Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Taking a Break

It will probably seen as though I have abandoned this blog since I have not updated it in six weeks. I have been working with Canadian heritage and history (I know, something for which I have been fully trained) and I do not want to write about that on a blog about the middle ages.
Perhaps I should create a new blog for history and literature with no particular time period. I have been doing alot of genealogical research lately as well. ( a popular subject which would probably get me more readers than my translations of Isidore of Seville have)
While I ponder this and other problems, I will leave the question of if I will retire this blog or not open.
Perhaps, if there any readers out there who have a strong opinion in favour of the blog continuing, they could indicate so in the comments because lately I have been feeling as though I am talking to myself here. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

American Gods- A Review

    Author: Neil Gaiman

 A friend recommended this book to me because it features the Norse gods as characters. The premise is that when Europeans (and other undocumented peoples from other parts of the world) started coming to North America, they brought their gods with them. They offered sacrifices and prayers to their gods for a safe voyage home and left an incarnation of the god or goddess, who had been worshipped, behind. Then those gods were slowly forgotten or not.
     If the people, who originally brought them, over came back sometimes they carried new gods to compete with the old for devotion. The Norse had converted to Christianity after they stopped visiting Newfoundland and many people began to worship new gods like technology and television. The old gods refuse to wither and die quietly and the new gods want them gone so they could have all the power that comes from a healthy following. A war is coming between the old and the new.
     The story is told from the perspective of an ex convict named Shadow. He is very large and not overly bright with a good heart. While he was in prison, he spent alot of time with another convict named Low Key Lyesmith (Loki). When Shadow is only a few days from being released, his wife is killed in a car accident along with his best friend, whom she had been performing fellatio on when the vehicle went off the road.  Shadow was released early to go to the funeral and meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday(Odin) along the way who offers him a job. Shadow has nothing to go home to and agrees.
     They criss cross the countryside as Wednesday tries to recruit other gods from other pantheons to join him in a battle for the survival of the old gods. Jesus of Nazareth is one god/incarnation of a god who was not included in the story. There are forces trying to change Shadow's allegiance to one side or the other that contact him in his dreams or through tv. Along the way his dead wife, who has been kept animated because of a magical coin,  protects him and tries to offer him guidance.
     When Mr. Wednesday is killed by the modern gods, someone must hold the nine day vigil for him on the ash/world tree.  Shadow volunteers to do so although it might kill him because he promised that he would. The killing of Mr. Wednesday is the catalyst that convinces the old gods to gather together   for the final confrontation against the new at the center of the United States, a no-god's land where no god has power. Who will win? Which is better - the old ways or the new? It takes Shadow's sacrifice and humility to reveal what is really driving this conflict and, for once, it is not Loki's treachery.
     I thought at first, from the description of Shadow, he was Thor but, from the comment Loki made about throwing mistletoe at him, he was intended by the author to be Baldur. The descriptions about human sacrifice to Odin, plus the likelihood that the Baldur story is an allegorical tale about kings sacrificing their son to their gods, also alludes to Shadow being Baldur and that he is meant to be killed by Mr. Wednesday.
     There are a couple of problems with Shadow as Gaiman represents him. Baldur was never a human and Shadow is clearly not a god, barely even a demi-god. Shadow's mother is some nameless human that Mr. Wednesday once courted with the object of producing such a son. In the Eddas, Baldur's mother was the supreme of the Norse goddesses, Frigg, Odin's wife. Thor's mother, on the other hand, may have been a human, because her name Jord means 'earth.
    Thor did not appear in this book because he committed suicide long ago. I find this a disappointing and unconvincing outcome for Thor who I do not believe is introspective enough to want to commit suicide and, since his cult, is going strong to this day, has no reason to commit suicide under the premise this book is going by. Any author who does not include Thor in a story about the Norse gods is making a huge mistake.
    That being said, the version of American Gods that I read was a revised edition called the 'author's preferred text'. I had considered reading the book years ago before it was revised so editing must have helped since I enjoyed the book in spite of the errors in facts and the absence of Thor. Therefore, I recommend the book and think most people will not even notice that the author has taken some liberties with the 'facts'.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Isidore, Chapter Six

In the 406th era, during the fifth year of the reign of Valens, Athanaricus I took up the governing of the Gothic people, ruling for 13 years, whom, having been moved to a very cruel persecution of the faithful, wanted to train himself against Goths, who had taken up Christianity among his people.  Those out of the many, who would not agree to offer sacrifices to idols, he made martyrs. Moreover these many persecutions affected the feelings of the rest of the Goths. While he might have shrunk from killing a great number of people, he had committed a sin. Indeed he was driven to go into exile from his own kingdom and migrated alone to the Roman provinces.

