Priamel.

Priamel is a word I’ve run across now and again over the years, and every time I run across it I have to look it up afresh, since I retain no memory of it except that it’s from German and has the stress on the second syllable (Brit. /prᵻˈaml/, U.S. /prᵻˈæm(ə)l/). I’m posting about it here in the hope that doing so will fix it in my mind for the next encounter. Here’s the OED entry (updated March 2007):

Inflections: Plural priameln, priamels.
Forms: also with capital initial.
Etymology: < German Priamel type of short poem (from c1465 to the early 16th cent. in the title of such poems; subsequently from 1779 in literary criticism), literary device in classical poetry (1935 or earlier), variant of preambel type of short poem (c1460 in the title of such poems), apparently a spec. use of preambel preamble (now Präambel; < post-classical Latin praeambulum preamble n.). Compare French priamèle (1868 or earlier; < German).
In plural form priameln after the German plural form.

Originally: a type of short poem cultivated in Germany in the 15th and 16th centuries, culminating in a witty or ingenious turn of thought. Later applied to similar literary forms; spec. (in ancient Greek poetry) a device in which a number of items or options, culminating in a preferred one, are listed for comparison.

1889 Amer. Jrnl. Philol. 10 360 Euling furnishes the text of a MS of the fifteenth century .. containing epigrams, and emends his own edition of ‘Priameln’.
1938 PMLA 53 65 A Priamel is generally moralizing, didactic, humorous, and satirical… Rosenplüt was the best Priamel-poet.
1978 M. L. West Hesiod’s Wks. & Days 269 The recommendation of holm-oak for the plough-tree is reinforced by a priamel.
1988 Literary Rev. Aug. 45/1 Race calls Keats’ ‘on first looking into Chapman’s Homer’ a priamel.
2001 Phoenix 55 293 He includes Thais in a kind of priamel of previous record-holders.

One problem is that the original meaning has little or nothing to do with the “device in which a number of items or options, culminating in a preferred one, are listed for comparison,” and neither has much to do with “preamble,” which makes the whole thing hard to remember. I find the recommended plural priameln intolerably pedantic. And whoever Race is or was, I think it’s pretty silly to call “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” a priamel. But I am very taken with the sentence “Rosenplüt was the best Priamel-poet.”

Comments

  1. Race must be William H. Race, author of The Classical Priamel from Homer to Boethius.

    The classic classical priamel is this opening of a poem by Sappho:

    Οἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον οἰ δὲ πέσδων
    οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ᾽ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
    ἔμμεναι κάλλιστον, ἔγω δὲ κῆν᾽
    ὄττω τις ἔραται.

    ‘Some say a force of cavalry, others of infantry, others of ships, is the most beautiful thing on the black earth, but I say it is whoever you love.’

    –which is a rather strange comment on ancient Greek aesthetics.

    (I always figured it was accented priaMEL, which is both more sonorous and self-iconic in a way.)

  2. The classic classical priamel is this opening of a poem by Sappho

    Thanks, that will help fix it in my mind.

    I always figured it was accented priaMEL, which is both more sonorous and self-iconic in a way.

    You can just claim you’re using the French version, which gives you extra pedantry points!

  3. “Rosenplüt was the best Priamel-poet” probably sounds even better in the original German.

  4. Odondon says:

    This is the Rosenplüt mentioned:
    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Rosenplüt

    There is an example of a priamel quoted in the article:

    “Wer einem wolf trawt auf die haid
    Vnd einem pawrn gelaubt auf seinen aid
    Vnd einem munch auf sein gewissen,
    Der ist hie vnd dort beschissen.”

    which translates roughly as:

    Whoever trusts a wolf on the heath,
    and believes a farmer’s oath,
    and a monk’s conscience,
    he has been f**ked over by all

  5. AJP (Daphne) Whitethigh says:

    fucked

  6. Patrick says:

    My teacher Calvert Watkins would use this word in his lectures on Indo-European verbal art. Certain words always recall the memory of Cal to me: priamel, fud, diddle, doubtless…

  7. Wiki.de says the attribution of priamels to Rosenplüt is quite uncertain, however: “Ganz unsicher ist die Zuschreibung bei den zahlreichen unter seinem Namen überlieferten Klopfan-Sprüchen (einer Nürnberger Lokalgattung), sprichwortartigen Strophen, Bier- und Weingrüßen und Priameln.”

