Mostly About Lovely Camel Lumps [12:34-36] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Two Theories on and One Reason Why Camels are so Special
Closing

{A humble looking animal, indeed. Image from the National Library of the Netherlands Illuminated Manuscript Collection.}

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Abstract

This week Isidore moves hastily from buffalo to camels by way of a certain kind of wild cow.

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Translation

[34] “These are from Africa. Uri, a breed of wild cattle, are in Germania, they have horns that extend so that they signify a royal capacity able to carry their load. They call uri apoton oreon, that is, a mountain.

[35] “Camels are given the name either because when loaded, they are made to be low and humble in their laying down, which the Greeks call chamai, humble and low, or those which are of curved backs. For truly the Greek word kamour denotes a curve. These they sell and send to other regions, but mostly to Arabia. On the other hand, these are different; for Arabian camels have two lumps on their backs, those that remain in home regions have one.

[36] “Dromedary is a kind of camel, which has a smaller stature, but is faster. From whence it has its name, for dromos is what the Greeks call curved and fast. Truly, they can usually go for one hundred and more miles in a day. The which animal, like the cattle and the sheep and the other camels, chews the cud.”
(St Isidore of Seville Etymologiae 12:34-36)

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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Two Theories on and One Reason Why Camels are so Special

What makes the camel so great that not only does Isidore just run right through a section on cattle with super long horns but he also uses it to segue into a section all about the cud and its purpose?

Perhaps camels were so much more impressive than horses because of their ability to be so laden with stuff – they were perhaps seen as a pack animal that’s more agreeable than a mule.

Or maybe it’s that they, like cattle and lambs before them, display a trait that humanity is meant to relate to: their humility and lowness when put into service and quite literally have an “onus” (related to the verb used in paragraph 35 for “loaded” – “onerantur” from “onerare”) put upon them.

Though, maybe these two reasons are just excuses, and the real reason that St. Isidore spends so much time on camels is because they’re the Ferraris of the seventh century. Clocking “one hundred miles and more a day,” (“centum enim et amplius milia uno die” 12:36) they can probably rev from Seville to Toledo (about 250 miles) in less than three days when the average might be 8-14.

Even a bishop has a need for speed, right?

In fact, perhaps that’s why bishops can move diagonally on chess boards – one of the fastest ways to aggravate an unwary opponent.

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Closing

Check back here on Thursday for the shift from Beowulf to his thanes and what ensues.

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All About Three Things on Four Legs [12:31-33] (Latin)

Translation
Recordings
Cattle-trot Strut
On Calves
A Buffalo Re-Buff?
Closing

{Buffalo: so wild that they don’t even keep within manuscript borders. Image from the National Library of the Netherlands Medieval Illuminated Manuscript Collection.}

St. Isidore moves pretty quickly through the next three types of animals, so let’s get right to it.

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Translation

[31] “Cow it is called, like cattle. In fact, it is a name from the quality of their movement, just as leonine comes from lion and draconic comes from dragon.

[32] Calves are so called from the Latin for greenness, that is the green age, just like a maiden. Thus the calf is small and does not have the power of generation: for only the bullock or cow has the power of generation.

[33] Buffalo they are called by derivation, which are like cattle; though they are wild so that they will not take the burden of a yoke upon their necks.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:31-33)

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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Cattle-trot Strut

Cow and cattle – the relationship in English is as clear as the relationship in Latin, that is, between “vacca” (the “v” is pronounced like a “w”) and “boacca” (12:31).

What’s not clear though is just what is meant by “cattle” coming from “the quality of their movement,” (“Est enim ex qualitate mobilium nominum” (12:31)), it’s just plain bizarre.

Maybe English has a word for the same sort of movement already, or maybe there just wasn’t a need for a word for that kind of movement. What sort of movement marks a cow, anyway? Slow, steady, and sturdy? This is a relatively simple passage to translate, but the precise meaning of it is rather puzzling.