[The Goths took up the Arian form of Christianity, i.e. they believed the Son was subordinate to the Father, but Valens was also Arian so this was not a source of conflict between them. It is surprising that Isidore referred to the Arians as Christians when, officially, they were considered heretics and worse than pagans. Athanaric does not appear to have been styled as a 'king' but as a 'judge'.]

Monday, July 22, 2013

Isidore, Chapter Five

[Spanish unit of time] Era 364, the Goths, having attacked the region of the Sarmatians in the 26th year of the rule of the emperor Constantinus, rushed against the Romans in the fertile fields, laying waste to all with overwhelming strength, sword and plundering. Against whom, Constantinus, himself, heroically took charge of the battle and scarcely was able to push the battle out beyond the Danube. This did not give him the bright fame of  overcoming people with strength but the victory of the Goths was more glorious. The Romans, acclaimed by the Senate, laid public lauds on Constantinus as are given when such people are defeated, who would later transform the Roman republic.

Constantinus - Constantine I, Saint Constantine, Constantine the Great, the emperor who made Christianity legal and formed the Nicean Council.

circa 332 since Ariaricus was captured in this campaign.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Isidore's History, Chapter Four

[Spanish] Era 295, during the first year of the rule of Valerian and Gallien, the Goths having descending from the mountains of the Alps, which they were inhabiting, laid waste to Greece, Macedonia, Pontus, Asia and Illyricus. They held Illyricus and Macedonia scarcely 15 years. From there, having been vanquished by the Emperor Claudius, they sought a suitable homeland. The Romans placed a golden statue in the capital and a golden shield in the forum honouring them and Claudius Augustus with insignia of glory because they were so strong a people, and forced them to withdraw from the borders of the republic.

Pontus - a part of modern day Turkey.
Illyricus- later Pannonia, Roman province along the Adriatic Sea, parts of which are in Albania and Croatia.
Time would be circa 255 A.D.
Claudius is Claudius II, aka Claudius Gothicus.
The first wave of Goths were the Thervingi in 268

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Isidore's History, Chapter 3

Twelve years before the founding of our era, while seizing the power of the republic, Gnaeus Pompeius and Gaius Julius Caesar had been moved to civil war. The Goths, for the purpose of offering aide to Pompey, went to Thessaly to fight against Caesar. Where, while the multitudes of Ethiopians, Indians, Persians, Parthians, Greeks, Armenians, and Scythians, flocked to Pompey and what's more, having urged the rest of the peoples of the Orient to fight for their lives against Caesar, they stayed behind to offer stronger resistance on behalf of the rest against Caesar. Caesar, having been thrown into disorder by the troops and courage of them, made plans for a retreat when night made an end of the battle. At that moment, Caesar said that he knew that Pompey could not win nor would he be able to defeat Caesar. For if Pompey knew how to win, then with such fierce men he should have been able to overcome Caesar that day.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Back to Isidore

After a little diversion, I am back to my loose translation of Isidore of Seville's History of the Kingdom of the Goths, Vandals and Suevi. I must say, quite a bit of his Latin, or the way he spells Latin words, does not appear in any of my dictionaries. This makes it frustrating to translate because I am guessing to some degree.

The history begins.

1 That the Goths are a very ancient people is certain. In fact their ancestor is Magog, son of Japhet. They (Gog and Magog) are assumed to be joined together more by the prophet Ezekiel than by the similarity in their last syllables, but they are called Getas by the learned more than they are called Gog and Magog. This strongest of peoples will be recorded as having set foot even in the land of Judea.

