Why Classics Were Lost.

The British Library’s Medieval manuscripts blog has a nice post about why “the number of classical writings that have actually survived is surprisingly low”; there are no new revelations, but it’s useful reading for those who aren’t au courant:

Traditionally, barbarian invasions and Christian monks have been blamed for intentionally destroying works of the classical past. The image of burning books and libraries is often evoked in scholarship, fiction and films alike. While this may have occasionally occurred, the biggest deciding factor for the survival or disappearance of classical texts is actually likely to be their use in medieval school education.

The reason for this is that works that made it onto school curricula tended to be copied more, so medieval scribes preserved them in large numbers. Texts that proved to be too difficult or unsuitable for use in schools were more prone to being lost. For example, of the 142 books of Livy’s exceptionally long work, The History of Rome from its Foundation, from the 1st century BC, only 35 books have survived intact, with the rest preserved only in extracts abridged for school use.

School curricula also explain why ancient grammatical literature was transmitted in surprising quantities across medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, including educational material for the study not only of Latin but also of ancient Greek. Popular texts, such as Priscian’s 5th-century Institutes of Latin Grammar, survive in large numbers, sometimes annotated with glosses or notes added in classrooms, as in this example from 11th-century France.

Although schools filtered the classical tradition rather heavily, omitting a number of texts that we would now be eager to read, the ancient schoolmasters had a surprisingly broad literary grasp. We have works on ancient mythology such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and encyclopaedic works such as Pliny’s Natural History. The works of Homer in the Eastern Mediterranean and Virgil, Cicero, Horace and Ovid in the West all survived thanks to their inclusion in late antique and medieval secondary education.

This key role of schools in the transmission of the classical past sheds a special light on other surviving texts, too. Ancient Roman plays, for example, have come down to us not as scripts for theatrical performances but rather as school manuals. […]

There are some wonderful images. For Priscian, see this 2013 post.

Comments

  1. The reference to Institutes of Latin Grammar prompts me to ask a question of all the classicists out there. I recently had occasion to refer to a 1558 book, Le Istitutioni Harmoniche, by Gioseffo Zarlino. It’s a treatise on the principles of musical harmony. It seems often to be translated into English as “The Institutions of Harmony,” which is literal but doesn’t make any sense to me. In modern Italian the verb istituire means to establish or institute, as in English, so it occurred to me that a better translation for the book might be “The Foundations of Harmony.” I asked a historian friend of mine and he suggested “The Structure of Harmony.”

    I’m curious what others think.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    Virgil and Ovid each wrote a few lines that were interpreted as prophecies of Christ. Virgil ended up being treated almost as a saint in some times and places.

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    In Virgil’s case it was the fourth Eclogue, which prophesies the birth of a wonderful divine child who will bring in a golden age and rule over the world: it would take some effort for mediaeval Christians not to interpret it as a prophecy of Christ.

    Virgil is of course Dante’s guide in the first two bits of the Divine Comedy; as a mere virtuous pagan he can’t guide Dante in Paradise, naturally.

    Virgil had a well-developed reputation as a magician in the Middle Ages. The unlikely tale that Wikipedia gives, that Welsh fferyll “chemist, druggist” is from “Vergilius” turns out, astonishingly, to be quite true according to the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru; it formerly meant “alchemist, magician.”

    (I had idly wondered about this, as I pass a clearly labelled fferyllfa “pharmacy” several times a day: I’d wrongly conjectured that it was somehow mangled from φάρμακον. It turns out to be a Virgillary!)

  4. Stu Clayton says:

    “Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru” => GT => “Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru”. But at least I know what “Cymru” means.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:
  6. Stu Clayton says:

    I just discovered the problem. GT says “Walisisch automatisch erkannt”, but it hasn’t. When I go into the list and select Walisisch, I then get “Wörterbuch der Universität Wales”.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    To answer David L’s question: “principles” is indeed a common meaning of instituta.

    We hardcore Calvinists swear by the Institutio Christianae Religionis, which though always called by the translationese “Institutes”, would be “Foundations” or “Principles” in proper English.

    [Apparently there may really have been a seventeenth-century Arabic version.]

  8. Stu Clayton says:

    I find “Calvin” rendered into the Arabic as كالفين , transliterated as “kalifin”. That would be a female caliph ?

    There are a lot of internet offers to translate “Calvin Klein”, though, so perhaps كالفين means “underwear”.

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    Saying that the rate of survival is “surprisingly low” presupposes some sort of expected survival rate that was not achieved, which raises questions about why you would have expected that and whether those expectations are reasonable. I suspect the key issue that many people perhaps overlook or misapprehend is the essentially zero rate (beyond various papyrus fragments) of survivorship of actual physical manuscripts between actual Antiquity and the present. That’s what makes everything depend on medieval decisions as to what was worth copying. The earliest surviving complete text for many of Plato’s dialogues is usually said to be the “Clarke” MS now at Oxford, which was handwritten in A.D. 895 — slightly closer to our own time than that of Plato’s. Who knows how old the oldest MSS of Plato still in existence (or at least the oldest ones readily accessible to the then-current generation of active copiers of old MSS) as of that year were, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t get more than a few centuries further back.

  10. @David Eddyshaw: Thank you!

  11. Prifysgol

    “prime school”?

  12. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JWB:

    I think the “surprise” is at the realisation that we only possess a tiny fragment of ancient Greek and Latin literature; it is very natural to wrongly imagine that what we’ve got is basically all there ever was.

    It’s connected with the fact that non-specialists rarely appreciate how very little we actually know for certain about the history of more than a few centuries ago, and what thin strands of primary evidence we depend on.

    I pointed out somewhere in re Tacitus’ masterly hatchet job on the reputation of Tiberius that Tacitus would have been astonished to be told that he would end up as virtually the sole surviving trustworthy source for much of the period. And his works barely made it, often surviving only in single manuscripts.

  13. David Eddyshaw says:

    “prime school?”

    Etymologically, yes.

  14. Stu Clayton says:

    non-specialists rarely appreciate how very little we actually know for certain about the history of more than a few centuries ago, and what thin strands of primary evidence we depend on.

    How could we be expected to appreciate that, given the specialists coming on strong and confidently from all sides ? It is not in their remit to instill uncertainty.

  15. Stu Clayton says:

    “Prime school” in the sense of Hochschule ?

  16. To look at matters another way, just 2,871,000 words of Greek are preserved for all authors known to have lived at least in part in the fourth century or earlier. Adding the third and second centuries brings the total to 3,773,000 words

    Roger S. Bagnall, “Alexandria: Library of Dreams,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 146 (2002) 348-362

  17. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Prime school” in the sense of Hochschule ?

    Yes.
    大学 daigaku in Japanese, too, which I think is calqued on German.

  18. One statistic I find telling is that roughly half of all surviving classical Latin works are by Christian theologians, writing after the conversion of the Empire to Christianity under Constantine. So works on a single topic, covering only a couple centuries, make up half the corpus.

    And even major works, such as Tacitus’s Annals that we rely heavily on today, do not actually survive in their entirety. If you read or watch I, Clavdivs, it can be painfully obvious which parts of Tacitus are missing, leaving Suetonius as Graves’s only source.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas;
    magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.
    iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna,
    iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto.

    That’s all of it, apparently. And it was reinterpreted in 1776.

  20. David Eddyshaw says:
  21. J.W. Brewer says:

    @Brett, if the loss of works existing only in a finite number of manuscripts were largely random, older works would be inherently more likely to be lost. Think of it like a half-life — if you have 100 works (with the implausible simplifying assumption of all of them having the same number of manuscript copies extant at the beginning of the period), 50 of them will be lost within X centuries – at least until you finally get to the point (the Renaissance plus invention of the printing press?) where pretty much everything ancient that had survived to that point was going to be preserved going forward. An obscure contemporary of Ovid thus needed the dumb luck to survive four more centuries than an obscure contemporary of Augustine would have, w/o even getting into the non-randomness of medieval editorial discretion in deciding what to copy and what not to copy. Of course medieval Christian copyists were going to systematically perpetuate the more valued works of “good” Christian writers and not that of dissident/heretic Christian writers (who often survive only in quotes included in orthodox writings condemning or refuting them), whereas pagan authors were being judged by different standards in terms of whether they were/weren’t worth copying.

  22. David Eddyshaw says:

    Given that almost all we’ve got is filtered through the taste of monks and schoolteachers we should probably count ourselves lucky.

    (Though, to be fair, that implies some quite unjust and hurtful stereotyping of both monks and schoolteachers. I hope my wife never reads this post, as she falls into one of these categories.)

    We’re fortunate too (as David M more or less implied above) that Christian writers very early made enough of a peace with classical paganism that good Christian copyists didn’t have to feel that they were likely to involve their readers in grave spiritual peril by propagating pagan works, unlike heretical materials. I imagine that this did involve a fair bit of cooption of the pagan past into the role of Christian precursor stuff: not just things like the fourth Eclogue but movements like Stoicism, which seems to have been retrofitted with a Christian aura which would have greatly surprised the original Stoics.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    Having said that, not a lot springs to mind that speaks of real pagan intense religious feeling (as opposed to beautiful myths, expected poetic tropes, and exciting stories, as in that perennial mediaeval favourite Ovid.)

    There’s the invocation to Venus at the beginning of De Rerum Natura (ironically, as everyone points out); Apuleius on Isis; can’t think of much else, but I expect other Hatters can.

    Maybe the Romans just didn’t do intense religious feeling much (fits the stereotype.) But maybe mediaeval copyists weren’t as happy with it as with love songs, pretty stories and edifying epics and histories.

    There’s something similar with Icelandic; just about the only pagan Norse religious poem that I’ve ever found really moving is Egill Skallagrímsson’s extraordinary Sonatorrek. It may be significant that we seem to owe his saga to that unusual man and appreciater of old stories, Snorri Sturluson.

  24. Trond Engen says:

    Sonatorrek is a riveting poem, bur it’s also very late pagan and possibly influenced by contemporary Christian aesthetics. Actually, almost everything we think we know of the Norse religion is very late and imfluenced by christianity. And that’s even without considering the judgement and emendations of that great Medieval scholar Snorri.

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    Very good points.

    The very idea that “intense religious feeling” is a natural concomitant of religion is probably more than somewhat culture-bound, come to think of it.

    Indeed many a sedate traditional Anglican would probably say that the idea is more parochial even than that:

    “Enthusiasm, sir, is a horrid thing; a very horrid thing indeed.”

    I dare say that the Romans kept their religious ecstasies for the decent obscurity of their mystery religions, anyway (apart from weirdos like Lucretius.) “The first rule of the Eleusinian Mysteries is that you don’t write anything down for future scholars to read about the Eleusinian Mysteries.”

  26. Trond Engen says:

    That’s not to say that there’s not true paganism there. It’s just hard to tell if the combination of motives and expression of sentiment is entirely pre-Christian. As if there ever existed such a thing as a Norse religion untainted by Christianity. The mythical kings who earned gold and glory fighting for and against the Roman army would have brought 4th century ideas back home. The religion was pagan, obviously, but it may have been thoroughly reshaped by Christian ideas of how a religion should be practised.

  27. David Eddyshaw says:

    There’s an analogy of sorts in West Africa with Islam; it’s hard to escape the feeling that even solidly non-Muslim groups have adapted some Islamic concepts, like the unique almighty Creator, which don’t seem to fit in any obvious way into the traditional animisms. But there is ultimately no way of knowing, given that Islamic influence predates any significant European interest in the region by many centuries, so any “traditional African religion” altogether free of Islamic influences is a purely theoretical construct now in that part of the world (I know nothing of the situation elsewhere in Africa, but the common idea that “subsaharan” Africa was culturally isolated from the rest of the world before the European invasions, or even before Islam, is unequivocally false.)

  28. Trond Engen says:

    Turtles everywhere we look. Still, it’s obvious that Sonatorrek does offer a glimpse of pre-christianization religion. It’s just difficult to tell how deep into the pagan past we see.

  29. Trond Engen says:

    If I have seen God in heaven it is by standing on the shoulders of turtles.

  30. David Eddyshaw says:

    Mind you, there are some pretty unequivocally non-Islamic customs going strong even in almost-Muslim-by-definition Hausaland: the spirit possession cult bori is yet alive and well, and Tsumburbura, the god of Kano (a Muslim city for a thousand years) still lives on his/her sacred hill Dala.

  31. Trond Engen says:

    I think Norse religion worked a lot like that. Strong and old beliefs existing in parallel with new practices and ideas. Not a new thought, admittedly. The debate is as old as Old Norse scholarship itself.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    “The first rule of the Eleusinian Mysteries is that you don’t write anything down for future scholars to read about the Eleusinian Mysteries.”

    Diagoras the Godless published them, but his publication has not survived. 🙁

    “The Carmen Arvale is preserved in an inscription dating from 218 AD which contains records of the meetings of the Arval Brethren. It is written in an archaic form of Old Latin, likely not fully understood any more at the time the inscription was made.”

    (Disclaimer: Semo has, both as documented and etymologically, nothing to do with sowing, but with winning. I’ll try to look for the reference tomorrow.)

  33. Trond Engen says:

    It’s commonly thought that the cult of Odin came to Scandinavia with the warrior culture, and that many of the myths associated with him are influenced by Christianity. I’ve sometimes thought of it as similar to what Sikhism became for Hindus serving in a generally Muslim army.

  34. David Eddyshaw says:

    The self-sacrifice motif certainly suggests Christian influence, though the whole point of the story is different with Odin.

    I must say that to be a god of poetry and war certainly shows style.

    Better than Ishtar, goddess of war and sex (after a brief double-take, you just go “yeah, I see that.”)

  35. David Eddyshaw says:

    @David M:

    I hadn’t (to my shame) heard of Diagoras. I like him. Thanks.

