3

In The Phantom of the Opera, Erik uses a strange phrase when speaking to the Persian, saying that oaths are useless:

"Erik," I asked, "Erik, swear that..."
"What?" he retorted. "You know I never keep my oaths. Oaths are made to catch gulls with."
"Tell me... you can tell me, at any rate..."
"Well?"
"Well, the chandelier... the chandelier, Erik?..."
The Phantom of the Opera, chapter XXI: "Interesting and Instructive Vicissitudes of a Persian in the Cellers of the Opera" (translation by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, 1911)

What does this curious phrase "Oaths are made to catch gulls with" mean? What do oaths have to do with gulls? The only results I can find searching for the phrase have to do with this specific quotation, not found anywhere else.

2 Answers 2

7

The original text is:

—Quoi? fit-il, tu sais bien que je ne tiens pas mes serments. Les serments sont faits pour attraper les nigauds.

“What?” he said. “You know very well that I don’t keep my oaths. Oaths are made to catch simpletons.”

Gaston Leroux (1910). Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, chapter 22. Paris: Pierre Lafitte.

So the meaning you need in the Teixeira de Mattos translation is

gull, n.3 1. A credulous person; one easily imposed upon; a dupe, simpleton, fool.

Oxford English Dictionary.

To Erik, cut off from society, oaths are worthless: he has no reputation to keep, so he is free to employ oaths to manipulate or trick people who are foolish enough to believe him. Perhaps there is also a cynical echo of Raoul and Christine’s flirtation in chapter 12:

Ah! qu'ils se dirent de merveilleuses choses! et que de serments éternels furent échangés!

Ah! what marvellous things they said to each other! and what eternal oaths were exchanged!

Leroux, chapter 12.

2
  • That explains the use of the word "gull", but what about the phrase as a whole? Why are oaths "made to catch simpletons"? Presumably, this is telling us something about Erik's character; what's this telling us about him and his use of promises?
    – Mithical
    May 29 at 16:44
  • 3
    It may help to know that attrape-nigaud is French for "con game". I assume Eric (or Leroux) is indulging in a little wordplay by taking this phrase apart.
    – Peter Shor
    May 29 at 17:44
0

As Gareth observed, "gull" here means a foolish, credulous person.

By asserting that "Oaths are made to catch gulls with," he is saying that an oath has no real binding power. Only a gull would believe that because he gave an oath that he has to do what he swore to do.

Why someone with this cynical view would warn someone that his giving an oath will not influence his acts is another matter. It does indicate a moral position: not to trick someone with his oath. But then, people are often morally inconsistent.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.