Quote of the Day: “You shall judge a man by his foes as well as by his friends.” –Joseph Conrad
TB’s had reason of late to give thought to the great dynamic duos of history, sports and fiction, and many choices spring to mind immediately. Lennon and McCartney, Ruth and Gehrig, Luke and Han, or maybe Hillary and Norgay, Trammell and Whitaker, and Dante and Randal. Really, it makes for a pretty decent list for discussion on a day when I’ve not had time to think of an essay topic. But the idea just seemed a little boring. Sure its always cool to find space here at TB to discuss Newman and Redford, Jackson and Lee or Macpherson and Ireland. But really, what can we say that hasn’t already been said repeatedly on the web about great pairs like Jessie and Frank James, Montana and Rice and Charlie Brown and Snoopy. So this post isn’t about dynamic duos at all.
Instead, at some point in thinking about dynamic duos my mind veered off course and got more interested in nemeses and all it implies for one to merit their own personal nemesis. Mainly the term implies greatness in each party, along with grudging respect and high stakes. To have a nemesis is not merely to have an enemy, for any slob can attain scores of those. Additionally, to have or be a nemesis means that one acts alone, taking up the challenge without assistance and with the knowledge that in unspoken assent he will not be faced with more than a solitary foe at the root of his battle, no matter how many pawns are in the game. It means the opposing forces marvel in the greatness of the other all the while plotting to counter each measure set forth against them with ever heightening greatness of his own. To have a nemesis is to be intimately acquainted with both victory and defeat. Many confuse rivals with nemeses but while a nemesis is surely one’s rival, the reverse does not hold true for to gain status as a rival no greatness need exist, merely enmity. Finally there is an indefinable quality that must be present for a nemesis relationship to exist, one that you simply know when you see and which in truth trumps all other attempts to describe the word and can even contradict some established characteristics of the relationship. Yes, the nemeses are far more intriguing than the partners.
Below are my selections for the greatest of nemeses.
- Larry Bird and Magic Johnson
- Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone
- Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck
- Seinfeld and Newman/George and the Play Now management
- Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe
- Rick Blaine and Major Strasser; Col. Hogan and Major Hoffstetler
- Gandalf and Saruman; Dr. Evil and Austin Powers
- Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson
- Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett
- Generals Bonaparte and Wellington; Admirals Yamamoto and Nimitz
The greatest of all nemeses are Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes. Part of the beauty of the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is that they only meet face to face in a single story and in the conclusion to that tale they both gain a measure of victory over the other as they fall to their apparent deaths. But Doyle manages to inject Moriarty ex post facto into every Holmes investigation ever undertaken and he concurrently reveals the greatness that is Holmes in exposing for the first time the detective’s brilliant observations and deductions that gradually led him to the knowledge of Moriarty in the first place. What puts this arch-rival relationship over the top is less what we know about their battles than what we do not know and that tantalyzing unknown is what makes their story so compelling. And Doyle, as I think about his nemeses today and consider returning to their story after some fifteen years away, wasn’t content at leaving only a fraction of their story told, but he also gave us only hints at what may have been one of the greatest dynamic duos of all time if only we knew more–the story of Holmes and his genius and reclusive brother Mycroft. But this post is not about that at all.
Bonus QOTD: “The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession.” –Sherlock Holmes
And a couple of excerpts from “The Final Problem” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) for your enjoyment, or at least my own.
“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized. Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted, we will say, a house to be rifled, a man to be removed — the word is passed to the Professor, the matter is organized and carried out. The agent may be caught. In that case money is found for his bail or his defence. But the central power which uses the agent is never caught — never so much as suspected.”
“You crossed my path on the 4th of January,’ said he. ‘On the 23d you incommoded me; by the middle of February I was seriously inconvenienced by you; at the end of March I was absolutely hampered in my plans; and now, at the close of April, I find myself placed in such a position through your continual persecution that I am in positive danger of losing my liberty. The situation is becoming an impossible one.’
“I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.”