Isidore of Seville on the Nobility of Cattle [12:30] (Latin)

Introduction
Translation
Recordings
A Word on “Plows”
Oh, Noble Cattle
Closing

{With a dewlap like that, this cow’s royalty. Image from FithFath.}

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Introduction

Today’s is a short extract from the Etymology, and, with an ending that concentrates on the camaraderie between cattle, a sweet one.

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Translation

[30] “The Greeks call cattle Boun. These the Latins call plows, those which turn the earth, as the plow. Naevius (trag. 62):

The plow is the governor of the countryside.

The width of whose hide from chin to legs is called a dewlap, from the skin itself, like dewlap hide; which in cattle signifies nobility. Cattle are exceptionally dutiful in groups; for one checks with another when they are usually lead together at the plow, and they will frequently make their affection clear by lowing if the other begins to fail.”

(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:30)

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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A Word on “Plows”

Maybe English just isn’t as poetic as Latin (it is the root of French, Spanish, and Portuguese after all), but anything called a “plow” just brings to mind a plow. The word doesn’t exactly stir ideas of some cherished thing or animal.

Nonetheless, “plow” is the best translation that could be found for the Latin “trionem” (the simple “trio” being nonsensical in this context).

The word “trionem” might not be the greatest term of endearment, but a rolling “r” has to stand for something. Or maybe the Latin farmers were all about using metonymy.

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Oh, Noble Cattle

At any rate, the nobility attributed to cattle, working cattle in particular here, does suggest a certain fondness for the animal. What’s curious about this fondness though is that there’s no real mention of milk or the meat taken from these animals.

Maybe these extras are simply seen as a given part of cattle’s nobility (their magnanimity, if you will) since true nobility includes true generosity. Yet there’s no comparison of cattle to Christ, so maybe the milk and meat offered by cattle simply weren’t as highly prized as the labor they could undertake.

Besides, like the lambs that can recognize their parents, cattle that apparently encourage each other while at the plow are one step closer to being human. That may just be the highest praise a 7th century church man can offer. Being called the “governor of the countryside” (12:30) must count for something, too.

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Closing

On Thursday check back here for a look at the first exchange of blows in Beowulf’s fight with the dragon.

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