September 13, 2004

Latmus Test

Two more Wharton-related entries, but I can only come up with a pun for one, so it gets pride of place.

(1) In two consecutive Edith Wharton stories in Tales of Men and Ghosts, the adjective "Latmian" occurs--in the "Daunt Diana" someone speaks of the titular statue giving a collector "the Latmian kiss," and in "His Father's Son" a businessman's more refined and handsomer son is described as "as if the boy had been a changeling, child of a Latmian night." Latmus apparently is a mountain in Greece with some mythological significance, but can anyone explain more exactly what that means?

(2) From "Afterward" (same volume):

"You mean that he tried to kill himself, and failed? And tried again?" "Oh, he didn't have to try again."

If we were looking for clean, precise, and widely agreed upon beliefs in philosophy, I'd think that maybe the belief that someone who does something intentionally has tried to do it would count (Jennifer Hornsby argues this in Actions; I think Brian O'Shaughnessy influenced her; and perhaps people working on action theory will jump down my throat on this, or other people will argue that it's not widely enough considered to be widely agreed upon.) Here we have a denial that someone who succeeds at something has tried to do it. But I think the extra stress on "try" may indicate that this utterance is meant to be read as "He didn't merely try, he succeeded." So we may have a case where Gricean factors make acceptable a statement that's flat false--as DeRose points out somewhere, these should be less common than cases in which Gricean factors make unacceptable a statement that's plain true, but they can happen.

Posted by Matt Weiner at September 13, 2004 12:26 PM

Via Google, I found a Victorian painting of "Endymnion on Latmos" and the information that Endymion was an extremely handsome shepherd with whom the moon goddess was in love. Skipping a little: he wound up perpetually young but perpetually asleep on Latmos, where she would descend to kiss him.

Posted by: matt's mom at September 13, 2004 01:25 PM

Also, in Keats' version of the story, Endymion's quest after Selene is the artist's (or lover's, or mankind's?) attempt to transcend the earthbound world. I think.
Diana has something to do with Selene, too, though I can't remember exactly what it is. Did the Romans identify them? Or associate them? So that fits the first Wharton allusion.
I love Edith Wharton.

Posted by: Jamie at September 16, 2004 06:32 PM