2 Moreover a translation of their name has been uncovered in our language which means 'strength' and this is true because there was no people on this earth who have vexed the might of Rome so long as these have. For indeed, these people (the Goths) are those who even Alexander (the Great) proclaimed must be avoided, Pyrrhus (a Greek general whose life is recorded in Plutarch's Lives, "Some of his battles, though successful, cost him heavy losses, from which the term "Pyrrhic victory" was coined.")  feared them greatly, Caesar (Julius) dreaded them. {from Orosius's history} For many generations back, they were accustomed to be lead by dukes, afterwards by kings. Of whom it is necessary to quickly set forth the succession and the times, and they reigned in name and deed, to unravel a little about the histories.

You got to be curious about a people so fearsome that some of the biggest warmongers in history shuddered at the mention of their name.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Vonnegut's Proteus

     I have not read Vonnegut in a long time but I should. I liked most of his novels. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be a toss up between Player Piano and Cat's Cradle but some of his short stories were really good too. I was doing some research into industry and industrialists and I came across the name of Charles Proteus Steinmetz a Jewish Polish man, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1889 because he had been involved in Socialist meetings and needed to flee.
      He was a brilliant mathematician and an engineer, who eventually was hired on by General Electric in Schenectady, New York and who became a bit of a star in the company. He was not given the middle name Proteus by his parents, rather he chose the name from Homer's Odyssey because he identified with the character from Homer. The article on Steinmetz in Wikipedia states that Proteus was a hunchbacked god and that is partly why Steinmetz identified with him. Steinmetz suffered from dwarfism and has some spinal or hips problems (judging by the photos of him). However, as much as I have looked through Homer and considered other Greek or Roman tales of Proteus, he does not have a fixed appearance, except maybe as the Old Man of the Sea. He is a shapeshifter and can transform into just about anything.
      In the 1950's, Kurt Vonnegut went to work for General Electric in Schenectady. I find it hard to believe he would not have known about Steinmetz since he was such a towering figure in the company's past and had only passed away in 1923. Dr. Irving Langmuir was said to be the model for Dr. Felix Hoenikker, the inventor of ice-nine in Cat's Cradle, but his son 'Newt' is a little person which seems a curious choice for a character. So many 'cheat notes' online for Player Piano state that Dr. Paul Proteus was named for the god because he undergoes a transformation but I do not see how that can be.
     He is unhappy in his life and unsure how to make life better for people at the beginning of the novel and he is no wiser by the end. In fact, the last vision of people trying to repair the machines, that they smashed in the riots, that had rendered them obsolete as workers shows Proteus that he was unable to change anything. One fact that links Steinmetz to Proteus as a character is that he was a Socialist and Dr. Proteus was trying to achieve a more equitable society. A fact that links Steinmetz to Newt is that he, like Newt, lost his mother when he was a year old.
      The Smithsonian Magazine has an article on the Wizard of Schenectady, read it and see if you don't think that Vonnegut had Steinmetz in mind when he was writing both novels.

and this one from the Edison Tech Center:

Friday, May 31, 2013

You Can't Always Trust the National Geographic

      It is true, you cannot always trust what you read in magazines, even a magazine like National Geographic. I was sitting at a tire place, getting a nail removed from one of my tires, and reading an old magazine because they featured an article on Greenland. In the article was a tidbit that caught my eye: the expression 'on the lam' comes from the Vikings because it is derived from their verb 'lemja'. Being the word-nerd that I am, I look it up as soon as I get home.
      Whoever authored this is wrong. The Oxford Dictionary states that it is of 20th century coinage and origins are unknown. It follows 'lam' in the dictionary which does mean 'thrash, hit with a stick ' from the ON lemja which means to 'beat so as to lame' but there is an asterisk in front of the colloquialism which makes it seem to follow the 'beating' word. A quick check at the Zoega Old Norse dictionary reveals that lemja means 'beating' and not 'fleeing' or 'running'. A good and knowledgeable proof reader would have caught that. I am offering my services. :-) (for a fee, of course)

Another quick look in the Brewer's Guide to Phrase and Fable for thoroughness adds nothing because the expression is not even listed, leading me to think 'on the lam' might be an Americanism.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dead Ever After (not spoiler free)

