POLYGLOT CLEOPATRA.

Still reading Ostler, I’ve come to a nice quote from Plutarch about Cleopatra:

There was pleasure in the very sound of her voice. Like a many-stringed instrument, she turned her tongue easily to whatever dialect she would, and few indeed were the foreigners with whom she conversed through an interpreter, since she answered most of them in her own words, whether Ethiopian, Trogodyte, Hebrew, Arab, Syriac, Median or Parthian. The kings before her had not even had the patience to acquire Egyptian, and some had even been lacking in their Macedonian.*

The footnote reads:

Plutarch, Antony, xxvii.4-5. All these languages must have been heard on the streets of Alexandria in Cleopatra’s day. Ethiopian would be the language of Kush, and Syriac is a form of Aramaic. Trogodyte would have been spoken along the Red Sea coast, and is perhaps the ancestor of modern Beja. The Medjay, supposed to be the same, had been an eastern desert people employed in Egypt as police in the fifteenth to thirteenth centuries (Gardiner 1957 [Egyptian Grammar]: 183, n. 2). There is no mention here of Libyan—or of Latin, although Plutarch adds that Cleopatra is said to have spoken many other languages besides the ones he does mention. Most likely her amours with Caesar, and later Antony, were conducted in Greek.

“Trogodyte” should, of course according to Plutarch, be Troglodyte; if it had just occurred once, I’d have corrected it as an isolated typo, but twice deserves a slap on the wrist. Proofreading! Do it! ["Troglodyte" apparently is a folk etymology, but one already established by Plutarch's time—see comments.]


(The quote reminds me of this post about Murray of the OED: “With several I have a more intimate acquaintance as with the Romance tongues, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin & in a lesser degree Portuguese, Vaudois, Provencal, & various dialects. In the Teutonic branch, I am tolerably familiar with Dutch (having at my place of business correspondence to read in Dutch, German, French & occasionally other languages), Flemish, German, Danish. In Anglo-Saxon and Moeso-Gothic my studies have been much closer…”)
Incidentally, I wanted to link to a Greek text of the Plutarch, but I can’t find one online. Tsk.

Comments

  1. According to this JSTOR article, “trogodyte” (derivation unknown) is correct and “troglodyte” is a pop etymology.

  2. According to this JSTOR article, “trogodyte” (derivation unknown) is correct and “troglodyte” is a pop etymology.

  3. John Emerson says:

    See also Huntingford, “Periplus of the Erythraean Sea”, Hakluyt, 1980, pp. 145-6, where he speculates that “trogodyte” might be TRG root plus Greek -dutes; TRG possibly meaning Taureg, which in turn is possibly derived from the Arabic tawariq, “tribes”. (Please add macrons etc. as needed.)
    Or not. But my ravening hunger for pedanticism is satisfied for the moment.

  4. John Emerson says:

    See also Huntingford, “Periplus of the Erythraean Sea”, Hakluyt, 1980, pp. 145-6, where he speculates that “trogodyte” might be TRG root plus Greek -dutes; TRG possibly meaning Taureg, which in turn is possibly derived from the Arabic tawariq, “tribes”. (Please add macrons etc. as needed.)
    Or not. But my ravening hunger for pedanticism is satisfied for the moment.

  5. Volume IX of Loeb Lives is in the Internet Archive. Page 196 of the PDF. Not quite a link, but something.

  6. Dan Milton says:

    See: http://tinyurl.com/2vvrem
    Trogodytica: The Red Sea Littoral in Ptolemaic Times
    G. W. Murray, E. H. Warmington in The Geographical Journal 1967.
    You need JSTOR privileges to read the whole paper, but the first page discusses the Trogodyte-Troglodyte question. The latter goes back to ancient times, but is apparently incorrect.

  7. Or .ZIP of .DOC here, which allows copy and paste.

  8. Really? See, if I’d been able to find a Greek text I could have avoided this embarrassing mistake. Thanks, all!

  9. John Emerson says:

    Though there have been actual cave-dwelling peoples called troglodytes, too. But not these.

  10. John Emerson says:

    Though there have been actual cave-dwelling peoples called troglodytes, too. But not these.