  36. Before Islam, Sub-Saharan Africa wasn’t, of course, culturally isolated from Eurasia. But cultural innovations moved across the continent at astonishingly slow speed.

    For example, Pastoral Neolithic first came into Sub-Saharan Africa circa 6000 BC. And it took 6000 years to reach South Africa.

  37. Stu Clayton says:

    The evidence has been tampered with:

    # He allegedly chopped up a wooden statue of Heracles and used it to roast his lentils #

    # and chopped up the wooden statue of Hercules to boil his turnips #

  38. David Eddyshaw says:

    @SFR:

    Fair point, but being myself a flibbertigibbet mayfly, I was thinking in more recent terms: for example, Bantu languages have spread throughout central, eastern and much of southern Africa in a mere couple of millennia or so before the present. The iron age likewise.

    (I’m continually being disappointed when I get hold of a new grammar of a [Narrow] Bantu language. They’re all so similar. Not like Gur, or Kwa, or Adamawa, or Atlantic, or Mande …)

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Stu:

    Exactly! Here we see the notorious Athenian propaganda machine at its most egregious!

  40. The iron age likewise.

    It is interesting that there was no Bronze Age in Sub-Saharan Africa (Nubia doesn’t count being an Egyptian colony) at all.

    Apparently Bronze Age requires regular transcontinental trade with sources of tin in order to be able to make bronze.

    In other words, regular trade with Cornwall, Afghanistan and Siberia.

    Sub-Saharan Africa failed to join this trade network, so no African Bronze Age.

  41. 大学 daigaku in Japanese, too, which I think is calqued on German.

    Maybe not.

    Daigaku-ryō (大学寮) was the former Imperial university of Japan, founded at the end of the 7th century. The Daigaku-ryō predates the Heian period, continuing in various forms through the early Meiji period. The director of the Daigaku-ryō was called the Daigaku-no-kami.

    The Daigaku-ryō was located near the Suzaku Mon at southern border of Kyoto’s grid. In the 12th century, the original structure was destroyed by fire, and it was not rebuilt.

    Daigaku-ryō

  42. Stu Clayton says:

    the notorious Athenian propaganda machine at its most egregious

    No housewife will have been deceived by these apparently inconsistent charges, but nobody paid attention to what women said. First the lentils are roasted, then put into a pot of water on the fire to simmer. The turnips are added somewhat later so that they remain τραγανοί.

  43. John Cowan says:

    As Diagoras was a Melian, it’s hardly surprising that the Athenians hated him: proprium humani ingenii et caetera.

    Strong and old beliefs existing in parallel with new practices and ideas

    This reminds me of Cordwainer Smith’s name for the underground Christianity of the Instrumentality: “the Old Strong Religion”.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    The director of the Daigaku-ryō was called the Daigaku-no-kami.

    And there I thought the way to address university rectors in German, Eure Magnifizenz, was ever so slightly over the top…!

  45. There are some wonderful images.
    There certainly are. Gargoyles in technicolor, and sophisticated drawing that’s if not of quite equal in quality at least contemporary with Cimabue (c. 1240 – 1302). I especially like the illuminated initial S of course, and the inhabited C that you can REALLY zoom in on here (then go to f.1r) and see every pen stroke.

    Via Stu: non-specialists rarely appreciate how very little we actually know for certain about the history of more than a few centuries ago, and what thin strands of primary evidence we depend on.
    A horrifying example I saw a couple of days ago.

  46. that’s, if not quite equal in quality,

    – You’d think 15 mins would be long enough to make corrections.

    Eure Magnifizenz
    Why didn’t this get taken care of in 1968?

  47. Trond Engen says:

    “Let’s drop the formalities. Call me Magni.”

  48. Trond Engen says:

    The self-sacrifice motif certainly suggests Christian influence, though the whole point of the story is different with Odin.

    Yes. Self-sacrifice for a higher purpose. Óðinn allfaðir is also sometimes part of a trinity of gods that are different reflections of his own persona. The whole Ragnarök is inspired by Christian allegory, and Óðinn’s son Baldr will rise from death and rule the new world. Figures like Loki and Fenrir have been suggested to be imports from Christian mythology, name and all. 19th century scholars debated this intensely. It’s not so intensely debated now, not because it’s come to a conclusion, but because there’s no way to know for sure, and there’s little new to add.

    But i didn’t just mean the influence on mythos. The forms that religious practice took in the well-organized Roman society (and its Germanic successor states) would have influenced Norse religious practice. Which parts I don’t know. Maybe the Norse took to building actual temples and placing images on the altar, Maybe they copied the sacraments. There’s some hints at both. I’ve just been reading an article by Jørn Ø. Sunde and Else Mundal which sums up the evidence for an old Germanic 5-day week. They find evidence that a calendar based on the Christian 7-day-week was formally introduced on Iceland around 900 CE.

    I must say that to be a god of poetry and war certainly shows style.

    Yes. On the other hand, all gods are gods of war to those who have them on their side. The image of Óðinn*, the god of religious mysticism, intricate poetry and excesses in food and drunkenness, as warrior god supreme may well be reflecting the preferences of the warrior elite.

    Better than Ishtar, goddess of war and sex (after a brief double-take, you just go “yeah, I see that.”)

    Freya is also a godess of war. Ishtar made it into Germania at the same time as Christianity and may have contributed to Freya as we know her,

    *) I’m at my computer, not my phone.

  49. There certainly are.

    I knew you’d like them!

    A horrifying example I saw a couple of days ago.

    That’s quite a story, and this quote reminds me that cliché movie dialogue both reflects and is reflected in actual speech:

    When he was arrested he said: “I knew it would come to this.”

  50. I kind of don’t get the stealing charge.

    Did they steal these coins from king Alfred the Great or from the Viking raiders?

    I suppose what they did was illegal and they broke lots of government regulations and maybe even deserved to go to prison, but where is the stealing?

    Unless not paying taxes amounts to stealing from the government in Britain?

  51. Trond Engen says:

    The last few days there’s been a minor storm in Norway over the conclusions of a paper treating the statistical distribution of medieval coins in detector finds. The paper didn’t make any firm conclusions, but one of the suggested explanations — and the one that was hit on by national media — was that some detectorists keep the valuable Norwegian coins and only turn the mass of English coins over to antiquarian authorities. This is not about huge treasures, but about many small deposits of a few coins digged down or tucked away under the floor planks for whatever purpose. The distribution of coins is used to infer things about e.g. distribution of wealth and the development and reach of the monetary economy. Bias in reporting will lead to skewed conclusions, so it’s an important issue. With increased data and good statistical tools, it’s becoming increasingly possible for archaeologists to sort and score finds after plausibility of reporting, corrected for physical environment, time of year, equipment, or whatever. This helps them make better inferences, but it also means that the bad seeds among detectorists may find themselves revealed after years of small scale theft by the disparity with the finds of their peers.

  52. The paper didn’t make any firm conclusions, but one of the suggested explanations — and the one that was hit on by national media — was that some detectorists keep the valuable Norwegian coins and only turn the mass of English coins over to antiquarian authorities.

    How could that possibly not be the case? Whatever number of super-honest law-obeying people there may be out there, they are swamped by the number of corner-cutting get-a-bit-for-myself people, even in Norway. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or they are bad people, just stating a fact about human nature.

  53. Trond Engen says:

    SFR: where is the stealing

    Different law in different countries, but a find like this usually belongs to either the owner of the land or the government, and in either case immediate reporting of the find is mandated so that antiquarian authorities can save whatever contextual information there is to save. As I understand it, British law is centered on the property aspect, and I assume that a failure to report would amount to attempted theft and that selling on the black market makes it a clear case. In Norwegian law, I don’t think theft is considered (though it certainly might), but it’s treated under the Law of Cultural Heritage as willful destruction (I’m certainly not a lawyer. I’m making up English terminology on the fly here.)

  54. Stealing from Her Majesty. Treasure trove

    The Crown had a prerogative right to treasure trove, and if the circumstances under which an object was found raised a prima facie presumption that it had been hidden, it belonged to the Crown unless someone else could show a better title to it.

    Earlier this year Cadbury’s chocolate pulled an Easter Egg Hunt ad campaign that “encouraged looting”. Metal detecting is generally illegal in Ireland; digging without permission is illegal in Ireland and UK.

  55. Stealing from Her Majesty

    Well, she is descended from Alfred the Great, I suppose.

    So they stole her family treasure then.

  56. Trond Engen says:

    How could that possibly not be the case?

    No, it couldn’t not be the case. Archaeologists and detectorists alike know this, and they have been working long and well together to improve cooperation and make archaeologists express gratitude for and detectorists feel pride in their contribution to arhaeological knowledge. The paper was mostly about how to handle the different plausible reasons for the discrepancies to avoid drawing the wrong conclusions about the past.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Why didn’t this get taken care of in 1968?

    Perhaps just overlooked.

    Anyway, in Austria, the great big university reform (which also abolished the office of Prorektor, whatever that was) only happened in 1975.

    Figures like Loki and Fenrir have been suggested to be imports from Christian mythology, name and all.

    What would the names have been?

    I’ve just been reading an article by Jørn Ø. Sunde and Else Mundal which sums up the evidence for an old Germanic 5-day week.

    Interesting. Do you have a link?

  58. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    It’s commonly thought that the cult of Odin came to Scandinavia with the warrior culture, and that many of the myths associated with him are influenced by Christianity.

    Odin is similar to Slavic Veles (and Baltic Velinas), even in various small details. The chief difference is that in most of Slavic lands Perun and Jarilo came to be main military/statehood patrons (but still you find Veles remaining as a warlord god in Szczecin and thereabouts, called Triglov (!)*, and it’s hinted elsewhere).

    I’ve just been reading an article by Jørn Ø. Sunde and Else Mundal which sums up the evidence for an old Germanic 5-day week. They find evidence that a calendar based on the Christian 7-day-week was formally introduced on Iceland around 900 CE.

    This is extremely interesting, I’d like to know more. I’ve been musing on the same in Slavic context, based on various quirks of Slavic weekday names and folk beliefs. E.g. five days are numbered (even Monday is explicitly numbered in a Serbo-Croatian dialect) but differently than in the Greek system, Saturday is a loanword and Sunday a calque, Wednesday means ‘middle’…

    *usually it’s rendered Triglav (Trigelaus in original Latin) but the a must stand for the weakly rounded Slavic /o/, like in Wolgast, Radegast.

  59. Stu Clayton says:

    Figures like Loki and Fenrir have been suggested to be imports from Christian mythology, name and all. … What would the names have been?

    Lucas for Loki !

    This Norse/Christian business is more interesting than I thought, in terms of knock-on knowledge effects. I found the following here:

    # However there is no real mention of Hell, as a place of damnation, in the Bible. The Hebrew and Greek words (Gehenna) that are translated as hell in the Catholic Bible designate the common grave of dead humans. Instead of being an otherworldly location, hell was just a dump on the outskirts of the city where criminals and poor people were cremated and burned without gravestone or honor. Sulfur, fire and brimstone were used to cremate their bodies. #

  60. David Marjanović says:

    Wednesday means ‘middle’…

    Mittwoch, an early-medieval neologism intended to root out worship of W(u)otan.

    must stand for the weakly rounded Slavic /o/

    In that case it more likely got mixed up with the southern version; the three-headed mountain in Slovenia is called Triglav.

    Some of the -gast renderings are probably old enough to predate the rounding of /o/ altogether, but then they could have been interpreted as containing the Germanic cognate…

  61. David Marjanović says:

    Lucas for Loki !

    Huh. I suppose that’s possible phonologically.

    I found the following here:

    That’s a muddle-headed site, though. There’s simply no way the concept of hell (not to mention purgatory!), which was so well established by Augustine’s time, comes from any Germanic tradition without a time machine or a boatload of strangely influential preachers who left no other trace. And brimstone is sulfur, it’s just the KJV word for it.

  62. >Apparently Bronze Age requires regular transcontinental trade with sources of tin in order to be able to make bronze. In other words, regular trade with Cornwall, Afghanistan and Siberia. Sub-Saharan Africa failed to join this trade network, so no African Bronze Age.

    There were other sources of tin in those days, including Spain.:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tin_sources_and_trade_in_ancient_times

    Congo currently produces about 5% of the international output of tin, based on deposits that were initially found at surface level. Mining there was still “artisanal” in 2011, meaning open pit and based on individual miners digging up the cassiterite. Doesn’t really contradict your statement, but I guess I would

  63. David Marjanović says:

    There’s an analogy of sorts in West Africa with Islam; it’s hard to escape the feeling that even solidly non-Muslim groups have adapted some Islamic concepts, like the unique almighty Creator, which don’t seem to fit in any obvious way into the traditional animisms.

    In Rwanda, the local religion reportedly has a deistic creator who created everything but hasn’t done anything since and is not omnipresent.

  64. Stu Clayton says:

    It was only the meaning of gehenna that interested me, not Augustine and the time-travelling Pfaffenschiff. Is that correct, and common knowledge outside the Bible Belt ?

  65. David Marjanović says:

    That the valley of Ge-Hinnom was the city dump of Jerusalem seems to be relatively common knowledge. The rest, no, and I have no idea whether any of that is correct.

  66. David Eddyshaw says:

    In Rwanda, the local religion reportedly has a deistic creator who created everything but hasn’t done anything since and is not omnipresent.

    That is not so different from the belief of the Kusaasi and their neighbours: the Kusaasi say

    Dim nɛ Win, da tʋ’as nɛ Winnɛ.
    “Eat with God, don’t talk with God.”

    i.e. be grateful for God’s gifts, but don’t bother him with requests; and

    Win nyɛ ka sin.
    “God sees, and is silent.”

