Cyprian Latewood

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Note: This is a work in progress. Feel free to offer pointers, surely. I saw a loose thread and started pulling, and pulling .... - and now I gotta run WikiAdmin 10:57, 25 March 2007 (PDT)


After Orpheus loses Eurydice forever by turning to see if she's still following him out of the underworld, he never loves another woman, turning instead to young boys. One of Greek god Apollo's beloved boys, Cyparissus, loves a beautiful tame stag that he accidentally kills with a spear. In his grief, Apollo turns him into a cypress tree. The Cypress was one of the trees Orpheus charmed. In Ovid's Metamorphoses:

[143] Such was the grove by Orpheus drawn together; and he sat surrounded by assembled animals, and many strange Birds. When he tried the chords by touching with his thumb, and was convinced the notes were all in harmony, although attuned to various melody, he raised his voice and sang: “Oh my loved mother, Muse, from Jove inspire my song—for all things yield, to the unequalled sway of Jove—oh, I have sung so often Jupiter's great power before this day, and in a wilder strain, I've sung the giants and victorious bolts hurled on Phlegraean plains. But now I need the gentler touch; for I would sing of boys, the favorites of Gods, and even of maids who had to pay the penalty of wrong.” [1]

The most important modern-age Cyprian was probably Cyprian Kamil Norwid, arguably the greatest 19th century Polish poet, an archetypal expatriot with a special relationship to Italy and the [2] Roman Catholic Church].

A possibly better known 20th century Cyprian (and one conceivably dearer to Pynchon's pulp-loving heart) is Father Cyprian, the keeper of the nine books of esoteric wisdom entrusted to the now-they-are-now-they-maybe-ain't-so evil Nine Unknown Men of Talbot Mundy's The Nine Unknown and The Caves of Terror. The topics of the nine books entrusted to these Nine Unknowns are also mighty appropriate to ATD.

"late wood":

the outer portion of the growth ring on a tree, more dense than the "early wood" which appears early in the growing season, appearing later in the season, usually summer. Wikipedia entry

Pynchon connects Cyprian Latewood with the Greek demigod Orpheus. When Cyprian arrives, with Reef and Yashmeen, at the convent in the Balkans (Thrace) (p. 956), he is greeted with "Welcome home." Thrace was the birthplace of Orpheus:

The name Orpheus does not occur in Homer or Hesiod, but he was known in the time of Ibycus (c. 530 BC). Pindar (522—442 BC) speaks of him as “the father of songs”.
From the 6th century BC onwards, Orpheus {ohr'-fee-uhs} was considered one of the chief poets and musicians of antiquity, and the inventor or perfector of the lyre. By dint of his music and singing, he could charm the wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, even arrest the course of rivers. As one of the pioneers of civilization, he is said to have taught mankind the arts of medicine, writing and agriculture. Closely connected with religious life, Orpheus was an augur and seer; practiced magical arts, especially astrology; founded or rendered accessible many important cults, such as those of Apollo and the Thracian god Dionysus; instituted mystic rites both public and private; and prescribed initiatory and purificatory rituals. Wikipedia

Now, it was said that Orpheus could even charm the trees, which is referenced in the first sonnet in Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus:

Tree arising! O pure ascendance!
Orpheus Sings! Towering tree within the ear!
Everywhere stillness, yet in this abeyance:
seeds of change and new beginnings near.
Creatures of silence emerged from the clear
unfettered forest, from dens, from lairs.
Not from shyness, this silence of theirs;
nor from any hint of fear,
simply from listening. Brutal shriek and roar
dwindled in their hearts. Where stood a mere
hut to house the passions of the ear,
constructed of longing darkly drear,
haphazardly wrought from front to rear,
you built them a temple at listening's core. [1]

More Orpheus-Tree associations:

Orpheus, the legendary poet whose songs could tame the beasts and charm the gods themselves, takes his name from the word for the alder tree. [3]
Hecate as Hecate trioditis was associated with the Mystery cults; Apollo in Thrace, Demeter at Sparta, and Hecate at Aegina. The divulgence of the Mysteries by Orpheus resulted in his death (Pausanius: ix.30.3; ii.30.2; iii.14.5).
The Elysian Mysteries derive from the cult of the alder tree (French sorb-apple = alisier; Spanish alder = aliso). Orpheus’ father Oeagrus means of the wild sorb apple. If Orpheus stands for ophruoeis or on the river bank, then it may be a title for the Greek Phoroneus or Cronus and refer to the alders growing on the Peneius and other rivers. Thus the alder, and hence the two entities, appear to be names for the pre-Hellenic river goddess Halys, Alys or Elis, queen of the Elysian islands where Phoroneus, Cronus, and Orpheus went after death.
Orpheus’s singing head is similar to the myth of the decapitated Alder-god Bran who (according to the Mabinogion) sang sweetly on the rock at Harlech in Wales. [4]

On p. 957, Cyprian stares at the icon of Zalmoxis and gains

"a knowledge beyond light of what lay within the wood itself, of what it was one's duty to set free...."

On p. 958, Cyprian apologizes to Reef and Yashmeen for staying behind at the convent:

"I know you were counting on me. Even if it was only for body mass, another tree in the windbreak. I feel that I just fell over and left you all exposed...."

Oxford University Press - Classical Mythology, 7th Edition

St. Cyprian's is the prep school that George Orwell attended.

Considering that Cyprian Latewood (and in a sense Norwid himself) is something like a Djuna Barnes character, the second name might be a variation on Nightwood.


  1. The Sonnets to Orpheus, translation by Robert Hunter Hunter Archive
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