One of the most prominent and influential Russian literary-religious-philosophical texts is Vladimir Solovyov‘s Три разговора о войне, прогрессе и конце всемирной истории (War, Progress, and the End of History: Three Conversations, Including a Short Story of the Anti-Christ), published in 1900. I’ve dipped into it over the years and always wanted to read it eventually, and that desire has been strengthened by reading Dmitry Merezhkovsky‘s Воскресшие боги. Леонардо да Винчи (The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci), the second part of his Christ and Antichrist trilogy, also published in 1900 (I hope to report on it tomorrow) — as you can see, the Antichrist was very big at the turn of the last century. As important as the Three Conversations were, however, they are way down towards the bottom of the list of works of Russian literature that I would have expected to be made into movies.

And yet, here we are: the Romanian director Cristi Puiu‘s latest movie is Malmkrog, which, to quote Ben Flanagan in Slant, “is based on 19th-century Russian philosopher and mystic Vladimir Solovyov’s prophetic Three Conversations, which, through a series of dialectical maneuvers, addresses such topics as economic materialism, nationalism, and abstract moralism.” He continues:

The film takes place on a snow-covered hillside, where a large pastel-pink mansion sits and Puiu turns the philosophical into drama. Sheltered in the mansion’s walls are a small group of aristocrats that includes a politician, a general and his wife, and a young countess. It all has the makings of a game of Clue, but the mysteries here are linguistic. A Christmas gathering stretches on in what seems to be real time, as the party’s high-minded philosophical and political chatter takes on an increasingly strained air.

That tension is heightened by the obstacles that Puiu uses to discombobulate his audience. Malmkrog is the Transylvanian village where the film takes place, yet the characters, who speak primarily in French, talk of being in Russia. And as they discuss imminent war and the potential outcomes of violence, it’s as if the film appears to exist outside of time and place.

There are plenty of reviews, like Jay Weissberg in Variety (“is cinema really the best means to delve deep into this level of intense philosophizing?”), Nick James in Sight & Sound (“Although I got a lot out of this rigorously crafted intelligent work, I can’t in all conscience – conscience being a major topic here – recommend this film to the many. It’s too richly complex for the medium of film to convey”), and Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian (“This is a film of formidable and almost intimidating seriousness, which is admirable and refreshing in its way, but it does not make many concessions to anything as vulgar as entertainment or even drama”); as you can see, they tend to combine respect with bafflement and warn off the prospective viewer. I, however, would love to see it; it looks gorgeous from the clips, and I don’t mind movies based on dense conversation.

What drives me to post, however, is the title. At first it seemed bizarre: why would a Romanian movie about French-speaking Russians have a Swedish title? But it turns out Malmkrog isn’t Swedish at all, it’s the German name for the Transylvanian village now known by the Romanian name of Mălâncrav (the Hungarian name is either Albkarak or Almakerék, depending where you look); this site says “it has a larger Saxon population than any other Transylvanian village.” I wonder what the original form was, what it means, and why the German form looks so Scandinavian?


  1. German Wiki sagt
    “Darin wird [some 1340 document] das Dorf als Halbencragen bezeichnet, aus dem sich später in der sächsischen Aussprache Almkragen, Halmkrog und dann Malmkrog entwickelte. Der ungarische Name Almakerek, bzw. Albkarak bedeutet „runder Apfelwald“. Es ist jedoch unklar, ob die sächsische oder die ungarische Form die ältere ist.”

    Come again, have we decided not to translate stuff around here? Anyway, what “half-collar” means is not clear to me even with translation.

    Solovyov [there is a typo in the OP] will forever be remembered for his epitaph.

  2. Derailment warning… I started looking around for samples of the German dialect from that region.

    Found a random German word that delighted me so much I put everything else on hold: Quatember.

