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I (well, currently my wife, but I plan to as well) am trying to read Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame in a beautiful faux-suede edition that we received as a gift. However, there are various references to French history and the like that would be nice to understand, plus an untranslated Greek word that apparently is the key to the whole novel. This edition says that it's annotated (on Amazon, anyway), but some of the notes are themselves in French!

Is there any such thing as a Reader's Companion to this book that explains such things? A book, a website, anything? I've even looked at "study guides" (ugh) like Schmoop, to no avail. I'd even take an actual annotated edition of the book. Various versions of the book I've found online claim to be "annotated," but there's no description, no reviews, no indication that it's actually what it claims to be.

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The 1906 Clarendon Press edition of the French text of the novel, edited by Léon Delbos, is available at the Internet Archive and has comprehensive notes starting at page 353:

Page 1. (Heading of chapter.) La Grand’Salle. The apostrophe was first used by French grammarians between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, under the mistaken idea that an e had been omitted in such expressions as grand mère, grand route, grand messe, grand image (p. 99, l. 5). It was not so, however, and French simply followed the example of Latin by making no difference between masculine and feminine where Latin used the same form for both genders.

Victor Hugo (1831). Notre-Dame de Paris, p. 353. Léon Delbos, ed. (1906). Oxford: Clarendon.

Although these notes refer to the French text and you are reading an English translation, it should not be too difficult to find the corresponding passages.

If you have difficulties on any point, then by all means ask a question here at Literature Stack Exchange.

The Greek word ἈΝΆΓΚΗ upon which “this book is founded”, as Hugo puts it, does not go untranslated! Its meaning is elucidated in book VII, chapter IV:

Jehan boldly raised his eyes. “Brother,” said he, “would you like me to explain in simple French, the Greek word written there upon the wall?”

“Which word?”

“ἈΝΆΓΚΗ!”

A slight hush tinged the pallid cheek of the archdeacon, like the puff of smoke which betokens the secret commotions of a volcano. The student scarcely perceived it.

“Well, Jehan,” stammered the elder brother with some effort, “what is the meaning of that word?”

“FATALITY.”

Hugo (1831). The Hunchback of Notre Dame, p. 205. Translated by Frederic Shoberl (1833).

  • Excellent solution, @Garreth Rees! – Philly Oct 10 '20 at 2:13

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