    However, as it was explained to me, the second proverb is not quite what it seems: the sense is more “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.”
    Still, my feeling that there is an inconsistency in this may well just be an artefact of my trying to force Kusaasi concepts into a quite different worldview. I could be quite wrong in seeing Islamic influence there.

    If I recall correctly (a fairly large “if”), Evans-Pritchard’s classic anthropological work Nuer Religion describes a concept of the Creator much more involved with the world in an ongoing way. It doesn’t seem very plausible to ascribe this to Muslim influence given the history of the area.

  67. Stu Clayton says:

    However, as it was explained to me, the second proverb Win nyɛ ka sin is not quite what it seems (“God sees, and is silent”): the sense is more “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.”

    Well, even when I am silent I am always mulling things over and deciding what to do about this and the other. Is that unusual ? Why would one expect God to be no more than a motion sensor, or a webcam for the Day of Judgement, merely because he says nothing ?

    Least said, soonest mended. Keep ’em guessin’.

  68. David Eddyshaw says:

    I would think that insofar as the Christian concept of hell is not derived from Jewish tradition it borrows not from the Germans but from the Greeks. After all, the Christian concept of “soul” seems to owe a lot to Greek ideas; especially the stress on its opposition to “body.”

    “Hades” is used for “hell” in the New Testament, too.

  69. David Marjanović says:

    The confusion of “soul” and “spirit” is a direct reaction to Epicureanism! Epicurus taught that the soul consists of the lightest atoms, which scatter in death, which is why death is irreversible and why there can’t be an afterlife; Paul accepted all this except the conclusion, so he added the spirit, which is not made of atoms and is eternal.

    Source: open-access book from 1954.

  70. Stu Clayton says:

    A precursor of the dark energy gambit.

  71. David Eddyshaw says:

    As a think I pontificated about elsewhere, Kusaal distinguishes win, which is what what makes you, you, from siig “life force”, which can be stolen by witches without you turning into a different person or losing your identity; sufficient prolonged loss of siig (which is not all-or-nothing) will eventually kill you, but siig is nevertheless distinct from nyɔvʋr “life”, which is what distinguishes any living creature from a dead one. Your win does not come to an end when you die, and many people inherit the win of a forebear as their own spiritual protector (not their own win; this is not reincarnation) which is what the extremely common Kusaal personal name “Awini” refers to.
    [Bible translations have confused the issue greatly by using siig for “spirit.”]

    It all seems to map tolerably well into what DeWitt is claiming Paul meant (apart from the inheriting bit.)

    (I don’t think that is a mainstream academic theological account of what Paul actually did mean, but I can’t say I’ve ever come across any very plausible alternative.)

    I wonder if this DeWitt is any relation?

  72. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    Mittwoch, an early-medieval neologism intended to root out worship of W(u)otan.

    *serda is amazingly consistent among Slavic languages, so are *sobota/sǫbota and *nedělja. Other days are more varied, including *četvьrgъ which looks pretty archaic and non-productive (and there’s even a Baltic equivalent). Fridays used to be taboo days relating to the goddess Mokoš (or her Christian replacement St Paraskeva) and market days. There’s also a curious link between the two taboo days, Sunday and Friday in folklore (personified Sunday is said to be Friday’s daughter). Not all aligns that well with the theory that the names spread with Christianity from one place (this would indeed explain the consistency of *serda). Hence my musings.

    In that case it more likely got mixed up with the southern version; the three-headed mountain in Slovenia is called Triglav.

    It is probable the two got identified somewhere in the 19th century. I mean *Triglav is unlikely in the local Slavic dialect, it’s no Slovene.

    Some of the -gast renderings are probably old enough to predate the rounding of /o/ altogether, but then they could have been interpreted as containing the Germanic cognate…

    The rendering of what should be /o/ is all over the place, <a, e, o>, also cf. Svantevith, Gradicia, Abotriti. Interestingly, if we are to believe Wikipedia, earlier sources have A- in the last word, later ones have O-. Looks like the vowel was gradually becoming more rounded and didn’t have a good fit in the German or Latin system.

  73. Paul accepted all this except the conclusion, so he added the spirit, which is not made of atoms and is eternal.

    +

    A precursor of the dark energy gambit.

    Conclusion: spirits are made of dark energy. Solves a number of problems at once.

  74. David Eddyshaw says:

    Heresy! Spirits are made of dark matter!

  75. Stu Clayton says:

    They’re interconvertible.

  76. More heresy!

  77. Trond Engen says:

    [Loki and Fenrir as Christian names]

    David M.: What would the names have been?

    Lucifer and canis infernalis, according to the theories of Sophus Bugge (1833-1907). For the benefit of the international reader, the Wayback Machine helpfully provides an English version of his work on the Poetic Edda called The Home of The Eddic Poems, where his views on the names are laid out in the introductory chapters. (starting from page lii).

    [The Odin cult as a late import]

    Ксёнѕ Фаўст: Odin is similar to Slavic Veles (and Baltic Velinas), even in various small details.

    Yes. I don’t mean to say that he is a Late Antique import, but the form and prominence of his cult may have been.

    [The Germanic 5-day week]

    David M.: Interesting. Do you have a link?

    Ксёнѕ Фаўст: This is extremely interesting, I’d like to know more. I’ve been musing on the same in Slavic context, based on various quirks of Slavic weekday names and folk beliefs.

    This is from the backlog of journals I subscribe to — in this case Maal og minne. The article is Jørn Øyrehagen Sunde og Else Mundal: Tidseininga fimt, eller fem dagar, og teorien om den germanske femdagersveka. The reference is Maal og Minne 2 (2018): 83-114. Sunde is a professor of law, Mundal a professor (emerita) of Old Norse, both at the University of Bergen. Both list the article among their publications on their university page. Neither of them provides a link, nor do they seem to have active Academia.edu pages.

    Short version: It’s long been common knowledge among philologers of Old Norse that the week once had five days, but no critical assessment has ever been made. Sunde and Mundal gather evidence, especially from the oldest laws, and conclude that the frequent use of five days as a period for appeals, replies etc., which forced Christian lawmakers to find workarounds to avoid Sundays, is a relic of the five day week. The Icelandic calendar is also evidence in that it’s told that the new calendar had to be emended since it made midsummer move towards spring. This was done by adding a leap week in summer every seven years. Ergo, the difference between the old and the new system was one day a year. This fits with 365 as a multiplum of 5 and 364 as a multiplum of 7.

    Edit: The journal article is not online, but the (Norwegian) abstract is. I forgot to provide the link.

  78. @David Eddyshaw: I know nothing independently about Nuer religion, but I always wondered whether E. E. Evans-Pritchard discussions of their beliefs might have been unconsciously influenced by his earlier, more famous work on the Azande, who believed in divine/magical influences occurring regularly at even the smallest scales.

    That said, his work on Nuer religion was a specific influence on at least one paragraph of my own fiction writing:

    “We knew it not, but it was the evil one,” (evil one, the crowd echoed more loudly), “the demon emperor,” (demon emperor, murmured the throng), “the enemy. It came among us and offered us great power, and we said, ‘Are we not lords of all that is? Such power should be ours!’ So we joined with the abominations from the underworld and did their bidding.”

  79. I trust that it’s real, but if you later hear that Sunde and Mondal had a falling out over which days weren’t among the original seven, with Sunde arguing against Monday and Mondal slamming Sunday, report back so we can consider whether the Onion has launched an Oslo edition.

  80. Trond Engen says:

    It dawned on me that every article is published with an English abstract at the end, so I could dig up the journal and quote it in extenso. So I did — and I discovered that I hadn’t read the last third of the article, about evidence from Old Norse literature.

    The short version of this is that there’s some evidence for a five-day period, some for a seven-day period, some for a nine-day period, and most for an eight-day period, equal to the ancient Roman week. For this there’s also modern-day evidence in that a week could also be expressed as åtte dager “eight days”. (My grandmother used to add it for emphasis every time she mentioned a week — vi ses om e uke, åtte dager.) They explain the seven-day week as Christian influence, which is plausible enough, and the nine-day period as restricted to the mythological and supernatural realm, which does fit the examples. They also explain the eight-day week as a special long week, used in leap years every twelve years, but there’s no external evidence for this and I find it hard to accept as a reason for why an emphatically normal week should be counted as eight days.

    Thus, there’s evidence in legal texts and the Icelandic calendar for a five-day week and evidence in Old Norse literature and modern language for an eight-day week. It underlines the overall theme of how little we really know.

    Anyway, here’s the English abstract (typos are mine):

    The authors discuss the old theory that the Nordic and Germanic week in pre-Christian times consisted of five days, In Ari fróði’s Íslendingabók we learn that the Icelanders early in the settlement period started to reckon the year in 52 weeks consisting of seven days each. Ari does no mention how many days the week consisted of before that time. The strongst argument in favour of the existence of a week of five days in the pre-Christian period can be found in Scandinavian, and especially Norwegian, laws, in which a time unit of five days frequently occurs. This time unit, as a possible continuation of an older week of five days, is therefore central to the discussion, The theory about the five day week also finds some support in Old Norse literary texts, especially poetry. The authors argue that the tim unit of eight days or nights occurring in Old Norse texts has its origin in one long week of eight days that replaced one normal week every twelfth year.

  81. PlasticPaddy says:

    Irish has traces of an eight day week and still says coicís for what was a 15-day fortnight (compare French quinzes jours or Italian quindici giorni). But I have not come across 5 days as a unit.

  82. Trond Engen says:

    Yes. I’ve always understood the expression åtte dager for a week to be parallel to the French and Italian expressions for two weeks in that both the first and the last day are counted. But if those (and the Irish) fortnights are essentially half-months of actually fifteen days and nights, then this wouldn’t hold. And it would be slim evidence for a five-day week, since the 15-day half-month works in a five-day system.

  83. David Eddyshaw says:

    In the 1990’s many Kusaasi were unfamiliar with the concept “week”; if told to return in three weeks (for example), they would ask how many days that was (which struck me as particularly exotic, for some reason.) “Week” in Kusaal is either just daba ayɔpɔi “seven days” or bakpai (borrowed from Hausa bakwai “seven.”)
    Weeks were a distinctively Muslim thing, at least in those days.

    The local market-day cycle is three days, carrying on regardless of weekdays, public holidays, religious festivals etc.

    The seven-day week is very much a thing in the south of Ghana, though: Akan personal names, for example, are given by the weekday you were born on, with the result that although many older people don’t know what year they were born in, everybody knows what day of the week they were born on. Kwame Nkrumah was thus born on a Saturday (though according to Wikipedia he was originally Kofi, implying he was born on Friday. Presumably it was a long night …)

    I’ve no idea how old the seven-day week is in Akan culture, but presumably it must go back a long way to have got so thoroughly embedded.

  84. David Marjanović says:

    “In eight days” for “a week from now” is known in German, and always blamed on Roman inclusive counting. Two weeks, however, are always called 14 days, not 15.

    The Home of The Eddic Poems

    Complete with an extra dash of Gnosticism! Impressive.

  85. Confusion between countable quantities (days, weeks, months, etc.) and measurements of the mass quantity, time, seem to be ubiquitous. I remember arguing with my mother about whether there were four or five seasons in a year.

  86. Let me guess, someone was counting winter twice because it falls across the calendar year divide?

  87. @Hans: Indeed, yes. I was asserting that, while there were only four seasons, there were five seasons in [calendar] year. I am still not convinced that I was wrong, exactly, but as expert on metrology, I have come, more and more, to feel that all measurements should be, when possible, expressed as continuous measurements of mass quantities. Hence, Jesus did not rise after three days, but something more like one and a half.

  88. J.W. Brewer says:

    @Brett: Perhaps the “confusion” you perceive arises in part from an implicit assumption that people are attempting to express measurements when in fact they are doing something else. Or, viewed another way, perhaps “measuring” for different purposes. Suppose someone is going on a business trip where they are scheduled to land at LAX at 1 pm (local time) on Tuesday and then depart from LAX at 11 am the Thursday of the same week. In addressing the question “how many days are you going to be in LA,” giving the answer as “two” (or “less than two”) assumes total-elapsed-hours is the sole or most relevant measure, but for most human beings doing human sorts of things not all hours are perfectly fungible, because there is a predictable rhythm of variation between times awake and times asleep, times customarily thought suitable for business meetings and/or social engagements and times not thought so suitable, etc. So “one full day and parts of two others” would for many purposes be a more meaningful and precise answer, and imho “two days” is inferior to “three days” as a shorter-and-less-precise approximation of that answer. Or just consider the alternatively-phrased question “which days are you going to be in LA?” It’s explicitly not asking for a continuous measurement of a mass quantity, but is seeking a differently-expressed answer that the questioner expects will be informative.

  89. @J. W. Brewer: Certainly, there are situations where a count of days may be more useful that a measure of time. However, these situations are basically never problematic. I encounter plenty of instances where a count is given, even though a measure would be more useful, but the reverse situation seems to be vanishingly rare. Moreover, the problem can be exacerbated by taking a count of days (or weeks, or months) and then converting it to smaller units of time; for example, I have never, in real life, encountered a use if “forty-eight hours” when that was the actual time period meant.

  90. What does a “week” mean if your culture does not have Sabbath or something of that nature?

    A joke about Alaskan seasons goes like “There are four of them — winter, June, July, and August”; if Brett’s suggestion to be adopted, things for Alaska will get even gloomier.

    Looking at periodic things in a linear fashion is difficult no matter what you use for measurement or counting. 1st of January is in some sense closer to 31st of December a day ago (for example, weather wise) and in another to the 1st of January a year ago (number of drunk deaths, I would think). Some clever people probably know how tho think about it properly.

  91. David Marjanović says:

    Mühlviertel (northern Upper Austria, hilly landscape up to 1000 m above sea level): “9 months winter, 3 months cold”.