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On Calves

Calves (“vitulus et vitula” (12:32)) being so named because of the Latin words’ relation to the Latin for “green” (“viriditate”) is much clearer.

Calves are young, prefer to frolic in the field, and, if pagan religious rites are any indication, iconic of the innocence associated with youth. Likewise, the propensity to sacrifice bullocks also makes sense since those are the male cattle that have just gained the power of generation, having gone through bovine puberty.

Paragraph 32 definitely deserves a medal of some sort for being so forthright and direct. But maybe it’s like that because there’s so little to say about the calf – cattle have already been likened to humans in that they seem to show compassion and so all that’s needed here is an analogy to a maiden, one without any sort of blemish or lack in its purity. In fact, the word translated into “maiden,” (“virgo” (12:32)), also could be translated as “virgin.”

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A Buffalo Re-Buff?

Then, we have the buffalo.

Isidore must mean that they’re like cattle in appearance and maybe in the way that they move, but otherwise they’re not given much of a chance. In fact, the mere note that they’re too wild to be yoked suggests, through negation, that they’re nothing at all like cattle in their character.

After all, the yoke is very much symbolic of cattle in this period. The yoke could even be used as a metonymy for them with no real problem in understanding whatsoever. So the buffalo’s refusal of the yoke seems to be Isidore’s way of making clear that they look like cattle, but lordy, they ain’t no cattle.

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Closing

Check back here on Thursday for Beowulf’s reaction to his sword that “bit less strongly” than necessary in last week’s entry (Beowulf l.2578).

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Pigging Out on Early Medieval Animal Notions [12:23-26] (Latin)

Translation
Recordings
First Thoughts
On Connections
On Pigs
Closing

{A curious scene for a curious animal. Image from the Medieval Illuminated Manuscript Collection at the National Library of the Netherlands}

Translation

This week, Isidore’s focus is on names. Quite a bit more than usual:

[23] “The hare (lepus), from light-footed (levipes), are those that run quickly. And they are called from the Greek for running “Lagos”; truly, fast is this animal, and very timid.
[24] The rabbit is a type of wild animal as is the wild dog, that which dogs entrap to capture or that they draw out from their warrens.
[25] Sows they are called, which root in the pastures, they dig in the earth in search of food. Boars (verres), those that have power (vires) when older. Pigs (porcus), since they are as filth (spurcus). Truly they pour in their own filth, they immerse in mires, they cover themselves with mud. As per Horace (Letters 1.2.26):

And the friend of filth, pigs.

[26] This is also smut or foulness. Pigs’ hair is called bristly and hair of the sow: it is called this especially by shoemakers, the likes of which hair and hide they are used to, that is accustomed to, working with.”
(St Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:23-26)

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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First Thoughts

So, what we have here is a quick write up about the hare and its habits, launching into the pig and its thorough association with filth. Knowing that these sorts of medieval encyclopedias were a mash-up of original and “borrowed” material does something to explain the order in which Isidore is treating animals, but it remains curious.

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On Connections

The connection between deer and rabbits is their timidity. This makes good sense, as the end of the passage on deer is indeed a quotation about that very quality.

But, then what’s the connection between the rabbit and the sow or pig? Is it that the pig roots around in the ground for food as the dog does for the rabbit? It seems like that’s the case – unless the connection (if there even is one) is based on the fact that both animals live quite a bit of their lives in the dirt.

What’s also curious is that only the pig’s skin is mentioned as something used by a profession. Rabbits would’ve been fairly plentiful in Isidore’s part of the world, but it seems the fur didn’t have much value. Certainly, no one was “accustomed to” (“suant” or “consuant” (12:26)) using it.

I guess pigskin wasn’t so much what was kicked in those days as it was that with which you kicked.

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On Pigs

The association between pigs and filth, mud, and smut is something that St. Isidore seems particularly intent on getting across. Why exactly is unclear. Though, if the animal itself is so filthy, then why is its skin so commonly used for leather?