      The thirteenth and final book in the Southern Vampire Series, aka Sookie Stackhouse novels, has come out and reaction has not been great. Charlaine Harris has gotten death threats over her ending according to the CBC and several newspapers. It is a disappointing end to the saga but not unexpected.
When Sookie used her cluviel dor to save Sam rather than Eric, we all knew which way it was going to go.
     She said she was not ever going to do a Twilight and make Sookie a vampire and Eric was never going to be unmade as a vampire so eventually the relationship would have to end. It is her story to tell and I am fine with that except.....
     There is so little chemistry between Sam and Sookie. Sam is more of a comfortable older brother where Eric was always the exciting bad boy who was tameable and loyal. Of course making Eric stay in at nights and watch Survivor with Sookie would have caused him lose the qualities that made him so attractive to Sookie and Charlaine Harris. Harris is a much older woman who has seen something of life and who knows Sam is a sensible choice but she does not appear to find him as stimulating as Eric. Even the sex scene between Sam and Sookie lacks a certain intensity. In spite of that, she did the sensible thing and had Sookie settle down to a relationship with a nice guy who is likely to marry her.
      Other than that, the series had to come to an end. How many times can people and supernatural beings try to kill you before someone succeeds? Sookie had more lives than a cat. This story begins with a tale of revenge but the act for which vengeance is wanted seems a stretch. There is a twist at the end in which the real culprit is shown not to be the person one is lead to believe is the guilty party at the beginning of the book. The identity is revealed much like one pulls a rabbit out of a hat, with a bang and a flash.
     It reminded me of the final Harry Potter novel in that Harris seemed to have brought back everyone who was still alive for one last look. It is not 'literature' but Harris managed to keep it as fresh as she can with a story that she had wanted to end three books ago. If you can get past the change in Sookie's relationships with men, it is an enjoyable read.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Boston Bombing and Christopher Marlowe

      Everything is interconnected. The bombing of the Boston Marathon is connected to Christopher Marlowe in a surprising way: the name of one of the bombers, Tamerlan. It is also the name of a 14th century conqueror from Central Asia who aspired to be like Genghis Khan and called himself the Scourge of God like Attila the Hun. I myself was surprised to see Edgar Allen Poe connected to the name as well.
     The conqueror was Timur the Lame but his name has also been spelled Tamburlaine, Tamerlaine, Tamerlane (as Poe spelled it in a poem published in a book that was ironically not credited with Poe's name but "A Bostonian".) and Tamerlan (like the bomber in the Boston Marathon). Timur was a regional chief who eventually acquired an empire larger than Alexander's. He did what Alexander could not do: conquer Delhi. He accomplished this by sending flaming camels against the elephants. He was ruthless, i.e. he killed people, lots of them, age and gender did not matter, and was often very cruel in his methods of killing people, as anybody who calls himself the Scourge of God is likely to do. He seems to have been a devout Muslim but he preyed upon other Muslims as much as he preyed upon other people. He did declare jihad against Delhi and in his seventies against the infidel Chinese, mainly to raise the unwilling armies necessary for such a distant trek. He was born in the same part of the world as the bomber but on the other side of the Caspian Sea in modern day Uzbekistan.
      Christopher Marlowe wrote a play about Timur the Lame called "Tamburlaine the Great" in which he made the conqueror a shepherd who rose up to become master of his part of the world. Marlowe was probably making a statement against religion. He had Tamburlaine begin life as a shepherd, a veiled allusion to the role priests are supposed to take, and, in the attack on Babylon, has him burn the Koran as well as claim to be greater than God. The writing of this play got Marlowe killed.
      There was some political unrest in London at the time and some heretical and subversive bills posted about town, especially on the doors of Dutch Protestant churches, signed "Tamburlaine" which drew the attention of the crown. Then Walsingham and Queen Elizabeth wanted to know more about the play and suspected Marlowe of being behind the bills and an atheist. His room mate was tortured, with the usual confessions, and Marlowe was later stabbed in the head in a "bar fight". It was claimed that the man, who was a government spy, acted in self defence and that Marlowe had not been executed.
      I wonder if that part of the world has made a historical hero out of a man who was brutal murderer and did not deserve it. There are certain names one does not name one's children: Adolf springs to mind, Attila, is another, although odds are it was the guy's grandfather's name. It is a strange little name to have. While people are googling the bomber's name, surely links to the 14th century conqueror come up but nobody has commented in the news. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More Isidore