  11. Maybe, maybe not. Both the online texts I found have the lambda:

    ἡδονὴ δὲ καὶ φθεγγομένης ἐπῆν τῷ ἤχῳ· καὶ τὴν γλῶτταν ὥσπερ ὄργανόν τι πολύχορδον εὐπετῶς τρέπουσα καθ’ ἣν βούλοιτο διάλεκτον, ὀλίγοις παντάπασι δι’ ἑρμηνέως ἐνετύγχανε βαρβάροις, τοῖς δὲ πλείστοις αὐτὴ δι’ αὑτῆς ἀπεδίδου τὰς ἀποκρίσεις, οἷον Αἰθίοψι Τρωγλοδύταις Ἑβραίοις Ἄραψι Σύροις Μήδοις Παρθυαίοις. πολλῶν δὲ λέγεται καὶ ἄλλων ἐκμαθεῖν γλώττας, τῶν πρὸ αὐτῆς βασιλέων οὐδὲ τὴν Αἰγυπτίαν ἀνασχομένων παραλαβεῖν διάλεκτον, ἐνίων δὲ καὶ τὸ μακεδονίζειν ἐκλιπόντων.

    .

  12. John Emerson says:

    Many of the oldest texts have the lambda. It’s a very ancient, and learned, folk etymology.
    One of the arguments is that the Trogodytes were not cave dwellers, though others were. So we really have two words, Trogodytes (proper noun?) for a specific people, and troglodytes (common noun) for a number of other peoples describable as cave-dwellers.
    Though maybe “Trogodyte” was derived from a common noun, and maybe “troglodyte” came to be used as a proper noun in specific cases.

  13. John Emerson says:

    Many of the oldest texts have the lambda. It’s a very ancient, and learned, folk etymology.
    One of the arguments is that the Trogodytes were not cave dwellers, though others were. So we really have two words, Trogodytes (proper noun?) for a specific people, and troglodytes (common noun) for a number of other peoples describable as cave-dwellers.
    Though maybe “Trogodyte” was derived from a common noun, and maybe “troglodyte” came to be used as a proper noun in specific cases.

  14. Right. I was referring to “if I’d been able to find a Greek text I could have avoided this embarrassing mistake” only.

  15. So the l in troglodyte is as spurious as the first n in Scandinavia, which is properly the shadowed (skadu) water-land (aue), or as I like to say with a hat tip to Robert Hughes, the Perilous Shore.
    But as for troglodytes themselves, there are twenty million of them on China’s Loess Plateau, some with electricity and running water — and who knows, one day even the Internet maybe.

  16. Both the online texts I found have the lambda
    Really? See, if I’d been able to find a Greek text I could have avoided that embarrassing correction.

  17. John Emerson says:

    Skandinavia-wise, for a long time I thought that Skanderbeg (Albanian hero, 15th century) was named Skandenberg, and wondered WTF a Norseman was doing being the Albanian national hero.

  18. John Emerson says:

    Skandinavia-wise, for a long time I thought that Skanderbeg (Albanian hero, 15th century) was named Skandenberg, and wondered WTF a Norseman was doing being the Albanian national hero.

  19. Of course, Iskender Bey itself is kind of an odd name for an Albanian national hero.

  20. John Emerson says:

    Indeed. And Jack Lang is an odd name for an Anglophobe French Minister of Culture.

  21. John Emerson says:

    Indeed. And Jack Lang is an odd name for an Anglophobe French Minister of Culture.

  22. he turned her tongue easily to whatever dialect she would, and few indeed were the foreigners with whom she conversed through an interpreter, since she answered most of them in her own words, whether Ethiopian, Trogodyte, Hebrew, Arab, Syriac, Median or Parthian
    Am I missing something? She must have spoken Greek, no? How about Latin? How did she communicate with Caesar and Mark Anthony?
    They were, I assume, educated men so they most likely spoke Latin and Greek.
    Any thoughts?

  23. Whoops. Re-read and now see the part about her speaking with Greek with MA and Cae.
    Do we know anything about their linguistic exposure/abilities?

  24. I thought Macedonian had gone extinct by the 3rd century BC or so, so I’m not surprised Cleopatra’s predecessors no longer spoke it. Is Plutarch implying Cleopatra did know it? And if so, with whom did she speak it?

  25. John Emerson says:

    She spoke to Caesar in glorious English, of course.

  26. dearieme says:

    In Ebonics, Mr Emerson, surely?

  27. Heh.

  28. Shaw or Mankiewicz?

  29. Graham Asher says:

    I thought Scandinavia was skathin + aujo = damaged island, i.e., indented (apparent) island. What’s the evidence for ‘shadowed…’?

  30. Sigh … post in haste, repent at leisure.
    Of course “shadow(ed)” is a complete brain fart, perhaps because I was thinking about the word a few days before. But I do think that “dangerous” (or “perilous”) is far more plausible than “damaged, imperfect”: after all, Pliny explicitly calls the place an island, and no one of his time and place could have known otherwise.

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