1 (hardback)
I. Dixon, Richard. II. Title.
Book design by Melissa Lotfy
Printed in the United States of America
DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This book was originally published in Italian with the title Il Cimitero di Praga.
1. A Passerby on that Gray Morning
2. Who Am I?
3. Chez Magny
4. In My Grandfather's Day
5. Simonino the Carbonaro
6. Serving the Secret Service
7. With the Thousand
8. The Ercole
10. Dalla Piccola Perplexed
12. A Night in Prague
13. Dalla Piccola Says He Is Not Dalla Piccola
15. Dalla Piccola Redivivus
17. The Days of the Commune
18. The Protocols
19. Osman Bey
22. The Devil in the Nineteenth Century
23. Twelve Years Well Spent
24. A Night Mass
25. Sorting Matters Out
26. The Final Solution
27. Diary Cut Short
Useless Learned Explanations
Since these episodes are necessary, indeed form a central part of any historical account, we have included the execution of one hundred citizens hanged in the public square, two friars burned alive, and the appearance of a comet - all descriptions that are worth a hundred tournaments and have the merit of diverting the reader's mind as much as possible from the principal action.
— CARLO TENCA, La ca' dei cani, 1840
T H E P R A G U E C E M E T E R Y
A PASSERBY ON THAT GRAY MORNING
A passerby on that gray morning in March 1897, crossing, at his own risk and peril, place Maubert, or the Maub, as it was known in criminal circles (formerly a center of university life in the Middle Ages, when students flocked there from the Faculty of Arts in Vicus Stramineus, or rue du Fouarre, and later a place of execution for apostles of free thought such as Étienne Dolet), would have found himself in one of the few spots in Paris spared from Baron Haussmann's devastations, amid a tangle of malodorous alleys, sliced in two by the course of the Bièvre, which still emerged here, flowing out from the bowels of the metropolis, where it had long been confined, before emptying feverish, gasping and verminous into the nearby Seine. From place Maubert, already scarred by boulevard Saint-Germain, a web of narrow lanes still branched off, such as rue Maître-Albert, rue Saint-Séverin, rue Galande, rue de la Bûcherie, rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, as far as rue de la Huchette, littered with filthy hotels generally run by Auvergnat hoteliers of legendary cupidity, who demanded one franc for the first night and forty centimes thereafter (plus twenty sous if you wanted a sheet).
If he were to turn into what was later to become rue Sauton but was then still rue d'Amboise, about halfway along the street, between a brothel masquerading as a brasserie and a tavern that served dinner with foul wine for two sous (cheap even then, but all that was affordable to students from the nearby Sorbonne), he would have found an impasse, or blind alley, which by that time was called impasse Maubert, but up to 1865 had been called cul-desac d'Amboise, and years earlier had housed a tapis-franc(in underworld slang, a tavern, a hostelry of ill fame, usually run by an ex-convict, and the haunt of felons just released from jail), and was also notorious because in the eighteenth century there had stood here the laboratory of three celebrated women poisoners, found one day asphyxiated by the deadly substances they were distilling on their stoves.
At the end of that alleyway, quite inconspicuous, was the window of a junk shop that a faded sign extolled as Brocantage de Qualité—a window whose glass was covered by such a thick layer of dust that it was hard to see the goods on display or the interior, each pane being little more than twenty centimeters square, all held together by a wooden frame. Beside the window he would have seen a door, always shut, and a notice beside the bell pull announcing that the proprietor was temporarily absent.