Inhering in his entry on pigs is there some kind of commentary on the commoner’s choice of footwear material? Or is it just that St. Isidore is emphasizing the pig’s uncleanliness in order to make it more obvious that all creatures have a purpose when he reveals that the pig is what the shoemaker is used to using?

It’s a curious question, but one that can’t be grasped if we look only at the words of the Etymologiae. Nonetheless, a guess is that St. Isidore is just reporting what he’s found here, perhaps trying to make people remember their humble connections to this humble animal.

What’s most surprising, though, is that he doesn’t even mention how tasty the pig can be. Ah well, probably not a lot of room in the life of a bishop to have copious amounts of an animal sliced into strips and fried up to celebrate the birth of a savior.

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Closing

Check back here Thursday evening for the telling of Beowulf’s rousing the dragon (Ch.XXXV, ll.2542-2553).

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Wacky Swimmers and Shaggy Shoulders [12:19-22] (Latin)

Introduction
Translation
Recording
First Thoughts
Physical Traits
The Martial
Closing

{A stag testing the depths. Image from The Gutenberg Project eBook of Aesop’s Fables}

Introduction

St. Isidore talks more of deer today. His differentiation between them gets so fine, in fact, that their Modern English equivalent is simply “deer.”

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Translation

[19]”Their upright ears miss no sound, no matter how low. And when they swim over vast rivers or seas they feel no extra labour, they put their head in first and then alternately dip it and then their buttocks into the water.
[20]”Tragelaphi is the Greek name for them, which, although they are like hinds, have shaggy shoulders like the he-goat, and from their chin a long beard, which no other around the river of Colchis have.
[21]”Fawns (hinnuleus) are the sons of these deer (called such from “to give a nod to” (innuere), referring to the tottering that they leave behind at maturity).
[22]”Deer they are called which flee from hands: a timid and non-warlike animal; from which Martial:
“Why oh deer, who defends by horn, do you all fear the boar’s tusk, take no prey?”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:19-22)

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Recording

Here’s the above section of the Etymologiae in Latin:

And in Modern English:

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First Thoughts

So, much like Beowulf’s speech in last Thursday’s entry, this description of the deer is quite straightforward. The two things that stick out are the description of the deer’s long-range swimming style, and Isidore’s quotation of Martial.

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Physical Traits

The description of their swimming style is curious for its vividness. Literally, he says that they alternate between dipping their head and their buttocks in the water, as if they propel themselves by an extreme alternating motion.

In fact, it’s a very vivid description of swimming not just by moving the hind and fore legs, but instead by moving the whole body. It comes across as a kind of undulation that would give the animals more propulsion through the water.

Their comparison with he-goats is also interesting, but sadly nothing more is said than that they share the shagginess of their shoulders. Perhaps there was a significance to this that was common place and well known, maybe shaggy shoulders signified stubbornness or that an animal possessed hidden strength?

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The Martial

And then we come to the quotation of Martial. Perhaps this is included because to the medieval mind the deer’s horns, though thinner, were multiple, and so the deer itself was regarded as stronger than a boar (with it’s mere two tusks).

But, it seems that the deer’s fear of the boar in spite of its antlers is another aspect of the animal that adds to its aura of grace and greatness.

For the deer is perceived as an animal that, despite being so heavily armed, prefers to flee than to fight – but not in a clumsy way (they outgrow that, after all). When described as “alternately dip[ing] [their head] and then their buttocks into the water,” (“capita clunibus praecedentium superponunt sibique invicem succedentes” 12:19) these graceful deer may sound a little goofy, but to contemporary ears, it perhaps suggested that the deer had a greater understanding of how to move its body in the most effective way possible.

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Closing

On Thursday check back for Beowulf’s commands to his men, and the first few steps towards the fight with the dragon.

