The Da Vinci Code 6-8 – Introduction to Symbology: The World’s Most Pointless Major

Last time on The Da Vinci Code Silas offered even more reasons why he is the world’s worst assassin, we met shadowy bad guy Bish Bling (government name Manuel Aringarosa) and Robert Langdon took an entire chapter to walk through the Louvre in the company of grumpy French police chief Bezu Fache. Also Robert Langdon’s next book sounds terrible.

Chapter Six

Having squeezed beneath the security gate, Robert Langdon now stood just inside the entrance to the Grand Gallery.

Yes! Finally our hero has reached the murder scene. But wait, we have to hear about the parquet flooring for a page or two first. Langdon spots the Caravaggio on the floor and is all ‘Is that a Caravaggio?’ because he can’t do anything without namedropping. And because nobody in this book seems to be able to do anything without recapping what happened in previous chapters, Fache goes into detail about how Sauniere died and that he was shot through the security gate.

Oh, and the grand gallery is kind of…well, grand. As in big. Which is why it takes about three pages to walk down it, leaving Robert Langdon bored enough to start ruminating on why his Italian squeeze left him to track manta ray migrations. Probably because manta rays are cool and interesting, I’m guessing.

Goddamn, how long is this gallery? Even Langdon can’t believe this shit.

They continued walking briskly, yet Langdon still saw no corpse. ‘Jacques Sauniere went this far?”

After another long page of recapping how the body was found, we finally get to the stiff.

Sauniere looked remarkably fit for a man of his years…all of his musculature was in plain view.

Dan, much as I hate to interrupt you while your hero is checking out a corpse, we really need to talk about these weird random ellipses. It’s seriously putting a crimp in my quote game. An ellipsis is traditionally used to indicate that you’ve snipped something out while quoting, unlike here where it’s just hanging out trying – and failing – to look like a semi-colon. I’m going to have to start specifying which ellipses are mine and which are verbatim. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen a semi-colon yet.

Anyway, sorry. Let’s get back to admiring the body. Sick delts, bro.

Sauniere has spreadeagled himself on the floor and drawn a pentagram in his own blood, which is clever of him since I’d imagine that a gunshot wound to the belly would bleed way too extensively for that kind of thing. But I’m expecting logic and sanity from a book where Silas the Conspicious and Crap Assassin is a silent and deadly killer and Religious Symbology is an actual academic discipline. (It’s not, by the way.) For the purposes of the plot we’re just going to have to pretend that what spilled out of Jacques Sauniere resembles something other than a giant, rhesus negative Rorschach blot.

The bloody star, centered on Sauniere’s navel, gave the corpse a distinctly ghoulish aura. The photo Langdon had seen was chilling enough, but now, witnessing the scene in person, Langdon felt a deep uneasiness. He did this to himself?

YES, HE DID THIS TO HIMSELF. Holy shit. That’s like the seventh time this has been repeated already. It was satisfyingly spooky the first time, but it kind of lost its impact on the third or fourth repetition, like when a small child lands a joke and is so delighted by the response that they keep telling it over and over again until everyone starts to lose the will to live.

Fache asks for Langdon’s thoughts and we are off, ladies and gentleman. It’s about to get symbololological in here.

“It’s a pentacle,” Langdon offered, his voice feeling hollow in the huge space. “One of the oldest symbols on earth. Used over four thousand years before Christ.”

And what does it mean?”

Langdon always hesitated when he got this question. Telling someone what a symbol ‘meant’ was like telling them how a song should make them feel – it was different for all people.

I love this. We’re on chapter six and already the hero has accidentally given away why his particular branch of academia doesn’t actually exist in the real world. Firstly because it’s hilariously pointless and secondly because there is no way to say the word Symbology out loud without your tongue kind of crash landing on that L.

Fache says the pentacle is associated with devil worship, prompting Langdon to ‘well, actually…’ and say it’s pagan, and this goes off into a derail into the etymology of the word pagan before returning to the point.

“The pentacle,” Langdon clarified, “Is a pre-Christian symbol that relates to Nature worship. The ancients envisioned their world in two halves – masculine and feminine. Their gods and goddesses worked to keep a balance of power. Yin and yang. When male and female were balanced, there was harmony in the world. When they were unbalanced, there was chaos.” Langdon motioned to Sauniere’s stomach. “This pentacle is representative of the female half of all things – a concept religious historians call ‘the sacred feminine’ or the ‘divine goddess’. Sauniere, of all people, would know this.”

Okay, first off, isn’t the ‘divine goddess’ redundant? Goddesses are divine by their nature, which is probably why I’ve never heard a religious historian use that term. Also pentacles are used as symbols for a fuckload of things, although a brief Googling reveals that they were referred to as ‘pantacles’ by that specialest of snowflakes, Aleister ‘It’s Spelled Magick, actually’ Crowley.

But anyway – for the purposes of this plot it’s referring to the sacred feminine. And just that. No ambiguity. It’s that thing he said and it couldn’t possibly be anything else. The sooner you get on board with this concept the easier this book becomes.

Also it’s a symbol of Venus, because the planet Venus traces a pentgram with its eight (earth years) orbit, which appears to be true. Huh. Langdon also wanders off into a mental digression about how the Olympics were timed to honour the half cycles of Venus, which sounds a lot like bollocks, since the games were in honour of Zeus and not Venus/Aphrodite.

Even fewer people knew that the five-pointed star had almost become the official Olympic seal but was modified at the last moment – its five points exchanged for five intersecting rings to better reflect the games’ spirit of inclusion and harmony.

