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Archive for November, 2003

Did You Know?

Wednesday, November 26th, 2003

“Charlemagne” is actually an affectionate nickname meaning “Charles the Mangy”, refering to an unfortunate dermal condition from which he suffered. Alcuin was wont to call him “Raw Chuck”, which wry English humor occasioned much raw Frankish mirth.

Many primitive societies do this with their kings’ names; it’s some Golden Bough type shit or whatever, I guess. The power of the king, assumed to be God-given, is balanced by some ritual of mocking him or eating him or something.

Take for another instance “Alexander the Great”. This is a prudish conventional mistranslation from the Greek “Megalexandros”, more properly “Pissy Alexander”. His incontinence, it seems, was as legendary as his valor. The “meg” element in the name is the same “piss” as in “pismire” and “micturition”, as I’ve gone into before.

But are we really better than the Franks or the Macedonians? I have heard this same primitive practice in use even here, even in America. Anyone from out of country reading this should know that, here in America, our president is traditionally an object of unconditional adoration. We laud him on festival days. Some few pray to him, but for the most part we are sensible, practical folk and consider that heretical, since he has not claimed any sort of divinity. As I say, he for his part (and much to his credit, if I may say) has denied all imputations of divinity and roughly refuses the Congress’ occasional desultory attempts to have him deified. I’m going out on a bit of a limb by praising him for denying his divinity, as the prevailing view around here is more that the Congress is revoltingly pusillanimous in not pushing this matter harder, and that Bush is (if such a thing were possible!) verging on False Humility here. But do we blame Jesus for not spilling his guts to Pilate?

Pilate: So are you, like, God, or what?
Jesus: (darkly) Thou hast said it.

Anyways, with the obvious love we bear towards our leader (and are we sometimes blinded by our love? – perhaps – but I for one would rather err with such a man as Bush than be right with most anyone else), it is sometimes surprising to foreigners to hear him referred to as “Fucknut”, “Ol’ Herpes-Blister Bush”, “That Fucking Dipshit” (I’ve only heard that one in Massachusetts), “Cocksuckah” (likewise) &c. &c.

Yes, sometimes we are not so modern as we think we are.

Those Happy Classick Years

Monday, November 24th, 2003

The Latin negotium, which means “business” and from which we get “negotiate”, and which other languages still use to mean bidness (como negocios en español, che!) has a neat etymology. It’s simply a negation (i.e. nec-ing!) of otium, “leisure”. So speakers of Latin seem to have leisure and non-leisure, instead of business and leisure. There are probably Latin words which directly mean business, I guess, but I can’t think of any very natural English words which mean non-leisure.

Don’t let the spelling of our “business” fool you, it’s actually “busyness”. We are lame. We’ve even started using the natural, beautiful “otiose” as though the state of leisure were some sort of pudendum – using it, I mean, to mean “indolent; idle; serving no useful purpose; having no excuse for being”. That is lame! Otiose mofos of the world unite!

Decorative Motifs, Fallen on Hard Times

Sunday, November 23rd, 2003

I just today bought an old copy of the Loeb edition of Terence’s plays. It wasn’t until after an hour or so of trying to read it that I looked closely at the edge-patterns on the dustjacket. The bottom of the spine looks like this:

Presumably you recognize the swastika, the ancient Indian good-luck symbol. Also known as the fylfot (decoratively), the cross cramponnee (religiously), and the gammadion (religio-decoratively). Of course it’s also been used as a symbol by Nazis. I remember hearing that Nazi swastikas went clockwise, and ancient lucky ones counter-clockwise, or vice versa, but this isn’t really true; both are clockwise. To keep the definitions lively, here’s from the Larousse: “Les quatre extrémités sont recourbées en forme de gamma grec.”

Intriguingly, this edition of Terence was printed in 1959 — I’m surprised that Harvard University Press and Wm. Heinemann Ltd. didn’t change it before then. I bet there was a crusty antiquarian involved with the series, who wouldn’t hear of changing some perfectly nice fylfots simply because those nasty Nazis had hit upon them as their symbol. He no doubt smoked a pipe and was capable of searing sarcasm.

Unless I’m much mistaken, new Loeb editions do not have these decorations.

Monotronics is for losers

Saturday, November 22nd, 2003

I’ve gotten three calls trying to hawk stuff to homeowners since 9 this morning. The third made me crack up: “This is Tony from Monotronics“.

Which, once I’d gotten over the Pynchonesque name and asked the guy what it was, he said “It’s a home security system”. Of course it is, with a name like that. But no thanks.

Lost Antiquities, Boo Hoo

Friday, November 21st, 2003

Einhard on Charlemagne: “Item barbara et antiquissima carmina, quibus veterum regum actus et bella canebantur, scripsit memoriaeque mandavit.” [And he had the rough old songs, the Frankish epics of bygone kings and wars, written down so they would definitely never be forgotten, no matter what. -d]

Those Frankish songs are all lost. The antiquarian bemoans this — the lost masterpieces — the callous disregard for heritage — the guns cleaned, herrings wrapped, bindings shored up with unique pages from priceless manuscripts. Take this chap for an especially overwrought, hand-wringing example…

I feel with the antiquarian — there is a deep, abiding pain in the loss of the past. But on the other hand, whaddya gonna do. We’re bound to lose something or other. And the gaps, wherever they are, give play to the imagination. For instance, Tolkien wouldn’t have given us the riders of Rohan if he hadn’t shaped his mind with Germanic poetry and conceived a longing for the Goths (singuli aut simul? ha ha). Apart from some translation of the Bible or whatever — far from the manly Northern vigor that kept Germanicists of a century ago awake at night — we don’t have any Gothic writings. This gave Tolkien a place to build up his ideal — to create stoic, moral, surprisingly hygienic people with nary a hint of human sacrifice. No slaves. No unseemly heathen worship practices. No nuthin nasty, nor naughty. Heck, they might as well be Christians!