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St. Isidore’s En-deer-ing Take on a Natural Pharmacist [12:16-18] (Latin)

Translation
Spoken Versions
Thoughts on Deer
An Unexpected Discovery
Closing

{It’s true – things were bigger in the past. Image from the National Library of the Netherlands Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Collection}

St. Isidore wastes no time shifting to a new class of animal, so let’s not waste any time getting to what he’s got to say:

Translation

[16] “Likewise the deer; also ibexes, avice as it were, those that appear as the birds amidst the hills and hold to heights and live in the acme of the mountains, so that they are rarely open to the human gaze.
[17] “From whence they are called bird ibexes in the southern parts, [birds] that live by the Nile river. This animal also, so called, dwells in the high rocks; and if they sense danger by human or by chase, they escape unhurt to the high mountains where they sharpen their own horns beforehand.
[18] “Deer are called “Apo Ton Keraton,” he is of horn; “Kerata” is truly what the Greeks call horns. This animal has the serpent as an enemy yet it can anticipate the severe injury from it, but it draws the spirit out from its nostrils in its caves, they overcome this terrible venom by their food. For dittany is known to them; that they use while in the field to shake off that poison. Moreover they wonderfully hiss as panpipes do.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:16-18)

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Spoken Versions

In an effort to bring these dead languages new life, here’s the above in spoken Latin:

And in spoken English:

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Thoughts on Deer

Now, unfortunately there’s not as much lore in this passage as there’s been in recent weeks.

But, there’s at least an implication that deer are revered as quasi-sacred animals since the height of their homes is emphasized.

The fact that they also know of the curative properties of wild marjoram (“dittany,” or the Latin “dictamnum”) also suggests that they’ve got a measure of intelligence that goes beyond that of most other animals. Underwriting this implication about deer is Isidore’s use of “ipsi” “self, himself, herself, etc.” in the sentence about dittany being “known to them” (“prodiderunt”). This wording makes it plain that the deer have figured this out on their own.

And then there’s the strange mention of the deer’s hissing sounding like panpipes (“fistularum,” or “bagpipes, tubes, panpipes”). Maybe such a high pitched sound is supposed to further highlight the deer’s harmonious state in its natural place. Or maybe it’s supposed to gently disprove pagan belief in satyrs, since there’s a natural explanation within the bounds of Christian creation.

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An Unexpected Discovery

Fairly unrelated to all this talk of deer is a discovery made away from the translated page.

The word “avices” wasn’t turning anything up in the Collins Gem Latin Dictionary used for reference, so the words around where it should be were poked at. Among these words is “Avernus,” which refers to a lake that was “believed to be an entrance to the lower world” (according to the Dictionary’s definition).

It doesn’t seem to be related to the hall of Grendel and Grendel’s mother in Beowulf, but the idea that a lake and not just a cave could lead to the lower world suggests a Roman precedent for the underwater hall of the epic. Undoubtedly there are also precedents in Germanic myth and lore, but this one from the Romans (Virgil uses it as this in the Aeneid) is indeed curious.

Perhaps the Romans spread this story amongst the Britons and those living in the Roman-occupied British Isles?

Perhaps those stories were then passed around and eventually picked up by a Briton poet or scop ([shaw-op] Old English for “poet”) savvy enough to know that underwater halls were already popular with/known to his new patrons?

Tracking that sort of historical progression is tricky – but that’s just what makes it so fascinating.

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Closing

Like that hypothetical scop, Beowulf also minds his words in this week’s passage from the poem as he makes the bulk of his war-boast before at last going into the barrow. Check back on Thursday for it!

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

Translation
On Kids
He-Goats
She-Goats
Conclusion

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?”}

Translation

[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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He-Goats

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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She-Goats

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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Conclusion

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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sheep!…Sheep! – Sheep! [12: 10-12] (Latin)

{A woolly one on the green. From the Netherland National Library’s Collection.}

Following up on his explanation of the differences between pack animals and herd animals – leaving off with the fact that “families” prefer to use goats/sheep for their sacrifices – St. Isidore explains a little bit more about this wondrous animal: the sheep.

