The Danger and Allure of the Past.

I am continuing to read Turner’s Philology (see this post), and I was struck by this passage about the reaction of Christians to the literature of the pagan past (p. 18):

Early Christians fretted over the dangers of pagan, secular literature; but few wanted to toss out baby and bathwater. Basil of Caesarea opined that pagan literature actually prepared students for Christianity. Augustine wished to pillage the classics of anything useful to Christian teaching and throw away the rest. (So he turned Roman rhetoric to the task of improving Christian preaching.) And yet all through his life Augustine grappled with Vergil, as Sabine MacCormack has shown, “whether by way of imitation, of adaptation, or of contradiction.” One fifth-century Roman aristocrat in Gaul kept his Christian books at one end of the library, where ladies sat, his pagan classics at the other, ‘male’ end. Cassiodorus, who in the sixth century adopted Augustine’s more severe precept, found room in it for Martianus Capella, whose pagan allegory he baptized for centuries of medieval readers. Cautiously, Christianity made itself more or less at home with pagan philology.

This is exactly the bind the newly triumphant Bolsheviks found themselves in in 1917: should they introduce the deprived proletarian masses to the classics (now stigmatized as bourgeois rather than pagan), or raze the whole edifice and start from scratch? There were loud voices in favor of the latter, but Lenin and Stalin were wedded to the art they’d grown up with, and the former view prevailed.

Comments

  1. I presume when Turner says “pagan literature,” he means anything written by a pagan even if about a completely secular subject., right?

  2. I presume.

  3. I look forward to see what he has to say about the Renaissance.

    Lenin tackled the issue in the speech ‘The Tasks of the Youth Leagues’ (1920):
    We must bear this in mind when, for example, we talk about proletarian culture. We shall be unable to solve this problem unless we clearly realise that only a precise knowledge and transformation of the culture created by the entire development of mankind will enable us to create a proletarian culture.

    After that shoals of Soviet spent their lives reinterpreting Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky to fit with the ideological needs of the new regime. And it must have influenced Western approaches to Russian classics?

  4. It must have; that’s an interesting question, and I wonder if it’s been studied. Certainly the Soviet worldview had an amazing influence over Russian studies in the US, supposedly a mortal enemy of the USSR; as I think I’ve said before, we studied classic and Soviet writers, but never even heard the names of the emigrés.

  5. spent their lives reinterpreting Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky to fit with the ideological needs of the new regime

    I imagine that the reinterpretation of the classic heritage is an ancient rite in no way limited to the Russian or Roman classics. Conquering nations of the antiquity didn’t simply impose their cultures and beliefs – rather, some preexisting local deities were co-opted, while others rejected. Monotheistic religions generously borrowed from each other too. Cultural revolutions must have been thoroughly recurrent – as in Russia of Peter I times, and earlier on many times?

    It only gets nontrivial when there was such a huge, overarching important layer of “old culture”, and at the same time such a call for its total rejection, as existed in the post-Roman space in Christian Europe?

  6. It wasn’t just Classical Greek and Roman mythology that had this problem. I’ve just read Margaret Clunies Ross’s book A History of Old Norse Poetry and Poetics. Here’s my brief (and possibly not entirely accurate) summary of what she says about the impact of Christianity on pagan mythology in Norse poetry:

    The arrival of Christianity in Norway and Iceland around the year 1000 caused problems for skaldic poetry, which relied on extensive allusions to pagan Norse mythology. Yet skaldic verse survived. The standard Church view was that pagan religion was the work of demons, but there were other approaches. One of the most important was natural religion, the idea that pagans were not deprived of reason but could use the “Book of Nature” to discover universal religious truths, although those truths only appeared in their full and accurate form in the revealed religion of the Bible. “Typology” usually meant seeing events and characters in the Old Testament as prefiguring those in the New. However, using the concept of natural religion, Christian skalds also applied typology to Norse mythology, arguing, for example, that Thor prefigured Christ. So Thor’s wrestling with the Midgard Serpent was like Christ fighting Satan (or Leviathan). Another example is the binding of the Fenris Wolf as a parallel to the Harrowing of Hell. The most famous account of Norse mythology is Snorri Sturluson’s “Prose Edda”, intended explain the pagan allusions in skaldic and eddic poetry. In his prologue, Snorri made his book acceptable in Christian eyes by using the natural religion argument as well as euhemerism, the concept that the pagan gods were not deities or demons but human historical figures, e.g. the Æsir were really kings from Asia. Some critics and historians have laughed at such theories, but without them we would have lost a huge chunk of our knowledge of Scandinavian paganism.

