Part 2 of the Guide to a Good Horse [12:47-49] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Two Notes on the Translation
Guide to a Good Horse (Part 2)
Closing

{Those are some formidable limbs, and it almost looks like they’re trembling. Image from FreeFoto.com.}

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Abstract

‎Isidore concludes the medieval guide to a good horse and discusses the Latin word for reddish/chestnut brown (“badius” 12:47).

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Translation

‎[‏47‎] “M‏erit,‭ ‬that is a bold spirit,‭ ‬brisk hooves,‭ ‬trembling limbs,‭ ‬which indicate strength:‭ ‬those who are easily roused from their stillness to their maximum speed,‭ ‬or that are not difficult to be held in their excited hurry.‭ ‬On the other hand a horse’s motion can be perceived in their ears,‭ ‬their power in the tremors of their limbs.

‎[‏48‎] ‏”Color is especially visible:‭ ‬reddish,‭ ‬golden,‭ ‬rosy,‭ ‬myrtle,‭ ‬deer brown,‭ ‬pale yellow,‭ ‬bluish gray,‭ ‬checkered,‭ ‬gray,‭ ‬white,‭ ‬speckled,‭ ‬black.‭ ‬Moreover the sequence must be ordered,‭ ‬black from reddish distinguished,‭ ‬leaving behind varied color or preventing ash gray.

‎[‏49‎] ‏”Moreover reddish was called bay (vadium) of old,‭ ‬which among the other animals made its way (vadat) through strength.‭ ‬Itself is chestnut brown (spadicus),‭ ‬as it is called by the Phoenicians, and was called the color of glory,‭ ‬which the Sicilians called spadicus.‭”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:47-49)

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Recordings

Latin:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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Two Notes on the Translation

First, there is one marked difference between last week’s translation of the guide to a good horse and this week’s.

Last week, the word “meritum” (12:45) was translated as “kindness,” but this week it was translated as “merit.” The reason for the difference is context. Initially, it seemed that translating “meritum” as “kindness” would work best since it makes sense that a horse with a generous spirit is better than one with a mean spirit.

However, the list of qualities mentioned in this week’s translation makes it clear that “meritum” should be translated as “merit.”

Second, the final paragraph is an odd tangle of nouns.

Originally, “Phoenicians” was translated simply as “phoenix” and the second clause of the second sentence read “or called phoenix,” which doesn’t make as much sense. Yet, even changing “phoenicatum” (12:49) to “Phoenician” is not entirely satisfactory, since the sentence seems to be about different names for the same colour, though both are given the same.

Of course, it is possible that this paragraph is supposed to point out some sort of weird parallel between the words that two diverse cultures use, but I don’t know enough about the early medieval Sicilians and Phoenicians to make such a call.

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Guide to a Good Horse (Part 2)

Color’s a given here, but there is a curious idea presented in the description of merit.

This is that the trembling of a horse’s limbs (when idle, it seems) suggests the horse’s power – as if the muscles are so powerful that they tremble and quaver, are simply overflowing with energy, when not in use.

This diagnostic technique for detecting a horse’s power is interesting because it feeds directly into the then popular field of deducing what’s going on inside a body from what’s going on outside of it. This way of looking at things also explains why there’s an order to the colors that are listed, but the meaning of that list is not clear.

Nonetheless, the same principle of externals pointing to internals goes for using the ears as a guide to a horse’s speed.

In a way these two things are perhaps the most secret of ways to tell if a horse is good or not – and thus the most effective – since they’re given such vague descriptions.

Should the muscles tremble when the horse is idle? When it’s just at a trot? Or a when it’s at a full gallop? And what about the ears indicates speed? If they’re kind of pulled back, as they might be when a horse runs so fast that the wind (or the horse itself) pulls them back? Maybe the ear thing is a matter of an early understanding of aerodynamics. And why not?

Though, back then, explanations of how air moves and interacts with other things would have been called something like “aerodynamikos” rather than “aerodynamics.” Ah, well.

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Closing

Check back here Thursday for the next installment of Beowulf. This time, Wiglaf has rushed to Beowulf’s aid, and shares words of support as the dragon draws in for another attack.

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More on Horses from Isidore (Part 1 of the Guide to a Good Horse) [12:44-46] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Deference to Authority
Guide to a Good Horse (Part 1)
Closing

{Two horses that would definitely fit the requirements that Isidore outlines for a “good horse”. Image from Wikipedia.}

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Abstract

Isidore shares where the longest and shortest lived horses can be found. And he explains what true horsemen look for in a sturdy specimen.

