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: