Blood Meridian Chapter 10 – et in arcadia ego

Short on time! Short on time!

My favorite chapter in Blood Meridian is chapter 10. I’m not going to go line by line, I just want to talk about what happens.

My favorite thing about the judge is how much fun he always seems to be having. My least favorite part about the judge is that he’s usually having fun doing something awful.

Even though it’s a flashback, I love the scene of how the band meets the judge. Tobin tells of how they were riding way out in the middle of nowhere, with little hope of finding food, water, or shelter. They were pretty much going to be dead. Except that they suddenly come upon a jolly, gigantic albino sitting on a rock waiting for them. In the middle of the forsaken desert, without a horse or anything else.

This is one of the most wonderful, eeriest scenes I can think of in all the books I have read.

They are being trailed by Indians, however, so there’s not a lot of time to sit around and remark on how strange it all is.

They are out of ammunition and it becomes that apparent that the pursuing Indians know it. The judge leads the party up to the mouth of a volcano, tell the rest of the band to circle off and lead the Indians away while he gets some work done. By the time they get back he has nearly finished making his own gunpowder out of bat guano, minerals from the volcano, and then with a bunch of urine from the men.

The whole scene has the ring of some perverse ordinance or religious ritual. Every single time the Indians start whooping and riding up the cliff to finish off the out-of-ammunition scoundrels, I am both exhilarated and horrified.

The judge waves a white flag down at them and begs for mercy before turning to his now-armed men with a smile. “Gentlemen,” he says. Then they turn and start firing. It’s a slaughter. The judge, naked and covered in mud and grease, laughing and shooting with the gunpowder he somehow knew how to fashion.

I think it’s an incredible scene and it speaks volumes about what the judge is, and possibly what he isn’t. Above all it shows his sense of humor. He can enjoy just about anything chaotic, it looks like, as if he has no fear of death. Or as if he knows he cannot be killed.

More on that later.

We also see the judge with his book of sketches, which is going to figure into some fantastic scenes presently. Oh, and we hear about the inscription on his rifle: Et in arcadia ego. Try looking that up and tell me what you think it means

For those of you still hanging around, thoughts on this chapter?

10 thoughts on “Blood Meridian Chapter 10 – et in arcadia ego

  1. Aye!
    Some notes about the Judge…
    First of all: Is he Satan?

    (The lad): “What’s he a judge of?”

    (Tobin): “Every man in the company claims to have encountered that sootysouled rascal some other place” (This looks like a just seen movie where the devil summits four people into an elevator)
    Hence: Et in Arcadia ego (liberal translation): I have been everywhere, even in good places.

    (Also by Tobin, the whole chapter is narrated by the ex priest) “…the judge. Then and now. He appeared to be a lunatic and then not. Glanton I always knew was mad”. It looks like Glanton is very impressed by the judge, somehow. “They’ve a secret commerce. Some terrible covenant”. Once you get used to it, you have to appreciate the way phrases are built.

  2. Fast and loose and with considerable assistance from Wikipedia, the phrase is what is deemed a memento mori.

    Memento mori is a Latin phrase translated as “Remember your mortality”, “Remember you must die” or “Remember you will die.” (Cheery, huh?) It names a genre of artistic work which varies widely, but which all share the same purpose: to remind people of their own mortality. The phrase has a tradition in art that dates back to antiquity.

    The literal word-for-word translation of the phrase is “Even in Arcadia I (am there)”. In Greece, during Antiquity, Greeks lived in cities close to the sea, and led an urban life. Only Arcadians, in the middle of Peloponessos, lacked cities, were far from the sea, and led a shepherd life. For urban Greeks, especially during the Hellenistic era, Arcadia symbolized pure, rural, idyllic life, far from the city. Poussin’s biographer, André Félibien, interpreted it to mean that “the person buried in this tomb has lived in Arcadia”; in other words, that the person too once enjoyed the pleasures of life on earth.

    As the name of a gun or inscription on a gun, it is beautiful, intellectual, classical in reference, and also ominous. Perfect for the Judge: wise, playful, threatening. “I too once enjoyed the pleasures of life; but now I just got blasted by the Judge.”

    I thought the rest of your description covered it pretty well. This was one of the most entertaining chapters to date.

    Loved the “Gentlemen.”

    The only other thing I was going to add, which you also alluded to, was the drawing in the notebook. After drawing one particular item, it said something like “as if he had played a part in its creation.” Foreshadowing? I like it. We don’t know who the Judge is. Creator? Destroyer? He does seem to thrive on mayhem, and he is hard not to like, though he is also terrifying, and sometimes lunatic.

    Like the next chapter too. Interesting story.

  3. I guess three years makes a huge difference in the technology(?), but my Nook (Merriam-Webster) tells me:

    et in Ar·ca·dia ego
    \ et-in-är- kä-dē-ä- e-gō\
    : I too (lived) in Arcadia
    [ORIGIN: Latin]

  4. I wonder if that is a literal or colloquial translation? I believe this is the original source for some of my analysis on the topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Et_in_Arcadia_ego I didn’t have an e-reader at the time, so just had my hard copy in one hand, my dictionary in the other, and the internet at the ready if (as was often the case) I could derive no meaning from either the context or my Merriam-Websters. I think your Nook led you in the right approximate direction in terms of a literal translation of the phrase, but unless you know the history of the phrase and/or Arcadia, even that definition will not help much. Of course Wikipedia is not infallible, being no better than any entry’s author and his/her sources. But this entry, like so many others, let me know in no uncertain terms that there was so much more going on in Blood Meridian than I would ever know. I’m not even smart enough to fully understand all the stuff I was not understanding, with much, much more that I was missing completely.

  5. I think the “et” in the Latin quote can be translated as “and” – in this case, meaning also, or even. So, it can be read “Even in Arcadia – I exist” for a gun it’s a perfect inscription and perfect for the book because it means that there is no idyllic, peaceful, safe place on earth – not with the Judge around anyway.

  6. What about the Baphomet reference, the ‘men in this company besides myself seen little cloven hoof-prints in the stone’ ‘little devils with their pitchforks had traversed that fiery vomit…’ . He’s asking how did cloven prints get cast in the lava/stone, was it from a demon being cast away from hell because he cant imagine a a doe standing in melted or melting rock. Which made me think of Baphomet?

    • It’s certainly plausible. Blood Meridian is endlessly rich, layers upon layers. I think you could study it for a lifetime and probably still not account for all the references, all the symbolism, all the language. But it’s rewarding to try. Thanks for the insight.

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