astronomical clock, Doug Dorst, Eric Husch, Filomela Caldeira, Filomela Xabregas Caldeira, grand horloge, greenwich observatory, history of longitude, Jen Heyward, JJ Abrams, prime meridian, Robert Hooke, valise, VM Straka, xebec
So the clock you’re racing – it has to do with Moody?
Jennifer Heyward – p viii
Jen writes the margin note above next to a list of Straka candidates posed by FXC in the foreword of Ship of Theseus. She writes it immediately to the left of this candidate…
The Canadian adventurer C. F. J. Wallingford
While this Canadian adventurer is fictional to us and real to the world of Eric and Jen, there is a a famous historical person in our world named Richard of Wallingford. He is well-known for his contributions to mathematics and astronomy, but he is most famous for his design of an astronomical clock sometime prior to the year 1327.
Eric and Jen currently reside in the city of Prague, Czechoslavakia, which is famous for its own ancient and still working astronomical clock (photo above). It is over 600 years old.
With these two astronomical clocks in mind, consider this anomaly that S notices in The Drifting Twins…
He watches the stars closely. They wink, they tremble, and he swears he can see them drift—as one might be able to see the minute hand of a clock moving. (p47)
This seems to be an intentional theme: astronomical clocks and/or clocks and timekeeping in general. Let’s look at a few other textual clues that support this. Please feel free to comment about your own findings.
Archimedes invented the first planetarium. He also wrote extensively on the nature of time. This may be the reason for the name of our fictitious friend Arquimedes de Sobreiro.
Robert Hooke is an important historical figure alluded to in “S.” He is the man who discovered cells by looking through a microscope at a thin piece of cork (sobreiro). He also theorized the nature of planetary motion and gravity. And, he contributed significantly to timekeeping…
Hooke made tremendously important contributions to the science of timekeeping, being intimately involved in the advances of his time; the introduction of the pendulum as a better regulator for clocks, the balance spring to improve the timekeeping of watches, and the proposal that a precise timekeeper could be used to find the longitude at sea. (Wikipedia)
Robert Hooke also helped design the Greenwich Observatory in England, which served as the primary source for accurate timekeeping for centuries. Martial Bourdin was an anarchist who tried to bomb the observatory, but accidentally killed himself. That act helped spawn the idea for Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent where we find reflection on the measurement of time. He is also mentioned in TS Eliot’s poem Animula. Also, in the S book-hunt-and-giveaway (known as S.earch – December 16-20, 2014), the first book was hidden at The Exley – a bar in Brooklyn. The bar is named after author Frederick Exley, who died before completing his spy novel titled Mean Greenwich Time. His ashes were scattered in Watertown, New York.
The Number of Pages in Ship of Theseus
The English version of Ship of Theseus has 456 pages – exactly 19 * 24. Nineteen is our favorite mysterious number in S, and 24 may represent the 24 hours of the day. Is Ship of Theseus a clock of some kind?
Prime Meridian Medley
The Greenwich Observatory sits atop the prime meridian – zero degrees longitude. This imaginary line that runs from North Pole to South Pole serves as the basis for determining longitude around the world. Knowing longitude is critical to marine navigation, and until the use of accurate timekeeping devices onboard ships, the more crude methods of astronomical observation and hours of calculations led to many a maritime disaster.
The prime meridian was not always the official, world-recognized launching point for longitudinal positioning. There were others – and many of those locations are found in Ship of Theseus. It’s almost as if we are given a tour of locations of the prime meridian without being explicitly told.
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Rio de Janerio, Brazil
- The Azores: The Madeira Islands – Jen mentions Sobreiro being real – and an incident happening in the Azores (p49). She found this information in the Nautical Museum database of Madeira. This happens to be one of the few places on earth where black scabbard fish are found – the type of fish S encountered after he leapt from the mouth of the cave between B__ and G__. As S leapt from the mouth of the cave with Corbeau, he had a sudden memory of corks flying on a New Year’s Eve (p197). Here we have sobreiro (cork) and time coming together. The tradition of dropping a time ball on New Year’s Eve began with the popularization of the time ball at Greenwich Observatory. A time ball communicated time visually over a distance.
- Paris (this prime meridian is sometimes called The Rose Line – for you fans of The DaVinci Code). On p361, we discover that Jean Bernard Desjardins and Signe Rabe were married in Carcassonne, France, on December 1, 1952. The Paris Meridian, or rose line, passes directly through the Church of St. Vincent in Carcassonne. Is this where they were married? On p422 we meet Tupp’s wife. Her name is Roselin. And as if to reinforce this thought, Tupp is translated by Jen as Swedish for rooster (p422). The Rooster is the national symbol for France.
The xebec, S’s ship (or the ship on which he is being held), is referred to on p28 as an anachronism on the modern seas. The literal meaning of anachronism is an error in computing time. And, as we all know, something strange happens to time while S is on board. He may feel he has been at sea for only a few days and discover when he returns to land that years have passed. S even has a determined conversation with Maelstrom about this phenomena on p211-212.
The Grand Horloge
Straka stayed at The Grande Horloge (the great clock) across the street from Deux Martres while Ekstrom was there in 1931 (p x11).
Filomela Xabregas Caldeira’s Final Days
There is a tantalizing possibility of double meaning in Eric Husch’s description of how FXC spent her final days according to Arturo’s letter (p414). Note Eric’s last sentence: Listening to music like she’d decided it was time.
S’s valise has so many references to time and our perception of it that it gets its own post, but here are some teasers. Osfour shouts “Time, TIME!” just before the valise arrives via Abdim. And when an assassin nearly kills S and kicks the valise away from him. The valise yawns open, spilling its contents, and in that moment, for S at least, time comes nearly to a standstill.
The Telegraph and Time Signals
The invention and development of the telegraph has many allusions in S. Sending time signals across telegraph, initially by wire and then by radio, was crucial to helping know accurate time. Calais, France, was an instrumental part of this development.
You have the difficult and unenviable task of locating yourself.
Stenfalk to S, p113.
The evolution of clockmaking improved dramatically between 1700 and today because it was driven by a singular purpose: the need to be able to locate yourself at sea, particularly your longitude. Knowing your latitude was fairly easy, but determining your longitude required clear skies, careful astronomical observation, and hours of manual calculations. For the most part, the margin of error in navigation was always large and often led to disaster.
The problem of determining longitude was so great that Britain created The Longitudinal Prize with a handsome reward to the person/group who could figure out a way to determine longitude accurately while at sea.
Out of this contest was born the rapid improvements in precision clock-making, particularly by John Harrison. Knowing where had as its ultimate solution knowing when you were. Surely this has something to do with our EOTVOS wheel. Perhaps it is as much a clock as it is a GPS-decryption device.
Much remains to be seen about how the metaphor of discovering longitude through the use of time might be a hidden armature for the discovery of the self in “S.”
What do you think?
In Season One of Alias, in the episode Time Will Tell, Sydney steals an ancient Rambaldi clock from Tunisia (remember in LOST, Tunisia was the exit portal from the island’s time/distance portal with the frozen donkey wheel). On the back of the clock is a date: 8/16/1523. Do those numbers look familiar, LOST fans? Once a disc is combined with the clock, it leads them to exact GPS coordinates based on astronomical observations and precise time. Rambaldi was able to create a GPS mechanism from a clock and a disc that contained a secret message. So if Ship of Theseus is the clock and the EOTVOS wheel is the disc with the secret message…