I am not going to do a literal translation but the next 'chapter' states that

"Nature has enriched Spain as a reward with lots of things that grow. Rich fruit trees, full of vigor, happy harvests, innumerable olive trees, great show of life. You have flowering fields, leafy mountains, shores full of fishes. You have been placed on the most blessed region on earth. You do not burn with the flame of the summer heat, nor do you decline with strong blasts of ice, but you are encircled with a sky of moderate airs, western breezes will nourish the happy ones. The fields are so fertile, the land full of precious metals and beauty of living things and good pastures. Nor are the rivers to be neglected, which render famous the bright fame of the handsome flocks."

In short, Spain is the land of milk and honey according to Isidore. I don't know if the trouble is the Latin Library copy of the latin. More likely it is Isidore's latin. I have no footnotes so I am not sure how to take some of the parts that don't make sense which is why I am winging it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

History of the Kingdom of the Goths, Vandals and Suevi

      Isidore of Seville, bishop and saint, wrote a book called Etymologiae in which he tried to sum up all the 'knowledge' of the time, quoting extensively from many Roman authors. He also wrote a history of the Germanic tribes that conquered his part of Europe, Spain (whatever size or shape Spain was at the time). The Visigothic kingdom of Alaric (who conquered Rome in 410 a.d.) was still going strong although it was converting to Catholicism from Arianism. It had also been defeated by Clovis and had its capital looted of its Roman treasures.  Isidore does not seem to be a popular writer. His history has only been translated into English in the mid 1960's and googling some of the latin terms he used yielded nothing. Although he wrote a book called Etymologiae, his latin was not the best and is challenging to decipher but I feel like giving it a shot.

      Since I used up a bit of space taking about Isidore, I will do only the first chapter of the Prologue today. Isidore loved Spain since he starts off with this little bit:

 Of all the lands, which are from the west all the way to India, you are the most beautiful. O  holy, and always happy mother of the best of peoples, Hispania. I swear (though the form jure doesn't support a first person singular interpretation) you are the queen of all provinces, from which not even light of the setting sun or the rising sun can alter. You are the glory and the jewel of the earth, the brighter part of earth: in which many of the people of the Goths rejoice and what's more flourish for the most part  in glorious abundance.

Since Canada was not a country yet, I won't pause now to point out his error.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Beatles Song in Latin

I think the fun for some people is guessing the song so I am going to post the title of this particular song in English in the column at right.
It was time to do an update but I really have not been reading much of anything. I have been trying to get a job but fluent Latin Medievalists are not in demand in today's job market. Can't understand why not.
Here is the song:

diem ex die, solus super colle vir subridens stulte manet immotus,
sed nemo vult eum noscere.
vident quod modo stultus
et numquam respondet.
sed stultus super colle videt solem deorsum iens
et occuli in capute videt orbem vertentem.
bene in iterne, caput in nube, vir mille vocum loquitur a magna voce.
sed nemo umquam audit eum aut strepitum eum videtur fieri
et numquam notet ut videtur.

sed stultus super colle videt solem deorsum iens
et occuli in capute videt orbem vertentem.
et nemo eum amet ut videtur.
vident quod eum vult facere.
et numquam monstrat affectus.
sed stultus super colle videt solem deorsum iens
et occuli in capute videt orbem vertentem.

It should not be very difficult if you know your Beatles' songs.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The 'N' Word

     I just heard that Mississippi has finally filed the paperwork to properly ratify the 13th Amendment which abolishes slavery. They ratified the amendment in 1995 but failed to file the proper paperwork making slavery no longer legal. In honour of that, I decided to write a blog entry I had been thinking about for a while.
      As a Latinist, there is no mystery to me where the 'n' word comes from: it comes from the Latin word 'niger' an adjective meaning 'black' but this word has become so powerful that, like the name of Voldemort or cancer, it cannot be spoken aloud. It is curious to me how it came to be used for African slaves when the world was becoming increasingly less fluent in Latin and it must be certain that the men engaged in slavery did not have a university education steeped in the Classics.

