|The full stop after 'platterplate' is a mistake, added by transition's typesetters.|
Here's a letter used as a picture, on page 6 of Finnegans Wake. This E lying on its back is Finnegan/HCE, flat on his back after tumbling from his 'hierarchitectitiptitoploftical' tower.
In the sentence, the narrators ask us to look at the fallen giant. The sense is clearest in the first draft: 'He, a being so on the flat of his bulk, let wee peep at Hom, plate III'.
|from the Garland Press edition of the James Joyce Archive|
Joyce then changed 'flat of his bulk' to 'flounder of his bulk', 'plate' to 'platterplate' and the number of the plate to the E lying on its back.
We are being invited to look from above down at the giant's fallen body; at a plate, or illustration, in the book we are reading; and at a platter, a plate with Finnegan as a huge flounder lying on it. He has become the meal to be served at his own wake.
|A European flounder|
Here's the second draft, where Joyce has changed 'peep' to 'peepsee' and added 'weighed down upon' and 'see peegee ought he ought?' - directing us to the page where the plate appears?
With the fair copy, 'weighed down upon' was dropped, but Joyce added 'like an overgrown babeling', an image of him as a huge helpless baby, fallen from the Tower of Babel.
Finnegan is stretched out across the landscape of North Dublin. 'He calmly extensolies' from 'Shopalist' (Chapelizod) in the west to the 'Bailywick' (Baily lighthouse of Howth) in the east. The 'Hum!' is short for Humpty Dumpty and his humptyhillhead at Howth (which means 'head').
'The great fall of the off wall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan,
erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes' 03.19
Explaining the opening page, Joyce drew a plan for Harriet Shaw Weaver of his giant lying beside the Liffey, with his head at Howth.
'HIS TITLE IN SIGLA'
This E lying on its back was packed with significance for Joyce. Standing on its three legs, a capital E was his siglum (sign) for HCE. Here's a list of sigla he sent Harriet Shaw Weaver in March 1924.
Joyce's characters had so many different names that he needed sigla to organise his material. Over time, the sigla took on lives of their own. If you want to learn more about them, I recommend Roland McHugh's The Sigla of Finnegans Wake.
He'd already used the HCE siglum in the 1925 Letter chapter, paired with Anna Livia's siglum.
The E this way up is decribed as a 'meant to be baffling chrismon trilithon sign'. 'Chrismon' is another name for the Chi-Rho symbol – a monogram made of the first two letters of Christ in Greek. 'Trilithon' is a word invented by William Stukely in 1740, in his book on Stonehenge. From Greek ‘tri’ – three, and ‘lithos’ – stone, it describes two large upright stones topped by a horizontal lintel.
|Engraving from Stukely's Stonehenge|
'This adytum..is in truth compos'd of certain compages of stones, which I shall call trilithons, because made, each of two upright stones, with an impost at top.'
William Stukely, Stonehenge, 1740.
Stonehenge was mysteriously important to Joyce. When he visited the monument, in 1931, he said, 'I have been fourteen years trying to get here'.
(Statement by Mrs. Kathleen Griffin on the BBC Third Program, Part II,"The Artist in Maturity," 17 February 1950. quoted by David Hayman, A First Draft Version of Finnegans Wake, p3)
I'd love to know more about this visit!
Joyce's sign for HCE, which also appears in a hand drawn footnote on page 299, looks like part of Stonehenge with two trilithons.
In October 1926, Harriet Shaw Weaver sent Joyce an illustrated pamphlet about a supposed 'Giant's Grave' beside St Andrew's Church in Penrith. He recognised the grave as his HCE sign lying on its back. It was this idea that inspired the whole opening chapter of the book.
When Joyce wrote his second draft of the chapter, he actually drew the platterplate, with a massive E on it, facing the first page. You can see that he has drawn his E with longer lines at each end, like the tall stones of the Giant's Grave.
Joyce also identified the E on its back with the Chinese sign for mountain, which began as a picture of three peaks.
Joyce told Eugene Jolas that, 'time and the river and the mountain are the real heroes of my book.'
In a letter to Weaver, Joyce claimed that the Chinese word for mountain was 'the common people's way of pronouncing...Fin.'
HCE is 'a man that means a mountain' (309.04)
|The Chinese word for mountain is usually spelled 'Shan'|
In his letters, Joyce uses the sign as the chapter title. In May 1927, when giving clues to Harriet Shaw Weaver, who was trying to guess the title of the book, he explained the meaning of the sign.
Joyce told Cyril Connolly that the first part of his book was 'a kind of air photograph of Irish history, a celebration of the dim past of Dublin.' (The Condemned Playground, 1946,p10)
This is particularly true of the opening pages, where we are looking down on the outstretched form of HCE, 'interred in the landscape'.
HCE AS OSIRIS?
In their 'Chicken Guide', Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon associate the 'platterplate' with this plate showing the funeral Vigil of Osiris.
'If you peep at the above plate on page eighty-eight of Moret's Rois et dieux d'Egypte, you will see a depiction of the funeral vigil of Osiris (here supposed to represent HCE as an overgrown baby or a flounder fish being served on a platter.)'
Osiris was a god whose body was spread across a landscape - though cut into pieces unlike Finnegan's.
WHY IS HCE A FISH?
HCE is often a fish in the book, usually a lively salmon rather than a fallen flounder. As Robert H. Boyle argued, 'the Wake must be considered as belonging in great part, albeit a bizarre part, to angling literature' .
The fish in these pages may represent Christ, who was said to have fed 5,000 people with two small fish, and who invited his followers to eat his body in the mass. For early Christians, the Greek word for fish, Ichthys, stood for 'Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter' (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour).
Just as we're about to eat him, he melts away, though he is still visible in the Dublin landscape.
But, lo, as you would quaff off his fraudstuff and sink teeth through that pyth of a flowerwhite bodey behold of him as behemoth for he is noewhemoe. Finiche! Only a fadograph of a yestern scene. Almost rubicund Salmosalar, ancient fromout the ages of the Agapemonides, he is smoltenin our mist, woebecanned and packt away. So that meal’s dead off for summan, schlook, schlice and goodridhirring.
Yet may we not see still the brontoichthyan form outlined aslumbered, even in our own nighttime by the sedge of the troutling stream that Bronto loved and Brunto has a lean on. Hic cubat edilis. Apud libertinam parvulam. 7.12
Brontoichthyan - thunder (bronte) and fish (icthys), and the Brontosaurus and Icthyosaur, since this is taking place in the dim prehistoric past.
The Latin at the end has the HCE and ALP initials and means, 'here sleeps the magistrate with the little freed girl.'
He is not dead but 'aslumbered', lying beside his river wife, the Liffey.
Perhaps Joyce was thinking of this passage when, according to Ellmann, he told a friend (unnamed) that he 'conceived of his book as the dream of old Finn, lying in death beside the River Liffey and watching the history of Ireland and the world – past and future – flow through his mind like flotsam on the river of life'.
|A sleeping giant in the landscape, in an 18th century puzzle picture.|