  7. “The standard Church view was that pagan religion was the work of demons,”

    Not everywhere, and I think the ethnicity of the churchmen made the difference. In Ireland it was monks who wrote down as much of their immense oral literature as they could as fast as they could, complete with obvious scars in the stories where the gods had been deleted.

    But when these Irish Christians evangelized the Saxons, they didn’t have anything like the same regard for the Germanic tradition, and it may be that the same attitude carried over when English missionaries went out into Germany and later Scandinavia.

    Speaking of ethnicity, the earliest Christians were only very rarely Latin in origin. It was a big deal when people like Lawrence converted, later on. Early Christians were usually Jewish, although often Greek speaking. It’s not at those they had any real ties of loyalty to the culture they were rejecting.

  8. But when these Irish Christians evangelized the Saxons, they didn’t have anything like the same regard for the Germanic tradition, and it may be that the same attitude carried over when English missionaries went out into Germany and later Scandinavia.

    Excellent point, and of course when the Spanish took over much of Latin America, they had no regard whatever for the local traditions and pretty much wiped them out.

  9. The Catholic Church took up the issue in the form of whether Confucian rites were secular or religious, and decided (arguably on insufficient evidence) that they were religious and inconsistent with Christianity. This was not an infallible decision, since it was reversed in 1939, unfortunately too late to make any real difference.

  10. Stefan Holm says:

    Snorri was a diplomatic genius using wordings like …if there are things of which we have no safe proof, we at least have proof that many old wise men kept them to be true.. Inviolable! Things got much worse during the protestant reformation in Sweden, when not only the worldly goods of churches and monestaries were expropriated but also their written treasures vanished on a mass scale.

    Otherwise it’s inevitable that every generation in every society makes its own interpretation of older litterature – that’s not a specific Soviet thing. We admire, get horrified or laugh at those who lived before us. A sad thing with every generation is that it seems so confident in having reached the final wisdom itself. But we ourselves will of course in some future be the laughable ones. Unfortunately we can’t tell what in today’s general way of thinking our grandchildren will laugh at or condemn (in that case we hopefully would have corrected it). It looks like Snorri in his prelude to the ‘prose Edda’ was aware of the problem.

  11. Sir JCass, that’s very interesting about the Norse incorporating pagan figures.
    There is an argument that Norse views also influenced the attitudes of Slavs. At least one pre-Christian god is thought to be of Scandinavian origin – Perun, the god of thunder among other things, who was superceded by the Christian Elias the Prophet (Илья-Пророк), may have been based on Thor.

  12. Otherwise it’s inevitable that every generation in every society makes its own interpretation of older litterature – that’s not a specific Soviet thing.

    Of course not; what’s specifically Soviet is the ideological requirement to reinterpret or destroy, a dilemma shared with newly triumphant Christianity but not with every generation in every society.

  13. Sir JCass says:

    Of course with Germanic and Celtic paganism – unlike Greek and Roman – literacy only really arrived with Christianity, so it’s unlikely anything much would have been recorded but for Christian authors. The price to pay was a certain distortion of the traditions in order to make the pagan mythology seem closer to Christianity and thus a more respectable “natural religion”. For instance, Clunies Ross says Snorri’s Odin is more omnipotent than the evidence elsewhere would suggest, and in the “Gylfaginning” section of the “Edda” the character Gangleri meets a group of three men called Hár, Jafnhár, and Þriðji (High, Just-as-High and Third), which suggests the influence of the Christian Trinity. I’ve read elsewhere about debates on how much Christian influence there is on the poetry of the “Elder Edda” too.

    when the Spanish took over much of Latin America, they had no regard whatever for the local traditions and pretty much wiped them out.

    From what I remember (and my memory might be failing me here), some scholars now think that the Inca historian Garcilaso de la Vega, writing in Spanish, distorted his account of Inca religion to make it seem more monotheistic and thus closer to Christianity.

  14. Right, but it didn’t do much good.

  15. This discussion reminds me of wayang kulit, a form of shadow puppetry popular in Java and other parts of Indonesia and Malaysia. It predates the arrival of Islam and depicts stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, but these have been recast as a kind of secular mythology, much like Classical mythology in Europe. I could be wildly off-base, but my impression is that the Malayo-Indonesian sphere seems more tolerant of Hindu cultural inheritances than do Pakistan and Bangladesh.