    Four-times-yearly festivals called “Quatember”. This particular “-tember” is explained as coming from temporum “quattuor temporum „Fasten der vier [Jahres]zeiten“)”

    Quick look at the etymologies of the month names, and they don’t mention tempor-

    “*decemo-membris (from *-mensris). October must then be by analogy from a false division Sep-tem-ber &c. Perhaps, however, from *de-cem(o)-mr-is, i.e. “forming the tenth part or division,” from *mer- …, while October = *octuo-mr-is. [T.G. Tucker, “Etymological Dictionary of Latin”]”

    Was Latin “tempor-” really part of “Quatember” but not “September”? What’s going on with the month names?

  3. September is septem + mens + -ris, though what the force of the suffix may be I don’t know. In any case there is no tember in it. The etymologies of October, November, December follow by analogy. The ninth month is called ‘seventh month’ because March was the original first month; the early Romans simply didn’t bother with their calendar during the first nine weeks or so after the winter solstice, as nothing either astronomical or agricultural was happening then.

  4. Lars Mathiesen says

    A few work laptops back I was in possession of a very learned 19th C treatise on the early Roman calender — which refused to state a firm opinion about how that ten month thing worked.

    Restarting the calendar around the spring equinox was one option (maybe starting the countdown to Kalendae Martiae on a suitable full moon), just running a ten month cycle disconnected from the seasons was another, because you didn’t need a calendar to tell when the sheep were lambing so it was more for ritual purposes. ¿O por qué no los dos? changing over once planting times became more important.

    (The original months are named for four deities that are not very specific to the time of year, as far as I can tell, and then numbered from 5 to 10. Do we have a native Latin word for ‘pragmatic’? Lots of spring festivals have dates in March but that can work both ways).

    Anyway, do we have more recent scholarship on this? (There are lots of guesses on the Internet, most of which are short on details but manage to get the numbers wrong anyway).

    Note that a ten month year would end with the Ides of December because there would be no next Kalendae to count down to. If the day counting worked like in later Republican times, that is.

    Also also, any opinions on Juno being from the same root as Jove, or from the ‘young’ root as Wikt says?

  5. I like this so-called 14C Gothic fresco* a lot, especially the goat reading a book.
    I suppose it’s a bible, which never happened with our goats although they were very fond of books for obvious reasons. They had their own bookshelf in the goat house.

    *Making it roughly contemporary with Giotto, which seems pretty unlikely to me, but I don’t know everything.

  6. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @AJP Crown, is there a hidden goat in the fresco, or am I missing your irony about a poorly drawn tetramorph?

  7. Lars Mathiesen says

    This is a rabbit hole. I have now found an account in Mommsen (2ed, tr. 1864) that differs radically from other accounts I’ve seen, for instance claiming that the even (unlucky) number of days in February was increased to 29 every fourth year in the older 12-month calendar. Wikipedia quotes extensively and cites, and then has a table not showing the variation in February and with a different length for the intercalary months — probably quoted from somewhere else.

    In any case, going back one chapter Mommsen suggests that the original Roman calendar was pretty slipshod and may just have been a cycle of ten months because the number 12 wasn’t popular yet — in other words, basically ignoring the concept of solar years because that made the conversion to months harder — and that two months were added and intercalation introduced in an attempt to align it (sort of) with the Greek annual calendar only after the Greeks actually were in Italy.

    Also there are claims that April, May, June should be interpreted as ‘sprouting / growing / young’ and that the connection of April with Aphrodite, for instance, is a retcon. This would not make sense before months were fixed in the solar year, maybe they just counted from one to ten.

  8. David Marjanović says

    Anyway, what “half-collar” means is not clear to me even with translation.

    It looks like a suitably desperate attempt to make sense of Albkarak. That would also explain why the H- isn’t consistently there in the German variants.

  9. PlasticPaddy says

    14. Mălâncrav–

    vechi denumiri Malîncrav, Malăncrac; în magh. Almakerék ; în săsească Malemkref; în germ.
    Malmkrog, Halbenkragen; în lat. Albkarak, Almkragen, Halbkragen.