But if, as rarely happened, the door was open, anyone entering would have been able to make out, in the half-light illuminating that dingy hovel, arranged on a few precarious shelves and several equally unsteady tables, a jumble of objects that, though attractive at first sight, would on closer inspection have turned out to be totally unsuitable for any honest commercial trade, even if they were to be offered at knock-down prices. They included a pair of fire dogs that would have disgraced any hearth, a pendulum clock in flaking blue enamel, cushions once perhaps embroidered in bright colors, vase stands with chipped ceramic putti, small wobbly tables of indeterminate style, a rusty iron visiting-card holder, indefinable pokerwork boxes, hideous mother-of-pearl fans decorated with Chinese designs, a necklace that might have been amber, two white felt slippers with buckles encrusted with Irish diamantes, a chipped bust of Napoleon, butterflies under crazed glass, multicolored marble fruit under a once transparent bell, coconut shells, old albums with mediocre watercolors of flowers, a framed daguerreotype (which even then hardly seemed old)—so if someone, taking a perverse fancy to one of those shameful remnants of past distraints on the possessions of destitute families, and finding himself in front of the highly suspicious proprietor, had asked the price, he would have heard a figure that would have deterred even the most eccentric collector of antiquarian teratology.
And if the visitor, by virtue of some special permission, had continued on through a second door, separating the inside of the shop from the upper floors of the building, and had climbed one of those
Returning to the first room, the visitor would have made out an elderly figure wrapped in a dressing gown, sitting at a table in front of the only window, through which filtered what little light illuminated the alleyway, who, from what he would have been able to glimpse over that man's shoulders, was writing what we are about to read, and which the Narrator will summarize from time to time, so as not to unduly bore the Reader.
Nor should the Reader expect the Narrator to reveal, to his surprise, that this figure is someone already named, since (this being the very beginning of the story) no one has yet been named. And the Narrator himself does not yet know who the mysterious writer is, proposing to find this out (together with the Reader) while both of us look on inquisitively and follow what he is noting down on those sheets of paper.
WHO AM I?
24th March 1897
I feel a certain embarrassment as I settle down here to write, as if I were baring my soul, at the command of — no, by God, let us say on the advice of — a German Jew (or Austrian, though it's all the same). Who am I? Perhaps it is better to ask me about my passions, rather than what I've done in my life. Whom do I love? No one comes to mind. I know I love good food: just the name Tour d'Argent makes me quiver all over. Is that love?
Whom do I hate? I could say the Jews, but the fact that I am yielding so compliantly to the suggestions of that Austrian (or German) doctor suggests I have nothing against the damned Jews.
All I know about the Jews is what my grandfather taught me. "They are the most godless people," he used to say. "They start off from the idea that good must happen here, not beyond the grave. Therefore they work only for the conquest of this world."
My childhood years were soured by their specter. My grandfather described those eyes that spy on you, so false as to turn you pale, those unctuous smiles, those hyena lips over bared teeth, those heavy, polluted, brutish looks, those restless creases between nose and lips, wrinkled by hatred, that nose of theirs like the beak of a southern bird . . . And those eyes, oh those eyes . . . They roll feverishly, their pupils the color of toasted bread, indicating a diseased liver, corrupted by the secretions produced by eighteen centuries of hatred, framed by a thousand tiny wrinkles that deepen with age, and already at twenty the Jew seems shriveled like an old man. When he smiles, my grandfather explained, his swollen eyelids half close to the point of leaving no more than an imperceptible line, a sign of cunning, some say of lechery . . . And when I was old enough to understand, he reminded me that the Jew, as well as being as vain as a Spaniard, ignorant as a Croat, greedy as a Levantine, ungrateful as a Maltese, insolent as a Gypsy, dirty as an Englishman, unctuous as a Kalmyk, imperious as a Prussian and as slanderous as anyone from Asti, is adulterous through uncontrollable lust — the result of circumcision, which makes them more erectile, with a monstrous disproportion between their dwarfish build and the thickness of their semi-mutilated protuberance.
I dreamt about Jews every night for years and years.
Fortunately I have never met one, except for the whore from the Turin ghetto when I was a boy (though we exchanged only a few words) and the Austrian doctor (or German, though it's all the same).