  16. That’s my impression too, but I am almost completely ignorant of such things.

  17. “The price to pay was a certain distortion of the traditions in order to make the pagan mythology seem closer to Christianity and thus a more respectable “natural religion”. ”

    SJC, there was some of that, but those monks did not touch the morality of the characters in those old stories. There is nothing Roman – and in the West Christian cultural norms were all Roman, all the time – about the way Meidhbh behaves in the Tain, or the rules of engagement the warrior nobility observes.

    “which suggests the influence of the Christian Trinity.”

    Dumezil would have said they were predisposed to that kind of thing. Whatever happened to him. I read somewhere he’d been hereticated.

    “There is an argument that Norse views also influenced the attitudes of Slavs”

    Sashura, I bet it’s really tricky trying to disentangle what is Slavic and what is Germanic in any of those cultures, considering how many centuries they spent right next to each other. In the case of thunder gods though, that could well be a PIE inheritance. No need for any borrowing.

    Now here’s some borrowing – Perkun/Perun is supposedly the source of Finnish “perkele” – devil (whatever the actual Finnish form is….)

  18. my impression is that the Malayo-Indonesian sphere seems more tolerant of Hindu cultural inheritances than do Pakistan and Bangladesh.

    Far more tolerant, although it would be more precise to speak of the “Indonesian sphere” or “Javanese-Indonesian” sphere. Although Malay culture, which has never been monolithic, of course has a pre-Islamic past, it strongly self-identifies with Islam to the virtual exclusion of other identities. But in much of Indonesia the tradition of Javanese religious syncretism and state pluralism remains powerful, even if under attack by the usual mix of purists and opportunists. The history of the archipelago’s Hindu empires is taught in the state education system (and glorified as precursor to the modern Indonesian state). Sanskrit is still a source of neologisms in the formal language, and of ceremonial titles and occasionally personal names, although Javanese / Sundanese / Balinese already have an extensive store of Sanskrit-derived personal and place names. (“Jakarta”, for example, is Sanskrit-Prakrit.)

  19. David Marjanović says:

    Perun and the Baltic Perkūnas are generally thought to be generic IE heritage, and the latter at least makes sense as derived from PIE *perkʷ- “oak”. But the sound correspondences between the two aren’t regular.

  20. J. W. Brewer says:

    We were speaking in another thread of matters Karelian, and of course: (a) the Kalevala was never written down (possibly in somewhat modified form?) until the 19th century, when it is plausible to think that nationalism and romanticism and blah blah blah would have substantially undermined any Christian suspicion about old-timey pagan stuff, but (b) for the 19th century stuff to happen, the source material for the Kalevala had to have survived for many many many centuries prior to that but after the formal Christianization of the people who were transmitting the text orally.

    If hat had stuck around U.S. academia into the 1980’s and ’90’s he might have seen a fair amount of the “reinterpret or destroy” dynamic more up-close and personal, as the big (and typically unedifying) “Canon Wars” fights over the percentage of humanities-class reading lists properly devoted to Dead White Males really might not have fully gotten rolling before he made his escape. It turned out, perhaps fortunately, that many undeniably Dead and White and Male authors had managed to generate texts sufficiently open-textured and polysemous that they could be given feminist or queer or post-colonial or otherwise counter-hegemonic new interpretations in line with the new regime’s way of thinking, and thus be saved from destruction. (And to be fair, maybe the old boys were never quite as staid and bourgeois as the middlebrow academics of a few generations prior might have led us to suppose.)

  21. John Cowan: “The Catholic Church took up the issue in the form of whether Confucian rites were secular or religious, and decided (arguably on insufficient evidence) that they were religious and inconsistent with Christianity. ”

    But didn’t Matteo Ricci and co. study Chinese language and culture deeply and borrow heavily from Chinese tradition in explaining Catholicism to Chinese? It was my impression that he was quite comfortable with much of Confucian tradition, and it was later Dominicans and Franciscans who objected to the Confucian rites.

  22. If hat had stuck around U.S. academia into the 1980′s and ’90′s he might have seen a fair amount of the “reinterpret or destroy” dynamic more up-close and personal, as the big (and typically unedifying) “Canon Wars” fights over the percentage of humanities-class reading lists properly devoted to Dead White Males really might not have fully gotten rolling before he made his escape.