  92. I don’t dispute the claim that what ancient texts survived depended mainly on recopying, but some exceptions may be interesting. For example, palimpsests, now more readable with multi-spectral imaging. The large stone inscription on Epicureanism by Diogenes of Oenoanda. Papyri (and occasionally skin or palm leaf) from places that are dry, sometimes helped by being in tombs or caves or jars. Papyri used in book binding etc. (sometimes lately jazzed up—Sappho–by claiming mummy mask cartonnage instead). Carbonized materials from Herculaneum and elsewhere that can now be read, somewhat, by new technologies. A book from an Irish peat bog. Quotations to refute that sometimes preserve much of a work, such as Origen, Contra Celsum (his Alethes Logos). “Celsus of Pergamum: Locating a Critic of Early Christianity”
    http://people.duke.edu/~goranson/Celsus_of_Pergamum.pdf

  93. Trond Engen says:

    Østerdalen (inner Eastern Norway, taiga landscape): Ni månter med vinter og tre månter med dårlig sleaføre “Nine months of winter and three months of bad conditions for sleigh.”

  94. There is a Russian saying about some places in Siberia – “Twelve months of winter and the rest is summer”.

    Beat that

  95. Stealing from Her Majesty

    So they stole her family treasure then.

    Treasure Trove hasn’t got anything to do with the queen. Stealing from the queen (the head of state) is not the same as stealing from the Crown (the state). She’d not leave with much, if she were to do a runner. She’s not at all liquid though I suppose she may have a Swiss bank account, a fleeing fund. There’s the Royal Collection of Leonardo drawings, Rembrandts, a Bruegel Massacre of the Innocents etc. that sort of belongs to the queen a little bit because her ancestors paid for it. She ‘owns’ the crown jewels but she can’t leave them to anyone but the next monarch. And then there’s a body called the Crown Estate that deals with £13b (a minuscule estimate, imo) of land and buildings. They belong neither to the government nor to the monarch.

  96. Czar owned about 180 million acres of land in Siberia (about 3.3% of all land in the empire) with over a million tenants by 1917.

    The land belonged to the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty, that is, to the Czar personally. He could sell, transfer or give this land. Revenue from Cabinet land was his personal income which he could use as he wished.

    It is very likely that Czar Nicholas was the richest person in the world at the time.

  97. >What does a “week” mean if your culture does not have Sabbath or something of that nature?

    I’m not that knowledgeable, but doing a little reading, it looks like the Roman Nundinae was a rotating market day that had some other implications for what could and couldn’t be done. Interestingly, it seems to have been a different day in different towns in the region. This reminds me of being in the area near San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico, where different villages are known for different crafts, some touristy, but some locally useful, and hold their market days on different set days. If you needed a pot, and the next village over is the pottery village, you can’t very well get a pot on the day of your village’s market.

    Do markets work that way in other more traditional rural areas?

    I suspect that the length of an ancient week may often have had to do with the amount of time food could be kept.

    What was the ancient Semitic week like in other cultures than Judean? It occurs to me that a week may have first been a practical phenomenon that got a religious overlay later, since the week doesn’t seem to have had cultic significance in Rome.

  98. She’d not leave with much, if she were to do a runner.

    Now that would make for a great movie.

  99. Mixed in with disputes on setting the day of Easter, some early Christians wrote–in effect an attempt to one-up sabbath–of resurrection on the eighth day, which faded, maybe partly because gnostics spoke of the ogdoad.

  100. Prior to the conquests of Frederick the Great, the entire civilian government of Brandenburg-Prussia was paid for with the income from the margrave’s personal estates.

  101. China and Japan apparently had a ten-day period before the Western week was adopted. The month in those places (including Mongolia) is still divided into upper, middle, and lower periods of 10 days each (上旬, 中旬, 下旬). I remember vaguely that in Japan the 10-day period had something to do with time off for employees of businesses — so you don’t actually need a Sabbath — but I have nothing concrete to offer on this.

    In all this discussion of lost Classics, I find it interesting that the culture that is most obsessive about preserving its ancient tradition has not been mentioned: China. The Manchus even launched a major cultural and literary project to collect the Siku Quanshu (四库全书) or Complete Library of the Four Treasuries, not forgetting to suppress ancient texts they didn’t like.

  102. I’m continually being disappointed when I get hold of a new grammar of a [Narrow] Bantu language. They’re all so similar.

    They definitely don’t all look similar in phonology though (at minimum Southern Bantu doesn’t). And then how’s the lexicography doing? I’ve seen Proto-Bantu reconstructions of phonology and grammar but not much about the lexicon, plus I’d expect any massive expansion like that to pick up a couple substrate vocabularies along the way.

  103. @Trond: Reminds me of the saying that in Minnesota there are two seasons, winter and road work.

  104. Re the Akan week: I seem to remember an article claiming that the week in one area there (maybe the Akan, maybe not) was imported from Rome via the gold trade.

  105. And then how’s the lexicography doing? I’ve seen Proto-Bantu reconstructions of phonology and grammar but not much about the lexicon

    You want Malcolm Guthrie’s Comparative Bantu: An introduction to the comparative linguistics and prehistory of the Bantu languages, specifically pt. 2, v. 3-4: “A catalogue of common Bantu with commentary.”

  106. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Reminds me of the saying that in Minnesota there are two seasons, winter and road work.

    When we were first in France at the end of the 1980s I thought that there was four things that would never change, the USSR, the military dictatorship in Chile, Apartheid in South Africa, and the roadworks along the highway around Cannes. By the early 1990s the USSR was gone, Pinochet was gone, Apartheid was gone, but they were still digging up the highway in Cannes. (That has now also gone.)

  107. I mean *Triglav is unlikely in the local Slavic dialect, it’s no Slovene.

    Because you think it should be Troglav? But there are other examples of tri- tho, e.g. trikraljska zvezda. And in any case tri- and tro- mean different things here, and tri- being more emphatic is exactly the version you’d expect to prevail in the name of the tallest peak.

    five days are numbered (even Monday is explicitly numbered in a Serbo-Croatian dialect)

    I’m confused – are you saying there’s a dialect that uses “prvak” or some such instead of ponedeljak? Or are you saying that ponedeljak is explicitly numbered?

    I will say that sreda/Mittwoch makes little sense under the Roman way of counting with Sunday as 1 .

  108. Now that would make for a great movie.
    And not so bad in real life.

    It is very likely that Czar Nicholas was the richest person in the world at the time.
    At the time he was shot in the cellar? That’s a fairly qualified definition of ‘rich’, they didn’t even have any butter or coffee.

  109. And not so bad in real life.

    Just might happen yet, if Corbyn wins general election on December 12.

    At the time he was shot in the cellar?

    Before he was overthrown in February 1917. Cabinet lands were nationalized by the Provisional Government afterwards.

  110. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Off-by-one_error

    In re where & how units begin and end: off-by-one error, fencepost error, etc. Perennial plague of programmers. If you haven’t committed one you haven’t been programming long.

  111. Stu Clayton says:

    In re where & how units begin and end: off-by-one error, fencepost error, etc

    Those are counting errors with discrete elements, not errors with “continuous measurements of mass quantities”.

  112. David Eddyshaw says:

    And then how’s the [Bantu] lexicography doing?

    What Hat said …

    I certainly don’t want to over-egg the pudding here: the Bantu languages are a great deal more varied than Romance, even leaving aside the top-left-hand-corner languages in and near Cameroon where the border with non-Bantu is unclear, some of which are engagingly bizarre, especially in phonology.

    It’s just that the entire group is basically less internally diverse than Oti-Volta, spoken over a tiny area by comparison. This is actually particularly striking lexically, but morphologically too there is much less variety on the whole than in Oti-Volta.

    Phonological variation (apart from tone systems) doesn’t really grab my attention like morphology and syntax, but your tastes may well differ. The Southern languages have picked up clicks and so forth, but without fundamentally altering the typical basic shapes of words on the whole; the really interesting cases are up near Cameroon where languages have shed whole initial or final syllables wholesale or scrunched up polysyllabic words into tonally highly complex monosyllables.

  113. if Corbyn wins general election on 12 December it will be a miracle, and no thanks to me, though he seems a nice enough chap. He has an allotment, and takes photographs of opercula. If as a vegan he’s planning to dispose of the old bat on the throne, he hasn’t mentioned it in the Labour Party Manifesto.

  114. David Eddyshaw says:

    It will be thanks to me, however. I got bitten by an extremely Tory dog while canvassing at the weekend, and will be seriously miffed if it was all in vain. La lutte continue …

    Bat disposal is indeed absent from the Manifesto, which is largely inspired by the fourth Eclogue.

  115. one full day and parts of two others

    “two days and two nights” seems a lot more idiomatic, if slightly less accurate.

    I have never, in real life, encountered a use if “forty-eight hours” when that was the actual time period meant.

    The overprecise “take one every 48 hours” is medically safer than the overvague “take one every 2 days”.

    Stealing from the queen (the head of state) is not the same as stealing from the Crown (the state).

    The Sunday Times rich list used to put Elizabeth 2 top every year until someone made that point. Now she’s worth less than Queen. I believe when Edward 8 abdicated he took away some grey-area wealth that may have belonged to the Crown / Prince of Wales / Duchy of Cornwall rather than him personally. I also seem to recall reading of a rich eccentric who bequeathed stuff to Queen Victoria, whom he had never met; if he had died intestate, it would have gone to the Crown, but not to the queen.

    15-day fortnight

  116. John Cowan says:

    In New England and the Maritimes, there abideth Snow, Mud, and Flies, these three: but the worst of these is Flies.

    Stealing from the queen (the head of state) is not the same as stealing from the Crown (the state).

    Beware, beware! There not only is no distinction in law between the Queen and the Crown, but for holding that view Hugh Despenser and his son of the same name were executed in 1326 for high treason. (The younger was merely hanged, drawn, and quartered, though one source says also castrated, though for sodomy rather than treason; the elder was hanged in his armor, beheaded, dismembered, and the parts thrown to the dogs. Ick.) Indeed, Coke called it “that damned and damnable opinion”. I’m sure, though that the Crown Prosecution Service in R. v Crown would settle for penal servitude for life. Note that it is the Queen, not the Crown or the State, who is the plaintiff in criminal matters. (In New York State, it is the People of the State of New York who are collectively the plaintiff.)

    (By the way, it’s not only Calvinists but lawyers who can talk of institutes: Coke’s Institutes were named after Justinian’s, which were named after the Institutes of Gaius, written in the 2C Roman empire.)

    The true doctrine had legal consequences as recently as the 19C, when William IV was King both of the UK and of Hanover, so that anyone born or naturalized in either country under the King was no alien in the other country but a subject, because allegiance is never to the State but to the person of the King. When the crowns were divided in the next reign between the non-Salic UK and salic Hanover, existing subjects retained their dual status, but their children as well as those born or naturalized in the UK or Hanover were aliens in Hanover or the UK.

    At least at common law, because by statute the children and grandchildren of British subjects (now citizens) are themselves British subjects irrespective of their place of birth. And dual nationality, and the conflict of laws, and “Marks of Primitivity in the Conflict of Laws” (sorry, paywalled) by Thomas A. Cowan.

    It’s true that Parliament has imposed restraints on alienation by the Queen of certain of her belongings, but that was equally true of the heirs of any entailed estate before entail was abolished.

  117. As far as criminal proceedings are concerned, they are indeed brought by the Crown and not the sovereign in their personal capacity (and certainly not as the plaintiff which only exist in the civil law). You may be thinking of the “R v. so-and-so” designations, but even that is pronounced “The Crown v. ” when read aloud. It is, in fact, precisely analogous to “the People vs.” in conceptualizing the fount of sovereignty as the injured party.

    Elizabeth’s longevity has caused her to be identified with the institution. But it’s all going to keep on working equally well when Charles gets his turn, or literally any one of the other grotesques which make up the royal family. In fact, in Canada we effectively don’t even have a monarch – along with the other Commonwealth Realms – and the monarchy functions just fine (if anything, rather better) without them.

  118. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    Because you think it should be Troglav?

    Because I think it had the same reflex of metathesis as standard Polish (głowa). Germanized/Latinized forms sometimes have -la- because the vowel was dialectally still rather unrounded in the middle ages (~[ʌ]). But e.g. in this article there are old placenames from that area with the reflex -lo- (Trighelowe, Sargelow, Pariglow, Repeglouue), so I don’t think it was the Czecho-Slovak/South Slavic one (-la-). Just some inconsistency in spelling and adaptation.

    I’m confused – are you saying there’s a dialect that uses “prvak” or some such instead of ponedeljak? Or are you saying that ponedeljak is explicitly numbered?

    It’s prvidan. Monday is implicitly first in all Slavic languages, since Tuesday is second. The dialect is very isolated, it could be it has preserved an archaism that was ousted elsewhere, couldn’t it?

    I will say that sreda/Mittwoch makes little sense under the Roman way of counting with Sunday as 1 .

    IMO it does make sense if you count Sunday as 1 (or start from Monday in a five-day week). Either two systems, counting from Sunday and from Monday, mixed when the Slavic week crystallized or two days were added to a five-day week (perhaps used to set market days).

    @Trond Engen: Many thanks for the abstract. I’d love if someone did research for such possible traces in old Slavic documents.

  119. Trond Engen says:

    Bathrobe: China and Japan apparently had a ten-day period before the Western week was adopted. The month in those places (including Mongolia) is still divided into upper, middle, and lower periods of 10 days each (上旬, 中旬, 下旬).

    There’s a system of dividing months into three, I think mostly for banking and accounting purposes like defining deadlines for payment: primo, medio and ultimo. Searching for a link I’m surprised to see that everything I find is Norwegian or Danish. Another shared retention in support of the Sino-Germanic hypothesis.

  120. Phonological variation (apart from tone systems) doesn’t really grab my attention like morphology and syntax, but your tastes may well differ.