Before getting to the translation, however, it must be pointed out that “families” is just one way to translate “gentilis.”

The almost automatic translation is “Gentile,” which may work, but the English translation of the Etymologiae that I use as a loose base text renders it “pagan.” To combine this with the Collins Pocket Gem Latin Dictionary’s translation of “family,” the word “gentilis” will be translated as “pagan clan” from here on out.

Now, without further ado, this week’s translation:

“[10] Wethers, also called males, which are stronger than other sheep; or which are virile, that is of masculine gender; or which have worms in their heads, which excite them by itching to strike each other with mutual force, and to carry out fights with great energy.

[11] Ares or [apo tou areos], that is Mars, these are called; so they are called manly in the flock by us or if that flock belongs to a pagan clan, the ram is first among the flock sacrificed. For the ram is placed on the altars by them. From whence it is: (Sedul. 1,115):

‘Upon the altar sacrifice the ram.’

[12] Lambs in Greek are called [apo tou agnou], as if holy, Latins on the other hand believe that the animal is so named for this reason, for compared with other animals it knows its mother; so that if ever it gets lost in a large flock, it immediately knows its parents by the call of their bleating.”
(St. Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae: 12: 10-12)

(N.B.: the parts in square brackets are given in Ancient Greek: a dead language that I have yet to try my hand at.)

Where to start with this one? There’s the worms that, St. Isidore writes, are the reason for rams butting each others’ heads; there’s the weird reference to a mysterious work that clearly names rams as sacrifices; and there’s the etymology of the Latin word for lamb: “agnus.”

The beginning is always good.

The idea that worms cause a great itching on rams’ heads and this drives them to fight, is pure medieval bestiary material.

Completely wild ideas, but completely interesting, to boot. What’s most interesting about this idea though, is that it suggests that sheep are naturally harmonious. It isn’t that they butt their heads against trees to help soothe their itching heads, but they butt each other’s heads with “mutual force” (“invicem se concutiunt”). There’s a sense that these animals help each other out.

Even if this explanation for rams charging at each other is fantastical, it’s curious that such camaraderie is ascribed to sheep.

That these animals are also the ones that “Sedul.” dictates for sacrifice follows from this perception of sheep, no doubt. After all, why sacrifice any old animal?

If an animal has special value to humans it will be worth more amongst them. But if an animal seems to have a society going on that is similar to human society (considered the apex of all creation at this time), that must mean that within the cosmos the animal has a worth near that of humans. So, if you’re not going to sacrifice humans, why not sacrifice the next best thing – animals that help each other out.

Better yet, why not sacrifice animals that also show an inherent recognition of family?

The etymology for the Latin word for lamb, “agnus,” adds to this picture of sheep as a human-like animal, at least as far as values go. The word’s ascribed origin (the Latin word “agnosco,” meaning “to know”) also reflects the animal’s apparently Christian values – harmonious living among brethren and being aware of family. In particular, Isidore’s description of a lamb recognizing its parents by the sound of their voice (“statim balatu recognoscat vocem parentis” 12.12) is rather reminiscent of the tripartite holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

What’s perplexing though, is that sheep are so fixated on here.

Don’t calves know their mothers? Don’t foals?

Why are sheep so elevated as to have an etymology relating them to the Latin word “agnosco” meaning “to know”? Another, related question, is how “agnosco” morphed into the modern English “agnostic.”

At any rate, sheep might be so highly regarded and focused on simply because they could continuously provide. Year after year they could be sheared, some could be milked, and some could be slaughtered; so year after year they would provide food *and* clothing.

It’s hyperbolic, but that sheep give material for clothing and food turns the Chinese proverb “A warm coat is better than a fully belly” on its ear, since sheep could provide both. Couple that with their perceived cosmic value, and you’ve got a super animal.

