Satampra 'Lefty' Zeiros

Dan Clore

Clark Ashton Smith's two stories featuring Satampra Zeiros ("The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" and "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles") pose an interesting question--does the latter take place before or after the former? Smith's own proposed contents for a "Book of Hyperborea" does not answer the question, as it only includes the former and does not seem to be ordered chronologically in any case.

Lin Carter attempted to place the stories in chronological order when he edited the collection Hyperborea. He places "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" before "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles". He explains: "As they both depict the adventures of Satampra Zeiros, and as one occurs during his youth and the other during his elder years, their sequence is obvious." Steve Behrends appears to concur, informing us in his Starmont Reader's Guide that "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles" "tells of a later exploit of Zeiros with his new companion, Vixeela" and that "Lin Carter's conjectural ordering seems an ingenious job." Will Murray's introduction to The Book of Hyperborea again appears to concur, as it says that Carter's chronology "is quite sound".

But something about this ordering appears amiss to me. At the end of "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros", his companion Tirouv Ompallios dies, and Zeiros himself loses his right hand. But in "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles", he makes no mention of his one-handedness. Now, given Zeiros' activities in the story--crawling on his hands and knees (once while carrying a sack), ("easily") removing a vial's wax cork with a knife, and gathering up loot, one might expect him to say something along the lines of "and this was kind of hard, seeing as how I only have one hand." So it seems likely that "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles" takes place before "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros".

Lin Carter's statement that "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles" takes place "during his elder years" seems to be in error. The story states that the time of its *writing* is in Zeiros' old age, but he explicitly states that Vixeela "has long since gone to the bourn of all good thieves and companions" and that he has "mourned her sincerely these many years". Further, Smith wrote a number of verses of an "Elegy for Vixeela", with which he at one time intended to prefix the tale.

Further evidence supports this ordering. At the beginning of "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros", he informs us that he is writing the story "as a warning to all good thieves and adventurers". He does not sound as if he is in the habit of telling his adventures. At the opening of "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles", in contrast, he refers to "the adventure I have now to relate", as if he has gained the habit.

What, then, of Tirouv Ompallios' absence from the latter tale? Zeiros refers to him as "my life-long friend and my trustworthy companion in all such enterprises". I suspect that Vixeela is to blame. Perhaps jealousy over her amorous favors put the two at outs; and Zeiros notably fails to mention the cause of her death, which precedes his own by so many years. The most likely sequence of events would seem to run along these lines: Vixeela comes between Zeiros and Ompallios, refusing to share her favors with the latter; Zeiros and Vixeela team up, engaging in the exploits described in "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles"; Ompallios murders Vixeela, and he and Zeiros then become reconciled; they return to their criminal career, until the events of "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros"; following the writing of the latter, the public clamors for more adventures from the lovable rogue, and he eventually writes "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles" as an entry in the series, with the jealousy of Ompallios safely gone.

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