    The variation as such is often enough quite minor, most of my interest really comes from that I’m a comparativist and etymological–phonological data is what we will have to feed into the method to really get anything worked out. A language has initial /h/? yawn. A language has initial /h/ corresponding to PIE *h₁? Rewrite next morning’s headlines, we’ve got the historical linguistics scoop of the century on the line.

    Things to work out include, besides reconstructions as such, also typological advice for dealing with problems elsewhere. One very interesting recent observation I’ve seen is that the reflexes of the Bantu “superhigh vowels” actually match very well with what is known to be the typical behavior of fricative vowels across East Asia. Another particular application would be applying what’s known by now of typical substrate lexicology to the Bantu varieties spoken by Pygmies…

  121. John Cowan says:

    As far as criminal proceedings are concerned, they are indeed brought by the Crown and not the sovereign in their personal capacity

    The Crown is the Queen’s personal capacity, for she has no other. Note that breaches of the peace are “against the peace of our Lady the Queen, her crown and dignity”, for the Queen’s crown is to do justice.

    It’s true that she is also a corporation sole (as distinct from an ordinary corporation that happens to have only one member), a mechanism created so that the monarchy does not pass through the inheritance process: the new monarch steps directly into the previous monarch’s place. The original corporations sole were bishops with secular titles, whose lands were inherited by their successors rather than their heirs.

    (and certainly not as the plaintiff which only exist in the civil law)

    Prosecutor would have been technically correct, but misleading given that the title is usually applied to a hireling nowadays.

    You may be thinking of the “R v. so-and-so” designations, but even that is pronounced “The Crown v. ” when read aloud.

    So it is, for the Crown is another name for the Queen.

    (ObHat: The abbreviation v. is read “versus” or “vee” in the U.S., but “against” in criminal cases and “and” in civil cases everywhere else in the common-law world. So the hypothetical case I mentioned would be “The Crown against Crown” when read aloud.)

    It is, in fact, precisely analogous to “the People vs.” in conceptualizing the fount of sovereignty as the injured party.

    Just so, and the fount of sovereignty in the Queen’s realms (under God) is the Queen.

  122. David Eddyshaw says:

    The variation as such is often enough quite minor, most of my interest really comes from that I’m a comparativist

    T’s all good. And I see what you mean about comparative work.

    My impression is that Comparative Bantu is in a pretty satisfactory state as these things go, not least because the group as a whole is comparatively homogeneous (the very thing which I ungratefully complained about.)

    The other side of this coin is that Proto-Bantu has often been quite unjustifiably treated as if it were a surrogate for Proto-Volta-Congo (or even Proto-Niger-Congo) just because comparative work on it is relatively easy: but the conclusion should really be that the very lack of internal diversity of Bantu which makes this possible should be a warning against falling into that trap. Proto-Bantu is more likely to turn out to have about the same sort of relationship to Volta-Congo that Gothic does to Indoeuropean. The diversity is all in the homeland in West Africa, and real reconstruction will not be feasible without a lot more comparative work on the other branches than has yet been done.

    I imagine that this will eventually lead to a deeper understanding of Bantu in turn: it seems clear already that the relatively sparse phonemic inventory reconstructed for Proto-Bantu must be the result of quite a bit of simplification, and discovery of the sound laws involved in that simplification will likely shed light on hitherto unexplained intra-Bantu alternations.

    I was reading something lately myself about proposed pre-Bantu substrates in the languages of “pygmies”, but for the life of me I can’t remember where. Can you put me out of my misery by pointing me at a reference?

  123. in this article there are old placenames from that area with the reflex -lo- (Trighelowe, Sargelow, Pariglow, Repeglouue), so I don’t think it was the Czecho-Slovak/South Slavic one (-la-). Just some inconsistency in spelling and adaptation

    Yeah as a South Slav I tend to conflate written and spoken forms as being one and the same, and also forgetting that the earliest written forms might have been in other languages even for entirely Slovene place names, I somehow always forget that Valvasor wrote in German. But given that inconsistency in premodern spelling, how do make\sure you’re tracking underlying sound changes and not spelling variants?

    i had never heard of prviden – how wonderfully quaint. Where was this preserved? It also breaks the naming scheme that all the others observe. Though in fairness utorak kind of appears to do so as well, since “vtori” to mean second has disappeared from the language.

    And yeah, the Slavic numbering is so engrained in my brain that it’s been genuinely more challenging for me to adjust to Portuguese weekdays ( numbered 2-6) than it would have been to just learn 5 new day names no matter how complicated. But i don’t expect my brain will ever truly make peace with “quinta” being Thursday.

  124. David Eddyshaw says:

    Arabic, too, numbers the weekdays, starting at Sunday (up until Assembly Day and then Sabbath.) Might the Portuguese system have anything to do with that? (Mind you, Greek’s the same. And Icelandic, where Arabic influence seems … doubtful. So perhaps that would be a solution in search of a problem.)

  125. Trond Engen says:

    David E.: And Icelandic, where Arabic influence seems … doubtful.

    It’s used by Sunde and Mundal as supporting evidence for the hypothesis that the total absence of traces of a five-day week in Icelandic law had to do with a complete de-paganization of the calendar in the early 10th century calendar reform, A significant portion of the settlers came from the British Isles, and Icelandic trade may have been as much with the Norse of the British Isles as with Norway. This can’t directly explain the need to de-paganize the weekdays, unless there’s traces of an aborted attempt on the same in England or Ireland at the same time, but it does suggest that Christianity had a strong presence from the outset.

  126. David Marjanović says:

    Ultimo in connection with being paid is not unknown in German.

    fricative vowels

    Syllabic approximants. yi, wu, yu, si, shi [j w ɥ sð̞ ʂɻ].

  127. My understanding is that as Christianity gradually came to dominate the Roman Empire, the clergy began to feelincreasing discomfort at something so pervasive as days of the week being named after pagan deities. They devised a solution: Sunday was, naturally, the Lord’s day (Kyriaki – by thie point in history the power and influence had shifted to the Greek speaking East), then the others were numbered but with Sunday still counting as no.1: Deutera/Triti/Tetarti/Pempti. The pattern breaks down on Friday (Paraskevi) and Saturday (Sabbato) which are named after their respective religious functions, that is, preparation and sabbath.

    The Slavs clearly understood the gist of the scheme since they also began with Sunday, but instead of naming it in honor of their Lord and Savior they cheekily named it “no-work”. They followed that up by naming the following day “after no-work” which threw the numbering off by a day with respect to the Greek method. Presumably feeling embarassed, they decided to follow the Greek in naming Saturday after the Sabbath, but just for good measure Wednesday became “the middle” because why not. (The exasperated Greeks punished the Slavs by introducing them to literacy, I believe).

    In the Slavs defense, the Greek system did not take root even in places where Christian religious fervor was more deeply felt than among the Slavs. The Romance languages use the same pre-Christian Roman god names, the Germanic ones use their deities, occasionally even the analogous one to the Romance name, eg Tuesday/Tyr = Mardi/Mars; it works less well when they match up Mercury and Odin, or Jupiter and Thor. As far as I know Portuguese is the only other European language that still uses explicit numbering starting from Sunday.

  128. Jonathan D says:

    It’s all very well to say there’s no legal distinction between the Queen and the Crown, but there is a distinction between the Queen in right of the United Kingdom, and, say, the Queen in right of Canada. The British and Hanoverians may have been equally subjects of the King, but these days Australia considers a (dual) British citizen a “subject or citizen of a foreign power”.

  129. David Marjanović says:

    Jupiter is in charge of thunder, so that checks out. Mercury is a little in charge of everything…

    Then there are dioceses where Mittwoch was not enough. There’s one where Tuesday was renamed Aftermontag; in another, Thursday became Pfinztag after the Greek number 5… though that one may be a holdover from the Goths, seeing as in about the same area Tuesday remained Ertag ( < Ares) into living memory.

  130. David Eddyshaw says:

    Mercury and Odin have the same taste in hats. It should not be necessary to explain here why these things matter.

  131. I do wanna add that while the Slavs were lukewarm on Christianity at first – and who can blame them, when they still had to put up with Crusades being raised against them – eventually Russia grew into a powerful empire, necessitating an equally powerful religion. To commemorate their new faith, they renamed Sunday from the mildlly subversive nedelja “no-work” to the ostentatiously churchy voskresenie “resurrection”. Honestly, that’s such an bold choice that I’m dying to know what other names were considered, if any.

  132. J.W. Brewer says:

    I must say that “The exasperated Greeks punished the Slavs by introducing them to literacy, I believe” is such an excellent sentence that I’m tempted to file it away to insert into future comment threads on radically different topics than the one currently at hand.

  133. iJørn Ø. Sunde and Else Mundal

    Nominative determinism indeed; or, Splat and Weedon.

    primo, medio and ultimo

    In 19C business English (and still in India, most probably), ultimo, instant, proximo meant ‘last month, this month, next month’, the word mense being understood. So referring to someone’s letter “of the 5th inst.” meant the 5th of this month, “of the 14th ult.” meant the 14th of last month, and a promise to pay for something, perhaps all the articles received this month, “on the 10th prox.” would be due the 10th of next month.

    there is a distinction between the Queen in right of the United Kingdom, and, say, the Queen in right of Canada

    True, and even between the Queen of the UK and her nearest neighbors, the Queen in right of Gurnsey and the Queen in right of Jersey. (There is no legal connection between the two Bailiwicks.)

    these days Australia considers a (dual) British citizen a “subject or citizen of a foreign power”

    Quite so. References to British subjects in older statutes are now understood as references to Commonwealth citizens, as “British subject” now refers only to a residual class of people associated with Ireland or British India and born before 1949 who would otherwise be stateless. What the rights of a Commonwealth citizen may be in any given member nation depends on local law.

    Mercury and Odin

    … are both psychopomps, conductors of the dead to the afterlife, which is why they are equated in the interpretatio romana/germanica.

  134. I must say that “The exasperated Greeks punished the Slavs by introducing them to literacy, I believe” is such an excellent sentence that I’m tempted to file it away to insert into future comment threads on radically different topics than the one currently at hand.

    I too was impressed with that.

  135. Portuguese is the only other European language that still uses explicit numbering starting from Sunday.

    Estonian does that, too, but starting from Monday, and not for all the days:
    esmaspäev
    teisipäev
    kolmapäev
    neljapäev
    (ie, first, second, third, forth day)
    Then the system breaks down:
    reede (< fredag)
    laupäev (< laugardagr 'bathing day')
    pühapäev (holy day)

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:et:Days_of_the_week

  136. Aw, guys, thank you. Of course the punishment part is a joke but Greek exasperation at and about the Slavs is a recurring theme from the very first Slav arrivals. All the early Greek sources are in agreement that the Slavs are utterly unimpressive compared to earlier invaders like the Huns – they’re politically disorganized with no supreme leader and countless chieftains; they’re militarily unsophisticated ( they fight on foot and in hiked up pants, but in fact mostly avoid pitched battle), they have no culture and live in pitiful hovels, etc; despite this entirely accurate assesement, the Slavs succeeded where so many invaders before them failed, and this completely mystified the Greeks.
    It’s much easier from our vantage point to identify many of these criticisms as actually pointing to significant advantages for the Slavs in terms of presenting a low-intensity but persistent and flexibly organized threat that could devastate a hierarchical, centralized, knowledge-based society like Byzantium. It would be beyond maddening to attempt to formulate a response to an adversary who didn’t seem to have coherent objectives and goals of their own, whose movements were completely random and unpredictable, and who must have seemed more like a natural disaster than a foreign invader. And judging from the intensity that characterized the naming dispute over Macedonia some version of this basic antagonism has survived into the present day.

  137. The Romance languages use the same pre-Christian Roman god names, the Germanic ones use their deities, occasionally even the analogous one to the Romance name

    The days of the week were originally named after moving bodies (sun, moon, planets), not gods. The Germanic languages are the exception, and they simply follow the correspondences that were set up between sets of gods (interpretatio germanica). The planetary names spread right across Asia to India, Tibet, Mongolia, Japan, and Korea, and are not related to gods. Chinese naming has indigenous origins.

    Portuguese followed the recommendations of the Catholic Church, which were meant to do away with the pagan names. Vietnamese follows Portuguese.

  138. Trond Engen says:

    For the record: Icelandic weekdays are a hybrid system. It’s only the pagan names that were changed, and only two of them got numbers:
    mánudagur – þriðjudagur – miðvikudagur – fimmtudagur – föstudagur – laugardagur – sunnudagur
    moonday – thirdday – midweekday – fifthday – fastday – bathday – sunday

  139. Prvidan is čakavian, and is meant to be common in and around Split, according to Miljenko Smoje.

    The Slav day names are consistent in their numbering. In their Croatian version this goes:
    The first day of the week is nedjelja (no work).
    The second day of the week is ponedjeljak (after “no work”). Being “after” something, logically it can’t be the first day of the week.
    The third day of the week is utorak (the second – as in the second day after “no work”)
    The fourth day of the week is srijeda (middle).
    The fifth day of the week is četvrtak (the fourth – ie. 4th day after “no work”)
    The sixth day is petak (the fifth day after “no work”).
    The seventh day is subota (Sabbath) just as in Greek.

    Of course during Socialist times, we were taught at school that Monday is the first day of the week. This was reinforced by all calendars, except for the ones published by the church.

  140. David Marjanović says:

    they renamed Sunday from the mildlly subversive nedelja “no-work” to the ostentatiously churchy voskresenie “resurrection”.

    Or… the word had drifted to mean “week”, and Sunday was eventually disambiguated with a new name.

    (Slavic time words are amazingly unstable in general. I don’t know if any long-rangers have dared suggest that “year” in one language could be cognate with “hour” in another, but that’s the case with FYLOSC godina and Polish godzina.)

