Misters Muffet vs. Anna and the King

Thank you, Charley, for the recommendation of W.S.Bristowe's publications. Although I could only get my hands on a very slim volume, it was not remiss of kinky spider sex. There was also romance:
When Pisaura goes a-wooing he puts aside his own natural hunger, catches an insect, wraps it up in a parcel of silk, and hands it to his prospective bride as a wedding present!...Semaphore tactics would be useless for the males who have to court females that build webs. In these cases he signals his identity by means of distinctive jerks of the threads, a kind of Morse code. Many Linyphiid and Theridiid males set up distinctive vibrations along the threads by scraping a stiff spine or special tooth against a series of hard ridges, like a file, elsewhere on his body.

W.S.Bristowe was a well-travelled arachnologist, and visited Thailand. There he researched the story behind The King and I. He concludes that the real Anna Leonowens was not truthful in her accounts, which I feel ready to accept if only because I'm so charmed by his ADDENDUM to Spiders:
To the 1658 edition of Topsel's book was added somewhat unobtrusively Dr. T. Muffet's Theater of Insects. My quotations on p. 5 should have been attributed to Dr. Muffet and I now seek atonement by calling attention to Muffet's other claim to fame. I have suggested...that Patience, his daughter, was the Miss Muffet. The only correspondent to demur called my attention to an incident in Muffet's Diary describing a picnic in Epping Forest when he was forced to fly from some enraged wasps beside whose nest he had spread his lunch. The implication here would be that he himself was Miss Muffet and that the wasps were changed into a spider in order to help the Nursey Rhyme.

BLOG POST ADDENDUM: If you haven't heard, spiders can also travel to faraway countries. Look up ballooning spiders!



Chinese "Tapestry Poem" Palindrome


This is the Tapestry Poem mentioned in Flowers in the Mirror. Lin Tai-Yi provides this explanation in the Notes:
The Tapestry poem is the pride and joy of Li Ju-Chen. It is, unfortunately, impossible to translate. The poem may be read backwards and forwards, up and down, in squares, whorls, diagonally, and in a dozen other combinations.

So, it is not a palindrome in the sense that the lines read the same in every direction, but the characters are placed in sequence which has meaning in relation to those around it. Please comment if there is a more correct term!
Although I rue the day (age 5?) I told my dad I didn't want to learn Chinese anymore, and thus can't translate any of it, this website appears to list poems contained within the Tapestry. It was found in this post:
The story of this tapestry apparently predates the novel, going back as early as a story about a Jin dynasty woman who crafted the 841 character weaving with 200-odd poems. I don't know if the author of "The Flowers in the Mirror" used an existing matrix or wrote his own. The novel, in any event, abounds with jokes, old legends, and linguistic curiosities--there's a great joke about a man named Wang and how he names his eight sons, for example.

In re other qishi: Su Dongpo was a poet known for his palindromes, among other things.
Posted by: zhwj at May 11, 2004 10:23 PM

A Gem from Flowers in the Mirror by Li Ju-Chen (or Li Ru Zhen), 1763-1830

Not long after, Lin's junk arrived at the Country of Split-tongued People, who had in their possession a rhyme scheme which was a jealously guarded national secret. It was said that once a man learned the rhyme scheme and knew the language of the Split-tonged People, he could learn other languages and dialects with no difficulty whatsoever.
The travelers tried to offer the two-headed birds Lin bought in the Country of Restless People for the rhyme scheme, but discovered that the people were under orders from the King not to divulge the secret to any foreigners. Old Tuo spent a day in the wine shops talking to the young people, but as soon as he mentioned the word 'rhyme', they immediately turned away from him. At last he found out that if a man disclosed the secret to a foreigner, he would be banished to another country to live a life of celibacy. Tang Ao was quite discouraged when Old Tuo returned to the junk and told him this.

The chapter goes on to detail how Old Tuo manages to obtain the rhyme scheme from the King after saving several members of the royal family with his extraordinary prescriptions.

At last they cast off, and Tang Ao opened the sealed envelope which contained the rhyme scheme, and what he saw appears [below]. When Tang Ao saw the list of words, he could make neither head nor tail of it, but Melody Orchid explained it to him, and the three men had a good time talking to each other in code (see Notes.)

Here from the Notes:
Rhyme scheme. This was an attempt to break down the Chinese language phonetically. The lists consist of Chinese characters or combinations of characters to represent a breakdown of consonant sounds in the vertical column, and vowel sounds in the horizontal column....The breaking down of the Chinese language into thirty-three consonants was Li Ju-chen's chief contribution to phonetics....It was the idea of the author that if a person memorized these two lists of sounds, by cross-reference, any word may be 'spelled' phonetically. If a number is given to each sound, people may talk to each other in a sort of code, in which case the author notes that number must be given also to each of the tonal values in the language. Thus, 33-22-1 might 'spell' the word chuang, meaning hamlet. Actually the breaking down of words and trying to spell them phonetically dates back to the 5th century. It is called fan chieh, and the system is in current use in Chinese dictionaries, to indicated the pronunciation of characters.