Is there no hope? Alas! –then bring the jowl

From Alexander Pope’s An Epistle to Cobham, 234-239 in the Twickenham edition:

A salmon’s belly, Helluo, was thy fate:
The doctor call’d, declares all help too late.
Mercy! cries Helluo, mercy on my soul!
Is there no hope? Alas! –then bring the jowl.

Helluo is a very rare Latin word for glutton. The image, whatever the possible contemporary target, has a real background source in a tale from Athenaeus (8.341) of a little known poet named Philoxenus:

The comic poet Macho (64–86 Gow) writes the following about the dithyrambic poet Philoxenus of Cythera:

They say that the dithyrambic poet
Philoxenus was an extraordinary
glutton. So once when he was in Syracuse,
he bought an octopus that was three feet long,
and prepared it and ate almost the entire thing
except for the head. He got a stomach-ache
and was in terrible shape. A doctor
came to visit him, saw that he was doing
very badly, and said: “If you’ve got
any business that needs to be taken care of, do it
right away,
Philoxenus; because you’ll be dead by mid-afternoon.”
He responded: “My affairs are all in order,
doctor,” he said, “and have been settled for a while
now.
With the gods’ help, the dithyrambs I’m leaving
behind
have all grown up and been awarded garlands,
and I’m entrusting them to the care of the Muses I
grew
up with. That Aphrodite and Dionysus are my
executors,
my will makes clear. But since
Timotheus’ Charon, the one from his Niobe,
is not allowing me to linger, but is shouting for me to
proceed to the ferry,
and my night-dark fate, which I must heed, is
calling—
so that I can run off to the Underworld with
everything that’s mine:
give me the rest of that octopus!”


Bateson, the editor, believes that Pope more likely got his inspiration from John Hales’ Golden Remains:

When Philoxenus the Epicure had fallen desperately sick upon glutting himself on a delicate and costly fish, perceiving he was to die, he calls for the remainder of his fish, and eats it up, and dies a true Martyr to his belly.”

He also – with some qualifying skepticism – offers La Fontaine’s Le Glouton as another possibility. That one feels closer to Pope’s choppy rhythm to me but either way here’s my hasty translation:

À son souper un glouton
Commande que l’on appreste
Pour luy seul un Esturgeon.
Sans en laisser que la teste,
Il soupe ; il creve, on y court :
On luy donne maints clisteres.
On luy dit, pour faire court,
Qu’il mette ordre à ses affaires.
Mes amis, dit le goulu,
M’y voila tout resolu ;
Et puis qu’il faut que le meure,
Sans faire tant de façon,
Qu’on m’apporte tout à l’heure
Le reste de mon poisson.

At his dinner a glutton
orders that there be readied
for himself alone a sturgeon.
Leaving aside only the head,
he dines; Now he’s bursting, help comes running:
They give him several enemas.
They tell him – to cut it short –
That he should put his affairs in order.
My friends, says the glutton,
I’m ready, fully resolute;
And since I must die
don’t make a deal of it
but have someone bring right away
the rest of my fish.

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