What do you think about Isidore’s ideas of sheep? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

So, can St. Isidore best himself as he starts to write of goats? Find out next week!

Before that, though, this week sees Beowulf wrapping up his history lesson and moving into a demonstration of effective boasting. Check back Thursday for it!

Of Sweaty Armpits and Family Sacrifices [12:7-9] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Some Words to Wonder About
Cows of the Violent Kine
Family and Sacrifices
Closing

Abstract

St. Isidore goes into further detail about pack animals and flocks in today’s extract. And he reveals a thing or two about why sheep are so popular as sacrificial animals.

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Translation

“[7]The name ‘pack animal’ is derived from their pulling, that they do for our work, or the help they give us in carrying up things or with plowing. For oxen draw the two wheeled coach, and turn the stiff soil of the earth with the ploughshare; horses and donkeys carry loads, and humans, walking in their wake, guide their labour. And so pack animals are so called from those that are of help to men: truly they are animals of powerful greatness.

[8] Also, there are the cattle, whose weapons are attached, that is for war; or that make use of these horns. We understand other cattle to be oxen, for plowing, as if horned or that are equipped with horns. Moreover the cattle are distinguished from the flocks: for cattle are horses and oxen, flocks are truly she-goats and sheep.

[9] Sheep are a soft fleecy herd, with a defenceless body, a gentle spirit, and calling forth with its voice; it is not the oxen that a priest keeps near at hand for the mysteries, but the sheep that are killed for the sacrifice. From this they call them two pronged, those that have two higher teeth amongst eight, those are the ones that families offer exceedingly oft in their sacrifices.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:7-9)

Angel to Abraham: “You’re doing it wrong.”

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Some Words to Wonder About

These three sections at last get clear and close, dealing with things in a markedly medieval manner by looking at categories and clarifying just what those categories mean. Thankfully, it also seems to be going somewhere now. The pack animals are defined, as well as the cattle and the flocks. So Isidore’s moving right along here.

As far as curious words go, “capra” (“she-goat,” or “odour of armpits”) is definitely the strangest in this passage. Particularly fascinating about this word is its standing as a pretty stark reminder of the lack of deodorant in the 7th century when Isidore was writing. Goats might’ve been kept by some throughout the city of Seville as well, making for an immediate and visceral olfactory sensation.

Though, in a society without indoor plumbing, one wonders why a she-goat of all things is paired with the “odour of armpits.”

Speaking of which, when might that second meaning have became attached to the word? Did “capra” have these two meanings from the time it was first used as a word or did it pick up the meaning “odour of armpits” because people realized that armpits and she-goats at least have that in common? We may never know, but that’s part of the fun.

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Cows of the Violent Kine

From Isidore’s description, it sounds like cattle were more violent then, too, or at least more prone to actually using their horns. That’s what their having horns and their being described in martial terms (“armis,” meaning “arms, especially for melee combat”) suggests.

It’s also likely that the connection could be held among those who work with cattle as well as the learned who write of cattle, since both groups could have access to stories of bulls and their tempers.

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Family and Sacrifices

Isidore’s mention of families in paragraph 9 (“gentiles”) is also curious, since it seems almost like a promotional plug – 9/10 families sacrifice sheep with two teeth more prominent than the eight. So why is it there? Is family sacrifice still prevalent? Was it just something done for Easter?

The use of the semi-colon (yes, inserted after the fact, since original mss don’t have punctuation aside from diacritics marking abbreviations and such) suggests that the two sentences are related, but why are those qualities important for a good sacrificial animal?

The soft fleecy-ness, the naturally defenseless body, and the gentle nature – as well as the voice that calls out (“oblatione” which in St. Isidore’s Late Latin referred to a solemn offering) – all of them suggest some sort of inherent sacrificial function.

Soft means penetrable, offering little resistance to the knife, as does the defenceless body. And the gentle spirit suggests that the lamb wouldn’t begrudge the knife.