    Quite true, and an excellent point — although of course in this case “destroy” merely means “deprecate with extreme finger-wagging in the largely irrelevant precincts of academia,” which doesn’t have exactly the same weight as the original version, which was likely to mean the deprecated texts vanished forever from the face of the earth.

  23. This thread puts in mind the Muslim conquistador of Alexandria ordering the contents of the Library burned in the bathhouses, saying in effect ‘If it’s in the Koran we don’t need it, and if it isn’t we don’t want it’.

    What is the official view of China towards centuries of Chinese literature? Certainly it’s not accessable to the masses and never was.

  24. PIE source, yes, thanks for reminding about that.
    On the other hand, certain members of the generic pantheon sometimes go into decline and then come back in force, that’s when influences and borrowings may play, I think.

    Going back to literature from Perun/Elias, Obolensky notes that socrealism demands almost if not completely cleansed Russian literature of poetry of individual emotional movement for almost thirty years (roughly 1930-1960). Not that Blok or Yesenin weren’t read but nothing in the same vein was written and published. And thinking of English literature, has post-colonial reinterpreting not destroyed Kipling and Maugham, the racist imperialist bourgeois swines?
    Last year (sorry, 2013) I attended a literary festival in the Charante. At a workshop, when I mentioned one or two short stories by Maugham to an English short story writer he admitted he didn’t know them. When I later sent him The Creative Impulse he was amazed how freshly and modern it sounded.

  25. Accessibility of Chinese literature to masses is an interesting question.

    A lot of classical Chinese literature and tradition is transmitted in oral form and widely known by otherwise illiterate peasants.

    It is said that one could find illiterate elders in remote Chinese villages who can correctly quote sayings of Confucius, even though they never learned to read and never had any formal education.

  26. Sir JCass says:

    We were speaking in another thread of matters Karelian, and of course: (a) the Kalevala was never written down (possibly in somewhat modified form?) until the 19th century, when it is plausible to think that nationalism and romanticism and blah blah blah would have substantially undermined any Christian suspicion about old-timey pagan stuff, but (b) for the 19th century stuff to happen, the source material for the Kalevala had to have survived for many many many centuries prior to that but after the formal Christianization of the people who were transmitting the text orally.

    Funnily enough, IIRC it was the Christian Old Believer communities of White Sea Karelia who preserved much of the Kalevala orally. Juha Pentikäinen describes this at length in his book Kalevala Mythology.

  27. Stefan Holm says:

    Sir Jcass: There is nothing really Christian in the poetic (or elder) Edda as far as the content is concerned. The poem dealing with how to behave and how to think, Havamal, reflects a pragmatic male peasant society: seek friends and alliances but trust nobody, be suspicous to flatter and watch out for enimies. The ’religious’ part of Havamal is shamanist, with Wodan sacrifying himself to himself in order to receive wisdom.

    The Voluspa poem however has a framework clearly inspired by the Bible. It starts with a creation myth, which follows the one in Genesis pretty well with finally the first two humans, Ask and Embla. The ’plot’ is then one of mysterious broken promises and treaties (c.f. the Israeli people repeatedly breaking their treaty with God). This leads to furious battles between the Giants and the Æsir as well as among the Æsir themselves and finally to total destruction of both heaven and earth.

    The author thus most certainly knew of Revelations. So the very first and the very last book in the Christian Bible can be said to start and end the story. Even the resurrection is there with a flourishing new world where the Æsir enjoy eating, drinking and playing their old games. Then Voluspa abruptly ends with the single line nu mun hon sökkvask, ’now may she sink (herself)’, i.e. the seeress who has told the whole story.

    But there is nothing Christian in the poem when it comes to philosophy, ethics, love thy neighbour or the like. Compassion, romance or love are with extremely few exceptions absent in the Edda, as in the rest of medieval Icelandic literature.

  28. Sir JCass says:

    “Some of the thirty-four Eddic verses seem by their archaic language to be very old. These are thought to have been written in Norway, before the founding of Iceland in 870. But the “Song of the Sibyl,” which Snorri quotes repeatedly when describing the beginning and end of the world, seems to have been written in Iceland just before the year 1000. Its volcanic landscape is very Icelandic. Several images in the poem have Christian overtones, while its structure and overall approach seem taken from a Latin tradition of sibyls’ songs. In one manuscript the last line is a clear reference to Christ: “Then the mighty one will come to divine judgment, powerful, from above, who will rule over all.” Reconstructing the pagan Norse religion based on the “Song of the Sibyl ” is like reconstructing Christianity based on Jesus Christ Superstar.”

