The Gnat and the Sphinx: Just Literary Cousins?
Excerpts contributed by Randy Stark

"I fixed my stare on the spot he had pointed to but I did not see anything. At a certain moment, however, I noticed a gnat flying in front of my eyes. It landed on the mat. I followed its movements. It came very close to me, so close that my visual perception blurred. And then, all of a sudden, I felt as if I had stood up. It was a very puzzling sensation that deserved some pondering, but there was no time for that. I had the total sensation that I was looking straight onward from my usual eye level, and what I saw shook up the last fiber of my being. There is no other way to describe the emotional jolt I experienced. Right there facing me, a short distance away, was a gigantic, monstrous animal. A truly monstrous thing! Never in the wildest fantasies of fiction had I encountered anything like it. I looked at it in complete, utmost bewilderment."

from A Separate Reality
by Carlos Castaneda (1971)

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"The fact is, that soon after my arrival at the cottage, there had occurred to myself an incident so entirely inexplicable, and which had in it so much of the portentous character, that I might well have been excused for regarding it as an omen. It appalled, and at the same time so confounded and bewildered me, that many days elapsed before I could make up my mind to communicate the circumstance to my friend."

". . . Uplifting my eyes from the page, they fell upon the naked face of the hill, and upon an object ?/font> upon some living monster of hideous conformation, which very rapidly made its way from the summit to the bottom, disappearing finally in the dense forest below. As this creature first came in sight, I doubted my own sanity ?/font> or at least the evidence of my own eyes . . ."

". . . Estimating the size of the creature by comparison with the diameter of the large trees near which it passed ?/font> the few giants of the forest which had escaped the fury of the landslide ?/font> I concluded it to be far larger than any ship of the line in existence."

"The mouth of the animal was situated at the extremity of a proboscis some sixty or seventy feet in length, and about as thick as the body of an ordinary elephant. Near the root of this trunk was an immense quantity of black shaggy hair ?/font> more than could have been supplied by the coats of a score of buffaloes; and projecting from this hair downwardly and laterally, sprang two gleaming tusks not unlike those of the wild boar, but of infinitely greater dimension. Extending forward, parallel with the proboscis, and on each side of it, was a gigantic staff, thirty or forty feet in length, formed seemingly of pure crystal, and in shape a perfect prism: ?/font> it reflected in the most gorgeous manner the rays of the declining sun. The trunk was fashioned like a wedge with the apex to the earth. From it there were outspread two pairs of wings ?/font> each wing nearly one hundred yards in length ?/font> one pair being placed above the other, and all thickly covered with metal scales; each scale apparently some ten to twelve feet in diameter."

from The Sphinx
by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

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"The first thing I really noticed was its size. I thought, for some reason, that it must be close to a hundred feet tall. It seemed to be standing erect, although I could not figure out how it stood. Next, I noticed that it had wings, two short, wide wings. At that point I became aware that I insisted on examining the animal as if it were an ordinary sight; that is, I looked at it. However, I could not really look at it in the way I was accustomed to looking. I realized that I was, rather, noticing things about it, as if the picture were becoming more clear as parts were added. Its body was covered with tufts of black hair. It had a long muzzle and was drooling. Its eyes were bulgy and round, like two enormous white balls.

["It was brilliantly black. Its front covered with long, black, insidious hair, which looked like spikes coming through the cracks of some slick, shiny scales." ?/font> second encounter]

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"Then it began to beat its wings. It was not the flapping motion of a bird's wings, but a kind of flickering, vibratory tremor. It gained speed and began circling in front of me . . ."

["It made a wide circle before stopping in front of me; its mouth was wide open, like a huge cavern; it had no teeth." ?/font> second encounter]

"The next thing I knew I was seated on my mat and don Juan was rubbing my forehead."

"The guardian of the other world is a gnat," [don Juan said]. "What you encountered yesterday was a gnat; and that little gnat will keep you away until you overcome it."

from A Separate Reality
by Carlos Castaneda (1971)

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"While I regarded this terrific animal, and more especially the appearance on its breast, with a feeling of horror and awe ?/font> with a sentiment of forthcoming evil, which I found it impossible to quell by any effort of the reason, I perceived the huge jaws at the extremity of the proboscis, suddenly expand themselves, and from them there proceeded a sound so loud and so expressive of woe, that it struck upon my nerves like a knell, and as the monster disappeared at the foot of the hill, I fell at once, fainting to the floor."

"But for your exceeding minuteness," [my friend] said, "in describing the monster, I might never have had it in my power to demonstrate to you what it was. In the first place, let me read to you a schoolboy account of the genus Sphinx, of the family Crepuscularia, of the order Lepidoptera, of the class of Insecta ?/font> or insects. The account runs thus:

"'Four membranous wings covered with little colored scales of a metallic appearance; mouth forming a rolled proboscis, produced by an elongation of the jaws, upon the sides of which are found the rudiments of mandibles and downy palpi; the inferior wings retained to the superior by a stiff hair; antennae in the form of an elongated club, prismatic; abdomen pointed. The Death's-Headed Sphinx has occasioned much terror among the vulgar, at times, by the melancholy kind of cry which it utters, and the insignia of death which it wears upon its corselet.'"

from The Sphinx
by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

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"Right there facing me, a short distance away, was a gigantic, monstrous animal. A truly monstrous thing! Never in the wildest fantasies of fiction had I encountered anything like it."

?/font> Carlos Castaneda

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Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?

?/font> Marcus Tullius Cicero