Edible Kids, Lust-Eyed He-Goats, and Eccentric She-Goats [12:13-15] (Latin)

On Kids

Goats and she goats are St. Isidore’s topic this week, and there are, as with last week’s section on lambs and sheep, some curious bits of lore thrown in with his definitions.

{Can’t you just see the lust in those eyes? Image from the CR4 article “Is Going Green Getting Your Goat?”}


[13]”Kids {“haedus”} are so named for eating {“edulare”}. For the small are the fattest and of a delightful taste, from whence [and to eat, from whence] comes the word for edible.

[14]”The he-goat is a truly lascivious animal and a butter and always eager for sex; and we can see lust lying across its eye, from whence its name {“hircus”} is drawn. For the eyes of the he-goat are angular as it is in the second book of Suetonius (Prat 171); whose nature is indeed the hottest like diamond stone, material which neither fire nor iron is able to break into, and which blood alone can dissolve. Many he-goats are called Cinyphri for the river Cinyphrus in Libya, where many were born.

[15] “We call she-goats and she-goats* {capra} for their nibbling {carpo}
of thickets. Others are caught bitterly. Some rattle the blood, from which they can be called rattlers; which are wild she goats, which for the Greeks are sharp to look upon, they are called by them ‘Oksuderkesteron durka.’ In fact, they are seen in the height of mountains, and ever so of those in the distance, however all come that far nevertheless.”
(Book 12:13-15 of St. Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae)
(*This phrase caused me difficulty since the Latin is “capros et capras,” which suggests male and female “she-goats.”)

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On Kids

“Kid’s are so named for eating.” Out of context, this could be a terrifying statement. And even in context, it’s not entirely clear automatically.

On the one hand, it makes sense that you would want to fatten an animal up before eating it. On the other, if you’re eating all of the young of an animal (the textbook definition of “kid”), then how are you to get more of the adults? A certain degree of moderation must’ve been practiced by people of that age.

Or maybe, since the kids are also known to have a “pleasing/delightful taste” they were saved for special occasions only.

But alas, St. Isidore doesn’t pause to give us such a detail. Instead, he plunges ahead into the realm of lust and cheap casinos. Or, well, maybe just lust.

Yes, he moves onto he-goats (“hircus”).

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One question that comes up immediately on reading this passage is, why does lust live laying across the eye? Or, if you translate “transversus” differently, the corner of the eye? This could be a reference to the slitted pupil of the goat, or perhaps to an idea that lust wasn’t something generally conveyed with a direct look, but instead a glance out of the corner of an eye.

Maybe, in such a situation, if such a glance went unchecked by the glancer and the glancer turned to get a full look of what lust had pulled his or her attention to, then it would become full blown desire.

In the ancient world there was also a belief that a person’s gaze was more of a beam than a passive receiver of information, so maybe such a direct look was also associated with things like Cupid’s arrows. They could be pulled from a quiver (the sidelong glance) and then fired at the victim (the object of the full on look) and maybe there’d be return fire or the shot would just be deflected and all for naught. It’d be great if there’s some love poetry that uses such warlike imagery. A find like that would really cement this connection.

When St. Isidore compares the goat’s fiery nature to the impenetrable nature of diamonds a few more questions might be raised.

Why compare something like an animal’s nature to a diamond in terms of hardness?

Did having a “hard nature” carry the same meaning that it does today, stubborn and wanton, difficult to really get along with?

That “fire and iron” represent the greatest forces that St. Isidore can describe in single words is also curious, since the martial influence is again visible. And that sort of influence is quite clear in the verb “domare” (meaning to tame, break into, conquer). It’s interesting how even 1300 years ago sex and violence were associated with each other.

And speaking of sex, the characteristics that St. Isidore attributes to she goats are also intriguing (partially because the Latin seems especially dense here).

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The fact that they “rattle” is definitely something lost in translation – much like how “kids are so named for eating.” A good guess is that she-goats are noisy, in that they rattle their voices, or bleat, frequently.

What’s out and out weird, is the way that St. Isidore describes she-goats as being seen in the high and far mountains but only by those who bother to look. What does this even mean? That the wild she goats are so plentiful in Greece that they just go unnoticed? Or are she-goats taking on a more spiritual meaning here?

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If you’ve got some ideas about what St. Isidore is talking about when it comes to she-goats’ travel habits, or if you know of any warlike love poetry from the 7th century or earlier, simply let me know in a comment.

And check back Thursday for the continuation of Beowulf’s boasting about his deeds and for a clear statement about what he’s going to do with his sword and the dragon’s hoard.

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