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'.