Artemis a Model for Widows?

Like Edith Wharton (previous post), Machado de Assis has what looks very like a mythological blunder in his very first short story (first collected, in his case), “Miss Dollar”. The very handsome and affordable new translation of the Collected Stories translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Liveright, 2018) includes these remarks about a beautiful widow very reluctant to remarry (13-14):

“She wants to remain faithful unto the grave, an Artemis for our own age.”

Unconvinced by this reference to Artemis, Andrade smiled at his friend’s remark, . . .

* * * * *

This quote had the effect of silencing Andrade, who believed about as much in constancy as he did in Artemises, . . .

Of course, the classical model for inconsolable widows was not the virgin goddess Artemis but Artemisia, specifically Artemisia II of Caria, who built one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Mausoleum, as a tomb for her husband (and brother) Mausolus. Except for helpful stress-accents, the two names are the same in Portuguese: Ártemis and Artemísia. (Being ignorant of Portuguese, I would not have been able to check this easily until the last few years, since dictionaries usually omit proper names. Now I can just look up Artemis and Artemisia – the queen, not the generic name of mugwort, wormwood, and sagebrush, which comes up first – on Wikipedia, and click on Languages / Português in the left margin to see how the articles are titled in Portuguese.)

Though I may be wrong, the apparent blunder does not seem to be the translators’. Machado de Assis’ Obra Completa is out of copyright (he died 110 years ago last Saturday) and on-line at a Brazilian government URL ( The text of “Miss Dollar” there (click on ‘Conto’, then ‘Contos Fluminenses’) reads ‘Artemisa’ or ‘Artemisas’ in all three places. Could this be an earlier spelling of Artemis or Artemisia? That would be awfully confusing: it looks more like a conflation of the two, falling between two stools, as it were. Did Machado de Assis himself, or his copy editors, proofreaders, or typographers drop an I and an accent to turn Artemísia into Artemisa? That is a question only an expert on Brazilian Portuguese and the works of Machado de Assis can answer. However, he must have meant the woman whose English name is Artemisia, not Artemis, so the translation is definitely wrong.

Perhaps I should add that I’ve been very impressed by the quality of the stories I’ve read (four so far) and the translation reads very well, though I’m obviously in no position to judge its accuracy except on this one tiny point. I would have liked footnotes for some of the geographical and literary allusions, but there was hardly room for them: the book is already xxv + 931 pages. Perhaps someone could put together a companion website, with contemporary maps, explanations of what the named streets and neighborhoods imply socially and economically, identification of now-forgotten (at least outside Brazil) authors, and so on. (If such a site already exists in Portuguese, a translation would be very much appreciated by readers of the new Collected Stories.) I would be glad to help with the frequent classical references and allusions.

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One Response to Artemis a Model for Widows?

  1. Alfred M. Kriman says:

    Not a complete solution to the puzzle, but of apparent relevance:

    (1) The last major reform of Portuguese orthography was only in 1945 or thereabouts, moving it towards the less historical style used in Spanish. This late change is the reason the English word commando (from Portuguese via southern Africa) is spelled with two m’s.

    (2) Just past the title of the Portuguese Wikipedia page for Ártemis, one reads that Ártemis and Artemísia are regarded as alternative names for the goddess. That seems to be an editor of whoever wrote it into the article. Googling yields the following hit counts:
    (Don’t strain your eyes: if two search strings seem nearly identical, the second one is missing an accent.)
    “a deusa Ártemis” 23100
    “a deusa Artemis” 17300
    “a deusa Artemis” OR “a deusa Ártemis”, inconsistent with the above 21200
    (using OU is much worse)
    “a deusa Artemisa” 1570
    “a deusa Artemísia” 141
    “a deusa Artemisia” 7
    And the Artemisias of Caria are not entirely forgotten:
    “Artemísia” “rainha” “Cária” 2490
    “Artemisia” “rainha” “Cária” 258
    “Artemísia” “Cária” 4490
    “Artemisia” “Cária” 1250
    “Artemísia II de Cária” 1850
    “Artemisia II de Cária” 9370
    “Artemísa II de Cária” 0
    “Artemisa II de Cária” 447

    I infer tentatively that Artemisa is a rare (~5%) variant of or error for both Ártemis and Artemisia, and that Artemisia is very rarely confused with Ártemis. The Miss Dollar spelling looks like a simple error.

    Interestingly, that Portuguese Wikipedia page for Ártemis contains an apparent error in footnote 1. The note is about Ártemis representing the moon, but it gives her name in the Miss Dollar form of Artemisa without explanation.

    I cannot understand the apparently inconsistent accenting of Artemisia and Artemísia, but Google and writers can both be a bit sloppy about accents. There shouldn’t be much contamination from Spanish, since Caria clearly has no use for an accent on the first a in Spanish, and adding an unnecessary accent is an unlikely error. (If you know, you leave it out because that’s correct; if you don’t know, you leave it out because you don’t care.)

    FWIW — possibly something — in Spanish the dominant form of the name of the goddess is Artemisa (by maybe a factor of 2 or 3).

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