How to Survive a Tough Book: Bizarre

On Oskar Panizza’s “The Pig” and how to deal with eccentric books.

The Pig by Oskar Panizza is difficult to classify.

It first appeared in the 1900 in the Zurich Discussions, a journal self-published by the author. Translated into English by Eric Butler, the book now reaches us via Wakefield press—an American publisher that specialises in literary oddities. The full title helps support its claim to uniqueness:

The Pig: In Poetic, Mythological, and Moral-Historical Perspective.

A quick flip-through provides a tad more insight.

It is non-fiction, erudite, creative in its approach to interpretation, and it has footnotes, lots of footnotes, so many that a page without them is a surprise and a page only of them ought to have been encouraged by the editor. Hebrew slips between two teeth, German and Latin between the other, Greek likes it on the tongue to roll about with French.

The first page has a black and white reproduction of The Lady with the Pig by Félicien Rops (1878).élicien_Rops_-_Pornokratès_-_1878.jpg
Pornokratès or The Lady with the Pig by Félicien Rops (1878)


Any frivolity you may anticipate based on the picture will drains away after the first few footnotes; any flagrant immorality or irreligiousness might be flagrant to an astute mind willing to brave said footnotes. And the footnotes are full of quotes in their original languages—the translator left them wonderfully untouched. The introductory chapter is aptly named Porco-Analysis.

Tip: Don’t panic; turn the page.

A few pages in you’ll come across: The Pig is the Sun. This is the thesis of the book and what follows is a proof by thorough analysis of myth.

Tip: Stay amused.

You really can’t get far without reading the footnotes. Occasionally sentences (All this made the Pig the paragon of Power, Fearsomeness, Courage, and untameable Desire) will confirm the thesis explicitly, then there’ll be more footnotes.

Tip: Skim-read the foreign languages.


In the Taittiriya Brâhmana, the Wild Boar guards the treasure of the demons (the stolen Winter Sun), which is locked away in seven mountains (the months of Winter); Indra slays the Boar and discovers the treasure (the Spring Sun) (ibid., 345.).

Proof abounds for viewing the Boar as the principle of Fertility, Springtide, and the Venal Sun.

(p. 15)

The excerpts and connections are fun.

Tip: Sketch a sun in the margin.

Next comes along a nonstandard version of Cinderella, who instead of having to complete the impossible task of sorting lentils before being allowed to go to the ball, must eat an immeasurable quantity of apples.

Now, instead of summoning pigeons, she calls on “a veritable legion of Piglets, which consume the apples in her stead” (Gubernatis, 342).

(p. 16)

(Tip: Squeal with delight upon reading this—I’m serious, the piglets love the food, the princess-to-be loves the piglets for it.)

The Edda gets a looking into: we are reminded that the Boar pulls Freyr’s Sun Chariot and in Skaldic Poetry, Freyr himself occasionally rides upon the Boar. In the Younger Edda, the Boar is vaunted further: he has the ability to run through air and water, unstoppably, and his bristles shine through the thickest darkness. Indeed:

In his Lexicon mythologiae (1828), Finn Magnusen calls him the immediate representative of the Sun: pro solis ipsius idolo sive simulacro.

(p. 35)

Tip: Underline; make a note to look up the quoted source. Look up a picture to aid your imagination. For example:
Gullinbursti and Frey, by Johannes Gehrts (1901)


Then religion gets some attention:

One almost wishes to congratulate the Jews on the choice they made. Indeed, because they continue to observe the prohibition of consuming Pork, this spared them from eating their own God.*

(p. 64)

The star at the end of this quote leads to a footnote curious in itself.

*”Would, indeed, anyone be so mad as to declare something his God and, at the same time, eat it?” asked Cicero in De natura deorum, III, 16 — hardly suspecting, or course, that one hundred years later his question would prove altogether timely.

(Marcus Tullius Cicero lived in the first century before Christ.)

Tip: Don’t be scandalised; keep reading.

A hundred pages later, once you’ve reached the back cover, for all its intriguing juxtapositions, elucidations, connections, The Pig is still hardly divested of its mystique.

But it has been surveyed and you have been regaled.

Also: Pig as solar deity? Well, why not? We’ve believed in smaller, less prepossessing gods before.


P.S. This is the only way to have a pig on your dinner table (final 5 seconds):


Other How To posts:

Author: A Quiver of Quotes

Jousts with words, jaunts through all genres. In favour of hendiadys, synaesthesia, and the transferred epithet. Books, books, books. Writing. Author of

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