Naming the Things that Move [Etymologiae 12: 1-3] (Latin)

A First Impression
Translation
All About Isidore
An Opening and a Word
Latin Animals
Barbaric?
Closing

{St. Isidore at study. Image from mythfolklore.net.}

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First Impression

St. Isidore of Seville did not exactly organize his Etymologiae as I had expected. Rather than going animal by animal and offering a catalogue of facts, he instead set it out by category. That means that for the next few months I’ll be working through his explanation of “Herd Animals and Beasts of Burden” (“De Pecoribus et Iumentis”).

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Translation

Now, my translation. This is twice removed from the original text, since, it being prose rather than poetry, what’s below is a revision of my (somewhat liberal) literal translation.

“I. The Herd Animals and Beasts of Burden
[1] “Adam first imparted names on all of the animals, calling each by name from its present state and alike to the condition in which it naturally served.
[2] “But Gentiles also gave to each animal names from their own languages. But it was not from the Latin nor from the Greek nor from any of the barbarous tongues, rather man imparted those names in that language which was used by all before the flood, which is called Hebrew.
[3] “In Latin these are called animals or living things, which are animated by life and moved by [the?] spirit.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:1-3)

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All About Isidore

But before I get into the first three verses of this book, a few words about St. Isidore, patron saint of the internet (according to Wikipedia), himself.

He was born sometime in the latter half of the sixth century and died in 636 AD. Not much is known of his ear;y life, but his parents died while he was still young and so he was raised by his older brother, Leander, who had been prepared for a life in the Church. Leander followed this path to the bishopric of Seville and Isidore did the same, succeeding his brother as bishop around 600 AD. Isidore is famed for his writing, which covers a variety of topics ranging from the theological to the physical.

If you want more information on Isidore, check out the Catholic Online and the Catholic Encyclopedia entries on him – but keep in mind these sites’ biases.

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An Opening and a Word

Isidore begins book 12 of his Etymologiae with an explanation of how creatures were named. Of special interest here is the word “indidit” from “indere,” meaning, in particular, to “impart, impose.”

This word constitutes a translational fork.

On the one hand, Adam, or the more sweeping “man” imparted names to the animals, it was a benign act of giving of him/itself.

On the other, those names were imposed, meaning that there was a degree of coercion or force involved. Humanity either gave the names freely or stamped them onto the animals, branding them all with words that forever represent each animal.

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Latin Animals

And finally, things get rolling in verse three. Here the Latin words for animal and their meaning is given.

Quite straightforwardly.

So much so, in fact, that the original Latin is gloriously alliterative: “Latine autem animalia sive animantia dicta.”

I do wonder, though, if “spiritu” is the capital ‘s’ Spirit, or just a spirit or even just spirit. The redundancy in the original Latin offers a small clue.

Since “spiritu” is paired with “vita,” which just means life, the most general meaning of “spiritu” seems like the best choice. So it must be “spirit,” as in “school spirit,” or in the sense of morale. The implication of using “spirit” is neat, too – that things are animated by a sense of purpose or basic drive.

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Barbaric?

Also curious is that Latin and Greek are practically counted amongst the barbarous tongues.

Latin was paramount in medieval education, and Greek, though lesser known during much of the middle ages, also held a fair amount of prestige. Placing them in in such close proximity with “barbarous tongues” that don’t even get named definitely sets Hebrew up as something special.

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Closing

Check back here Thursday for the continuing image of the mourning old man in Beowulf. And if you’ve got a preference for which “spirit” to go with or whether “indidit” should be translated as “impose” or “impart” let me know in a comment.

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