Whither Gulliver? Reflections on Gulliver’s Travels

At the beginning of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1735 Edition, published after the original 1726 edition) sits a frontispiece with a quotation by Horace that reads “Splendide Mendax” (or “Gloriously Untruthful”). Even at the beginning of the text, our protagonist Gulliver is presented as a magnificent liar for noble ends. What are those noble ends? And why does Gulliver tell lies? In addition to a quotation from Horace, Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura 4:19-20 is also quoted at the outset: “Retroq; Vulgus abhorret ab his” (or “the people shrink back from it”) –this comes a section of De Rerum Natura wherein Lucretius explains that his godless image of the cosmos is difficult for the ordinary person to handle, so like children tasting wormwood, Lucretius (and by extension Swift) has chosen to disguise the weight of his true message in a cloaked metaphor like sweet, delicious honey. Thus Gulliver’s Travels comes down to us in the form of a comedic, almost childlike series of silly adventures, while on a much deeper level the author is esoterically inquiring into the nature of things.

The novel is told in four parts. Each of the four parts represent a separate voyage undertaken by Lemuel Gulliver, our restless and inquisitive protagonist, who visits at least four different political regimes. Each time he ventures outward from the safe shores of England, Gulliver notably neglects his wife and children in search of truth and adventure. The compiler of Gulliver’s Travels, we are told, is a man named Richard Sympson, “an ancient and intimate friend” who is also distantly related to Mr. Gulliver on his mother’s side. Mr. Sympson informs us that Mr. Gulliver lived at one time in South London before relocating to Nottinghamshire where he now lives a quiet, retired life away from the concourse of London. Apparently, Gulliver’s family originated in Banbury, Oxfordshire –a place well-known at the time for its Puritanical fanaticism. In describing Gulliver’s writings, Mr. Sympson notes an “Air of Truth” apparent throughout the text, yet he also acknowledges his need to take great liberties in revising the story so that it may serve as “Entertainment for our young noblemen” or at least more so than the “common Scribbles of Politicks and Party” (however by the end of the novel Gulliver claims his sole maxim is solely to the truth rather than to merely entertain the masses, so there is a conflicting purpose to the text). At any rate, in addition to Mr. Sympson’s letter, we also receive a letter addressed from Gulliver to Mr. Sympson complaining about the many interpolations which he feels unfairly chide the Queen (Queen Anne at the time) and her chief ministers. Unfortunately, the unknown interpolator of the text who was employed by Mr. Sympson is now deceased and we are left to question the veracity of the true authorship of Gulliver’s Travels (not unlike that other great satirical epic Cervantes’s Don Quixote). This attempt to confound or at least obscure the authentic authorship of Gulliver’s Travels is a clever way for Jonathan Swift to disguise his deeper aims –for who can punish a man hiding behind a veil of satire and obfuscation, irony and innocence? As a chief anonymous writer in the vicious pamphlet wars of the 17th century Swift was well aware of the need to protect himself from either libel, or worse, sedition. Even to this day, Swift himself remains something of a mystery –his early life is somewhat opaque. In professional career he rose to become Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin but he was anything but an orthodox thinker. The true Jonathan Swift is a puzzling figure –a Tory and High Churchman, who was nevertheless a Republican and a non-believer according to his writings and friendships. And herein lies the intrigue of Gulliver’s Travels, Swift’s masterpiece. The lay reader might enjoy all manner of comical orthodox tales, silly quests with giants and dwarves, while the seeker after truth and wisdom will discover a treasure trove of esoteric heresies (William Makepeace Thackeray once dubbed it “blasphemous” book).

Who is our protagonist Gulliver? His story is told from the first-person perspective, almost as if taken from a series of journal entries a la Robinson Crusoe. We learn that Gulliver’s father once owned a small estate in Nottinghamshire. Gulliver is the third of five sons (i.e. Gulliver is a middle-child), and he attended Emanuel College in Cambridge from the ages of 14-17 (Jonathan Swift also entered Trinity College in Dublin at age 14, and thus there is a certain parallel between Gulliver and Swift himself). However, Gulliver did not have enough money to continue his education so he became an apprentice for four years to an eminent surgeon named James Bates in London. During this period, Gulliver endeavors to study Navigation and Mathematics with dreams of one day traveling the world. Gulliver’s exposure to modern science leads him to a certain global perspective. When Gulliver eventually leaves his apprenticeship (now age 21 by my calculation), Gulliver scrounges together money from his family in order to study medicine at Leyden in the Netherlands for 2 years and 7 months before returning home (now age 23 by my calculation). Next, he becomes the surgeon aboard a boat called the Swallow and he continues 3 1/2 years traveling to the Levant (Middle East) and other places (now age 27 by my calculation) before settling back in London and marrying Mrs. Mary Burton in order to secure himself a dowry. He opens a physician’s business but two years later (now age 29 by my calculation) his former teacher “Master Bates” (note the ironic name) dies and Gulliver’s business quickly fails so he decides to go to sea once again in order to accumulate a larger fortune. As a young man, Gulliver is entranced by the allure of riches. He travels far and wide as a ship’s surgeon for six years (now age 35 by my calculation). During this period, Gulliver revels in the works of great authors both ancient and modern (in allusion to Swift’s satirical The Battle of the Books 1704):

“My Hours of Leisure I spent in reading the best Authors, ancient and modern; being always provided with a good Number of Books; and when I was ashore, in observing the Manners and Dispositions of the People, as well as learning their Language; wherein I had a great Facility by the Strength of my Memory” (325).

Here, we see that Gulliver has a strong capacity for recollection and he is well-versed in both the ancients and moderns, the unsettled quarrel between the ancients and moderns remains ever-present throughout his travels. Gulliver is also a worldly man, having traveled to many corners of the earth and he has visited many cultures, not unlike Odysseus or Herodotus. However, Gulliver is a modern man of science –a believer in the notion that knowledge is perception– and we see in his travels that Gulliver is a man who becomes a “giant” in one place yet a “dwarf” in another. He is both a telescopic and microscopic man as he investigates strange parts of the world. The satire we see in Gulliver is of the vain self-importance of modern man, as Gulliver explores the extreme limits of politics and governance, with each regime notably bearing a striking deprivation leading to varying degrees of immoderation among its people.

At any rate, growing weary of the sea, Gulliver returns to London and he moves several times hoping to grow his surgical business but prosperity proves to be slow. After 3 years (now age 38 by my calculation) Gulliver joins a new ship, the Antelope under Captain William Prichard en route to the South Sea. They depart Bristol on May 4th, 1699. However they are beset by storms near Tasmania where the crew begins growing ill (12 crewmen die) and on the 5th of November (not an insignificant date in English history) the ship of state, so to speak, crashes into a rock and splits in two. Gulliver and six crewmen lower a boat and begin rowing hoping to find land before simply allowing the ocean waves to carry them onward. Within a half hour the little dingy capsizes. Gulliver assumes all the other men are dead and he swims as “Fortune” guides him to a patch of land. Here Gulliver drinks a half pint of brandy, and he falls asleep in a warm evening patch of grass (the grass is cut very short).

Part I: A Voyage to Lilliput
When Gulliver awakens, he finds himself tied down by a “human Creature not six Inches high” carrying a bow and arrow. Soon many dozens more appear and Gulliver marvels at these intrepid little creatures. However, imprisoned he feels himself beholden to a universal Law of Hospitality which requires him to appear gentle and peaceful toward them. The little people, later known as Lilliputians, feed Gulliver while keeping him tied down, and Gulliver urinates before falling asleep (he ingested some sort of potion), during which time the people of Lilliput devise an engine to carry the imprisoned Gulliver up to their city.

Illustration by Charles E. Brock (1894)

The Lilliputians are remarkably industrious and merciful, in fact far more merciful than the people of Europe according to Gulliver, and they are perfect engineers in Mathematics and Mechanics. The Lilliputians have well-ordered streets and gardens, and Gulliver comes to appreciate the Lilliputian language. This perfection is contrasted with Gulliver’s private rather vulgar need to relieve himself while being chained up. Much to his embarrassment, Gulliver releases a massive bowel movement and a pair of Lilliputian servants are amusingly forced to carry away his fecal matter in wheelbarrows. Here we see the grotesque contrasted with a sophisticated civilization which places excessive emphasis on ceremony, performance, and magnificence. High taste and low brow humor go hand in hand. In the midst of all the high-minded rhetoric, we are forced to consider biological necessity in its most indiscreet form.