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Translation

[44] “Truly either because of sadness or joy horses struggle to comprehend future events. Long lived horses are Persian, Hunnish, those of Epirus, and Sicily which can live at most to 50 years, but short lived horses are those from Spain and Numidea and Gaul, as is frequently conjectured.

[45] “Among high born horses, according to veterans, these are the four things to watch for: shape, beauty, kindness, and color. Shape is a healthy and solid body, strength matching size, a long side, a maximally tight and round buttocks, a broad chest side, a body knotted with dense muscle all over, healthy hooves, and fine curved ears.

[46] “Beauty is a small and healthy head, skin closely adhering to bones, short and graceful ears, large eyes, open nostrils, an erect neck, dense hair and tail, smooth and solid piercing hooves.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:44-46)

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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Deference to Authority

Both of the major points in this week’s section (horses’ lifespan, and what to look for in a good one) are given as opinion. In the case of where the longest and shortest lived horses can be found, the entry is based on what is “frequently conjectured,” (“frequens opinio”) and when Isidore shifts to talk of the key qualities of a good horse, he defers to “veterans” (“veteres”).

Part of the reason for this deference is that the Etymologies isn’t entirely an original work. Rather than writing everything from scratch, Isidore compiled a lot of his entries from other sources, copying them out by hand, of course, but still copying nonetheless.

However, though this kind of copying rankles academics and writers and publishers worldwide today, it was simply how things were done in the middle ages. Not because people were less able to understand things, but, in part, because books were much more difficult to create.

After all, the longer the book, the more velum a person would need, and the more velum needed meant the more sheep or goats had to be killed to provide that velum. All the other parts of the animal would be used, but if it was an animal used for its milk or wool, but a book was something that an animal could only be used for once (though there’s got to be a medieval romance that features a magical, self-resurrecting sheep out there).

Deference to other authorities fits well into such a publishing system, since it keeps things light. Rather than having everyone explain something thoroughly and use up more and more of the time’s precious writing materials, writers could just say “as x explained in y.” Though such references were often not so explicit as to give names and titles.

How all of this relates to horses is beyond me, though horse meat is rather tasty, and this first half of the 7th century guide on how to choose a horse makes a little more sense if you keep in mind that mainland Europeans once did (and still do) raise horses for eating.

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Guide to a Good Horse (Part 1)

The two key qualities that Isidore outlines here are a horse’s “shape” (“forma”) and “beauty” (“pulchritudo”). To modern eyes the first one makes a little bit more sense than the other, but the descriptions of each make it clear why these are relevant criteria.

Shape boils down to health, and what might be known as Body Mass Index (BMI, a ratio of body fat to body mass and height) today. From the sounds of it, a truly shapely horse is one that is firmly outfitted with muscle and that has the minimum amount of fat possible. Otherwise, shape matching size, firm buttocks, and body knotted in muscle would simply be out of the question.

Beauty ties in quite closely to Shape, since it also deals with the health of the horse as well as its aesthetic appeal. Having a small head, erect neck, and skin that closely adheres to bones all suggest an animal that is healthy, and, again, has a minimum amount of fat on it. Assuming that these are horses for riding, and not for eating, this focus on qualities that relate to a low BMI makes sense, as any extra weight would slow down a horse that would already be carrying a grown man. Not to mention, a man who was likely wearing armor of some description.

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Closing

There’s very little horsing around in this week’s extract from Beowulf, as Wiglaf rushes to Beowulf’s aid, shares some words of encouragement, and then prepares to defend against the dragon as it rushes on.

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Isidore of Seville’s High Praise for Horses [12:43] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
How Humors Figure into Horses?
Centaurs – A Passing Glance
Closing

{The constellation Centaurus, based on the super civilized Centaur, and great horse/human mix, Chiron. Image from The National Library of the Netherlands Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.}

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Abstract

Isidore spends time with the horses, much of which is taken up by praise.