But the voice that calls out – it could reference an idea that the sheep bleated out a prayer itself as it was being killed or incinerated. An animal uttering such a prayer in death would definitely be favoured for sacrifice, since that bleating could also have the sacrificer’s own prayer projected upon it.

A petition sacrificed in that a way – burned up in the vessel of a living being rather than a piece of paper – would add power to that prayer. Possibly even in early Christian minds.

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Closing

If you’ve got your own ideas about what some of the subtext or connotations of Isidore’s mention of “families” or structure mean let me know about it in a comment. And do follow this blog if you enjoy it – I’ll be sure to follow yours if you have one.

Check back Thursday for the next section of Beowulf, wherein Beowulf tells of the strife between Swede and Geat – and the fall of a prominent man.

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Read on for the Difference Between Herds and Heads of Animals! [12: 4-6] (Latin)

Introduction
Summary
Translation
Splitting Hairs
The Duality of “Cow”
Closing

{A sheep – certainly a heard animal. Image from the National Library of the Netherlands}

Introduction

Welcome back to St. Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae – specifically book 12, part I (about herd and pack animals).

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Summary

This week’s entry sees St. Isidore explain quadruped herd animals before moving on to differentiate herd animals from working animals. Let’s get straight to it!

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Translation

[4] “They are called quadrupeds that walk on four feet: which are similar to herd animals save that they are not under human care; such as hinds, deer, wild donkeys, and others. But this does not include beasts like lions; nor pack animals, such as those humans may/can use like cattle.

[5] “We call all those lacking human languages and likenesses herds. On the other hand, strictly speaking, the name of a herd of such animals as those that are or could be used for food is called by this animal’s name alone, like sheep and pigs or those used for human convenience like horses and oxen.

[6] “The difference between herds and heads of animals: because beasts of burden gather in significance all such animals are called a herd, on the other hand heads of beasts are only those animals which graze, as do the sheep. But in general all that graze are called herd animals.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12: 4-6)

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Splitting Hairs

Paragraphs [5] and [6] are definitely about splitting hairs. But that’s Isidore’s business here, to try to differentiate between things so finely that his words only differ in their inflection on the page, subtle differences only really visible in their conjugation.

The words that best exemplify this are “pecus, -oris,” meaning “cattle, herd, flock; animal,” and “pecus, -udis,” meaning “sheep, herd of cattle, beast.” Their genitive singular forms (the standard case for a dictionary headword) are clearly similar.

But what really makes their similarity muddying is that when Isidore is describing the difference between herds and heads of animals he only defines one of his two categories.

After all, he points out that herd animals “graze like sheep” (“eduntur, quasi pecuedes”) and then just implies that those that don’t are called by “heads of [animals]” (such as a head of cattle).

It might be something that’s coming through as a result of translation, but it seems that Isidore is struggling to really make himself clear because he’s making such fine distinctions. But before I read too far into this sense of struggle, onto the next word.

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The Duality of “Cow”

“Iuvenca, ae,” meaning “heifer, girl.” It’s probable that this word had a specific connotation when Latin was still spoken across the Roman Empire, but it’s still quite telling of Roman culture that the same word could refer to a girl and a heifer.

Perhaps this second meaning wasn’t necessarily negative, but it’s difficult to see it as anything other than an insult of one sort or another.

After all, such a connotation for “cow” is still present in Modern English; “cow” sometimes sits in for b@!$&h. See for yourself here.

Also, my Latin dictionary lacks the heavy distinction that I hope might be present between the words “cervi” and “dammae” both of which can mean deer (cervi can also mean “hind” but a hind is just a specific sort of deer). Maybe I need to get a better dictionary, or maybe I just need to turn to my readers for a bit of aid.

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Closing

If you’ve got a way to split apart the words that seem too close to me, or want me to translate more of Isidore per entry let me know about it in a comment.

And check back Thursday for Beowulf’s wrapping up of Hrethel’s woes in his informal history of the old king’s sons.

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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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