The Lilliputians are an extremely practical society, as well. They are utilitarians, and thus they represent modern philosophy in the quarrel between ancients and moderns. There are fears of a famine due to the sheer amount of food Gulliver consumes (Gulliver eats the equivalent of what 1,724 Lilliputians eat every day). The Lilliputians discuss killing Gulliver if not for the stench and plague his carcass might bring –killing Gulliver is not a horrid evil, but rather his death is merely a question of utility. In fact, the Lilliputians possess a calloused sense of pragmatism, a Hobbesian or Cartesian materialism which does not account for elementary necessity. So Gulliver’s bowel movement becomes little more than a grotesque inconvenience, or an impropriety foisted upon an orderly world. In contrast to the views of social or cultural relativists, Nature has in fact communicated what is obscene or offensive if we have the sense to see it.

The pride of humanity is made small in Lilliput, such that even Gulliver holds the Emperor in his hand, and we later learn that Lilliput is a city at war. Gulliver offers a few anthropological observations on the culture of Lilliput: they write slanted from one corner of a page to another, in contrast to the Chinese, Europeans, or Arabs. They have an old religious practice that all people are buried headfirst because Lilliputians believe that in “eleven thousand moons” the world will be turned upside down and all the dead will be resurrected. As in Europe, “The Learned among them confess the Absurdity of this Doctrine; but the Practice still continues, in Compliance to the Vulgar” (350). Thus the leaders of Lilliput must feign belief in divine providence though they do not accept it as true. Crimes are severely punished in Lilliput, and yet they still hold fast to Enlightenment optimism that virtue can be attained by all men in common by means of education. As in Plato’s Republic child-rearing is held in common. To the modern scientist Lilliput sees Gulliver as a big “Man-Mountain” but Gulliver sees the whims and practices of Lilliput as small and distantly amusing, albeit vicious in a certain sense.

At first Lilliput views Gulliver as a threat so they imprison him, but once he earns their trust, the Lilliputians quickly develop a ‘compact’ with Gulliver, a document which contains nine articles forcing Gulliver’s obeisance to law. After many requests for his own freedom, the Emperor Golbasto Momaren Evlame Gurdilo Shefin Mully Ully Gue who calls himself “the delight and terror of the universe,” Gulliver, or the “Man-Mountain” agrees to the articles in exchange for his freedom (Gulliver, the inquisitive explorer, is careful to obey all the laws of Lilliput despite his superior size and strength). The most notable of these articles is an injunction that Gulliver remain loyal to Lilliput and that he be used as a weapon against the city’s enemies. This is a satire of the modern state governed by modern philosophy and its social contract theories as well as its cold utilitarian values. After spotting an extraordinarily large creature, rather than trying to understand him, Lilliput enslaves him and turns him into a weapon.

The city of Lilliput faces two chief challenges: domestic disharmony between two opposing parties (a cultural disagreement as indicated by high- and low-heeled shoes, or a blistering parody of England’s High Church Tories and Low Church Whigs), and they also face the threat of invasion from the nearby kingdom of Blefuscu. The two cities, Lilliput and Blefuscu, are engaged in a ridiculous religious war over the correct way to break an egg –each side believing it is theologically correct. The battles of the moderns, perhaps not unlike the Protestants and the Catholics (England and France), are made to look utterly foolish among these little people. Seeing things at a distance gives one a certain perspective, as Socrates suggests in The Republic. Amazingly Gulliver manages to orchestrate peace between the two cities after hijacking nearly the entire navy of Blefuscu, but the Emperor disapproves of Gulliver’s refusal to enslave Blefuscu. Then a fire breaks out at the palace in Lilliput. When the tiny thimbles of water are insufficient to quench the flames, Gulliver decides to save the palace by urinating on it. But in doing so, he earns the ire of the maiden –defiling the castle by urination is a crime punishable by death– and so this whole conundrum leads to accusations of high treason. Gulliver soon defects to Blefuscu –Lilliput would rather watch its palace burn than suffer a mild but redemptive indiscretion.

We are given minimal commentary on the nature of Blefuscu while Gulliver visits. Shortly after arriving Gulliver quickly commandeers a boat and escapes from Blefuscu to find an English vessel which takes him back to London arriving on April 13, 1702. He remains with his wife and children for about two months before the desire to explore once again plagues him. Gulliver enlists aboard a new ship called the Adventure, a merchant vessel helmed by Captain John Nicholas of Liverpool which departs on June 20, 1702 (now Gulliver is age 41 by my calculation). It should be noted here and in several other places Gulliver’s counting is mistaken –at first he claims two months of living with his family, and then ten months. Mapping his travels in time and space is somewhat garbled at times. There is a considerable amount of counting and proportionality in Gulliver’s Travels, much of it confused or at least overly indulgent. Despite finding civilizations large and small, humans like Gulliver still rely on a perspective of common sense. Our narrator, Gulliver, proceeds like an investigator documenting his observations, however we regularly receive glimpses of his own personal tastes or distastes for certain customs –showing us that science is not value-neutral.

Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag
After departing The Adventure is beset by storms before spotting land on June 16, 1703 (Gulliver is now age 42 by my calculation). The next day a landing party ventures ashore to search for fresh water with Gulliver tagging along, but he wanders alone up the coastline and the crew sets sail without him, accidentally abandoning Gulliver on this lone shore. We are led to believe this is the Western shore of The New World, as in Thomas More’s Utopia.

Gulliver wanders up a road leading to a gigantic cornfield stretching about 40 feet high, we soon learn that the corn is farmed by a race of giants. One of these giants grabs Gulliver (we see contrasts with Lilliput: the people here are large, they grow their food, and Gulliver is now being lifted rather than holding the Emperor in the palm of his hand). Gulliver calls the gigantic farmer who confiscates him his “Master” (a parallel to his apprenticeship under “Master Bates”) and the giant’s daughter Glumdalclitch is called Gulliver’s “Mistress” or “Nurse” because she cares for him. Whereas in Lilliput a large Gulliver was forcibly enslaved, here in Brobdingnag a tiny Gulliver is willfully taken hostage by a race of giants. He is placed in a protective box to prevent attacks from rats and other vermin. In addition, notably the grass here is tall whereas it was short in Lilliput (indicating a certain mastery over Nature in Lilliput).

Because these people are so large, he sees their ugly flaws much easier –he notices a giant woman breastfeeding. Proportion changes many things, but still beauty, truth, and virtue remain. Gulliver describes the experience among the giants as a great “mortification” and he says, “Undoubtedly Philosophers are in the Right when they tell us, that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison” (368) –here we see Swift lampooning modern relativism.

“I hope, the gentle Reader will excuse me for dwelling on these and the like Particulars; which however insignificant they may appear to groveling vulgar Minds, yet will certainly help a Philosopher to enlarge his Thoughts and Imagination, and apply them to the Benefit of publick as well as private Life; which was my sole Design in presenting this and other Accounts of my Travels to the World; wherein I have been chiefly studious of Truth, without affecting any Ornaments of Learning, or of Style. But the whole scene of this Voyage made so strong an Impression on my Mind, and is so deeply fixed in my Memory, that in committing it to Paper, I did not omit one material Circumstance: However, upon a strict Review, I blotted out several Passages of less Moment which were in my first Copy, for fear of being censured as tedious and trifling, whereof Travellers are often, perhaps not without Justice, accused” (373).

On August 17, 1703 Gulliver is taken by his Master first to the market where he is proudly displayed like a circus prop and forced to perform, then he is taken onward to the metropolis where he entertains people nearly to death before he is brought before the Queen who promptly purchases Gulliver for entertainment (earning him the ire of the Queen’s dwarf). Gulliver also converses with the King, a man who is versed in Modern philosophy and mathematics. The King has three scholars examine Gulliver and they postulate several theories before determining Gulliver must be Lusus Naturae or “freak of nature.” They observe Gulliver as a rational being in a miniature human form. Gulliver offers to teach the Brobdingnag about gunpowder and other European inventions but the King is horrified. He chides Gulliver as a beggarly insect and suggests that only an enemy of mankind could have created such woeful technology. The Brobdingnag govern by common sense and reason, and as such they represent ancient moral virtue. The people in prior generations were much larger, like “giants” in contrast to the brittle people we see today.

Over time Gulliver earns the trust of the giants and he plots his escape but his confining box is snatched by an eagle that carries him out to sea where he is rescued by a passing ship. After being away from people his own size for two years he has grown unaccustomed to how ugly and distasteful they seem. People who spend time reading the ancients cannot help but become entranced by their majesty and soon start to see the world around them as decrepit in contrast. It is an example of Habit and Prejudice being formed by Gulliver. After being rescued by the English ship, Gulliver returns home and his family thinks he has gone raving mad. Gulliver’s wife demands that he not return to sea anymore.

