This semester, I have the special treat to be learning Latin! Often, it brings me warm, fuzzy thoughts of sitting down with a young Christopher Marlowe, slaving away at Latin verse to craft a translation to fit his perfect iambic pentameter, but today’s homework actually reminded me of everyone’s favourite embarrassing cousin, Mr. Collins!
Translating “The Tragic Story of Phaëton,” I think of the Bennet family supper where the most delicious dish is awkwardness, served up by Mr. Collins as he continues to name drop his esteemed patroness Lady Catherine:
But she is perfectly amiable, and often condescends to drive by my humble abode in her little phaeton and ponies.
Learning Latin has been beneficial for learning the etymologies of words (and knowing the English words, I have the perfect mneomic device for future quizzes!). So where does the word “phaeton” come from? According to my [likely shoddy] reading, Phaëton est filius Phoebi, Phaëton is the son of Phoebus. His friends don’t believe that he’s the son of a god, so he cries to the heavens for proof. Just like Jane Bennet hopes to make it to her dinner engagement with the Bingley sisters in high style, so Phaëton wants to borrow Daddy’s horse…that’s attached to the chariot of the sun! While Jane nearly perished by water, Phaëton almost perished by fire, nearly setting the whole world ablaze (although according to my exercise, De caelo cadit Phaëton, he falls from the sky! O mala fortuna!). But I digress.
Back to Phaëton and his currus (meaning chariot, also where we get the word for Mr. Darcy’s preferred mode of transportation, the “curricle”). Just as Phaëton raises himself up to the sun, so does Lady Catherine like her “smallfolk” to know how above them she is; Mr. Collins feels that if he can attach himself to Lady C. just right, maybe he can hitch that ride all the way up to the sun. Mr. Collins has had his nose stuck in Fordyce’s Sermons, so maybe he does not know the lamentable end of the Greek myth (spoiler alert: he dies), but I hope that that Lizzy’s verbose cousin takes a breath long enough to heed Mr. Bennet’s sound advice:
…if I were you, I would stand by the nephew. He has more to give.