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Translation

[43] “And from that steeds (“sonipeds”), whose hooves (“pedibus”) sound out (“sonat”). Horses live many lives: truly they leap through fields; they smell out war; they are roused by the sound of horn and battle; the voices of riders push them to running gaits; they are downtrodden when they are maltreated; they are riotous with joy when they win. Certain of them sense the enemy in war, so that they aim to bite the enemy; others truly recognize their proper master, they forget their tameness if exchanged; some receive none on their back except their master. If their master dies or grows ill they shed many tears. Truly horses alone cry and feel sorrowful emotions like humans. From whence horses and humans are naturally mixed in centaurs.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:43)

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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How Humors Figure into Horses?

Though it is just one paragraph in the Etymologiae, paragraph 43 might just be the most neatly structured.

The beginning sets up the main character – the horse – with a straightforward etymology, then the middle celebrates all of its qualities, and the end brings those qualities to a climax. And the claim nestled within that climax – that horses are the only animal that feels human emotions – definitely puts horses far above the other animals that show human behavior (lambs, cattle, and deer).

Yet, it’s curious that in his summing up of the horse’s human-like capacity for emotion, Isidore only mentions “sorrowful emotions” (“doloris affectum” (12:43)). Earlier in the paragraph, when speaking of the horse’s joy when its side is victorious, it seems that the horse can also sense the joy in the winning side. But in the summing up there is no mention of such lighthearted emotions.

This could be the contemporary understanding of the melancholic humors coming into play.

Since the Renaissance, a melancholic person has been seen as someone disconnected from the world, but who is in tune with the muses or a higher power.

Before the Renaissance, however, melancholic people were given the same properties as the earth element that corresponded to their dominant humor: lazy, slow, and ineffectual. Therefore, emphasizing a horse’s capacity for sorrow and tears – things anyone deemed melancholic is prone to – even after earlier pointing out their joy at victory, could be a way to keep the horse firmly grounded.

Perhaps this comparison even intimately associates the animal with the earth and what it represents in the theory of the humors. Nonetheless, presenting it as an animal capable of emotion still links it to the human.

Though no animal could ever entirely match a human in contemporary thought since humans alone were believed to possess things like free will and the ability to balance their humors, thereby becoming more “whole” or “perfect” and casting aside the normal trappings of life to get closer to the divine.

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Centaurs – A Passing Glance

Thus far, though 3 animals have been likened to humans in some way, the horse is the only one to have a form that’s combined with humans. This combination could be considered monstrous, but Isidore very clearly states that the mixture of the two is entirely natural. Though he doesn’t say clearly whether this natural mix is good or bad.

Perhaps Isidore understands the centaur as simply a symbolic mixture – a physical representation of the wild and civilized desires that are constantly warring with each other in the human psyche.

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Closing

Check back here on Thursday for the first part of the speech Wiglaf uses to try and rouse his fellow warriors to go to Beowulf in his time of need.

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When Isidore Starts Horsing around, His is a Slow but Steady Gait [12:40-42] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Etymology Dashes Straight from the Gate
A Nagging End
Closing

{This horse must be gritting its teeth because it’s been captured standing still. Image from the National Library of the Netherlands Medieval Illuminated Manuscript Collection.}

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Abstract

As quickly as a horse runs, Isidore speeds through entries on Arcadian asses and two kinds of horses.

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Translation

[40] “They are called Arcadian asses, those that are ridden from Arcadia, these are big and tall. But small asses are very necessary for agriculture, as they do not refuse to take hard labour and near indifference.

[41] “Horses (equi) they are called, those which are yoked in teams of four, made equal (aequabantur), joined with a like form and share of running.

[42] “Nags (caballus) were formerly called hacks (cabo), because that they press an imprint of their hoof into the ground when walking, which the other animals do no leave/do.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:40-42)

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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Etymology Dashes Straight from the Gate

The Arcadian ass is the first instance of an animal being named because of its geographic location, at least in this section of the Etymologies. In fact, the etymology that’s given for the horse is also pretty straightforward.

The horse’s name in Latin, “equi,” sounds like the Latin word for “equal” since horses, when yoked to a chariot are made equal in terms of their load of the work to pull that chariot (12:41).

This is an etymology that might not stand up to the scrutiny of modern physics, but it’s a nice thought. Though, it doesn’t quite elevate horses to the realm of humanity in the same way that lambs, cattle, and deer have been raised to that level. After all, the horses don’t divvy up the work themselves, they’re yoked to the chariot in such a way that they are made to be equal, or so St. Isidore asserts in that entry.

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A Nagging End

The last entry in this section of the bishop’s work doesn’t offer such a direction etymological connection–at least not to a non-native Latin reader.