    Prima menționare la 1305. Ținea
    la 1810 de Comitatul Alba de Sus. Pe harta Josefină din 1769-1773 localitatea apare menționată sub numele de Malenkrug v. Almakerek. Interesant este numele din maghiară „Almakerék ”, care tradus ar însemna „lemn rotund de măr”. „Kerék ” este folosit ca nume de loc, la origine înseamnă „roată”, dar aici arată de fapt pădure sau livadă cu copaci cu lemn rotund.
    Se pare că originea numelui localității este din maghiară din care a derivat cea în limba să seasc ă sau germană și apoi
    cea românească.
    Descoperirile arheologice arată urme
    de locuire din secolele VII-IX în punctul Valea Viilor, dar și mai timpuriu.

    The last bit is saying that the magyar name is the original one.

  10. Giacomo Ponzetto, You’re right. I turned it 180 degrees. It’s not half as good as when it’s upside down, and in that sense it’s a bit like a work by Georg Baselitz. Italy 2-0 Germany*. The long thin tail wasn’t drawn by anyone who’s ever looked at a goat.

    * + Evangelische romanische Kirche

  11. Lars: ignoring the concept of solar years because that made the conversion to months harder — and that two months were added and intercalation introduced in an attempt to align it (sort of) with the Greek

    To organise decimal years by merely leaving out two months rather than having ten months that didn’t jibe with the Moon – that’s genius. Just bung in the leap-year time too and make it one long holiday. We could do this, sheeple.

  12. Regarding the fresco, those books don’t look very 14C, either.

  13. Lars Mathiesen says

    There was a hint that even in later republican times people would express longer elapsed times in months only — with the suggestion that it harked back to a time when years were not reliable, or alternatively that a ten-month cycle made it easier to figure the interval. “Let’s see, from that Tertilis to this Quintlis must be, um, 23 months”.

    I’m not sure that suspending daily operations during depression season is a good idea, though. Strike July and August instead so we can just sit on the balcony and enjoy the sunshine. Cancel the Tour and the various soccer cups too, not that I watch them anyway.

  14. Don’t forget the Southern hemisphere.

  15. Lars Mathiesen says

    They can get to skip January and February. I foresee significant internal migration twice a year in places like Ecuador.

  16. The holidays in question are called “ember days” in English. I learned that the name was a reanalysis of ymb-ren, the days that run around the year. How this would work in German, I don’t quite see.

  17. And ‘Albkarak’ (recorded in 1317) is probably not just another variant of the Hungarian name, but rather Romanian alba plus Hungarian kerék.

  18. The long thin tail wasn’t drawn by anyone who’s ever looked at a goat.

    To be clear, the image we’re talking about is meant to be the ox of St Luke, right?

  19. Solovyov [there is a typo in the OP]…

    Oops! Fixed, thanks.

    … will forever be remembered for his epitaph.

    I love it!

  20. To be clear, the image we’re talking about is meant to be the ox of St Luke, right?

    It must be, though it looks nothing like an ox or even a calf. I prefer an upside down goat with a fake tail. The only tetramorphic creature that works for me is the Venetian winged lion, the first of which is in fact 4thC Greco-Bactrian and most probably based on a gryphon (I think we discussed gryphons fairly recently).

  21. On this day:
    Kalevala Day

    Kalevalathon is back again for another year. Join students and faculty in celebration of Kalevala Day on Friday, Feb. 28 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Finnish American Heritage Center as they read the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala.

  22. a Swedish title

    Having trouble imagining what it could look like.

  23. Well, clearly it’s either an inn where they serve alloys or an inn on a hill or ridge consisting of sand or gravel!

  24. Akvavit in alloy muggs?

  25. Unrelated but rather fascinating:

    Glover San, the Scottish samurai Maverick Aberdonian entrepreneur Thomas Blake Glover helped forge modern Japan yet remains little known in his homeland.