I get impatient with trying to write anything I think. As a rule, my mind moves quickly to conclusions and images, skimming over all the middle stuff. And when I do try to develop the middle matter, I get distracted by making jokes about beloved fantasy writers and their beloved horsemen.

Anywho, on my walk from class to work this morning I entered a state of extreme equanimity about my beloved antiquities, wherein burning down the library of Alexandria seemed about as good as preserving it. I can still see that endpoint of the thought process, but not in the flaming blaze of death-defying pyromaniac glory in which it first appeared. It seems kind of scholastic and pointless. I guess I probably wouldn’t burn that ol’ library down after all.


Tuesday, November 18th, 2003

I believe that the sorry state of the towel rack was due to its tempting position by a sitting-place. Someone sitting or standing in that cramped space would be naturally inclined to use the towel rack as a handle. And if that person were at all heavy, all the more damaging to the wall.

Cat boy is still mainly under the bed.

I know what a hoopoe is now. And I’m delighted to see that “Master and Commander” stars someone named not Jack Aubrey, as the vulgarly familiar press would have it, but John Aubrey. I sometimes forget that Jack = John. The moral is, you can’t always escape your obsessions with a sea yarn.

Home Improvement: Poor Form

Sunday, November 16th, 2003

The towel rack in the new apartment was falling off the wall a bit. I took it off to fix it, and found that half of it was screwed into the drywall, without any sort of wood behind it. This kind of thing can work sometimes, but in this case it had apparently given out some years before. The previous tenant had tried to repair it by stuffing steel wool into the centimeter-wide ragged holes, and screwing the rack back into the steel wool. Ingenious, but ultimately doomed to failure…


Sunday, November 16th, 2003

It is exceedingly pleasant to sit in this comfy chair by the window, warmed by the morning sun. I get my cat back today (he, I and the new place have formed a large triangle over Eastern Mass. this past week).

I just feel great. Amor universi omniumque.

I gave up and started dogearing my Aubrey, and have plenty of other topics I’d like to look into, so if I feel like more pedantic/didactic blogging I’ll have plenty of source material. Pleasurable research whether I put anything up on this here weblog or not.

All Maypoled Out

Tuesday, November 11th, 2003

More on the Restorapture conceit, tho I fear it be too slight to bear all this massy weight of supposition… this is from Aubrey again…

Now, as the Morne growes lighter and lighter, and more glorious, till it is perfect day, so it was with the Joy of the People. Maypoles, which in the Hypocriticall times ’twas sin to sett up, were now sett up in every crosse way; and at the Strand, neer Drury Lane, was sett up the most prodigious one for height that (perhaps) was ever seen; they were faine, I remember, to have the assistance of the Sea-man’s art to elevate it; [now that’s one big erection! -d] that which remains, being broken with a High Wind, I think about 1672, is but two parts of three of the whole height from the grownd, besides what is in the earth. The Juvenile and rustique folkes at that time had so much their fulnesse of desires in this kind that I think there must have been very few sett-up since.

I suppose this would mean lots of sex, drugs etc. after the Rapture. Still sounds like fun. Though apparently boring after a while.

Ay ay ay! El raptor no me ama!

Thursday, November 6th, 2003

The Happy Tutor et al. have been having some fun lately riffing on the Rapture, thinking about what life’ll be like for us poor saps who’ll be, as LaHaye & Jenkins have it, “left behind”. He keeps using phrases like “got Raptured” or “be Raptured”, which just crack me up, I don’t know why. Interestingly, “be raptured” seems to be in common use by people who take the notion seriously, while “get raptured” seems to have a bit of mocking force to it.

This passage, from Oliver Lawson Dick’s introduction to his edition of John Aubrey’s “Brief Lives”, seems germane somehow. He’s talking about after Cromwell got the boot (and more Puritans started emigrating to places like Massachusetts)…

Aubrey grew quite lyrical over the King’s restoration, when it was accomplished, and it was left to Anthony Wood to see to the ugly side of the business. The divines hurriedly putting on “the most prelaticall garbe that could be” did not escape his jaundiced eye and he watched with scorn while those “that bore the faces of demure Saints, would now and then put out a wanton (in plaine terms, a baudy) expression, and, as occasion served, a pretty little Oath.” But even he had to admit that “after the King came in I never heard of any that were trouled in conscience or that hung himself, as in Oliver’s time, when nothing but praying and preaching was used.” For there was no doubt that life under the Commonwealth had been an appalling strain; and Aubrey says in his life of Wenceslas Hollar, I remember he told me that when he first came into England (which was a serene time of Peace) that the people, both poore and rich, did looke cheerfully, but at his return, he found the Countenances of the people all changed, melancholy, spightful, as if bewitched.

If life after the Rapture is about swearing a lot and being cheerful, then I’m ready for the Rapture. Bring it on.