      However this is the adjective fully declined:

   singular       masculine           feminine      neuter
  nominative    niger                   nigra           nigrum
  genitive         nigri                    nigrae         nigri
  dative            nigro                   nigrae         nigro
  objective       nigrum                nigram        nigrum
  ablative         nigro                   nigra           nigro

       Although this is an adjective, one did not have to attach a word meaning 'man' because Latin adjectives can stand alone and, because they decline, you can infer what the noun they are modifying is from the context. It is called a 'substantive'. What is fascinating to me is that only the masculine form was adopted, although clearly someone was using a Latin word, and female slaves were called using a feminized masculine word and it seems the nominative forms were preserved as well as the ablative/dative forms. Why not the objective form since it would be the object of the verb? And the masculine, genitive singular is the same form as the masculine nominative plural but it was never used for multiple slaves. Why was that never used? The answer must be that it was not Latin but rather Spanish that was applied to these poor souls.
       A quick glance at the Wikipedia article on Colonial slavery in America reveals that, indeed, the early slavers were Spanish. The article reveals the astonishing fact that only 5% of the slaves taken from Africa were taken to America. The majority went to Spanish colonies in Brazil and the Caribbean, where the mortality was so high, they needed constant replenishing of numbers. The first African slaves were brought to America as early as 1619 to Virginia by the Dutch, who had taken them from a captured Spanish ship. The Spanish had the slaves baptized before being shipped to make the enslavement 'legal' which seems rather odd since one of the good things about the Catholic Church is that it frowned upon slavery and Spain was very Catholic nation. Remember the Spanish Inquisition.
       At least these early slaves were treated as indentured servants in Virginia and were freed after a stated period of time. It appears the difficulty of finding labor to work the fields and plantations made this evil an attractive proposal and it was revisited later.
       One has to wonder why the English adopted the Spanish word rather than use the English words 'black man' but English does not decline and does not commonly substantiate adjectives. If you call someone a 'man' then you have to recognize that what you are doing is wrong by every code of ethics that you profess to believe in. So, you have to dehumanize them and call them something else.
       All this made me wonder where the word 'black' came from since it is clearly not related to the Latin word and the modern German word is 'schwartz'. The French word for black is 'noir' and is supposed to be related to Latin, having lost the 'g' by the 11th century. The Old English word for 'black'  is 'blæc' but I have no etymology for it but all this is an aside and does not solve the conundrum.
       In conclusion, it is always worth taking a look in the dictionary. The Oxford Concise states the nominative form came from the French, which is odd because they dropped the 'g' so long ago, but makes sense because the displaced Acadians in Louisiana were very enthusiastic slave owners. And the  ablative form came from the Spanish. There you have it: that is why there are two forms for the word.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Step Back in Time

    I have not been posting much lately because I have been immersed in researching genealogy. It has given me a new appreciation for the priesthood. Part of their job description was in being a witness to all events in their parish, something that many of them took very seriously and recorded everything and protected their registers with their lives. I only wish that some of them had better handwriting or that they all had access to good ink.
     Because of those men, many of us who do not have illustrious ancestors can trace our ancestry back a few generations more than one would think possible. Somewhere back in time, my ancestors became Protestant and records may be harder to come by. They also began travelling in search of religious freedom and some records went with them, some didn't. World War II was a huge factor in the destruction of records. I suspect with the European branch of my family, I won't get back very far at all.
    My husband, with his largely Catholic French Canadian background, has been interesting to research because there is so much out there to look at. Canada has not been subjected to any devastating wars after 1814 and even that war was very local. There were some minor skirmishes here and there with Fenians and some revolutionaries but these were little more than bar brawls rather than out and out war.
His family has been here since the beginning of the 17th century so I can take his genealogy back 10 generations without working very hard at it. They were caught up in the Indian Wars, the wars between the French and the English and, since they were Acadians, they were caught up in the Great Dispersal in 1755. They arrived as refugees in Quebec City two months before that city fell to the English. they lost their homes again when the seigneurial system was changed to the English system of land grants and they were unable to buy back their own farms. In all that turmoil, the priests held on to their records. Some were destroyed but an astonishing amount survived. It tells an amazing story. I am in awe of the difficulties they faced but they carried on. We think we have it so hard today. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Puns Are Funnier in Latin

