3 Fish Anecdotes

It was at the Gupo Market, in the cold wind from the Nakdong River, and I was walking back from the Boshintang joints where the dogs are kept waiting in giant wood cages for the old people to come and eat them. I was alone but looking for my wife, who was getting some raw fish cut up for her near some of the usual Busanian tanks full of live octopuses and eels writhing away the last few hours of their lives (I had left on a brief photographic excursion just as an ajumma was in the process of strangling one of them with her rubber gloves, right after weighing it on a scale, though it probably would have been easier to weigh the angry terrified octopus after it had given up its cephalopodical ghost).

The market is a place of eating and of death. As I walked past all the people and looked through the crowds for my wife I suddenly imagined, with a great sense of horror and uncanny foreboding, that she had been transformed into one of the fishes that the butcher was about to chop up for her, and that there was nothing I could do to save her. Where was she? Had my wife really gotten herself turned into a fish?

But of course not. Sleepily, that night, I repeatedly thanked her for staying human.

Here are two important classical references to the twin fish, Pisces, one from Dante and one from Ovid—

The beautiful planet which prompts to love [Venus]
made the whole east smile,
veiling the Fishes that escorted her.

—Purgatorio, Canto I
(translated very prosily by H.R Huse)

Now the light Water-Carrier (Aquarius) sets with his tilted urn: next in turn do thou, O Fish, receive the heavenly steeds. They say that thou and thy brother (for ye are constellations that sparkle side by side) did support twain gods upon your backs. Once on a time Dione, fleeing from the dreadful Typhon, when Jupiter bore arms in defence of heaven, came to the Euphrates, accompanied by the little Cupid, and set down by the brink of the Palestinian water. Populars and reeds crowned the top of the banks, and willows offered hope that the fugitives also could find covert there. While she lay hid, the grove rustled in the wind. She turned pale with fear, and thought that bands of foes were near. Holding her child in her lap, “To the rescue, nymphs!” she said, “and to two deities bring help!” Without delay she sprang forward. Twin fish received her on their backs, wherefore they now possess the stars, a guerdon meet. Hence scrupulous Syrians count it sin to serve up such fry upon the table, and will not defile their mouths with fish.

—Fasti, II 454-480
(translated very classically by the notorious James G. Frazer, of Golden Bough fame)

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One thought on “3 Fish Anecdotes

  1. Jennifer says:

    Nice quotes. I’m a Pisces. I don’t think I could emotionally handle the Jagalchi Market. For me it would only be a place of death. It was hard enough for me to see the old cat, blind in both eyes, straining to hear when a good time might be to cross Dalmaji Road. There really wasn’t a good time. If I’d thought the cat wouldn’t have fucked me up, I would have taken him/her across myself.

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