This is definitely bollocks. The Olympic rings were designed by Pierre de Coubertin in 1913, and the five rings represent the five continents – the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

You know, it’s true that this book is educational. I’ve learned all kinds of stuff in just six chapters, mostly in the process of shooting down Langdon’s bullshit.

Okay, I think that’s enough fact checking for now. If we don’t stop now we’ll be here until the sun exhausts its fuel supply. Let’s see – where were we?

Oh yes. Fache is once again saying the pentagram is Satanic, because we didn’t do that two pages ago or anything. Shut up, Fache. You’re going to set him off symbologising again, and nobody wants that.

But Langdon is here to chew gum and symbologise and he’s all out of Wrigleys, so off we go again, this time with him turning up the bullshit hose to ‘blast’ and spewing several paragraphs about how the mean old Christians turned all pagan symbols into bad things in order to demonise them, which is how Poseidon’s trident became the devil’s pitchfork and Venus’s sacred pentacle became the go-to graphic for the cover art of heavy metal albums. It’s partly true but so astonishingly simplified that it may as well not be. He doesn’t – for example – mention how some canny Christians sold their Virgin Mother as another incarnation of pagan goddesses, much like the Romans smoothly identified foreign goddesses – such as the British water goddess Sulis – with their own deities, in this case, Minerva.

Oh God. Help me. I’ve gone all Robert Langdon. And it’s not even chapter seven. Fuuuuck.

Anyway, so. Yeah – Sauniere is spread eagled in order to replicate the pentacle, because according to Langdon “replicating a symbol is the simplest way to strengthen its meaning,” which is probably why everyone in this book says everything about three times.

Fache thinks Sauniere used his blood to write so that the police would follow certain forensic procedures. Not sure what those would be, but while we’re on the subject of forensic procedures, wouldn’t Silas’s DNA be in the mix somewhere? The guy walks around leaking from open wounds, for Christ’s sake.

Then Fache points out that Sauniere has a blacklight pen in his hand, turns out the lights, busts out the black-light and reveals some words. But we don’t know what they are. You have to keep reading for that. He’s good at cliffhangers; I’ll give Dan Brown that much.

Meanwhile Collet is lurking in Sauniere’s office, where he’s being freaked out by a statue of a knight that has been mentioned twice now and is almost certainly relevant to the plot. And the kicker? Collet is listening in. Le gasp! Langdon is under surveillance cachee! Mon dieu!

Chapter Seven…

…delivers us to the Church of Saint-Sulpice, which still hasn’t been granted italic status, even when it’s being an eglise. Then we meet a nun named Sandrine, who is the first female character in this book about the sacred feminine.

Her abbe calls her to tell her that the head of Opus Dei – that’s Bish Bling, to you and I – phoned him to ask if one of his numenaries can see the church tonight, and that he can be at the church at one in the morning, which is twenty minutes away. So it’s currently 12:40, which is about six minutes after Langdon first crawled out of bed. Now, I know there are overlapping timelines in this book and the narrator can’t be everywhere at once without the kind of hardcore omniscient narrator ju-jitsu you probably shouldn’t attempt unless you are actually George Eliot, but this chapter does convey the unfortunate impression that Langdon’s endless Odyssey to the Louvre has taken place at the kind of speeds that should rightly be studied by CERN.

Sandrine agrees to the request and then has a small moment of irritation at the way Opus Dei treat women, then she feels a shiver and thinks ‘women’s intuition’. No, really. She thinks that. In italics and everything.

Dan Brown is going to be good at writing women. I can feel it already. Call it women’s intuition.

Chapter Eight

There’s writing on the floor of the Louvre.

13-3-2-21-1-1-8-5

O, Draconian devil!

Oh, lame saint!

Langdon and Fache are both pretty much stumped, until Fache steps back further with the black-light and reveals that Sauniere has drawn a circle around himself, creating a replica of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. You know, as you do when you’re bleeding to death from a gunshot wound.

And this is where poor old Leonardo Da Vinci gets dragged into this shit.

Da Vinci was a prankster who often amused himself by quietly gnawing at the hand that fed him. He incorporated in many of his Christian paintings hidden symbolism that was anything but Christian – tributes to his own beliefs and a subtle thumbing of his nose at the Church.

Since when did the Renaissance have a problem with anything pagan, for fuck’s sake? Titian and Botticelli painted two of the most famous Venuses in human history.

Anyway, Langdon has some opinions. Here’s one.

“I was just thinking that Sauniere shared a lot of spiritual ideologies with Da Vinci, including a concern over the Church’s elimination of the sacred feminine from modern religion. Maybe, by imitating a famous Da Vinci drawing, Sauniere was simply echoing some of their shared frustration with the modern Church’s demonization of the goddess.”

Absolutely, Bob. I’ve never bled to death from a gunshot wound before, but now that you mention it that would be the exact thing that would be running through my head in that moment. As my abdominal wall opened and I felt my small intestines shifting to places I knew instinctively that they were never, ever supposed to be, that’s what I would be thinking: Why hasn’t the 21st Century Catholic Church made any progress on the ordination of women?

Fache is not buying it and sensibly points out that the more sensible thing for a dying man to scribble on the floor is maybe the name of the person who killed him. Of course, because this is The Da Vinci Code this is not simply a case of Fache stating the bleeding obvious, but an elaborate trap being listened in on by Collet, who is still lurking in Sauniere’s office and thinking what a devout Catholic his boss is.

Almost like Fache might have divided loyalties or something. Hmm…

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