Part III: A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib and Japan
Gulliver has been home a mere ten days before a Cornish man named William Robinson arrives and persuades Gulliver to join his ship bound for the West Indies called the Hopewell. He offers double the pay to Gulliver, along with an experienced crew, and Gulliver, who still possesses a “Thirst” for seeing the world, persuades his wife to release him.

The ship sets sail on August 5, 1706 and arrives at Fort St. George of the East India Company on April 11, 1706 (Gulliver is now age 45 by my calculation). Suddenly, a storm hits and the crew are attacked by unfriendly pirates, among them a Japanese pirate and a Dutchman, the pirates are especially nasty when Gulliver begs for mercy. Gulliver finds sympathy among the Japanese pirates but the Dutchman grows enraged when Gulliver runs his mouth so he decides to cast Gulliver adrift in a canoe which carries him across the ocean to a small island. He wanders ashore inland and just as all hope seems lost Gulliver encounters a mysterious floating island populated by people who ascend and take him upward to their elevated city.

The floating island is known as Laputa and it is populated by an aristocratic group of artistic thinkers who speak in terms of geometric shapes like ellipses and parallelograms. Their heads are tilted to one side, with one eye always gazing upward. They are neither imaginative nor inventive like the Lilliputians, but rather they are an ethereal people focused on math and music –here we see a satire of Newtonian science and the Royal Society. Laputa is a society in which modern science reigns over all. Science starts from the premise that our place in the cosmos is important, but in searching across the heavens for the “giants” of astronomy and magnifying the “dwarfs” of microbiology, science has difficulty justifying itself on purely rational grounds, and thus the scientific project relies upon common sense and an appeal to its innate goodness. In other words, the modern scientific project which claims to be value-neutral is heavily dependent upon and driven by an underlying ethical foundation. At any rate, the people of Laputa are overcome with endless abstract speculation, and like the ancient philosopher Thales, they are oblivious to the pains of ordinary life so their servants carry prudent instruments by their side called “Flappers” to help cope with the needs of daily life –Flappers are pouches attached to sticks carried by the servants to strike people’s ears when their pontificating wanders too far from the topic at hand. The Laputa are a wholly impractical people, unlike the Lilliputian regime which was excessively utilitarian.

Laputa, the “floating island,” hovers over its kingdom by magnetic force, using its ability to block the sun as punishment to its citizens below. As time passes, Gulliver grows bored and he yearns to escape from Laputa because he has grown “weary” so he is eventually allowed to pass downward to a continental island called Balnibarbi, a grounded kingdom ruled over by Laputa. He is taken in by a Lord named Munodi who tours Gulliver through the farmlands of Balnibarbi’s wasted countryside while a clutch of elites rule the land from an Academy. These people once visited the Academy of Laputa wherein they started developing complex theories about agriculture but now the land lies in a state of decay and ruin while all the people focus on abstraction. Gulliver visits the Academy where he witnesses all manner of absurd experiments, notably a man attempting to convert excrement back into food (again Swift forces us to consider humanity’s grotesque biological necessity). We are reminded of Aristophanes and his fabricated regime in the sky in The Birds, as well as his blistering satire of Socrates poisoning the Athenian youth via ridiculous studies in The Clouds. In Balnibarbi this regime of science is unable to comprehend common sense, and it is focused on efficiency and the extension of life, but it neglects its own basic needs. Dismayed by this silly display of intellectual vanity, Gulliver again grows bored and he longs to return home to England.

He tries to travel a nearby port called Luggnagg but he is forced to wait a month so he travels to a new place called Glubbdubdrib, an island of shadowy “Sorcerers and Magicians” akin to the Underworld –notably it is neither Hell nor Hades in this godless world. It is a ghostly place reminiscent of classical scenes wherein shades can be called up like “Visions in a Dream.” Gulliver pays a visit to the Governor of Glubbdubdrib who allows Gulliver to converse with the classical heroes of yesteryear. Gulliver amusingly speaks with Alexander the Great just after the battle of Arbela, and despite not being able to fully understand Greek, Alexander claims to have actually died of excessive drinking rather than poisoning. Next Gulliver sees Hannibal who claims not to have possessed any vinegar in his camp (thus denying the ancient story that Hannibal used vinegar to soften rocks along the alps in order to cut through them). Next Gulliver sees Caesar, Pompey and Brutus, but the true “Heroes” are Homer and Aristotle who have been widely misunderstood even in the Underworld, and Gulliver orchestrates a fascinating dialogue in which Descartes and Aristotle exchange ideas, only for Aristotle to admit certain mistakes he made.

