Neptune and Ancient Greece

LORELAI: Um, guys, hi, there’s a lady up there with a rock the size of Neptune around her neck talking about the debutantes of ancient Greece. It’s a lot easier to fall asleep if you’re sitting down, trust me.

The planet Neptune, the eighth planet from the Sun, was officially discovered in 1846, although it had been previously sighted and thought to be a star. It has a mass of 1.0243×1026 kg, making it 17 times more massive than the Earth. It is named after the Roman god of the sea, who interestingly, carries a trident, which Rory referenced earlier.

Symbolically, Neptune is associated with dreams and fantasy, suggesting that the debutante ball is creating an illusion, and there is little that is solid or genuine behind it. Notice that Emily despairs that the elegant ballroom is not all that it appears, the debutantes are “false” in that they have artificially changed their appearance, and that there is something insubstantial about the proceedings – which we barely manage to see. Not to mention that the ball itself takes a rather surreal turn, as if it is all just a dream. (Is it pure coincidence that Lorelai immediately talks about falling asleep?).

Lorelai’s statement about “the debutantes of ancient Greece” can be taken as nothing more than a joke – as if the MC’s reminiscences about her own debut must be positively ancient. However, the ancient Greeks did hold puberty rites for girls, of which you could say debutante balls are the spiritual successor. It seems very unlikely the MC would really mention ancient puberty rites, but the ball is just bizarre enough for this to be taken at face value.

Crinoline and Cummerbund

While discussing preparations for the ball, it transpires that Rory will be wearing a crinoline under her dress, and Dean will need to wear a cummerbund.

A crinoline is another word for a hoop skirt, previously discussed.

A cummerbund is a broad sash worn around the waist, these days usually with a dinner jacket or tuxedo. Originating in Persia, they were adopted by British officers stationed in India, and adopted as an alternative to the waistcoat. A cummerbund is worn for black tie events in North America.

Boston

CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, Boston. Baked beans, cream pie, tea party, strangler.

Boston is the capital of, and largest city in, the state of Massachusetts. It was founded by Puritan colonists in 1630. It has a population of more than 600 000 people, is one of the economically most dominant cities in the world, and is known for its diversity of neighbourhoods. It’s about two and a half hours drive from where Stars Hollow would be, so Christopher is significantly closer to them now. It’s also 15 minutes drive from Harvard University ….

Note that Christopher has moved to Boston without letting Lorelai and Rory know, or even giving them the landline number for his new apartment. It seems he hasn’t spoken to them since Lorelai’s bachelorette party, with the excuse that he was giving Lorelai space after she broke her engagement. Which might be reasonable, except he has a daughter, and there’s no excuse for not phoning her. Once again, Rory is an afterthought in Christopher’s relationship with Lorelai, rather than the focal point she should be.

Christopher quickly rattles off a few associations for Boston:

Boston baked beans

Baked beans sweetened with molasses and flavoured with salt pork or bacon. It’s been a speciality of Boston since colonial times, and baked beans with frankfurters is a favourite dish. Boston is sometimes known as Beantown.

Boston cream pie

A sponge cake with custard or cream filling, glazed with chocolate. It’s said to have been created in 1881 at the Parker House Hotel in Boston by a French chef. It’s the official dessert of Massachusetts.

Boston Tea Party

A political protest by the an organisation called the Sons of Liberty in Boston on December 16 1773. It was in protest of the Tea Act, which allowed the British East India Company to sell tea from China in American colonies without paying taxes apart from those imposed by British parliament. The Sons of Liberty strongly opposed the taxes as a violation of their rights, with the slogan “no taxation without representation”. Protesters destroyed an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company, boarding the ships and throwing chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The British government responded harshly, and the episode escalated into the American Revolution. The Tea Party became an iconic event of American history.

Boston Strangler

The name given to the murderer of thirteen women in Boston in the early 1960s; most were sexually assaulted and strangled in their apartments with no signs of forced entry. In 1967 a man named Albert DeSalvo confessed to being the Boston Strangler while serving life imprisonment for a series of rapes; he was found stabbed to death in prison in 1973. Although his confession revealed some details of the crimes unknown to the public, and DNA evidence has linked him with the Strangler’s final victim, doubts remain as to whether he committed all the Boston murders. George Nassar, the prison inmate DeSalvo reportedly confessed to, is the major suspect; he is currently serving life in prison for murder. Several films have been made about the case, most notably The Boston Strangler (1968), starring Tony Curtis.

