(GJ) Canto XIX (p.7, ll. 24-28).

 A sparrow under the wheels of Juggernaut, shaking shaker of the earth. …. Aber das ist eine Schweinerei! 

The wheels of this canto turn on two axles. The second of these is an untranslated German word. Schweinerei translates most commonly as “mess.” Colloquially, Joyce, referring to his pursuit of Amalia Popper, might say, “But that’s a mess.” A mess is not the only way to translate Joyce’s condition. Another translation is “filth,” a more judgemental way of assessing a teenaged student’s pursuit by a teacher. The third possible translation is even closer to perfection. It declares a “scandal.”

“Juggernaut” has been reshaped by time and by distance and by language. The earliest application was from the Sanscrit. That form combined the suffix for “master” and “jagati,” meaning “he goes,” suggesting a potentate who strides the Earth. From the Hindi language, “Jagannath” evolved, meaning “lord of the world.” Both nouns indicate a title for a person, the Sanscrit noun being one sobriquet for Krishna.

The writings of the Franciscan missionary Odoric Pordenone first introduced Europeans to the word Juggernaut. The priest’s account of travels on the Asian subcontinent and the excerpts of his reports reused in The Travels of John of Mandeville included the chariot procession at the Jagannatha Temple at Puri. There, massive carts conveyed statues of the gods through the streets. Frequently spectators died under the wheels. Some worshippers threw themselves into the wagon’s path in a religious frenzy and were crushed. The press of onlookers may have pushed others under the cart. These reports caused the word’s evolution from a quality of a god to an un-personified and irresistible force (graphic literature notwithstanding).  

Is this distinction in definition merely a measuring of mites? Like the different possible translations of Schweinerei, the definition of a juggernaut as the irresistible force rather than a divinely powerful person makes a difference. It’s explicit in the poem that Amalia Popper is a sparrow who prays to God to spare her from disgrace. However, if the juggernaut is a force and not a person, Joyce may be another sparrow unable to withstand the scandal’s devastation that will result from a passion beyond his control.

don ward August 13, 2020

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