    Nancy Marie Brown, Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths.

  29. Sir JCass says:

    Ronald Hutton on Havamal in The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles:

    “A classic case of this sort of dilemma is represented by the Icelandic poem Havamal, in which the god Odin sacrifices himself to himself and so gains arcane wisdom. It is one of the most haunting passages in Norse literature, in which modern readers can feel close at last to the inner world of northern European paganism. Or can they? Can it be that the entire episode is the Crucifixion translated into Scandinavian myth? Christ and Odin are both hanged upon a tree (the latter being the common medieval term for a scaffold, applied very often to the cross). Both are pierced by spears, thirst, cry out and are resurrected with infinitely greater glory (Odin after nine days, Christ after three). All this is surely too much to be coincidental, and although present-day scholars are divided over whether it is a Christian poem or not, it seems beyond question that its form was heavily influenced by Christianity. So, after all, it seems to tell us little about the nature of the older religions of Scandinavia.”

    Hutton also points out that the record might be distorted because the people who wrote down the myths were not only Christians but had some familiarity with Graeco-Roman literature:

    “[I]t now seems to be generally accepted among scholars that the figures of the Three Norns or Wyrd Sisters in Norse and Germanic mythology are borrowed from those of the Three Fates in Greek mythology, and had no native equivalents, […] It is not at all clear whether the Anglo-Saxon preoccupation with an all-encompassing destiny, ‘Wyrd’, was actually part of a pagan world picture or the result of the writings of the late Roman Christian Boethius. The latter propounded a philosophy identical with the concept of ‘Wyrd’ which was very influential in early medieval Europe and made a great impact in England.”

  30. David, thanks. I do wonder where the ‘k” went. Is that drop regular. do you think the irregularity is due to transmission through a now lost intermediate language? I guess that’s always the easiest speculation.

    iakon,
    “What is the official view of China towards centuries of Chinese literature? Certainly it’s not accessable to the masses and never was.”

    SFReader is basically right. Shakespeare is known on abut the same level in English-speaking areas. Students are always surprised to find all these familiar cliches in Shakespeare.

    Traditional culture of every kind was demonized during the Cultural Revolution and that was just the worst of the hard times after the revolution. That persecution is one of several reasons that “Qin Shi Huang” was a code name for Mao Zedong, and by extension his heirs, when it came time to take down the Gang of Four. That has turned around completely. CCTV4 has programs and PSAs that tout traditional culture and norms. This appears to be almost an ideological thrust on the part of the Xi Jinping administration.

  31. Stefan Holm says:

    Archeology proves that contacts between Rome and Scandinavia were intense already from the beginning of the migration period. That ought to have had an impact on spiritual life as well. But it is hard to claim that there are any influences of the Christian faith to be found among the early northerners. The second last verse of the Voluspa, which you quote, is found in only one of the manuscripts (Hauksbók). It looks very odd and inept in the context of the poem (and ’divine’ is a somewhat wishful translation of ’regin’ in the Icelandic text).

    Odin’s self-sacrifice may have been inspired by the crucifixion but still the whole idea of it isn’t there (relieving mankind from its sins). So it’s not Christianity. Some north Europeans certainly were familiar with stories from the Mediterranean area, including Christian ones, but nothing indicates that they cared about or even understood the essence or theology therein.

    That said one should keep in mind that Snorri was a fiction writer. He picked up a little here and a little there. So his compilation of Norse mythology only gives us fragmentary information on the subject.

  32. Thanks, SFReader and Jim, for setting me straight.

    And I’m glad to know the Cultural Revolution has been cancelled. Now I recall seeing a Chinese movie about a story from the period of warring states!

  33. Stefan,
    “But it is hard to claim that there are any influences of the Christian faith to be found among the early northerners”

    If you are referring to the Odin-Thor-Frey triad, you have to remember that triads are the norm across many IE cultures. The goddesses of Ireland were so often referred to in threes that when you come across three women mentioned together in a story, it’s safe to assume they are goddesses. There’s nothing obviously Christian about the Trimurti either.

    I think you have the direction of borrowing 180 degrees out. Trinitarianism is an IE cultural trait. Christianity is far form its first appearance.