  141. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Is it just a coincidence that Estonians and Icelanders agree that Saturday is the day for having a bath, presumably so as to be nice and clean for going to church the next day?

  142. David Eddyshaw says:

    Wait … do people have baths on other days, then?

    There won’t be any of these nasty foreign practices after the delivery of our Unclean Brexit!

  143. The fifth day of the week is četvrtak

    The fifth day is the fourth day, ajme majko. I mean clearly someone is forcing linguistic views on you that defy logic and common sense, and it’s not the Socialist education system.

    Being “after” something, logically it can’t be the first day of the week.

    Since every day is “after” something, this “logic” applies equally to all of the days of the week.

    There are none so blind as those who will not see

  144. David re Er(ch)tag:

    what do you think of the theory that the Gothic mission spread a version of Areos hemera (day of Ares) owing to a re-interpretation as Ariou hemera (day of Arius)?

  145. “Or… the word had drifted to mean “week”, and Sunday was eventually disambiguated with a new name.”

    No i like the fact they went over the top with it — but wasn’t there any concern that it could be theologically problematic in its symbolic promotion of any old Sunday to Easter Sunday? Like why not go back to the Greek template and derive something from kyriaki/domenica? Something with gospod or gosudar…..

    Godina seems to be related to the verb “dogoditi” , to happen, so godina is “the things that happened”, and it’s honestly extremely funny that the Poles felt that best described an hour while we went with an entire year.

  146. David Marjanović says:

    Ariou hemera

    I had forgotten about it, but obviously it’s possible.

    wasn’t there any concern that it could be theologically problematic in its symbolic promotion of any old Sunday to Easter Sunday?

    I don’t think so. The reason for celebrating every Sunday is Easter Sunday.

  147. It would be beyond maddening to attempt to formulate a response to an adversary who didn’t seem to have coherent objectives and goals of their own, whose movements were completely random and unpredictable, and who must have seemed more like a natural disaster than a foreign invader.

    This is exactly how Kandid (Candide) feels confronting the forest in Snail on the Slope.

  148. January First-of-May says:

    This reminds me of being in the area near San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico, where different villages are known for different crafts, some touristy, but some locally useful, and hold their market days on different set days. If you needed a pot, and the next village over is the pottery village, you can’t very well get a pot on the day of your village’s market.

    Do markets work that way in other more traditional rural areas?

    Dushanbe, lately the capital of Tajikistan, was originally a village that got its name for holding their market day on dushanbe = Monday.
    Not that I’m particularly sure what this means about how markets worked in what is now Tajikistan.

    (Du is transparently “two”; shanbe, as far as I’m aware, is cognate to “sabbath”. Dunno why they named their days like that either.)

    There is a Russian saying about some places in Siberia – “Twelve months of winter and the rest is summer”.

    Reminds me of a joke I’ve heard a few times: Жители Норвегии/Карелии [I’ve heard both versions] очень любят лето – особенно когда оно приходится на выходные.

    (Translation: “People from Norway/Karelia really like summer – especially when it falls on the weekend.”)

    I don’t know if any long-rangers have dared suggest that “year” in one language could be cognate with “hour” in another, but that’s the case with FYLOSC godina and Polish godzina.

    Godina seems to be related to the verb “dogoditi” , to happen, so godina is “the things that happened”, and it’s honestly extremely funny that the Poles felt that best described an hour while we went with an entire year.

    I wondered how to translate Russian година (a very high register word that literally means “time”, but only in some contexts) – I guess “time when things happen” would fit fairly well. It doesn’t appear to refer to any specific time period.

  149. Farsi:

    یک‌شنبه • (yek-šanbe)

    Dari Persian یک‌شنبه
    Iranian Persian
    Tajik якшанбе (yakšanbe)

    Sunday
    (one + Sat)

    دوشنبه • (došanbe)

    Dari Persian دوشنبه
    Iranian Persian
    Tajik душанбе (dušanbe)
    Monday

    (two + Sat)

    سه‌شنبه • (se-šanbe)

    Dari Persian سه‌شنبه
    Iranian Persian
    Tajik сешанбе (sešanbe)
    Tuesday

    (three + Sat)

    چهارشنبه • (čahâr-šanbe)

    Dari Persian چهارشنبه
    Iranian Persian
    Tajik чаҳоршанбе (čahoršanbe)(чоршанбе, afaik)
    Wednesday

    (four + Sat)

    From پنج‎ (panj, “five”) + شنبه‎ (šanbe, “Saturday”).

    Noun
    پنج‌شنبه • (panj-šanbe)

    Dari Persian پنج‌شنبه
    Iranian Persian
    Tajik панҷшанбе (panjšanbe)
    Thursday

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:fa:Days_of_the_week

  150. dušanbe

    The capital of Tajikistan is called Monday.

    Because there was Monday market fair in the town, I assume.

  151. It was merely a village at the time.

  152. David Marjanović says: year” in one language could be cognate with “hour” in another
    The word “god” denoted something to do with time – Croatian examples: kadgod (whenever), zgoda (occurrence, when something happened, at a particular time).

    Not too sure that there is any evidence of anything subversive about nedjelja. It merely echoes the 4th Commandment (or is it the 3rd?). The Slavic day names are as conformist an artefact of Christianity as you get.

    nemanja: Since every day is “after” something, this “logic” applies equally to all of the days of the week.
    If you are a missionary trying to explain the concept of days of the week to heathen Slavs, you have to start off with a day, and that day is…..

  153. the [Labour] Manifesto, which is largely inspired by the fourth Eclogue.

    Corbyn, the spirit of temporal renewal. On his allotment:

    Hinc decus eximium nostri stat Borsius aeui,
    praeside quo tutos errant armenta per agros,
    praeside quo scelerum uestigia nulla uidemus.

    Depositum reddit tellus et uitis iachum.
    Vernat humus; iuolae passim uaccinia nigra
    purpureique hyacinthi et candida lilia surgunt.
    Non armenta lupos metuunt, non retia pisces,
    non laqueum uolucres; regnat sincera uoluptas…

    Hence Borso stands as the supreme ornament of our age, under whose guardianship the herds wander through the fields without danger, under whose guardianship we see no traces of crime… The earth pays back what has been laid down, and the vine provides wine; the ground blooms, everywhere violets, dark bilberries, purple hyacinths and branching lilies sprout up. The herds do not fear wolves, nor the fish the nets, nor the birds the trap; pleasure reigns unimpaired…

    A golden age, then, presided over by Borso, the stock exchange. Perhaps the colourful sheep in a later passage are an ironic reference to the Common Agricultural Policy.

    The puer, who he? Not Prince Charles. Sir Keir Starmer?

  154. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ha! this is from the Borsias, the Conservative Manifesto. The Sun (or Telegraph) King Borisias, embodiment of every virtue, will lead his grateful people to the Promised Land, followed by his own apocolocyntosis.

    The puer is one of his many children. He is the spirit of fecundity.

  155. Huh. Thanks. Of course, the puer. I hadn’t realised the Conservatives even had a manifesto. I haven’t lived in the UK since 1976 so I don’t vote. If I did, I couldn’t choose any of them this time (because Corbyn & Brexit).

  156. I distinctly remember the reports in the run up to 29 March on the plans for Queen’s escape from the Buckingham palace.

  157. PlasticPaddy says:

    @Ajp
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Official_Monster_Raving_Loony_Party
    They wanted to send Noel Edmonds to Europe, because he “understands Deal or No Deal”.

  158. David Marjanović says:

    Surely candida lilia are white and not branching?

  159. David Eddyshaw says:

    Lapsus calami (or autocorrect, maybe.)

    They’re “blanching” in the text, which is from Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue in the Italian Renaissance
    L. B. T. Houghton. It’s presumably LBTH’s translation; the original is a piece of abject servility in honour of Borso d’Este called Borsias.

    Actually “abject servility” is perhaps a bit severe. It puts me in mind of Auden’s

    https://audiopoetry.wordpress.com/2007/02/15/the-truest-poetry-is-the-most-feigning/

  160. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s “blanching” in the original. Akismet is determined that I shall not enlighten you further, but Google Books will locate it.

    [I have rescued your original comment from the spam bucket — LH.]

  161. David Eddyshaw says:

    The perpetrator of the Latin seems to be

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tito_Vespasiano_Strozzi

    “He is said to have spent a lifetime polishing the amorous verses written in the first flush of his youth” says Wikipedia. And he wrote an Eroticon in six books.

  162. Stu Clayton says:

    As so often, the German WiPe is curated by geek Greek scholars not afraid of intimidating the literate indigenous reader:

    # Die Apocolocyntosis (nach dem griechischen Neologismus Ἀποκολοκύντωσις, in etwa „Verwandlung in einen Kürbis bzw. eine Koloquinte, Verkürbissung“ von κολοκύνθη, attisch κολοκύντη „Flaschenkürbis“) #

    There we earn the exact variety of pumpkin in question, whereas the English WiPe goes no further than gourd and pumpkin, lest discomfort set in. I’m surprised Halloween is not mentioned.

    I would contribute more than 15 Euros to Wikipedia if I were confident that it would go to the Human Resources Dept.

  163. David Eddyshaw says:

    Well of course! Pumpkin is an anachronism. It”s like the clock in Julius Caesar, only more nutritious. At least German Wikipedians care about these things. Obviously Claudius didn’t become a pumpkin. That would just be silly.

  164. Stu Clayton says:

    Not an anticipation of the Cinderella tale, then. As Thanksgiving approaches, I wonder if gourd pies were thrown at opponents back then. It all had to start somewhen.

    Wait, I have misremembered. The pumpkin turned into a football coach, not the other way around.

  165. The Conservatives, indeed, have two manifesti, the Real and the Fake.

  166. January First-of-May says:

    the exact variety of pumpkin in question

    Errm… not sure I’m interpreting the Greek and/or German correctly, so I might have made a mistake here, but I don’t think the colocynth is a pumpkin at all (though I guess it technically is a gourd).

  167. David Marjanović says:

    Kürbis does cover all the squashes and gourds, but… one of the German names of the colocynth listed on de.WP translates as “devil’s apple”. (It’s poisonous.)

  168. The perpetrator of the Latin seems to be Tito Vespasiano Strozzi.

    I was looking for the Virgil but it was inaccessible for some reason. This is from Ch. 5 of a book that would be interesting to read on a desert island while you were waiting to be rescued: Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue in the Italian Renaissance by L. B. T. Houghton, a Classics master at Rugby school.

    I thought ‘branching lilies’ seemed bizarrely wrong horticulturally while I was writing it but apparently not enough to check. I’d like to blame LBT Houghton for the mistake, b̶u̶t̶ ̶I̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶’̶t̶ so I will.

  169. Speaking of Tacitus, they’ve discovered a translation by Queen Elizabeth I (thanks, Trevor!).

  170. (I don’t suppose the current Queen Elizabeth does much translating.)

  171. David Eddyshaw says:

    “In Parenthesis”/”The Anathemata” David Jones (who got on well with her mother) described her as having “the taste of a naval officer’s wife.” Ow.

  172. David Eddyshaw says:

    The somewhat fulsome nature of Strozzi’s panegyric of Borso d’Este put me in mind of Auden:

    https://audiopoetry.wordpress.com/2007/02/15/the-truest-poetry-is-the-most-feigning/

  173. David Eddyshaw says:

    The somewhat fulsome nature of Strozzi’s panegyric of Borso d’Este put me in mind of Auden’s “The Truest Poetry is the Most Feigning” (which I have thrice attempted to link, only to be thrice thwarted by philistine Akismet.) Well then:

    By all means sing of love but, if you do,
    Please make a rare old proper hullabaloo:
    When ladies ask How much do you love me?
    The Christian answer is cosi-cosi;
    But poets are not celibate divines:
    Had Dante said so, who would read his lines?
    Be subtle, various, ornamental, clever,
    And do not listen to those critics ever
    Whose crude provincial gullets crave in books
    Plain cooking made still plainer by plain cooks
    As though the Muse preferred her half-wit sons:
    Good poets have a weakness for bad puns.

    Suppose your Beatrice be, as usual, late,
    And you would tell us how it feels to wait,
    You’re free to think, what may be even true,
    You’re so in love that one hour seems like two,
    But write —As I sat waiting for her call,
    Each second longer darker seemed than all
    (Something like this but more elaborate still)
    Those raining centuries it took to fill
    That quarry whence Endymion’s Love was torn;
    From such ingenious fibs are poems born.
    Then, should she leave you for some other guy,
    Or ruin you with debts, or go and die,
    No metaphor, remember, can express
    A real historical unhappiness;
    You tears have value if they make us gay;
    O Happy Grief! is all sad verse can say.

    The living girl’s your business (some odd sorts
    Have been an inspiration to men’s thoughts):
    Yours may be old enough to be your mother,
    Or have one leg that’s shorter than the other,
    Or play Lacrosse or do the Modern Dance,
    To you that’s destiny, to us it’s chance;
    We cannot love your love till she take on,
    Through you, the wonders of a paragon.
    Sing her triumphant passage to our land,
    The sun her footstool, the moon in her right hand,
    And seven planets blazing in her hair,
    Queen of the Night and Empress of the Air;
    Tell how her fleet by nine king swans is led,
    Wild geese write magic letters overhead
    And hippocampi follow in her wake
    With Amphisboene, gentle for her sake;
    Sing her descent on the exulting shore
    To bless the vines and put an end to war.

