There Are Only Four Stories: The Siege of the City, the Return Home, the Quest, and the Sacrifice of a God

Jorge Luis Borges? Paulo Coelho? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous Argentinian short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges apparently believed that there were only four archetypal tales. Would you please explore this topic and identify the four tales?

Quote Investigator: In 1972 Jorge Luis Borges published a collection titled “El Oro de los Tigres” (“The Gold of the Tigers”). Most of the pieces were poems, but one piece was an essay titled “Los Cuatro Ciclos” (“The Four Cycles”) which described four fundamental stories that have been told and retold throughout the history of humankind. The following excerpts in Spanish are followed by English translations. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1972, El Oro De Los Tigres by Jorge Luis Borges, Essay: Los Cuatro Ciclos, Start Page 127, End Page 130, Emecé, Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Verified with scans)

Una, la más antigua, es la de una fuerte ciudad que cercan y defienden hombres valientes. Los defensores saben que la ciudad será entregada al hierro y al fuego y que su batalla es inútil . . .

One, the oldest, is that of a strong city surrounded and defended by brave men. The defenders know that the city will be handed over to iron and fire and that their battle is futile . . .

Borges used the siege of Troy to illustrate this story type.

Otra, que se vincula a la primera, es la de un regreso.
Another, which is linked to the first, is that of a return.

Borges used the return of Odysseus to Ithaca as an example.

La tercera historia es la de una busca.
The third story is that of a search.

Borges used Jason and the Argonauts search for the Golden Fleece as an example of a successful quest, and he used Captain Ahab’s search for Moby Dick as an example of a calamitous quest.

La última historia es la del sacrificio de un dios.
The last story is that of the sacrifice of a god.

Borges used the mutilation and death of Attis as an example. He also used the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The QI website has a separate article about the following related saying: There are only two plots: (1) A person goes on a journey (2) A stranger comes to town.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Are Only Four Stories: The Siege of the City, the Return Home, the Quest, and the Sacrifice of a God

References

References
1 1972, El Oro De Los Tigres by Jorge Luis Borges, Essay: Los Cuatro Ciclos, Start Page 127, End Page 130, Emecé, Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Verified with scans)

Even a Stopped Clock Is Right Twice a Day

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach? Lewis Carroll? Charles L. Dodgson? Joseph Addison? Richard Steele? Diedrich Knickerbocker? Washington Irving? Albany de Grenier Fonblanque? Paulo Coelho? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An obtuse, unreliable, or incompetent person occasionally performs properly. Here are three versions of a proverb reflecting this observation:

  1. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
  2. A broken watch is certain to be right twice a day.
  3. A clock that stands still is sure to point right once in twelve hours.

This saying has been attributed to the prominent Austrian writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach and to the famous children’s author Lewis Carroll, a.k.a., Charles L. Dodgson the author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in “The Spectator” magazine in 1711. Even in the 1700s dress fashions were ever changing. If one maintained a single clothing style it would become passé, but eventually it would return to “the mode”, i.e., become fashionable again. “The Spectator” employed the clock-based simile when discussing this topic. Emphasis in excerpts added by QI:[1]1721, The Works of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison, Esq; Volume 3 of 4, The Spectator, Number 129, Issue Year: 1711, Issue Date: “Saturday, July 28”, Start Page 83, Quote Page 83, … Continue reading

Did they keep to one constant dress, they would sometimes be in the fashion, which they never are as matters are managed at present. If instead of running after the mode, they would continue fixed in one certain habit, the mode would some time or other overtake them, as a clock that stands still is sure to point right once in twelve hours: in this case therefore I would advise them, as a Gentleman did his friend who was hunting about the whole town after a rambling fellow, If you follow him you will never find him, but if you plant your self at the corner of any one street, I’ll engage it will not be long before you see him.

Joseph Addison and Richard Steele founded and operated “The Spectator”. Both were significant literary and political figures. Scholarly reprints in later years identified Joseph Addison as the author of the excerpt above.[2]1886, Addison: Selections from Addison’s Papers Contributed to the Spectator, Main Author: Joseph Addison, Edited with Introduction and Notes by Thomas Arnold, No. 129: The same subject; letter … Continue reading

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Even a Stopped Clock Is Right Twice a Day

References

References
1 1721, The Works of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison, Esq; Volume 3 of 4, The Spectator, Number 129, Issue Year: 1711, Issue Date: “Saturday, July 28”, Start Page 83, Quote Page 83, Printed for Jacob Tonson at Shakespear’s-Head, London. (Google Books Full View) link
2 1886, Addison: Selections from Addison’s Papers Contributed to the Spectator, Main Author: Joseph Addison, Edited with Introduction and Notes by Thomas Arnold, No. 129: The same subject; letter describing the fashions in the West of England, Start Page 265, Quote Page 266, Oxford, Clarendon Press. (HathiTrust Full View) link link