  34. Chris Waugh: I happen to be reading “Journey to the East:the Jesuit Mission to China, 1579-1724″ by Liam Mathew Brockey, which goes very deeply into the Chinese rites” controversy, caused because the Jesuits adopted Chinese dress and ways to try to integrate and thus propagate the faith.

    Some served as court astronomers, which gave Imperial protection to their up-country missionaries, but were criticised for that activity when they could have been saving souls in the provinces (though they did make some very high ranking converts in Peking). When the Dominicans and Franciscans “invaded their patch” b y arriving in China, as the Jesuits saw it, they were very critical, and the in-fighting did not impress some of the Chinese.

  35. Attributing trinitarianism to Christian influence is especially odd, since the Christian notion of the trinity seems itself to have been influenced by other religious traditions. It is not a very deep observation that the holy spirit appears to have been tacked on, just to make three characters.

  36. Further to the accessibility of the Chinese classics: Yes, the political winds are permissive, even encouraging, especially of Confuciansim. Politics aside, it is very easy to buy bilingual copies of the classics which have a section of the original in Classical Chinese followed by a Modern Chinese translation then a Modern Chinese explanation/exegesis. Add to that rapidly expanding access to education and consequently growing literacy rates, and the opportunity is certainly there for the curious to explore the classics. Add to that popular phenomena like Yu Dan.

    Paul, “Journey to the East” sounds like a book I might have to track down. Among other things, and assuming our boxes make it all the way to New Zealand, it could make for quite a pleasing symmetry sitting next to another book on my bookshelf. Thanks for the recommendation.

  37. Re: Chinese rites controversy.

    Early European explorers have been extremely accomodating in acceptance of local varieties of Christianity.

    Vasco da Gama went so far that he saw nothing wrong in local “Christians” having

    “saints painted on the walls of the church, wearing crowns. They were painted variously, with teeth protruding an inch from the mouth, and four or five arms”

  38. At the other end of the planet, the strength of Catholicism among the Yankton Sioux is probably due to similar kinds of Jesuit accommodation. Quoth WP:

    Struck by the Ree [Yankton chief, 1804?-1888] was a devout Christian. Under the Grant peace policy of 1871-1881, the federal government assigned Indian reservations to certain Christian denominations, regardless of the Indian people’s wishes. Struck By The Ree opposed this policy and responded to the government with these words: “My opposition to your plans is a sincere and conscientious duty to the Great Spirit, which I desire to discharge. I made up my mind on this subject twenty-two years ago. I wish to put the instruction of the youth of my tribe into the hands of the Blackrobes [Jesuits]; I consider them alone the depositories of the ancient and true faith of Jesus Christ, and we are free to hear and follow them…Since my first talk with the Blackrobes I have no other thought but to embrace the ancient religion of Jesus Christ, if I can make myself worthy. My mind is made up.”

    I remember reading somewhere, but can’t now track it down, that Yankton Christians think of their ancestors as analogous to the Old Testament Jews from a Christian perspective: they knew the One God but not the Christ, and are not to be condemned as pagans. Whether and what extent this reflects history is a question.

  39. “Attributing trinitarianism to Christian influence is especially odd, since the Christian notion of the trinity seems itself to have been influenced by other religious traditions. It is not a very deep observation that the holy spirit appears to have been tacked on, just to make three characters.”

    This has been proposed based on a tripartization tendency of Indo-European culture.

  40. Annoyingly, that Wikipedia article gives no clue as to what the “Ree” in “Struck by the Ree” might mean.

  41. A member of the Arikara nation. It’s a matter of dispute whether the name means ‘struck by the Ree’ or ‘struck the Ree’, however. The name of Man-Afraid-of-his-Horse (two different people, father and son) is similarly ambiguous: it really means something like ‘They fear even his horses’.

  42. @iakon: The story of the burning of the library of Alexandria by the Muslim general has been pretty well debunked. See the Wikipedia article on the subject.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    it really means something like ‘They fear even his horses’.

    “They’re afraid of him and of the horse he rode in on”…?

  44. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Yankton Christians think of their ancestors as analogous to the Old Testament Jews from a Christian perspective: they knew the One God but not the Christ, and are not to be condemned as pagans

    Members of the tribe I now from Northern BC (Canada) have the same attitude: “We knew that there was only one God, but we didn’t know his name”. They are particularly upset that the missionaries considered them to be “heathens”.

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