Blood Meridian's first epigraph is taken from 'The Yalu,' a 1895 essay inspired by the events of the First Sino-Japanese War written by the French poet, essayist, and philosopher Paul Valéry. The words of the epigraph are spoken to a European Valéry persona by a Chinese companion regarding differences between Eastern and Western concepts of order and disorder.
In an essay entitled 'Paul Valéry’s Blood Meridian, Or How the Reader became a Writer', Todd Cronan explores Valéry's 'aesthetic of blood,' and throws some light on McCarthy's reasons for including the French writer's words as one of Blood Meridian's epigraphs.
Click here to read Cronan's essay.
The novel's second epigraph is taken from Six Theosophical Points, a typically esoteric work of theosophy written by the German Christian mystic and theologian Jakob Böhme (English spelling, Jacob Boehme).
The main concern of Böhme’s writing was the nature of sin, evil and redemption. Although some of his writing was consistent with Lutheran theology, he generally departed significantly from accepted theology, inspiring the 17th Century European Christian movement of Behmenism.
He would also greatly influence the German Romantics, who considered Böhme a forerunner to the movement, as well as poets from John Milton to William Blake. His influence upon German philosophers from Baader to Schopenhauer was such that Hegel dubbed him 'the first German philosopher.'
Click here to to read Böhme's Six Theosophical Points.
The novel's third epigraph is from the The Yuma Daily Sun and refers to the discovery of a primate or early hominid skull (given the name Bodo by the team of archaeologists) displaying evidence of having been mutilated. Actually some 500,000 years old, it is not technically an example of scalping since the markings left on the skull suggest the entire flesh of the skull had been removed.
More information on Bodo can be found on the forum page at cormacmccarthy.com, which includes a contribution from Tim D. White himself, as well as a link to the original Yuma article. Click here.
With regards to scalping itself (the excision of the scalp and attached hair of an enemy for display, exchange, or torture), it is doubtful whether the practice goes as far back as this; but it does have a long history. In the Old World, Herodotus recorded scalping by ancient Scythians in central Asia; since backed up by the discovery of skulls with marks suggesting scalping at Scythian sites. Evidence indicates Europeans were scalping from the Stone Age till as late as 1036 in England.
Scalping in the Americas has equally old roots. Since 1940 archaeologists have discovered hundreds of pre-Columbian skulls with scalping marks at North American sites ranging from Georgia to Arizona to the Dakotas. A few predate even the abortive Viking explorations. Many of the skulls come from a single site in South Dakota where almost 500 people were massacred and scalped around 1325 AD. At least one instance of pre-Columbian artwork depicts a warrior toting scalps.
Despite such evidence, it became briefly fashionable in the 1960s and ‘70s for some to argue that Europeans were responsible for importing scalping to the Americas. It is clear, though, that the practice was widespread throughout the New World long before the 15th century arrival of the Spanish. However, the subsequent introduction of horses, metal knives, and guns, combined with territorial pressures, probably did lead to an increase in warfare and scalping. Further, it was only after white settlers began to offer bounties for scalps that the practice came to its fullest flowering. Though the Spanish in Mexico had earlier offered head bounties, New Englanders were apparently the first to grasp the usefulness of scalps as proof of death. In 1637 they began paying their Indian allies for either the heads of their Pequot enemies or, when the return distance was too great, the scalps. New Englanders were also first to pay whites for Indian scalps around 1675-76.
Why the double title?
Jacob Boehme, author of one of Blood Meridian's opening epigraphs, wrote a book about good and evil in nature called Aurora: That Is, The Day Spring Or Dawning Of The Day In The Orient Or Morning Redness In The Rising Of The Sun:
The state of Tennessee is located in the Southeastern United States.
It was admitted to the Union in 1796 as the 16th state, later earning the nickname 'the Volunteer State’ because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee in the War of 1812.
Interestingly, the Kid's 1833 birth in Tennessee occurs exactly 100 years before fellow Tennesseean McCarthy's own birth in 1933.
Galveston is a coastal city located on Galveston Island in the state of Texas.
Named after Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez, the first European settlements on Galveston Island were constructed around 1816. Mexico established the Port of Galveston in 1825 following its successful revolution from Spain. The city served as the main port for the Texas Navy during the Texas Revolution and in 1836 Galveston was founded, becoming the capital of the Republic of Texas.
During the 19th century, Galveston became a major U.S. commercial centre and one of the largest ports in the United States.
They continued, "Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community." So the leaders' promise to them was kept.
your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water
The Leonids are a prolific meteor shower originating from the comet Tempel-Tuttle. An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 meteors an hour can be seen falling through the sky in a typical shower, which tends to peak around November 17.
The Leonids shower of 1833 (the ‘night the stars fell’ in ‘the year it rained fire’) was particularly impressive, leading many to believe the Apocalypse had finally arrived on Earth. It was only after 1833 that a scientific explanation was put forward for the phenomenon. Scientists were able to identify the location of their radiant in the constellation Leo (from which the shower is named) and correctly predict a repeat shower in 1866.
