The Anathemata

Keel, Ram, Stauros


Did he hear them bawling a Frigg-day’s ichthyophagousa  feast

at the Belling Gate?1 


(Is that why

they back-cant on Parnassus?)2 

David Jones notes

1 In contradiction to the supposed traditional connection of Billingsgate with either a Celtic god, Belin, or a Celtic king, Cunobelin, or to the accepted derivation from an English personal name, Billing, it is suggested by others that the word derives from an Old English verb, bellan, to cry out.

2 Cf. Boileau, L’Art Poetique; Canto I, 83-4 translation adapted by John Dryden, 1683. ‘All except trivial points grew out of date Parnassus spoke the cant of Billingsgate.’

additional notes

DJ note 2: Boileau’s L’Art Poétique (1674) is a long didactic poem which lays down the code for all future French verse, and analyses carefully the various kinds of verse composition and enunciates the principles peculiar to each. In deprecating the current fashion of contemporary verse, he writes (in Dryden’s translation)

. . . The dull Burlesque appear’d with impudence,
And pleas’d by Novelty, in Spite of Sence.
All, except trivial points, grew out of date;
Parnassus spoke the Cant of Belinsgate:
Boundless and Mad, disorder’d Rhyme was seen:
Disguis’d Apollo chang’d to Harlequin.

(the French original for ‘the Cant of Belinsgate’ is ‘le langage des halles’, halles meaning food market-hall.

Back-cant: Back slang is an English coded language in which the written word is spoken phonemically backwards (e.g. ‘yob’ for ‘boy’). It is thought to have originated in Victorian England, being used mainly by market sellers, such as butchers and greengrocers, to have private conversations behind their customers’ backs and pass off lower quality goods to less observant customers. But DJ’s use of the phrase also suggests ‘Bacchante’, appropriately enough in view of the two lines which follow the quoted couplet. Very neat.

So the answer to the question is ‘yes’ (since the captain is foreign).


In this section, we have no change in scene: another captain (Greek, as it turns out) arrives in the Pool of London. But time in this section is exceptionally fluid, and it is not clear when he arrives. It might be contemporaneous with the previous section, or it might also be that of the voyage in search of tin described in Middle-sea and Lear-sea.

semantic structures


a ichthyophagous: fish-eating.