Christopher’s glib associations for the city bring to mind the way Rory summed up Chicago to Dean as “Windy. Oprah”.

Dowry

LORELAI: Well, you have a dress. You need a dowry, I guess. There you go.

A dowry is a payment of money or property given by a bride’s family to a groom’s family when the couple get married. It is an ancient custom, with a long history, which probably began with the idea of a dowry helping to give a married woman some level of financial security. It is still practised around the world, but not often in modern western countries.

As Lorelai says this, she passes Rory the pitcher shaped like a cow they have on their kitchen table – in some cultures, and certainly in the past, livestock could be part of a dowry. It’s a joke which is also a reminder that Lorelai doesn’t have much money with which to endow Rory.

The dress that Rory has is the one that Lorelai would have worn to her own debutante ball when she was sixteen, if she hadn’t got pregnant.

(Lorelai and Rory seem to like cow-shaped things – Rory bought Sookie a kitchen timer shaped like a cow which mooed when the time was up for Christmas in 2000).

Henry the Eighth and the Roman Empire

SOOKIE: I want everything to be perfect. We are gonna make this kid think that he died and went to heaven.
JACKSON: Or Henry the Eighth’s house.

Another mention of Sookie’s cooking being compared to one of Henry VIII’s Tudor feasts.

A little later, Lorelai says Sookie is about to break her own record for the most food cooked outside the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire also has a reputation for sustained and lavish eat-a-thons – their banquets could last ten hours, and multiple courses were the rule. Of course, this was only for the wealthy.

Lorelai seems to get straight into the historical feast spirit, by calling Rory “Milady”.

“Burning a little Huck Finn”

TAYLOR: That’s right. She’s breaking the rules, and people who break the rules end up very lonely with no friends because they have become society’s outcasts.
LORELAI: Planning on burning a little Huck Finn after lunch, Taylor?

Lorelai refers to the Mark Twain novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, previously discussed. The novel has been banned and even burned in the US at various times during its history; in the past it was considered vulgar in tone, and today it draws ire for the use of the n-word.

Lorelai is probably equating book burning with Nazi Germany, and is more or less calling Taylor a Nazi, just as she called Headmaster Charleston a Fascist. Anyone who has the audacity to suggest a Gilmore follow the rules is immediately a Nazi and a Fascist, according to Lorelai.

Lewis and Clark

LUKE: Hey!
LORELAI: Lewis and Clark have returned.

Captain Meriweather Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark were American explorers who formed an expedition which ran from 1804 to 1806. It was the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States, beginning in St. Louis, Missouri, and ending on the Pacific Coast.

Seneca

RORY: That’s because Stoicism was not about giving up things, of money and luxuries and stuff.
PROFESSOR: That’s right. By the time he was in his early forties, Seneca had earned enough money to acquire villas, farms, he ate well, he loved expensive furniture, but he didn’t consider that a non-philosophical way to live.

Seneca the Younger, born Lucius Annaeus Seneca, usually just known as Senca (c4BC-65AD) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, and playwright. A tutor and later adviser to the Emperor Nero, he was forced to take his own life for allegedly taking part in a conspiracy to assassinate Nero; Seneca was most likely innocent.

Senca was a prolific writer on Stoicism, a popular philosophy for upper-class Romans of his era. He wrote about the need to control the destructive emotions, to confront one’s own mortality, and be willing to practice poverty and use wealth wisely. His plays however, are all tragedies, and filled with intense emotions. Even while he was alive, Seneca was accused of hypocrisy because he was essentially a wealthy and powerful man advocating the simple life.

Highly popular in his day, Seneca’s enduring reputation is most likely because he was greatly admired by the early Christian church, which led to him becoming a favourite in the medieval era and during the Renaissance. Today he is seen as an important part of Western thought.

Note that Rory is very quick to grab onto the idea that wealth and luxury don’t preclude one from living an intelligent, rational, philosophically rich life.