Known in Britain as the Plough, it is believed the American term Big Dipper originated from Africa, where it was sometimes seen as a drinking gourd. Since the North Star (Polaris) can be found using the Dipper, according to legend, runaway slaves in the 19th century would ‘follow the Drinking Gourd’ to the north and freedom.
A birth during the Leonid storm of 1833 (see bookmark p.3 'Night of your birth.') would have been on a date about 12 November, making the astrological sign under which the kid was born Scorpio.
This is a revision of the line ‘The Child is father of the Man’ from William Wordsworth’s 1802 poem ‘My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold’ (sometimes known as ‘The Rainbow’).
My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
It became a major slave market during the 19th century, since the cotton economy of the antebellum South depended on the forced labour of large numbers of African-American slaves. At the height of the plantation system in 1850, when cotton had become the dominant cash crop of the South, 1.8 million of the 2.5 million slaves in the United States (nearly 75 percent) were involved in the production of cotton.
The Agony in the Garden refers to the night spent by Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane before his trial and crucifixion. Agony (from the Greek agonia) denotes Jesus’ anguished state of mind as he struggles to come to terms with the sacrifice he must make for all of humanity.
Jesus’ own humanity comes to the fore as he asks God to ‘let this cup pass me by’, before accepting his sacrifice and willingly surrendering to the Roman soldiers who have come to arrest him.
St. Louis is a city on the eastern border of Missouri.
Founded in 1764, St. Louis became a major port on the Mississippi River after the Louisiana Purchase. Immigrants from Ireland and Germany arrived in St. Louis in significant numbers starting in the 1840s, and the population of St. Louis grew from less than 20,000 in 1840, to 77,860 in 1850, to more than 160,000 by 1860.
Its population expanded further after the American Civil War, and by the late 19th century St. Louis had become the fourth-largest city in the United States.
Flatboats were commonly used as the cheapest type of boat for delivering bulk materials to New Orleans for sale, and sometimes for the conveyance of families moving west. They were hand-powered, with poles or oars for steering, and usually floated with the current. Unlike steamboats, the flatboat had no engine and so was incapable of travelling upstream against the current of the Mississippi. For this reason, once the boat had reached its destination it was broken apart and the boards sold for lumber.
Steamboats are ships in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels.
Steam engines were developed and adapted in the late 18th century for use on ships, but did not become widely used until the early 19th century. In 1811 the first in a continuous line of river steamboats left the dock at Pittsburgh to steam down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and on to New Orleans. From then on growth in their use was rapid on United States rivers, and steamboats gradually replaced sailing ships for commercial shipping through the latter 19th century. Steamboats in turn were overtaken by diesel-driven ships in the second half of the 20th century.
An egret is any one of several herons, most of which are white or buff, and several of which develop fine plumes (usually milky white) during the breeding season.
Pesthouses were hospitals or hostels used for the confinement of persons infected with a pestilential or contagious disease. Before cures for these diseases were known, the primary function of the pesthouse was to quarantine rather than treat patients. Many towns and cities would have at least one pesthouse, accompanied by a nearby cemetery or a waste pond for disposal of the dead.
Diphtheria is a highly contagious disease which attacks the upper respiratory system, resulting in difficulty in breathing and swallowing and eventually death from suffocation or starvation. Hippocrates first described the disease in the 4th century BC, and major epidemics swept through Europe in the 17th century, where it became known as 'the strangling angel of children'. It was not until the 1890s that the first effective diphtheria antitoxins were discovered, and not until 1913 that a successful vaccine for the disease was developed.
The short-lived Republic of Fredonia (December 21, 1826 – January 31, 1827) was located near Nacogdoches, Texas, and was the first attempt by Anglo settlers in Texas to secede from Mexico.
In late November 1826, a group of settlers led by empresario Haden Edwards took control of the region, and on December 21, 1826, declared their independence from Mexico. The Republic lasted until January 31, 1827, when a force of over 100 Mexican soldiers and 250 militiamen from rival empresario Stephen F. Austin's colony marched into Nacogdoches to restore order. Many of the participants, including Edwards, fled to the United States.
Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria, fearing that through the rebellion the United States hoped to gain control of Texas, subsequently increased the military presence in the area and imposed laws severely curtailing immigration to Texas. This new immigration law was bitterly opposed by colonists and caused increasing dissatisfaction with Mexican rule. Some historians consider the Fredonian Rebellion to be the beginning of the Texas Revolution. Although ‘premature … [the Fredonian Rebellion] sparked the powder for later success’ (W.B. Bates, A Sketch History of Nacogdoches).
According to J. S. Newman, in his History of the Primitive Baptists in Texas, Oklahoma, and Indian Territory, ‘Elder R. Green joined [the Baptist church on the outskirts of Nacogdoches] by letter in December, 1838, and was excluded for drunkenness in Februrary, 1840’.
In Blood Meridian, Green’s tent meeting outside of Nacogdoches takes place nine years after this dismissal.
