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The Atrementus Collection: Calormene Proverbs: a handbook for travellers

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The Cair Paravel Reading Room is delighted to present the third in our ongoing exhibition series drawn from the Atrementus Collection of books, papers and private correspondence associated with the Faun Tenvis, bookbinder, publisher and leader of our people.  On display throughout the month of Goldening is his most widely-circulated publication, Calormene Proverbs: a handbook for travellers.

Published just four years before Winter closed in on Narnia, Calormene Proverbs: a handbook for travellers, shows, more than any other publication, the value of the great craftsman's astute judgement in his battle to keep his business afloat while the commercial world collapsed around him. The original manuscript for the book, a lengthy academic survey of Narnian  proverbs, was sent to Tenvis by his longtime friend, the folklorist Alacrus, not for publication but as a rather absurdly optimistic token of friendship.  Alacrus had evidently supposed that the collection could circulate privately, as had other manuscripts only a few short years earlier, within the small circle of dilettantes and scholars scattered across Narnia, for their enjoyment and discussion.

This was of course no longer possible.  The Humans who had formed part of the scholarly circle had all left Narnia; the Centaurs had withdrawn from involvement in the wider Narnian community more than five years previously, to ponder at length the impending disasters written in the stars; the Fauns who enjoyed such debate had always been a minority, and of those very few were inclined in such uneasy times to indulge Alacrus' collection, as they saw it, of trivia.

Tenvis, however, saw not trivia, but commercial opportunity.  Alacrus had included with the manuscript an appendix offering, by way of contrast, one hundred Calormene proverbs, with notes on the culture which had produced them.  Tenvis persuaded Alacrus to allow him to rewrite that appendix into a handbook for Narnians attempting trade or settlement within Calormen. 

In the event, the Narnian community in Calormen was not to prove the most significant market for the handbook; its sales (as indicated in the change of title in this, the third edition) were primarily to travellers and traders from other lands.  As such, and through future pirated editions, it remained in circulation for many years, on the fringes of the Calormene Empire itself as well as in the trading islands of the Eastern Sea.  In the shorter term, and more importantly for Narnia, it kept Tenvis' business alive commercially, providing the essential support and cover needed for his later extraordinary work under the name of Atrementus


 Calormene Proverbs: a handbook for travellers: Introduction.

Calormen!  Truly a land of wealth and influence and unlimited opportunity - it is no wonder that from all parts of the known world merchants, tradesmen, artists and ambitious youth flock to its cities and settlements.  But to those who are newly arrived in that great land,  Calormen presents many puzzles, not least in its many proverbs.  For example:-

What does it mean, if part-way through negotiations, a Calormene trader murmurs:  Shall the gardener's child think amiss if the learned scholar lingers by his master's orchard?

Is it a positive or a negative outcome if discussion ends with: The wind blows, and the sand-grains scatter; the dune remains?

What is the intended message, when someone says:  The village well is still in the night - the poet sees the moon, but the fool his own reflection?

The answers to these and to many other questions are right here in this book! But first, the most important question of all…

Why should travellers to Calormen be interested in proverbs?

Because no negotiation, mercantile or otherwise, will ever be concluded in Calormen without the use of proverbs!  Proverbs are used to establish relationships, jockey for status, initiate, accept or decline proposals, and to bring proceedings to a close; if that is not enough, readers should note that the deft use of a well-chosen proverb could even rescue the user from a rioting mob! (See boxed text - The Tarkheena Visareth.)   

Most educated Calormenes will know several hundred proverbs; professional negotiators or diplomats know thousands, and will use them with great subtlety to manoeuvre to their best advantage.  It follows that every wise foreigner in Calormen, whether settling or visiting, will arm himself or herself with at the least an outline knowledge of the commonest Calormene proverbs and their use. 

The foreigner in Calormen is warned, however, against simply memorising and quoting the proverbs set out in this handbook.  The proverbs must be well-chosen, with regard to not only their literal and metaphorical meanings, but also their social meaning, and sometimes their historical and literary associations as well. 

* Textbox 1: The Tarkheena Visareth:

It is said that in Calavar, in the ninth year of Ilsombreh Tisroc, the Tarkheena Visareth through mischance was trapped alone by a mob of anti-tax rioters, chiefly apprentices and petty tradesmen.  She disarmed and dispersed them, unaided, by her use of two proverbs, saying first, "How true it is, as the poets have said and your own fathers will have taught you, that The courier's lash falls heaviest on the fleetest horse; and further, that By many such cuts is the Tisroc's Empire made whole and clean."

Both proverbs plainly threaten - or rather, give assurance of - future punishment, but the first, by mentioning a horse, a noble animal in Calormene culture, implicitly flattered the lower-status crowd, greatly lowering their hostility; it also implied that such punishment should be seen, so to speak, as compliment, and not engender further resentment.  The second proverb was the Tarkheena's own adroit variation on an existing proverb, By hard beating is the carpet made clean, changing it to maintain the established horse-metaphor, but also awakening fear in her hearers, by adding the suggestion that their local protest could potentially be seen as inimical to the Tisroc's rule, which would imply that they ran far greater risks than simple beating.  

