MMcM’s Polyglot Vegetarian, which is consistently both nutritious and delicious, has a post presenting all the epigraphs to Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s The Gilded Age, of which the authors wrote: “Our quotations are set in a vast number of tongues; this is done for the reason that very few foreign nations among whom the book will circulate can read in any language but their own; whereas we do not write for a particular class or sect or nation, but to take in the whole world.” MMcM says, “I thought it would be fun to actually transcribe these mottoes, which appear at the head of each chapter, into LT. And, since so many 19th century books have been digitized, it is easy to find many of the sources and check them.” Now, that’s my kind of fun! This is the kind of thing that might have occurred to me to do if I were reading the novel (which I now, of course, want to do), but I would probably not have had the patience to actually follow through—there are a lot of chapters, and many have more than one epigraph. (I add, with awe and reverence, that when MMcM couldn’t find a quoted text online, if at all possible he got the source from the library and scanned the relevant page.) Just about every obvious language is represented, plus all sorts of unexpected ones (Quiché, Syriac, Cantonese, Cornish…); I warn you that if you have any leaning towards this sort of thing, just reading the post (and clicking on all those links, which must have taken an unimaginable amount of time to assemble) will eat up much of your day, but you won’t regret it.
Incidentally, something leaped out at me when I read the Russian epigraph to Chapter XLIX: Солнце заблистало, но не надолго: блеснуло и скрылось (“The sun began to shine, but not for a long time; it shone for a moment and disappeared”). A tip of the hat to the first reader who reproduces my trivial insight (which, I might add, has nothing to do with the grammar or meaning of the sentence).
A couple of typos MMcM might want to correct (I would have left a comment on the post, but couldn’t manage to sign in correctly): “Erewon” should be Erewhon, and “le al de l’action” should be “le mal de l’action.”
And those of you familiar with 19th-century Japanese can help him out with this one:
XI. (p. 108 / 104, 317):
Japan: Though he eats, he knows not the taste of what he eats.
I have not been able to locate the source of this saying, or to find its equivalent online. The handwritten text uses a hentaigana form of し shi, based on 志; fortunately, it’s one of the common ones and even included in the Wikipedia’s short sample. It took me a bit to realize that it is written right-to-left — after remembering that ‘taste’ is aji (あじ = 味) from reading an interesting article on the history of MSG and the Ajinomoto Company in Gastronomica. So it reads, kura hedo wa aji shirazu. The end must be 味知らず and the beginning 食ら. I don’t think the へど is 反吐, so that it might mean ‘eat until you get sick’, though that’s the only thing in the dictionary. I’d welcome comments straightening me out from anyone whose 19th century Japanese is better than my poor attempt.