  8. Oh, come now, that’s easily refuted. Rosenplüt was the best Priamel-poet; it follows that he wrote priamels. Case closed.

  9. Spinach. He could still be the best priamel-poet while writing no priamels, provided no one else wrote priamels either.

  10. Isn’t “beschissen” closer to “shat upon”?

  11. I presume Odondon chose that translation because in German more vulgar figures of speech involve excretion than sex, whereas in English we would in fact say that a betrayed person was “fucked over” or “screwed” — a culturally accurate translation then.

  12. Spinach. He could still be the best priamel-poet while writing no priamels, provided no one else wrote priamels either.

    Curses, foiled again by Logicman! I’ll get you one day!

    I presume Odondon chose that translation because in German more vulgar figures of speech involve excretion than sex, whereas in English we would in fact say that a betrayed person was “fucked over” or “screwed” — a culturally accurate translation then.

    I agree, and for profanity in particular I think culturally accurate translations are far better than literal ones.

  13. Marc Adler says:

    >”“device in which a number of items or options, culminating in a preferred one, are listed for comparison,” and neither has much to do with “preamble,””

    Actually, that’s very close to the usage of a preamble in writing patent claims, in which a conventional device according to the prior art is described, followed by “wherein” or “comprising” or whatever, and then the novel aspects of the new invention being described are laid out, e.g., “A desktop computer that is provided with a display device, a keyboard device, a pointing device, and a computational device, wherein the monitor is provided with functionality for dancing while singing a song in a random and unexpected manner when observed by a user alone, and discontinuing said dancing and singing instantaneously upon observation by any person other than the user.”

  14. “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer” is a sonnet. The examples of priamels are all four lines, structured as three things + comment. Is that considered the form? It’s rather a nice little form.

    There’s a similar type of poem in old Irish called a triad that is description + three things. Example:

    Trí gena ata messu brón:
    gen snechta oc legad,
    gen do mná frit íar mbith fhir aili lé,
    gen chon fhoilmnich.

    Three smiles that are worse than sorrow:
    the smile of the snow as it melts,
    the smile of your wife on you after another man has been with her,
    the grin of a hound ready to leap at you.

  15. Old Irish poetry is unsparing and wonderful.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    “Rosenplüt was the best Priamel-poet” probably sounds even better in the original German.

    I see what you did there.

    (…war der beste Priameldichter sounds rather unspectacular, BTW.)

  17. Why not make it allerbeste? That gives it a nice rhythm.

  18. There are Welsh triads too, but they are pretty simple-minded by comparison: “the three Xs of Britain”, followed by three names, with sometimes commentary. They’re preserved as prose.

  19. J. W. Brewer says:

    the Old Irish example sounds rather like a perhaps earlier Hebrew form, e.g., “There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.”

  20. Uh-oh, more fodder for Semito-Celticists…

    “The smile of the snow as it melts” sounds very poetic, but what does it mean and why is it worse than sorrow”?

  21. Another translation has it as a smile that melts like snow, which makes more sense, but I don’t know if the Old Irish warrants it. (Also, melting snow can cause no end of problems in this neck of the wood; if your sump pump isn’t working, your cellar’s gonna flood.)

  22. It may be unsparing, but it’s also spare.

  23. Dave Lovely says:

    Would this be the Hans Rosenplut who, according to britannica.com ( http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/509937/Hans-Rosenplut ) along with “his younger contemporary, the barber Hans Folz of Worms, who also settled in Nürnberg, were the most notable Fastnachtsspiele playwrights in the mid-15th century.”? “Their plays [continues the article] were formless, uninhibited comedy, usually featuring the traditional character of the Narr”. If so, he may repay further investigation.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    Why not make it allerbeste? That gives it a nice rhythm.

    What rhythm? ~:-|

    the traditional character of the Narr

    That just means “fool” and “jester”.

  25. Triads, Irish, Welsh, Mongolian, Kemrese.

  26. Trond Engen says:

    And Swedish.

  27. Trond Engen says:

    But back to the priamel. It’s essentially a sixteen bar blues.

    Wann ich einem wolf trawt auf die haid
    Vnd einem pawrn gelaubt auf seinen aid
    Vnd einem munch auf sein vertraw,
    Dann bin ich hie vnd dort beschissen blaw.

    Or something. I have no feeling for what morphological consessions I can get from early modern German.

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