    The posthumous career of Thomas Blake Glover seems to be as dynamic and full of unexpected terms as the one he enjoyed in his lifetime.

    Consider what has happened in the 100 years that Glover, the buccaneering ‘Scottish Samurai’ who helped transform Japan, has been lying in the Sakamoto International Cemetery in Nagasaki.

  26. Malmkrog = a mutated balrog.

  27. Trond Engen says

    Hat: an inn on a hill or ridge consisting of sand or gravel

    That’s exactly what I thought when I saw the title. Malmkrogen as a (formal or informal) name for an establishment in a quarter called Malm(en).

    Anyway, where does the initial M- come from? The only thing I can think of is the -m of the dative definite article. Am Almkrug? Zum?

  28. Beim, vorm, überm, unterm ? [These last two in colloquial speech only]

  29. Malm = iron ore [ Malmoe = Iron ore island, Malmesbury = Iron ore town]
    Krog = corner [ crooked = has a corner]
    At least in Danish and no doubt elsewhere.

  30. PlasticPaddy says

    Hinter’m Berg,
    Hinter’m Berg
    Brennt es in der Mühle!
    – Mörike “der Feuerreiter”

  31. @Paddy

    I deliberately left the apostrophe off ! I was making the point that spoken überm, unterm are as unremarkable as spoken zum, vom. But I would say that in written form the first two, with no apostrophe, are unusual. I see they’re in Duden now, as is hinterm without an apostrophe. But in Mörike’s time, as today, there is apparently an invisible line that some “serious” writers do not cross. They tend to write über’m, unter’m, but of course just the unadorned zum, vom.

  32. David Marjanović says

    Apparently am, zum, beim, vom are simply older (already appearing in MHG) than the others.

    Anyway, where does the initial M- come from? The only thing I can think of is the -m of the dative definite article. Am Almkrug? Zum?

    While the noun is lost, the verb zermalmen “to crush completely” survives, at least in the standard, so it might have facilitated such a reanalysis.

    At least in Danish and no doubt elsewhere.

    Not in any kind of German to my limited knowledge.

  33. Staying on the subject of malm, what does the -kjær part mean, as in Malmkjær or Elkjær?

  34. Trond Engen says

    Gavin white; Malm = iron ore [ Malmoe = Iron ore island, Malmesbury = Iron ore town]
    Krog = corner [ crooked = has a corner]
    At least in Danish and no doubt elsewhere.

    Malm is an old word for “sand, pebble” (related to e.g. meal and mill) and generally means “bank, sandy ridge” in toponyms. The old mainland quarters of Stockholm are named Norrmalm, Södermalm and Östermalm. “Northwark”, “Southwark” and “Eastwark” if I may, The second element of Malmø is etymologically (Standard Swedish høg “hillock, hill”, but first attested as plural. Thus, Malmø is “Sandy Hillocks”.

    Danish krog is cognate with Norw. and Sw. krok “hook, nook”. For Sw, krog “inn”, Danish and Norwegian has kro. This is another Low German borrowing (ref. Northern German Krug).

    juha: Staying on the subject of malm, what does the -kjær part mean, as in Malmkjær or Elkjær?

    Da, k(j)ær, Norw. kjerr, Sw. kärr “thicket,, brushwood”, in Danish and Swedish also “swampy ground”, which is the meaning usually supposed in placenames. Maren i Kæret “Mary in the Marsh” is the prototypical simple but honest rural Dane, and the toponymic quasi-surname suggests a humble dwelling. This is not necessarily the case with village names ending in -kjær. “Swampy ground” may not seem very valuable now, but it used to be attractive as pasture for cattle.

    El- is likely “elm”.

  35. Trond Engen says

    @Gavin: Sorry for misnaming you. With the small letter w, I think it’s a spellcheck error, but I should have caught it.