    If half-way through such praises of your dear,
    Riot and shooting fill the streets with fear,
    And overnight as in some terror dream
    Poets are suspect with the New Regime,
    Stick at your desk and hold your panic in,
    What you are writing may still save your skin:
    Re-sex the pronouns, add a few details,
    And lo, a panegyric ode which hails
    (How is the Censor, bless his heart, to know?)
    The new pot-bellied Generalissimo.
    Some epithets, of course, like lily-breasted
    Need modifying to, say, lion-chested,
    A title Goddess of wry-necks and wrens
    To Great Reticulator of the fens,
    But in an hour your poem qualifies
    For a State pension or His annual prize,
    And you will die in bed (which He will not:
    That public nuisance will be hanged or shot).
    Though honest Iagos, true to form, will write
    Shame! in your margins, Toady! Hypocrite!
    True hearts, clear heads will hear the note of glory
    And put inverted commas round the story,
    Thinking —Old Sly-boots! We shall never know
    Her name or nature. Well, it’s better so.

    For given Man, by birth, by education,
    Imago Dei who forgot his station,
    The self-made creature who himself unmakes,
    The only creature ever made who fakes,
    With no more nature in his loving smile
    Than in his theories of a natural style,
    What but tall tales, the luck of verbal playing,
    Can trick his lying nature into saying
    That love, or truth in any serious sense,
    Like orthodoxy, is a reticence?

  174. That was enjoyable, but sorts/thoughts is a rotten rhyme.

  175. Trond Engen says:

    David E.: David Jones […] described [Queen Elizabeth II] as having “the taste of a naval officer’s wife.” Ow.

    Eat the rich.

  176. David Eddyshaw says:

    but sorts/thoughts is a rotten rhyme

    In his rather wonderful introduction to his Collected Shorter Poems, Auden specifically apologises for rhymes that only work in his own “Oxonian dialect” and promises not to do it again.

    eat the rich

    I don’t suppose you’re free to come campaigning with us tomorrow, Trond?

  177. “Our special today is Queen Elizabeth II, but you can of course still order your usual dinner, Naval Officer’s Wife.”

  178. Trond Engen says:

    Excuse me while I take the order of the garter.

  179. Not just 0xford. It works fine in Cockney.
    And although I hate him for losing the election for Labour, Len MacCloskey has a wonderful Liverpool accent. (I can’t provide a link using a cell phone.
    That’s too hard.)

  180. Incldentally the prince Andrew thing means that after the queen dies the monarchy’s got about 5 years left. Now is the time to start getting people used to the idea of a goat or a bird as the next head of state.onerwise it’s going to be Tony Blair. You have been warned!

  181. Incldentally the Prince Andrew thing means that after the queen dies the monarchy’s only got about 5 years left. Now is the time to start getting people used to the idea of a goat or a bird as the next head of state. 0therwise it’s going to be Tony Blair. You have been warned!

  182. David Eddyshaw says:

    Curiously, the prospect of a Blair presidency has always been my own go-to argument when opposing republicanism. For some reason, it seems to give pause (at least) to antimonarchists of a wide variety of political backgrounds.

  183. PlasticPaddy says:
  184. David Marjanović says:

    sort, thought is a perfect rhyme for most nonrhotic Britons these days. Maybe Australians distinguish them as overlong vs. long…

    I’m surprised by write, hypocrite instead. Based on all the misspellings out there (hippocrit seems popular), I thought hypocrite was one of those words where the -e is a lie*, and indeed Wiktionary gives /ˈhɪ.pə.kɹɪt/ as the only pronunciation.

    * The spelling itself, one might argue, is hypocritical.

  185. John Cowan says:

    This seems the right place to post the highly Hattic poem by Clive James (now the late Clive James), “Windows is shutting down”:

    Windows is shutting down, and grammar are
    On their last leg. So what am we to do?
    A letter of complaint go just so far,
    Proving the only one in step are you.

    Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes.
    A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad
    Before they gets to where you doesnt knows
    The meaning what it must of meant to had.

    The meteor have hit. Extinction spread,
    But evolution do not stop for that.
    A mutant languages rise from the dead
    And all them rules is suddenly old hat.

    Too bad for we, us what has had so long
    The best seat from the only game in town.
    But there it am, and whom can say its wrong?
    Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.

    When a friend sent me this, I told him it reminded me of McWhorter’s line about pidgins and creoles being languages that “are crushed to powder and then rise again as new ones”, and told him the story of Norfolk dialect and the Spanish Inquisition.

  186. “sort, thought is a perfect rhyme for most nonrhotic Britons these days. Maybe Australians distinguish them as overlong vs. long…”

    sɔt and θɔt rhyme for me (IPA according to the Macquarie Dictionary).

  187. hypocrite was one of those words where the -e is a lie
    That’s right. So a rhyme of write & hypoCRITE would be made as a joke, I’m guessing.

    hippocrit seems popular
    In rap it’s “hip”-o-crit, for a double meaning.

    Another Hattic poem by Clive James is
    The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered
    The book of my enemy has been remaindered
    And I am pleased.
    In vast quantities it has been remaindered.
    Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
    And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
    My enemy’s much-praised effort sits in piles
    In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
    Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
    One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,
    Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
    Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book –
    For behold, here is that book
    Among these ranks and banks of duds,
    These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
    Of complete stiffs.

    The book of my enemy has been remaindered
    And I rejoice.
    It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
    Beneath the yoke.
    What avail him now his awards and prizes,
    The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
    His individual new voice?
    Knocked into the middle of next week
    His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys,
    The sinkers, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
    The Edsels of the world of movable type,
    The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
    The unbudgeable turkeys.

    Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
    Bathes in the glare of the brightly jacketed Hitler’s War Machine,
    His unmistakably individual new voice
    Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
    Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
    His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed in by others,
    His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretence,
    Is;there with Pertwee’s Promenades and Pierrots –
    One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment
    ,
    And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
    His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
    His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
    With Barbara Windsor’s Book of Boobs,
    A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
    ‘My boobs will give everyone hours of fun.’

    Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
    Though not to the monumental extent
    In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
    To the book of my enemy,
    Since in the case of my own book it will be due
    To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error –
    Nothing to do with merit.
    But just supposing that such an event should hold
    Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
    By the memory of this sweet moment.
    Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
    The book of my enemy has been remaindered
    And I am glad.

    [Blair] seems to give pause (at least) to antimonarchists
    There’s no reason for the head of state to be either a politician or an ex-politician. The political classes keep that idea alive for their own benefit but there may be valuable constitutional grounds for its having no political connections (see: Dictatorship, the Monarchy). The horse idea was used in the Roman senate but really it’s a goat or bird. A lion might work. Obviously you couldn’t have a seaborne creature because transportation. The other error is that the pomp & circumstance has to go with the monarch. Britain always wants to throw the baby out with the bath water (see: private schools, oxbridge) but it is possible to have the Blues & Royals and at the same time a Markhor goat as President.

  188. Plastic, thanks for Len McCluskey. Isn’t he lovely. I do wish he wasn’t so pro-Brexit.

  189. John Cowan says:

    Israel tends to appoint politicians-plus as its heads of state. Even discounting the law (as everywhere) and the military (in Israel particularly) as things that go along with being a politician, the ten presidents to date have included a research chemist, a biophysicist, a published poet, and a commercially successful playwright. Einstein, not a politician or even an Israeli citizen, was offered the presidency in 1952, but turned it down because he felt it required more people skills than he had. Indeed, given the party fragmentation in Israel, helping to arrange coalition governments is the president’s biggest non-ceremonial job.

  190. Seong of Baekje says:

    And there I thought the way to address university rectors in German, Eure Magnifizenz, was ever so slightly over the top…!

    The kami (頭) in Daigaku-no-kami (大学頭) is a different morpheme from kami (神) meaning god. It is unclear whether they are ultimately cognates, as they were not homophones in Old Japanese.

  191. AJP Crown says:

    There’s a good piece on Clive James by Dwight Garner, in the New York Times.

  192. The kami (頭) in Daigaku-no-kami (大学頭) is a different morpheme from kami (神) meaning god. It is unclear whether they are ultimately cognates, as they were not homophones in Old Japanese.

    Thanks for that vital information!

  193. The kami (頭) in Daigaku-no-kami (大学頭) is a different morpheme from kami (神) meaning god.

    But etymologically they are probably related, meaning ‘above’.

  194. Curiously, the prospect of a Blair presidency has always been my own go-to argument when opposing republicanism. For some reason, it seems to give pause (at least) to antimonarchists of a wide variety of political backgrounds.

    This is conflating republicanism with the Presidential system, there are plenty of parliamentary republics ; but in any case, Blair would have had had LESS power within the UK political system as an American-style president than he had when he was a PM in control of stable parliamentary majority.

  195. My understanding of Mr. Blair’s current popularity (if that’s the right word) in the U.K. is that most people would be against a Republic with him as President even if all he could do was cutting ribbons and holding speeches.

  196. AJP Crown says:

    More or less taking my very words from a week ago The New Statesman says it cannot back Labour, because of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. It says:

    Labour has rightly chipped away at the edifice of ‘capitalist realism’, the term the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher used to describe the sense that ‘not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system… it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it’.

    But the essential judgement that must be made is on Mr Corbyn himself. His reluctance to apologise for the antisemitism in Labour and to take a stance on Brexit, the biggest issue facing the country, make him unfit to be prime minister.

    Rightly in this case including the E in judgement, the NS is broadly on the left and in the past has, I think, always backed Labour.

  197. David Eddyshaw says:
  198. AJP Crown says:

    Haha. Yes. I’ve been pretty shocked by the Guardian’s editorial attitude towards Corbyn, actually, even from before he was elected leader. It twisted what seemed to me to be perfectly reasonable views (i.e. mine & Corbyn’s) into a position that seemed eccentric & the road to defeat in a General Election (that was before Brexit or antisemitism came up).

  199. Odd; isn’t the Graun generally pretty left-leaning?

  200. AJP Crown says:

    Yes. And Seamus Milne, Corbyn’s head advisor, was previously quite high up at the Grudbucket (a Political editor or similar). But several people I’d thought were quite leftish and intelligent (as well as all the Labour centerists) were against Corbyn right from the start. I think you had to be there to understand. He may partly be disliked because of his support from Unite, the big labor union in Britain led by this Len McCluskey guy from Liverpool, who are pro Brexit. I expect Dr Eddyshaw knows the story.

  201. David Eddyshaw says:

    isn’t the Graun generally pretty left-leaning?

    It is; though probably not as much so in aggregate as a typical Labour Party member, by no means all of whom are in fact themselves rabid Corbynistas, or even swivel-eyed entryist Trots (Ou sont les Trots d’antan?) The columnists cover quite a spectrum (quite rightly), including token Tories (currently the estimable and clear-eyed Peter Oborne.)

    It’s not difficult to stand out as “left” among British dailies, when the foul Mail is mainstream.

    I think even the Grauniad has been affected by the highly effective character assassination of Corbyn, which has served the right very well indeed in distracting the electorate from actual policies. He is admittedly a comparatively easy mark, for reasons by no means entirely to his personal discredit, but the same technique is routinely used on all Labour leaders. Only the leader who brown-nosed Murdoch has escaped this. I forget his name now …

    The Brexit thing certainly took the shine off Corbyn as far as a lot of Labour members were concerned. He gets a lot of stick for not being very competent at prevaricating, basically. He prevaricates badly. You might almost think his heart wasn’t really in prevarication.

    This has not been helped by elements within the Labour Party itself, who for one reason or another (some perfectly honourable) resent and fear the Party’s shift back to the left and who have happily played the game of undermine-the-leader-for-the-greater-good. My own feeling is that this is … unhelpful. But I think there is a fair bit of it at the Graun. I wouldn’t mind if they weren’t helping to hand the country over to de Pfeffel for five years. Wake up sheeple!

  202. My prediction.

    Labor loses, Brexit occurs, followed by secession of Scotland and unification of Ireland.

    The remainder of former UK hit hard economically by these crises gets rid of the royals and then applies to join the US as a 51st state.

  203. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’m always buoyed by SFReader’s perennial optimism. Must be a Russian thing …

    I’ve been rather thinking in terms of zombie apocalypses.

  204. J.W. Brewer says:

    Surely such a crisis would be the perfect opportunity for the Welsh/Cornish True Britons to finally drive the Saxon interlopers back into the sea?

  205. John Cowan says:

    Ha, those von Pfeffels! A mere four centuries ago their ancestor was a tailor, and they jumped up to Freiherr a mere two centuries ago. Parvenus. ~~sniffs~~

    (As a descendant of kings, not to mention the Emperor of the West, I get to say these things.)

  206. Trond Engen says:

    The remainder of former UK hit hard economically by these crises gets rid of the royals

    This is not how these things work. They’d rather throw out parliamentary democracy and let the queen rule. That does sound less likely with the next king, but give him a couple of years, and it will be back to normal.

    then applies to join the US as a 51st state

    No, not at all. But they may strike a deal of free trade and foreign aid for military bases and a foreign policy union.

  207. David Eddyshaw says:

    Surely such a crisis would be the perfect opportunity for the Welsh/Cornish True Britons to finally drive the Saxon interlopers back into the sea?

    The Plaid Cymru candidate here is a very good friend of mine and an extremely nice man, albeit completely misguided in his efforts to split the Normal Person vote. It has occurred to me (though probably not to him, as he is a wholly straightforward individual) that a Tory landslide and ensuing five years of devil-take-the-hindmost would be the very thing needed to drum up real support for Welsh independence.

    As for me, I feel that the English are people too (in their way), and we should not be abandoning them to pay the price of their own gullibility just yet.

  208. I was just watching Geoffrey “Dead Sheep” Howe’s resignation speech and wondering where that ability to break away from craven party loyalty has gone these days.

  209. I’ve been out of England for too long to have any real insight into politics there, but Corbyn (who is a few years older than me) strikes me as a throwback to the bad old days of nationalized industries (coal, steel, British Leyland), endless strikes, and Labour leaders running cap-in-hand to the Trades Union Congress to ask their blessing on this or that policy proposal.