(The more usual form will be found in Section VII, Proverbs useful for rebuking servants.) 

Social meaning in Calormene proverbs: Within Calormene culture everything - occupations, animals, trees, even metals - can be ranked in terms of nobility or ignobility; the hawk is called more noble than the owl, for example, the swan than the gannet and so on. 

Proverbs, therefore, will be seen in terms not only of their metaphorical meaning but in terms of the social meaning ascribed to their literal subject.  Travellers are advised to select proverbs with great care, for fear of unintentionally insulting their hearers. The occupation of fisherman, for example, is considered more ignoble than that of a worker in the 'noble' metals.  If any visiting dealer attempted to use the apparently innocuous proverb Wide-cast nets catch the most fish, when urging a silversmith into new markets there would be a very sharp response to the insult! More importantly, perhaps, the visitor's business proposal would certainly be declined.   The same proverb would, however, be no insult if used when sending a messenger to bring back reports of market rumours. (Section IX gives a brief listing of the degrees of nobility in several of the most relevant categories.)

In addition to such status-related meanings, there are several specific associations which are useful to know.  In particular, commercial or mercantile matters are very often discussed using proverbs with agricultural or horticultural associations.  The proverb a ground long in drought responds ill to sudden tempest, for example, has repeatedly been used in high-level debates to recommend avoidance of any sudden change in the markets, and as argument for keeping control of markets in the hands of established traders.

The proverb quoted above, Shall the gardener's child think amiss if the learned scholar lingers by his master's orchard? is another example of a horticultural reference covering a commercial meaning. In particular, this proverb should alert any settler or visiting trader who hears it to the existence of a significant tension in the commercial relationship.  The suggestion, though not insultingly stated, is that the person addressed is behaving in such a way as to give rise to at least the suspicion of dishonest intentions.  (The taint of discourtesy is avoided by rhetorically identifying the hearer as the 'learned scholar', while the speaker assumes the role of the naïve 'gardener's child'. Take care never to appear to accept these rhetorical devices as in any way reflecting reality.) 

Similarly, the horticultural associations of the proverb The gardener's perseverance brings forth perfume on the evening air make it a natural way for a merchant to signal for a time to pause in commercial negotiations.  The most usual and courteous response would be to 'cap' the proverb (see 'Proverbial games', below) with In stillness and in silence the judicious contemplate beauty.  Normally a short pause would then precede leave-taking for the night, or until negotiations resume.

However, travellers should be aware that proverbs which specifically reference fragrances or delicate fruits will also often indicate an amorous invitation.  In such a case the 'cap' suggested above would represent a graceful refusal of the overture; acceptance, if desired, would be signalled by the alternative response Who wanders in the garden will best enjoy its sweetness. (Note that reference to speed or to the desert wind can also indicate amorous intent.)

Reference to swords, knives or arrows very often indicate hostility.  Great caution is advised if more than one such reference is made in any conversation, and foreigners should avoid using any proverb which references a blade of any kind.

Proverbs referring to birds of whatever kind are frequently used to carry a coded politico-social meaning. For this reason, such proverbs are best avoided.

Proverbial games: 'Capping' or 'parrying' proverbs is seen as both an amusing game and an effective rhetorical tactic.  In times of relaxation it is pleasant to observe such verbal duelling, but foreigners are not advised to attempt participation, except in the most convivial of social circles. It is almost certain that local skill and knowledge would easily outwit anyone not brought up to the tradition; for settlers, traders and diplomats alike, the resulting loss of prestige would almost certainly damage future dealings.  That said, readers may find it useful to be aware of at least the following:

The common proverb quoted above, Wide-cast nets catch the most fish, is often capped by the addition and full baskets stink long; this does not mean rejection of  the proposal, but rather the need for more consideration before its acceptance. It is best not to attempt to continue to parry at this point. A non-committal proverb praising the discretion of all parties is the best reply. (See section II - Proverbs useful in ordinary commercial negotiation.)

The owl is a bird of discretion, yet the goose also may work well and silently. This proverb metaphorically suggests (the reference is to fletching) that an unlikely person may prove more valuable for a particular task than the person current holding the position. Varying cappings to this proverb range from when she has achieved her silence, implying that the goose must die for her feathers to be so used, the path of the skein is plainly written in the air, but who can foretell the flight of the owl? and, more positively, to the owl, the desert, to the waterfowl, the marshy ground. While these proverbs could well be used in a straightforward discussion of potential agents to be employed, the possible political implications call for great caution.

One exception to the general advice to avoid proverb-capping comes when a local associate or dealer uses the proverb Tomorrow is late to build the wall, when the raiders come tonight to urge an immediate agreement. This may be parried by The wall quickly built will not see two winters.

Next Section: Section I - Proverbs useful in establishing a new business relationship.