  36. PlasticPaddy says

    The krog relation is more complicated. In modern languages outside Scandinavia, English “crack” is probably closest. The idea seems to be fold or wrinkle. German Krug and low German kruke dp not seem to be related to krog, although they may be related to each other (and to English crock and Irish crúiscín☺).

  37. Trond Engen says

    Yes, sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that the krok/krok/krog set is a doublet of the krog/kro/kro set. The first set is regular and probably inherited. The second is irregular, reflecting different source dialects or times of borrowing. As for a relation between the two sets, I meant to avoid implying anything, since, as you say, it’s complicated.

  38. @Trond

    Tusen takk!

  39. Thanks for putting me right on malm and Malmoe. There is a village down the road from mine, in Sussex, called Pidding Hoe (pronounced Hoo). I have happy memories of biksemad at Kroen i Krogen in Banegaardsplads in Aarhus. Alas, it exists no more.

  40. Trond Engen says

    Here? There’s a bicycle parking in that corner of the square now. My wife and I stayed at a hotel just a block from there a couple of days the summer before last. We never ventured past the bikes.

    I see that I misspelled Malmö. I meant to write in Danish and hög in Swedish, but clearly wasn’t up to the challenge.

  41. Lars Mathiesen says

    If the Retour that is there now is a branch of the one in Copenhagen, you can safely order steak there and the béarnaise will be some of the best in town. Not for vegans, though.

  42. AJP Crown says

    For vegans or anyone else, béarnaise sauce doesn’t require a steak. Painting the lily, I’d call it.

    Also Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. Click on his name and Gavin Wraith’s blog, interesting in itself, has some good links.

  43. Lars Mathiesen says

    Well, sure. The other day I went into a grill bar and had fries with béarnaise (pommes med bea) — not certified vegan, though it was not one of those pancy-pants places that fry fries in duck fat — and was happy to skip the meat. They know what they are doing, their “In Season Now” listing is always BEARNAISE [bɛɐˈnɛːsə].

    But at a “proper sit-down restaurant” you are expected to order a main course, though you might make up for it by buying lots of wine and cocktails.

    Actually the Århus branch of Retour seems to be more all round than the central Copenhagen one which I’ve visited and which is beef all the way (or turbot for refuseniks), and in Århus there is a vegetarian main course.

  44. AJP Crown says

    One day I’ll do a gastronomic tour of Denmark. Norway has one or two good places too, including…Maaemo near the Opera in Oslo. Maybe Trond knows if there’s a linguistic connection to the thread. As for pronunciation, is it Måemo or Maæmo?

  45. AJP Crown says

    The menu logo suggests it’s pronounced as if Måemo
    and I hasten to add that I’ve never been there. Even normal restaurants are astronomically expensive in Norway, never mind the fancy-schmancy.

  46. John Cowan says

    But at a “proper sit-down restaurant” you are expected to order a main course

    In NYC it is perfectly proper to order several appetizers, or even for a group to make a meal off them. I am not sure whether the restaurant makes more or less money this way.

  47. As long as you order booze they’re happy either way.

  48. John Cowan says

    Even if you don’t (I don’t).

  49. Lars Mathiesen says

    The magic words here are usually ‘starter as a main course’ — you get a larger serving of something and pay an even more outrageous price, and everybody is happy even if you only get water with it.

    Also béarnaise is vegetarian but not vegan, of course. If you don’t make it with egg yolks, it’s some other tarragon-flavored stick-to-potatoes emulsion.

  50. David Marjanović says

    Mmmm, tarragon. *Homeric drool*

  51. Maaemo is Finnish for ‘Mother Earth’, probably not a coincidence for an organic restaurant one of whose three founders (its sommelier) is Finnish.

    This doesn’t mean Norwegians wouldn’t prounounce it as /ˈmo.eˌmu/ instead of /ˈmɑːˌemo/, of course.

  52. *Homeric drool*

    Mmm… Ambrosia…

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