This is our first introduction to Judge Holden, one of the most villainous characters in modern literature. While the historical existence of many of Blood Meridian’s characters is verified by several contemporary sources, Judge Holden is mentioned by name only in Samuel Chamberlain’s My Confession, the only personal narrative written by a member of the Glanton gang. While evidently McCarthy’s main source for the gang’s actions in the novel, it should be kept in mind that Chamberlain’s account is filled with errors and inaccuracies, and attempts to confirm Holden’s existence has so far defeated even the most determined of McCarthy scholars. Still, it is clear that Chamberlain’s description of Holden forms the basis of McCarthy’s conception of the Judge:
The second in command … was a man of gigantic size called “Judge” Holden of Texas. Who or what he was no one knew but a cooler blooded villain never went unhung; he stood six feet six in his moccasins, had a large fleshy frame, a dull tallow colored face destitute of hair and all expression...
McCarthy’s main deviation from Chamberlain is in portraying Holden as completely hairless. An illustration by Chamberlain depicts Holden as beardless, but with dark eyebrows and long black hair. Click here to see Chamberlain's painting.
Walleyed is a colloquial term used to describe a person suffering from strabismus, a condition which prevents the eyes from properly aligning with each other.
It is caused by a disorder of the brain in coordinating the eyes or of the muscles’ power or direction of motion.
Jakes were another name for outhouses, a type of toilet in a small structure separate from the main building which does not have a flush or sewer attached.
Although the first flushing lavatory with a cistern was invented as far back as 1596, the idea failed to catch on until the late 18th century. In 1775 Alexander Cumming was granted a patent for a flushing lavatory. Joseph Brahmah made a better design in 1778. The U-bend was invented in 1782. However, flushing toilets were a luxury at first and did not become common till the late 19th century
The Bowie knife is a type of large sheath knife. The design of the knife evolved through the years, but is generally agreed to have a blade 8.25 inches long and 1.25 inches wide, with a curved point.
It was first made by James Black, but was popularised by Colonel James ‘Jim’ Bowie in the early 19th century when he used a type of this fighting knife during a duel known as the Sandbar Fight. The deadly reputation of the Bowie knife led to it being banned in many areas of the American South during the late 1830s.
A Shillelagh is a wooden club with a heavy end.
America had been branding and cropping the ears of convicted criminals since colonial times and the punishment was still being administered in several U.S. states well into the 19th century. The abolitionist Jonathan Walker was one notable victim, after authorities in Florida ordered that his hand be branded with the letters SS (for 'slave stealer') for helping seven runaway slaves find freedom in 1844.
It was commonly used in the U.S. for the crime of horse theft. In 1780, a law was enacted in Pennsylvania stating that any individual who ‘feloniously’ took a horse or mare would ‘for the first offense...stand in the pillory for one hour, and ...publicly whipped on his, or her or their bare backs with thirty-nine lashes, well laid on, and at the same time shall have his, her or their ears cut off and nailed to the pillory, and for the second offense shall be whipped and pilloried in like manner and be branded on the forehead in a plain and visible manner with the letters H.T.,’ for ‘horse thief’. The same punishment was being handed out to horse thiefs in North Carolina by 1786, and in Tennessee by 1790, with a slight variation in the letter H being branded on the left cheek and T on the right cheek, as opposed to the forehead.
It is not known exactly when pillory punishment came to an end in the United States, but it certainly continued in some parts of the country into the 1840s or later.
F stands for 'felon'.
San Antonio de Bexar was the former name of the city of San Antonio, Texas.
Early Spanish settlement of San Antonio began in 1718 with the establishment of the San Antonio de Valero Mission (now the Alamo) and the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (named after the city in Spain). San Antonio grew to become the largest Spanish settlement in Texas, and for most of its history, the capital of the Spanish, later Mexican, province of Tejas.
It played a significant role during the Texas Revolution when Mexican President Santa Anna's army massacred a contingent of Texians who had occupied the city’s Alamo mission. In 1845, the United States annexed Texas and included it as a state in the Union. This led to the Mexican-American War, which had a devastating effect on San Antonio, reducing the population by almost two thirds to only 800 inhabitants. By 1860, though, San Antonio had grown to a city of 15,000 people. Today, it is the seventh-largest city in the U.S. with a population of 1.33 million.
An anchorite is a type of religious hermit, a person who withdraws from secular society in order to fully dedicate his life to prayer and asceticism.
Originally the term anchorite referred specifically to those holy men who allowed themselves to be walled into small cells which were attached (‘anchored’) to a church or oratory. Over time anchorite and hermit became synomonous for any person who put himself into religious seclusion away from society.
Thunderheads are a common name given to cumulonimbus clouds, spectacular cloud formations which may occur before or during a thunderstorm.
They usually form at quite low heights, growing vertically instead of horizontally with the base of the cloud extending for several miles across.
Green River knives were made in Greenfield, Massachusetts from 1832 onwards. They were designed as kitchen knives, but became very popular with fur traders and mountain men.
Lime (calcium oxide or quick lime) has been used for centuries in burial. It helps disguise the smell of a rotting corpse, and speeds the rate of decomposition.