     The Venerable Bede reported in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People that Pope Gregory, aka Gregory the Great, the fellow who told his missionaries to incorporate any local customs that pagans would not part with into the Christian ceremonies so as not to lose potential converts, told a pun.
     In Book II, chapter 1, when he saw some British slave-boys, he thought they were so beautiful because they were so fair haired and pale in skin. He asked from whence such beautiful boys had come and was told they were from Britain and they were pagans there. After which, he let out a big sigh that the shadow of the 'enemy' should lurk behind such beautiful faces and he went back to speak to them. He asked them what was the name of their people, to which they answered 'Angles'. He then said "Bene, nam et angelicam habent faciem, et tales angelorum in caelis decet esse coheredes" or "It is well for they have the faces of angels and such deserve to be co-heirs of angels in heaven." (Not Angles but Angels) He then asked what the name of the land that they had come from was and they said 'Deiri'. To that he said "Bene, Deiri, de ira eruti, et ad misericordiam Christi vocati" or "That is well named Deiri for they have been uprooted from 'wrath'(de ira) and have been called by the compassion of Christ".
       And for the last pun, Gregory asked them what the name of their king had been. They said he had been called Aelli. To which Gregory said "Alleluia, laudem Dei Creatoris illis in partibus oportet cantari" Alleluia! It is fitting that praise for God their creator has been sung in their parts." (Aelli - lujah! Get it?)
        Three jokes in probably five minutes! Who knew one of the founders of the faith was such a joker? How did he get past all the sour faced pusses who normally run things at the church?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ashes to Ashes

...and dust to dust.... Most of you would be able to finish this line. Usually there is a little poem that I read on a bathroom wall which pops into my head. It tells what would happen to male appendages if there were no women.
      Sometimes, to practice my Latin, I read the Vulgate Bible. Last week my eye fell on Genesis 3:1:19 "In sudore vultus tui vesceris pane, donec revertaris in terram de qua sumptus es: quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.""By the sweat on your face you will eat bread, until you return to the earth from which you have been taken: because you are dust and you will return to dust." Indeed Adam means 'man' or 'humankind' but it is said to have derived from adameh, 'earth, dirt' or 'dust'. This fact was used to full effect by Phillip Pullman in his Golden Compass series as 'dust' was a creative and animating force that was draining away from the worlds into Chaos. In theory, we are made of stardust.
     It is times like these that I wish I had stuck to my Ancient Greek studies because I cannot read Greek (or Hebrew). It would be nice to see what the original phrase in the Old Testament had been. Obviously it had been translated into Greek from Hebrew and then into Latin and, often as we have seen in the telephone game, things get lost along the way. However the Hebrew word that has been translated as 'dust' is aphar, which means (from Strong's Hebrew) 'dry loose earth, material of human body, surface of ground, powder of anything pulverized, debris, earth of the grave, mortar, iron ore, material of earth'.
      I suppose many generations of very learned people have seen no reason to change the translation from dust but I have to wonder if 'iron ore' would be better because ore is transformed into the better and more useful iron and iron is such a strong component of our blood. However the choice reflects funerary practices of the time.
      We get 'pulverized' from 'pulvis', which means 'dust' but also specifically 'dust from a destruction (and applied esp. to the remains of a dead body or meton. to a departed spirit)'(Oxford Latin Dictionary). Already in classical Roman times, there was a verb pulvo derived from the noun. Ancient peoples often sprinkled ashes and/or dust over the dead. Antigone was buried alive as punishment for defying her king in sprinkling a handful of dust over her dead brother so that his spirit could depart. Many pre-Christian cultures practiced cremation, hence the ashes, although I suspect cremation occurred primarily where wood was plentiful.
     Most modern English words are derived from French and therefore Latin, as French displaced English as the language of the kings following 1066 a.d., but some few common English words survived and 'dust' is one of them, unchanged by time. 'Dust' it was in the tenth century and 'dust' it is in medieval Icelandic, Old Frisian, Middle High German, according to Bosworth-Toller. 'Pulverized' does sound better for utter destruction than 'having being dusted'.