Guest Post: The Real Tycho Dodonus?

The Predictions of Tycho Dodonus play an outsize role in the understory beneath the confusing surface action of the Fantastic Beasts film franchise. In a nutshell, the wizards of the age seem to believe that the poetic predictions made by Tycho point to the identity of Credence as something of a deliverer. What we haven’t been told is who this Tycho was (is?) and why his cryptic utterances carry such weight with witches and wizards between the two great World Wars. Tyler Brown has found a real-world model that may be an important clue in grasping what the Tycho prophetic sub-plot means in Beasts. Enjoy!

The Predictions of Tyconius the Donatist?

In The Crimes of Grindelwald, we are newly introduced to a prophecy that has taken the wizarding world by storm, the Predictions of Tycho Dodonus. We first hear of Tycho Dodonus when Yusuf Kama mentions the Predictions to Tina outside the Parisian Café, where she dismisses them as mere poetry. Prediction 20 itself first appears in the extended cut’s next scene, the ballroom scene featuring Leta, where rumors are that Credence Barebone is actually Leta’s brother Corvus Lestrange returned beyond hope. Travers begins to quote Prediction 20 to Dumbledore in the DADA classroom scene, who cuts him off with, “Yes, I know it.” Yusuf recites the full text later in the Lestrange Mausoleum: “A son cruelly banished / Despair of the daughter / Return, great avenger / With wings from the water.” Yet, the Corvus Lestrange interpretation is invalidated, of course, by Leta’s admission of the Credence-Corvus baby-swap.

Interestingly, the Predictions of Tycho Dodonus are a unique prophecy in the Potterverse, being, apparently, public knowledge. Rowling has departed from her usual procedure with the prophecies of Tycho Dodonus, since, as we know from the Potter series, prophecies are typically collected by the Department of Mysteries to be placed under guard in the Hall of Prophecies. That the Tycho Dodonus prophecies are not handled this way suggests their importance. Therefore, we can probably expect the continuing influence of Tycho Dodonus’ prophecy in Beasts.

Being aware of this, I was surprised the other day to come across a real-world name very similar to Tycho Dodonus: Tyconius the Donatist (try saying them aloud!). It turns out that Tyconius the Donatist wrote a Book of Rules which is intended to guide readers through, wait for it, “the vast forest of prophecy” of the Scriptures.i This discovery was enough to hook me in, so I started doing some digging to see if there were any parallels between Tyconius the Donatist and Tycho Dodonus, and I was not disappointed. So, could Tyconius the Donatist be a real-world inspiration for the prophet of Fantastic Beasts? My reasons for believing so follow.

First, both Tyconius the Donatist’s Book of Rules and the Predictions of Tycho Dodonus are usually encountered for the first time as a text-within-a text. The Predictions are the most prominent interior text in Crimes. The great St. Augustine was deeply influenced by Tyconius and gave the Book of Rules immortality by including 10+ pages of summary of it in his relatively brief, but famous On Christian Doctrine. Rowling likely would have discovered Tyconius first as a text-within-the-text of Augustine’s classic.

Second, the Book of Rules is a book about reading and interpreting prophecy, while the Predictions of Tycho Dodonus are themselves prophecies which our characters are struggling to interpret.

Third, Tyconius the Donatist was an African, and the Senegalese-descended Yusuf Kama is the one who first mentions the Predictions in Crimes. (Also, could “Yusuf Kama” be a pun on “Use of Comma”? Could the comma in the prophecy’s third line be the key to its meaning?)

Fourth, On Christian Doctrine is itself a book about how to read and interpret Scripture (written to his friend Aurelius, of all people!). Our resident Dean has written eloquently about the way interior texts function in Rowling, and how her books are themselves about reading/seeing/interpreting correctly. Her embedded texts teach us to read Rowling’s work as we learn from the mistakes made by the characters in the story.

Fifth, On Christian Doctrine contains what is perhaps St. Augustine’s most famous Rowling-esque quote, identifying as it does love as the only lens with which to see/interpret/read properly: “So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them.”ii Yusuf Kama misreads the prophecy because he does not read it through the lens of love, but out of the desire for revenge. Take heed film-watchers!

Sixth, Augustine makes explicit his desire to resolve “obscurities” in Scripture in the book’s opening sentence, and again when he introduces Tyconius the Donatist’s Book of Rules.iii Credence’s obscure-us might allude to this issue of proper interpretation of obscure things through the lens of love. An obscurus, Dumbledore says, grows in the absence of love, reflecting not only the fact that Credence is “obscured” and therefore never really known and loved, but also that his own ability to perceive is “obscured” due to the absence of love.

Seventh, the theme of Tyconius the Donatist’s Book of Rules is the discernment of good and evil which exist alongside each other in the midst of the church. Specifically, Tyconius wants to expose the present reality of the AntiChrist within the church’s midst. The parallels with Fantastic Beasts here are especially striking, for the ability/inability to see/discern good and evil in the midst of the wizarding world is a primary theme in the films: Queenie and many others buy into Grindelwald’s lies, as Dumbledore had done so fatefully in the summer of the blood pact. “Fake news” misleads Tina into doubting Newt’s love for her. Credence is hunted and misunderstood, even as he is deceived and lends “credence” to the wrong person. Evil infiltrates the ministry, etc. A key passage for Tyconius is 2 Thessalonians 2:9, where “the coming of the lawless one (read: AntiChrist) is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders.” Grindelwald specializes in just such lying shows of power. Think especially of his persuasive rhetoric and staged show in the undergound amphitheater. Might even Credence’s phoenix at the end be a “lying wonder”? I will return to this in the next, final point.

Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, Tyconius’ most influential work is a commentary on the Revelation of St. John, which teaches the church how to apply the apocalyptic message of the book to its own day. These apocalyptic realities, for Tyconius, are always present in our midst. Fantastic Beasts appears replete with imagery from the Apocalypse applied, Tyconius-style, to the (films’) present day: Grindelwald is the unholy trinity of Dragon, Beast, and False Prophet rolled into one. See the delightful articles of Lana Whited to get the full download on Grindelwald as Beast/Dragon. Suffice it to say his Dragon-esque qualities are undeniable: exhaling dark visions, mismatched eyes, the Protego Diabolica spell that produces a dragon out of its hellish flames, etc.

Rowling has called himthe beast that was in the back of my mindwhen writing the Potter stories. See the skull-hookah moments for Grindelwald as False Prophet. Notice, too, that the Beast of Rev. 13:1 comes out of the sea—could the “avenger with wings from the water” be a beastly character, or a literal beast? Also, the (fantastic) Beast of Revelation infamously fakes a resurrection in parodic imitation of Christ’s in 13:3. Could Grindelwald’s production of the phoenix, the resurrection bird, to “prove” Credence’s identity actually be a false sign and lying wonder, alluding to the fake resurrection of Rev. 13:3? Just speculating.

Further to this point, good “Beasts” figure prominently in Revelation, most notably in the throne room scenes. We even meet in Crimes something like a fiery lion in the Zouwu, a snake figure in Nagini (although her character is not yet evil), and a president whose name sounds like the angelic Seraphim. Goldstein is a Jewish name, and although Kowalski is simply a Polish one common to Jewish people, Jacob (=Israel) is perhaps the most Jewish name of all. Note also the deleted scene with Queen-ie (Eve?) and Grindelwald (the dragon!) in the garden. So, the characters from Revelation are all here. Could Newt, then, have a Lamb-esque role to play? We know he lives to an old age and conquers the dragon (with the aid of Dumbledore free of the blood pact prison), but could there also be some kind of symbolic death or self-sacrifice to undergo for Mr. Scamander? According to the alchemical text known as the Book of LAMBspring, the Salamander is “pierced,” and “from its blood it wins immortal life” and produces the Philosopher’s Stone. The name “Gellert” means something like “spear strength.” Could Gellert the “spear” “pierce” Mr. Scamander, as the spear pierces the side of Christ in the Gospel of John?iv

What do you think, beloved fellow HogPro readers? Is Tyconius the Donatist an inspiration for Tycho Dodonus? What is Rowling saying about the nature of reading/seeing through the Predictions of Tycho Dodonus? Will Newt’s do-the-right-thing-no-matter-the-cost nature, so admired by Dumbledore, lead him to a Harry-esque moment of self-sacrifice, even though we know he lives?

i Tyconius. Book of Rules, trans. William S. Babcock. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989, 3.

ii Augustine. On Christian Teaching, trans. R.P.H. Green. Oxford: OUP, 2008, 27.

iii Ibid., 3, 89.

iv John 19:34.

Comments

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    This is splendid – thank you!

    A couple convenience foot- or sidenotes:

    A handy transcription of James Shaw’s translation of On Christian Doctrine is among the Fathers at New Advent (newadvent.org) – and I assume variously scanned (probably with fuller notes) in the Internet Archive.

    The excellent Adrian Fortescue’s 1912 “Ticonius” article for The Catholic Encyclopedia (also transcribed at New Advent) is well worth a look – including a fascinating quotation from Gennadius and discussion, among other notable things, of St. Bede’s use of Tyconius, and the fact that his “Commentary on the Apocalypse” was “extant in the library of St. Gallen in the ninth century”.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    There are three scans of F.C. Burkitt’s 1894 Cambridge UP edition of The book of Rules of Tyconius in the Internet Archive. I have not quickly found anything about the origin of the name, but I have found things to suggest that the name ‘Tycho’ probably most often goes back ultimately to St. Tycho, Bishop of Amanthus in Cyprus whose Feast is 16 June. (Presumably both names are related to the noun, ‘tyche’.)

    Dodonus brings in another context, as presumably related to the site of the oracle in northwestern Greece, Dodona (or Dodone), which in turn has been variously related to an Oceanid nymph, or the wife of Deucalion, or Dodon, son of Zeus and Europa.

    I do not quickly find reference to whether the oracular utterances at Dodona were expressed in verse or publicly recorded – as, if I am not mistaken, at some oracles, and as the Sybilline Oracles are. And so publicly available verse oracles in the ‘Muggle’ world open fascinating vistas of inquiry with respect to the Wizarding world – not least with respect to how many are – or may be – common to both, such as those variously attributed to Merlin, who is himself certainly common to both.

  3. Tyler Brown says

    Thank you, David, for these comments! I agree, those further contexts you mention are surely also relevant. Thank you also for mentioning the online editions of Tyconius and Augustine.

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