    I was a teenager and undergraduate in the 70s, and it was a terrible time. I can understand, in a way, that younger Brits might have some nostalgia for those days, having not lived through them, but I don’t understand at all how Corbyn can want to turn the clock back. Not that I have any fondness for BoJo. If I was living there now I don’t know how I’d vote. Probably I would be making plans to move to mainland Europe before they build a wall around England.

  210. David Eddyshaw says:

    Geoffrey “Dead Sheep” Howe.

    Ah, those were the days …
    A hearteningly large number of Tory MPs did in fact decide that their principles were more important than party loyalty or their career prospects (and were duly expelled by the principle-free humanoid gonk currently leading their party.)

    I spend a lot of time opposing the “they’re all the same” narrative. No they bloody aren’t.
    There has been a concerted push by the more revolting elements of the right wing in the media to trash the reputation of Parliament and undermine faith in our democracy. They are succeeding, and that is the most disturbing aspect of the whole sea of shameless lying we are adrift in. That will do much more harm than the economic damage of Brexit in the end.

    I was a teenager and undergraduate in the 70s

    Hey, me too! And I don’t remember it as a terrible time at all. MInd you, as I keep telling my children, the Seventies were when the Sixties actually happened. And you know what they say about remembering the Sixties …

  211. And of course we have the same wad of gonk over here. But as I keep telling my wife, in ten years everything will be different.

  212. David Eddyshaw says:

    My grandmother used to cheer everyone up by saying “in a hundred years we’ll all be dead!”
    (To get the full effect, you have to imagine this in Edinburgh Scots.)

    George MacDonald (as in “talionic”) in times of adversity used to say: “Oh, how I wish we were all dead already!” (which is perfectly reasonable if you share his beliefs.)

  213. gonk

    Don’t recall the word, so I googled it.

    Gonks are a novelty toy and collectible[1] originating from the United Kingdom in the 1960s. Initially created by English inventor Robert Benson as an informal project, the toys went on to gain worldwide popularity due to a combination of their kitsch style and public endorsement by celebrities such as Ringo Starr and Peter Sellers. Gonks’ signature features include a small, spherical body, a furry texture, and two googly eyes.

    Resemblance to the current PM is striking

  214. it was a terrible time

    The Three-Day Week

    The Winter of Discontent

    On the other hand, we got the Sex Pistols and the Clash, so it wasn’t all bad.

  215. David L: Corbyn (who is a few years older than me) Yeah, me too.

    strikes me – me too – as a throwback to the bad old days of nationalized industries (coal, steel, British Leyland), endless strikes, and Labour leaders running cap-in-hand to the Trades Union Congress to ask their blessing on this or that policy proposal. – A nationalised railway and the NHS weren’t so bad, though. There were a lot of potentially good little earners that were sold off to private ownership, a portent for what happened in the Soviet Union.

    I was a teenager and undergraduate in the 70s, – Me too – and it was a terrible time. I can understand, in a way, that younger Brits might have some nostalgia for those days, having not lived through them, but I don’t understand at all how Corbyn can want to turn the clock back. Britain seems to run on nostalgia.

    Not that I have any fondness for BoJo. . That’s the funny thing. Like with Trump I’ve never met anyone who has, and yet they’re the majority.

    If I was living there now I don’t know how I’d vote. I’d vote “strategically”: whoever looks like they might win who’s also against Johnson’s Brexit.

  216. Like with Trump I’ve never met anyone who has, and yet they’re the majority.

    No, they’re not. Marg bar the electoral college!

  217. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’ve never met anyone who has [fondness for BoJo], and yet they’re the majority.

    I met an eighty-five year old lady a couple of weeks ago who liked him “because he makes me laugh.”
    I hadn’t tagged her as a sardonic admirer of life’s bitter ironies, but as I have often had cause to reflect, eighty-five year old ladies were all once twenty-five year old ladies, and some were even emo teenagers.

  218. Seong of Baekje says:

    Why aren’t the Liberal Democrats benefitting more from the strong aversion to Boris and Corbyn?

  219. It’s the designated role of the Lib Dems (and the Liberals before them) to be always on the brink of power in times of crisis, but never to actually get there. If they succeeded, there might be real change in British politics, and, my goodness, we can’t have that, now can we?

  220. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Lib Dems are the Belgium of British politics.

  221. I’ve read somewhere that after Scotland leaves, the remaining UK is going to be ruled by Tories forever.

  222. David Eddyshaw says:

    You’re remembering O’Brien, in 1984.

  223. @David Eddyshaw: According to the voting rules used under one of the precursors of the current European Union, it was literally impossible for Belgium’s vote to matter.

  224. David Eddyshaw says:

    Seems fair.
    It would be wrong to deprive them of a vote.

  225. J.W. Brewer says:

    At least with an appropriate set of electoral rules and other institutional background, perpetual one-party rule with periodic free elections is highly unlikely because the dominant party will eventually fragment, as happened e.g. in the United States in the 1820’s after the original two-party system briefly became a one-party system because one of the original two had withered into insignificance. (You only need to compromise with rival factions within your own party to hold a fractious coalition together when the likely cost of failing to compromise with that other faction is losing an election to that other party.) A more recent example in a Westminster-style system is India, where Congress was “perpetually” in power until it wasn’t.

  226. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    There’s a good piece on Clive James by Dwight Garner, in the New York Times.

    An excellent piece. I’m glad I read it. Clive James was as brilliant and funny as the quotations indicate. I particularly relished his reports on Dallas:

    More fascinating than ever in its current series, Dallas (BBC1) continues to offer its uniquely Texan combination of wealth, family conflict and sumptuous, scantily draped females. The men wear Astroturf haircuts topped off with ten-gallon hats. Marginally more simpatico this time, J. R. Ewing has a new haircut which changes colour from shot to shot and a hat-band composed of what appear to be crushed budgerigars. In the normal course of events he is an easy man to loathe, but lately he is having a prarlm with his wife. A prarlm is something difficult to solve.

  227. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Labor loses, Brexit occurs, followed by secession of Scotland and unification of Ireland.

    You may well be right about Scotland, but Ireland is another matter. The Northern Irish Protestants hate the Roman Catholics too much to contemplate it. (I say that as someone whose mother was a (southern) Irish Protestant — quite a different species, with far less hate.)

  228. I never quite understood this Catholic-Protestant thing.

    It always seemed a bit, you know, fake.

    Who in their right mind cares about stuff like that these days? They can’t be that backward even in Ireland?

    Perhaps there is something else going on and religion is just a cover for the real conflict.

    {thinking} maybe that’s what Israeli–Palestinian conflict is going to look like after three centuries

  229. An excellent piece. I’m glad I read it.

    Likewise.

    Reviewing a memoir by Leonid Brezhnev, he declared: “Here is a book so dull that a whirling dervish could read himself to sleep with it. If you were to recite even a single page in the open air, birds would fall out of the sky and dogs drop dead.”

  230. John Cowan says:

    maybe that’s what Israeli–Palestinian conflict is going to look like after three centuries

    It’s what British North America would look like if the U.K. had had the brains to make appropriate concessions rather than trying to solve the problem by force and, when that failed, walking away completely, leaving the 1/3 of the population that were loyalists in the lurch.

  231. David Marjanović says:

    unification of Ireland

    It’s more likely that Scotland and Northern Ireland will secede together.

    The remainder of former UK hit hard economically by these crises gets rid of the royals

    Why? They’re, like, the only ones who haven’t done anything wrong?

    (Except Prince Andrew, who has already been gotten rid of, and that was unrelated anyway.)

    and then applies to join the US as a 51st state.

    Congress wouldn’t allow it, because that would mean two more Democratic senators. See also: DC, Puerto Rico.

    Besides, seriously? Wales and England are not going to apply as a single state.

  232. Why? They’re, like, the only ones who haven’t done anything wrong?

    Are you implying that people in the mass make rational decisions?

  233. …that would mean two more Democratic senators

    Not to mention what it would do to the House of Representatives, which would have something like 15% of its members coming from England and 1% from Wales. The new state would have about 1.5 times the population of California.

  234. January First-of-May says:

    At least with an appropriate set of electoral rules and other institutional background, perpetual one-party rule with periodic free elections is highly unlikely

    Counterexample/counterpoint: Botswana, which had been ruled by the same party, despite periodic free (…by African standards, at least) elections, since independence in 1966.

    (As far as Brexit goes, I was a firm believer that it would be cancelled eventually right up until all the other parties unexpectedly agreed with Boris Johnson’s December 12th election date.
    My current prediction is no-deal Brexit in either January or December of 2020; not sure which is more likely.)

  235. David Marjanović says:

    Does the seventy-year rule of Mexico by the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution count?

    Are you implying that people in the mass make rational decisions?

    No, why? I’m trying to imply an emotional decision: the royals won’t attract blame.

  236. You’d be surprised who people are willing to blame when the chips are down. Remember 1649!

  237. a memoir by Leonid Brezhnev

    He didn’t write it. He was too old and too busy to write it himself. It was written by a team of anonymous “literary negroes” instead.

    Brezhnev is an example of dumbing down of an intelligent and bright young man by career in the Communist party.

    Back in his twenties, he wrote romantic poetry, was very interested in Russian literature and was quite a bit of an intellectual.

    I suspect he could have written that memoir better himself.

  238. Does the seventy-year rule of Mexico by the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution count?
    A big part of this was either what today is called “managed democracy” or even classical one party rule with figleaves, so I’d say it doesn’t.

  239. Besides, seriously? Wales and England are not going to apply as a single state.

    Yes, Wales would actually make a decent state. By population size, between Nevada and Iowa, slightly smaller than Puerto Rico or Utah.

    England on the other hand is an over-sized California.

    Maybe we can break it into two. For example, by making London and South East England a Democratic state and the remainder of England a Republican one.

    So we’ll end up with equivalents of New York State (population 17 mln) and California (population 36 mln).

  240. Though, we still have two more Democratic states and only one Republican.

    Buying Greenland would restore the balance.

  241. AJP Crown says:

    Two nuances of Brexit that don’t seem to get much attention:
    1. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had a disastrous effect on the British rural landscape. Enormous farms run by land agents were formed absorbing small family-driven acreages. They ripped out the ancient hedgerows killing most of the wildlife and sprayed pesticides indiscriminately while monocropping gene-manipulated wheat or whatever else was the flavour-of-the-month handed down from Strasbourg. Currently, the inflexibility of EU regulation is a huge hindrance for rewilding attempts. Brexit will be good for the countryside.
    2. On the other hand, I don’t think Britons realise the effect Brexit will have on their food & drink. When Britain joined the Common Market, there was an explosion in the choice available in groceries and supermarkets. Not many people are old enough to remember that. As well as it being a hell of a lot cheaper, there is currently a million times more choice of cheeses, butter, spices, fruit & veg, olive oil, fish, wines, breads etc. in London than I find in non-EU Norway. Brexit will be bad for the tastebuds.

  242. Perhaps there is something else going on and religion is just a cover for the real conflict.

    {thinking} maybe that’s what Israeli–Palestinian conflict is going to look like after three centuries

    True and true, alas. And you mean four centuries.

  243. Trond Engen says:

    AJP: The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had a disastrous effect on the British rural landscape.

    I don’t think so. This happened much more in the UK than in many other countries and is a result of British market reforms. The CEP may well have been blamed, but at the same time, Britain’s been consistently critical of the CEP for rewarding small and inefficient family farms in France rather than the more industrialized farming of the UK

    That’s not to say that sustainable management of resources and preservation of cultural heritage has been a high priority of the CEP. Nor has it been in Norway, for that matter, even if agriculture was maybe the single most important issue in the 1994 referendum.

  244. It’s astonishing to me how quickly and thoroughly agriculture has been given over to mass production with little or no care for anything but profitability around much of the supposedly civilized world, whether capitalist or socialist. I mean, yes, of course a lot of people need to be fed, but come on, if you destroy the soil, crop variety, etc. etc., how long can you keep it up? Thimk!

  245. I agree with Trond. Britain’s governments always complained in Brussels because the CEP put Britain’s large and “more efficient” farms at a disadvantage. Britain not getting enough money out of the CEP was one of the reasons behind Thatcher’s rebate. Blaming the EU for big British farms is another example of the EU getting the blame for things people don’t like that are actually home-made British problems.
    And it’s for sure that the Singapore-on-Thamesists dream of even bigger agricultural businesses, not about hedgerows.

  246. Back when I used to read The Economist, the CAP was blamed on the French who supposedly forced the entire EU to pay subsidies to their farmers.

    It was implied that CAP hurts everyone, except for the French farmers who are the only beneficiaries.

  247. Trond: I don’t think so.
    Then read this picked almost at random: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/46471 If you don’t like it, I’ll link you to a dozen others.

    small and inefficient family farms in France rather than the more industrialized farming of the UK
    This is French propaganda, you can tell simply from the tired phrasing, but it’s been churned out since the late 1960s. The French, who invented the CAP, have always benefited the most from its subsidies, which reward size. France has the largest sq. footage in Europe.

    agriculture was maybe the single most important issue in the 1994 [Norwegian] referendum
    During the late 60s & early 1970s conforming to regulation by the CAP was seen by everyone in Britain as the biggest trade-off required if they were to join the Common Market. There were doomsday predictions for lesser-known varieties of fruit and cheese that wouldn’t get (essentially French) approval.

  248. It’s astonishing to me how quickly and thoroughly agriculture has been given over to mass production with little or no care for anything but profitability around much of the supposedly civilized world, whether capitalist or socialist.

    Yes!!!
    This is very much on my mind at the moment because I’ve been proofreading two essays my daughter has been writing on this very subject, with Britain as her example. I assure you that young people take this a good deal more seriously but there are good books esp. for ex. on wilding by the likes of George Monbiot and other old people.

  249. Don’t trust anyone under sixty!

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