Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Second-Most Important Cat

I promise I’ll not make it a habit of blogging about Garfield. If I do begin devoting undue space on this blog to Garfield or ancillary characters in the Garfield universe, please come to my house and beat my hands with my laptop until both my hands and the laptop are reduced to useless splinters. That being said, this post is superficially about a certain overweight cartoon cat. It’s also the word of the week.

In poking around online to write Wednesday’s post about why Bill Murray voiced Garfield in the live-action movie, I found that he’d also done so in a sequel, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. I don’t actually remember this movie hitting theaters, but it apparently did — and consequently gave everyone involved something to answer for in the afterlife. (Pam from the British Office, did you lose a bet?) The cast list includes short descriptions of what character each actor played, and the one for the one Tim Curry voiced used a word I’d never seen before.
deuteragonist (doo-tə-RAH-gə-nist) — noun: 1. the character second in importance to the protagonist in classical Greek drama. 2. a person who serves as a foil to another.
Yup. Some Wikipedia editor saw fit to link Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties with Greek drama.

Now, in college I took all but one course needed to get a classics minor — a feat that I consider all the more impressive because I did it accidentally. By the time I realized, the admins had already told me that I needed to graduate and move the hell on. I’d like to think that if I had taken that one last course, I’d have learned what deuteragonist means from a source other than Garfield. Oh well. I had at least taken enough to know what the word meant without having to look it up. The Greek deuter means “second,” while agonistes means “actor” or “combatant.”

(That first part would be easy to remember if Deuteronomy were the second book of the Bible, but it’s not. Wikipedia explains that the name Deuteronomy, “second law,” comes from a bad translation of the Hebrew phrase mishneh ha-torah ha-zot, “a copy of this law,” which appears in Deuteronomy 17:18. Misnomer or not, Deuteronomy still seems like a better title than the Hebrew name, Devarim, which just translates to “words,” which is the worst and vaguest title for a book ever.)

The Wikipedia page for deuteragonist mixes high and low culture in a way that rivals me learning about deuteragonists from Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. (The film itself is a bastardization of The Prince and the Pauper. Ghost of Mark Twain, you have some haunting to do.) After explaining the importance of deuteragonists in Greek drama, the article goes on to cite various famous characters who have played this role. In order: Jocasta in Oedipus Rex, Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Dib in Invader Zim, Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender, some dick I’ve never heard of in an anime that plays on Adult Swim at like 4 a.m., Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars and finally Aldous Snow in Get Him to the Greek.

Once more, and certainly not for the final time: Way to go, internet.

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