From here Gulliver departs for Luggnagg where upon entry he is asked to lick the dust of the king’s footstool as is customary. The Luggnagg are a polite and courteous people –they are focused on extending the length of their lives while discoursing on various topics (something Gulliver finds delightful at first) however here Gulliver also finds an immortal race of people called Struldbrugs who are identified by red dots on their foreheads. As they grow older they become increasingly more unpleasant, showing their “mortifying deformities” in extreme old age. Gulliver suddenly realizes he no longer wishes for immortality and he longs to be free of these miserable people.

In the end, Gulliver leaves Luggnagg and sails to Japan (very little is said about his journey in Japan) and from there he pretends to be a Dutchman and boards a ship bound for Amsterdam. He finally returns to England on April 10, 1710 (now he is age 49 by my calculation).

Part IV: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms
Gulliver remains with his wife and children for five months but again he leaves, this time while she is pregnant with another child, and Gulliver becomes Captain of a new ship called the Adventure. However shortly after embarking, a storm hits and the crew devises a mutiny against Gulliver, first confining him to his cabin, and then marooning him on a desert island.

When Gulliver explores the island he discovers that this country is ruled by a horse-like people called Houyhnhnms (pronounnced “whinnins” as in the ‘whinny’ of a horse). They are a race of nobler animals, an ancient Pre-Christian band of virtuous horses –their name is in fact a hominem for “humans,” but they are somehow “so orderly and rational, so acute and judicious” (456). Also present in this country are an ugly breed of creatures called Yahoos, a nasty breed of donkeys comparable only with human beings.

Doubting and unbelief are uncommon in this country, nor are they particularly spirited or impassioned, they cannot even lie –nonbeing is simply known as “the thing which is not.” This final regime is the rule of classical political rationalism and it is the most preferable of all the regimes thus far discussed. Gulliver spends the bulk of Part IV discoursing with his new Houyhnhnm Master regarding the kingdoms and princes of Europe as well as the barbarous religious wars and new inventions like cannons and gunpowder. A chief theme they consider is whether or not Reason alone can sustain mankind devoid of virtue. The Houyhnhnms are benevolent and friendly, primarily concerned with the affairs in their own community. However Gulliver’s diatribes and appearance lead the Houyhnhnms believe that Europeans are nothing other than a bunch of Yahoos. The Houyhnhnms, in contrast, do not fear death and they live simply and modestly, crafting poetry and living well. Gulliver finds this race of Houyhnhnms so admirable that he contemplates remaining with them for the rest of his life.

Sadly, Gulliver is deemed too much of a Yahoo to live among the Houyhnhnms –they are far greater than Gulliver– so he is fashioned with a canoe and departs the country of the Houyhnhnms. After leaving, he hopes to live alone on a remote island, doing whatever he pleases in the image of the Houyhnhnms, however he is taken aboard by a passing ship and brought back to England against his will. Gulliver finally arrives back home in England in 1715 (age 54 by my calculation). However, he returns home filled with disgust at the sight of his family because he has spent too much time among the Hounynhnms, and he longs for their beauty and virtue. By contrast, ordinary people seem ugly. Nevertheless, as time passes he is able to tolerate them more and he focuses on tending to his own garden in England instead of venturing out again.

Gulliver closes his book by telling the “gentle Reader” that his book was written in order to “inform” rather than merely amuse. In other words there are particular educational elements to Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver also claims that his maxim has always been to “strictly adhere to Truth.” However, we see him telling a myriad of lies throughout the book for the sake of the truth. Towards the end, he slyly quotes Virgil’s Aeneid in a Latin quote regarding Sinon, the Greek soldier who was explicitly a liar. During the Trojan War, Sinon told pious lies in order to persuade Priam to receive the infamous Trojan horse, in particular he told them that the wooden horse was a gift to the gods, a grave act of trickery which ceded the war to the Achaeans:

“-Nec si miserum Fortuna Sinonem
Finxit, vanum etiam, mendacemque improba finget”

“Nor, if Fortune has made Sinon for misery,
will she also in her spite make him false and liar”
(Virgil’s. Aeneid II:79-80)

For this reading I used the Norton Critical Edition (paperback) of Jonathan Swift’s Essential Writings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s