The connection between “caballus” and “cabo” is clear enough (12:42), but, left to a guess, something about Highland games and the caber toss might have gotten involved. At any rate nags must really be heavy hoofed animals if a clause about them being the only animal to leave such an imprint closes off their entry.

Though as older horses, maybe nags are a bit more worldly and experienced, maybe they’ve picked up some computer programming skills. Maybe, the impression that they leave is just their own small way of ‘hack’-ing the earth.

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Closing

That’s all that Isidore wrote for this week (he’s saving himself for next, just wait). But part two of the tale of Wiglaf’s armor (check out part one here) is still in store for Thursday’s entry, so be sure to come check it out.

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Ruminating on Donkey Lore [12:37-39] (Latin)

{A curious depiction of the donkey from a medieval manuscript. Image from the National Libary of the Netherlands Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.}

Introduction
Translation
Recordings
The Medieval Bizarre
Under Early Riders
Closing

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Introduction

After a brief explanation of just how the cud is chewed, Isidore moves on to talk about donkeys. Goats might be lusty, but donkeys might just be kinda kinky.

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Translation

[37] “Indeed chewing the cud, rumination, is so called from the ruma, the part of the throat that is most eminent, by which these animals send back up their food from the fixed point of no return in their throats.

[38] “Ass and young donkey (asinus et asellus) are so called from “to be seated” (sedendo), like a seat: but this name, which is fitting for large horses, is given to the ass for the reason that this animal was used before horses to carry people, indeed these presided over the beginning. Since this animal is slow and holds no reason, it stands so that it can be put to people’s service by its own will.

[39] “Onager means wild ass. For in fact, the Greeks call asses onon: agrion for the wild ones. These Africa has in large numbers and untamed they wander through the deserts. On the other hand, the female alone is in herds. Males are born jealous and they pull down their testicles by biting, which they hide in secret locations and keep from their mothers.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:37-39)

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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The Medieval Bizarre

St. Isidore might have named his encyclopedia the “Etymologies” since it’s all about the origins of things, but along for the ride are some absolutely wild bits of lore.

Up there with the idea that cranes feed their chicks with their own blood and beavers gnaw off their testicles to distract prey while they escape, is Isidore’s bizarre explanation of why male donkeys do not run in packs. What’s unclear – even in this loose translation – is why the donkeys pull their testicles down in the first place.

Are they the prototypical males that are incredibly insecure about the size of their manhood and practicing an early form of animal enhancement?

Or is this just the result of somebody observing a few donkeys over eagerly cleaning their crotches? This last question raises another question, can horses do the same? Or are quadrupeds not quite that flexible? Since dogs are able to, maybe horses are just more private about it, whereas all of the donkeys running around 7th century Africa were constantly “pulling down their testicles by biting” (“testiculos eorum morsu detruncant” 12:39).

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{Looking pretty humble, but is it a dog or a donkey? The little creature near the donkey’s back leg looks curiously like some kind of miniature. Image from the National Libary of the Netherlands Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.}

Under Early Riders

Donkeys being the first animal ridden by people is another curious fact, though much less bizarre than that discussed above.

Of course, this kind of a fact is going to be geographically sensitive – people will ride what’s around as long as it’s occurred to them. If there were an island somewhere where the dogs were big enough and the people small enough, chances are, by the time this island were discovered, its people would be found riding its dogs.

Still, for the Mediterranean part of the world of which Isidore wrote, this is a curious fact since it suggests that there might be something more to Christ’s riding into Jerusalem on a donkey than his being humbled and whatnot.

Maybe riding into a major city on the oldest known mode of transportation referred to some long lost mystery rite, or cult, or religion?

Or maybe it was a display of some kind popularized among the people or in the place that Jesus was during those years of his life that are not chronicled.

Or, perhaps the donkey is a reference to the possibly well-known contemporary idea that the donkey was the first mode of transportation and suggests that it’s still a reliable one – thereby alluding to the connection that Christians still mention between Christ and the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Of course, this would also depend on whether or not the donkey could represent the contemporary idea of the original Jewish religion as laid down in the Pentateuch.

Isidore definitely leaves some food for thought with this one, and just the kind of stuff that you can swallow, regurgitate, and chew up again – stuff so juicy you can really ruminate on it.

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Closing

On Thursday check out this blog for the continuing description of Wiglaf and his pedigree.

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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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