I have known Germans, and even worked for them: the lowest conceivable level of humanity. A German produces on average twice the feces of a Frenchman. Hyperactivity of the bowel at the expense of the brain, which demonstrates their physiological inferiority. During times of barbarian invasion, the Germanic hordes strewed their route with great masses of fecal material. In recent centuries, French travelers knew immediately when they had crossed the Alsace frontier by the abnormal size of the turds left lying along the roads. As if that were not enough, the typical German suffers from bromhidrosis — foul-smelling sweat — and it's been shown that the urine of a German contains twenty percent nitrogen, while that of other races has only fifteen.
The German lives in a state of perpetual intestinal embarrassment due to an excess of beer and the pork sausages on which he gorges himself. I saw them one evening, during my only visit to Munich, in those species of deconsecrated cathedrals, as smoky as an English port, stinking of suet and lard, sitting in couples, him and her, hands clasped around those tankards of beer which would alone be enough to quench the thirst of a herd of pachyderms, nose to nose in bestial love talk, like two dogs nuzzling each other, with their loud ungainly laughter, their murky guttural hilarity, translucent with a perpetual layer of grease smeared over their faces and limbs, like oil over the skin of athletes from an ancient arena.
* * *
I dreamt about Jews every night for years and years.
* * *
They fill their mouths with their Geist, which means spirit, but it's the spirit of the ale, which stultifies them from their youth and explains why, beyond the Rhine, nothing interesting has ever been produced in art, except for a few paintings of repugnant faces and poems of deadly tedium. Not to mention their music: I'm not talking about that funereal noise-monger Wagner, who now drives even the French half crazy, but from the little I have heard of them, the compositions of their Bach too are totally lacking in musicality, cold as a winter's night, and the symphonies of that man Beethoven are an orgy of boorishness.
Their abuse of beer makes them incapable of having the slightest notion of their vulgarity, and the height of this vulgarity is that they feel no shame at being German. They took a gluttonous and lecherous monk like Luther seriously (can you really marry a nun?) only because he ruined the Bible by translating it into their own language.
Who was it said that they've abused Europe's two great drugs, alcohol and Christianity?
They think themselves profound because their language is vague —it does not have the clarity of French, and never says exactly what it should, so no German ever knows what he meant to say, and mistakes this uncertainty for depth. With Germans, as with women, you never get to the point. Unfortunately, when I was a child, my grandfather (not surprisingly, with his Austrian sympathies) made me learn this inexpressive language, with verbs you have to search out carefully as you read, since they are never where they ought to be. And so I hated this language, as much as I hated the Jesuit who came to teach it to me, caning my knuckles as he did so.
* * *
They took a gluttonous and lecherous monk like Luther seriously (can you really marry a nun?) only because he ruined the Bible by translating it into their own language.
* * *
Since the time when that man Gobineau wrote about the inequality of the human races, it seems that if someone speaks ill of another race it is because he regards his own to be better. I have no bias. As soon as I became French (and I was already half French through my mother) I realized that my new compatriots were lazy, swindling, resentful, jealous, proud beyond all measure, to the point o
They do not like their own kind, even when advantage is to be gained from it. No one is as rude as a French innkeeper. He seems to hate his clients (perhaps he does) and to wish they weren't there (and that's certainly not so, because the Frenchman is most avaricious). Ils grognent toujours. Try asking him something. "Sais pas, moi," he'll respond, and pout as if he's about to blow a raspberry.
They are vicious. They kill out of boredom. They are the only people who kept their citizens busy for several years cutting each other's heads off, and it was a good thing that Napoleon diverted their anger onto those of another race, marching them off to destroy Europe.
They are proud to have a state they describe as powerful, but they spend their time trying to bring it down: no one is as good as the Frenchman at putting up barricades for whatever reason and every time the wind changes, often without knowing why, allowing himself to get carried into the streets by the worst kind of rabble. The Frenchman doesn't really know what he wants, but knows perfectly well that he doesn't want what he has. And the only way he knows of saying it is by singing songs.