In The Premature Burial, what is Carathis? : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

The concluding paragragh of The Preamture Burial begins "There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of a Hell- but the imagination of man is no Carathis, to explore with impunity its every cavern." What is the meaning of Carathis?

-- Anonymous, April 26, 2001



This question is not as easy to answer as might be imagined. First the facts: Carathis was the mother of the Persian Caliph Haroun Vathek Billah (842-847 A.D.), and is a genuine historical figure.

That, of course, does not tell us much, and to understand Poe's usage it is necessary to go back to an obscure novel by Horace Binney Wallace 'Stanley' (1838) where he wrote (note the similarity to Poe's lines): "he explored, with the indomitable spirit of Carathis, every chamber and cavern of the earthly hell of bad delights".

Wallace has drawn this from another novel, William Beckford's 'Vathek' (1786) which uses the name Carathis for a wicked witch who is granted all the treasures of Hell for one day before she is damned for ever. She uses this time boldly.

All the above information is taken from Thomas Ollive Mabbott's edition of Poe's work, a set of three volumes which is much recommended. But, see the difficulties which are opened up by asking such seemingly innocuous questions.

-- Anonymous, April 26, 2001

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