Possible source material for this detail is a traditional children’s play performed on Ash Wednesday in the Bavarian village of Fünfherzen, in which the protagonist is compelled to don the Belastunghemd, or “burden-shirt.” The origins of this curious play are unknown.
Eric comments on this footnote in the margins, saying…
No such town. No such play. No such word as “Belastunghemd.”
“Belastung hemd” translates to “burden-shirt” as FXC indicates. This is likely a reference to the Shirt of Nessus from Greek Mythology. T.S. Eliot alludes to the Shirt of Nessus in his poem “Little Gidding.”
Who then devised the torment? Love. Love is the unfamiliar Name Behind the hands that wove The intolerable shirt of flame Which human power cannot remove. We only live, only suspire Consumed by either fire or fire. What we call the beginning is often the end And to make and end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
Note the similarities in Eliot’s poem to our quote from Ship of Theseus…
What begins at the water shall end there, and what ends there shall once more begin
To further confirm the connection to T.S. Eliot…
- He wrote a poem entitled Ash Wednesday (see footnote)
- His poem The Dry Salvages “emphasized the image of water and sailing as a metaphor for humanity.”
I have never knowingly read T.S. Eliot until researching “S,” especially in this footnote. The little I have read leads me to believe that his writings may be a major source for the themes in “S.” Here are additional, game-changing finds on this footnote.