Treasuring Words and Admiring Their Weave [ll.2756-2771a] (Old English)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Finding Use for Treasure
A Shining Standard
Closing

{Shy of the characters, Wiglaf may have seen a standard just like this one. Image found on Wikipedia.}

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Abstract

Wiglaf hurries to the hoard, where he is mesmerized by the treasure that he finds.

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Translation

“He, the triumphant in victory, when he beyond the seat
went, the young brave thane, saw many precious jewels,
glittering gold lay on the ground,
wondrous objects on the wall, and in that dragon’s lair,
daybreak flier of old, cups stood,
vessels of men of old, now lacking a burnisher,
deprived of adornment.* There were many a helmet,
old and rusty, a multitude of arm-rings
skillfully twisted. Treasure easily may,
gold in ground, overpower each one of
mankind, though one may hide it.
Also hanging he saw a standard all of gold
high over the hoard, greatest of marvels made by hand,
woven by skill of craft; from there light
shone out, so that he might see the surface of the floor,
could look at every part of those ornate objects.”
(Beowulf ll.2756-2771a)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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Finding Use for Treasure

After the excitement of the battle with the dragon, and Beowulf’s heartfelt summary of his kingship, this passage is definitely something of a rest. But that doesn’t mean that it’s entirely silent, a point in the story where the poem’s original audiences could entirely rest.

For there is treasure about.

And, along with the treasure comes a very interesting passage: “cups stood,/vessels of men of old,now lacking a burnisher,/deprived of adornment” (“orcas stondan,/fyrnmanna fatu feormendlease,/hyrstum behrorene” (ll.2760-2762)).

What makes this passage more than what it seems is it’s implication about treasure and people’s relationship to it. Because “deprived of adornment” follows “now lacking a burnisher” it sounds as if the burnishing, the polishing, was these cups’ adornment. This makes sense since whatever precious metal they were made of would require maintenance of some sort to keep its shine.

But what’s more is that as this treasure was in the care of a characteristically miserly dragon, it didn’t receive that care that people would have given it. But add to this why people would care to preserve their treasure, especially the sorts of things described here. My own theory is that they would use these things and they would need them to be in their top shape.

Putting this all together you come out with the impression that the passage implies that treasure is ostensibly valuable only when it’s being used by people. And treasure can’t be used by the same person indefinitely, so the best way to keep treasure in use is to give it away. It’s given away to be used by the young, who can then maintain it and then give it away again, thus keeping the cycle going indefinitely.

Not to mention keeping the preciousness of the treasure in tact indefinitely.

However, this reading of treasure as the fuel in a perpetual motion machine of gifting and receiving is troubled by what happens to the treasure hoard that Beowulf and Wiglaf won. It all gets buried with Beowulf.

To be fair, the treasure may well have been buried for a strategic purpose. After all, having great wealth would likely bring down the Geats’ old enemies upon them much more quickly than the news of their loss alone.

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A Shining Standard

Another illuminating part of this passage comes at it’s end. The standard that lights the cave in which Wiglaf finds the hoard is clearly very shiny (being described as “all of gold” (“eallgylden” (ll.2767))), and must have sunlight striking it. But this sparkling standard is also significant because it echoes an earlier light in a cave: That which appears when Beowulf kills Grendel’s Mother in her den (ll.1570-1572).

Because of the parallels – the light appears in a cave, comes from a fantastical source, flares up only after the defeat of a powerful monster of one sort or other – it’s tempting to say that Wiglaf’s assist in slaying the dragon is his own killing of Grendel’s Mother. This reading is also bolstered by Wiglaf’s taking treasures back with him to Beowulf just as Beowulf bore the hilt of the giants’ sword and Grendel’s head back to Hrothgar.

Yet, then, we run into the question: Is that where the parallels end? After the treasure is brought back to Beowulf and Wiglaf is cemented as the new leader of the Geats is he not still on the same trajectory as Beowulf?

Maybe he is, but because he isn’t Beowulf (even if he is, for now, nameless) it’s not his fate for a similar trajectory to land him in the same place as the poem’s lead character.

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Closing

Next week, the third and final stanza of “O Fortuna” gets translated (and the whole thing gets posted as a recording), and Wiglaf takes as much treasure as he can back to the waiting Beowulf.

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Sex, Horses, and Reproductive Lore [12:58-59] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
The Galen Connection
Beautiful Thoughts, Beautiful Offspring
Closing

{Jacob, showing the sheep the peeled rods. Image found in the National Library of the Netherlands’ Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.}

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Abstract

Isidore gets into the details of managing the conception and birthing of animal offspring for desired results.

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Translation

[58] “Certainly human diligence has paired many diverse animals together in sex, so too are discovered other types mingling in forged embraces; just as Jacob was able to get animals of unnatural color and likeness. For the rod was absorbed by those fertile sheep, which they would see by the water as the shadow of a ram looming over them.

[59] “Further, this itsef is done with the fertile mares of a herd, so that the birth of horses is affected by what is thrown before them while they conceive, which are able to conceive and create their likeness. For on their collars are painted in a beautiful way and placed in their presence, those that they respect, which leads to quick births of animals like those that they see.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:58-59)

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Recordings

Latin:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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The Galen Connection

The ideas that Isidore writes about here might just be pulled from the works of the famed second century physician and philosopher, Galen. His theory of conception was that it was necessary for both a man and a woman who wanted to have a child to orgasm at the same time, thereby having their contributions to the child line up.

A failure to impregnate a woman or to become impregnated was a failure to climax at the same time in other words, and not necessarily chalked up to either partner’s having something wrong with their equipment.

Further, though, Galen also wrote about how it was important for the parents-to-be to imagine beautiful things during intercourse.

This was especially true for women, since there was a vague sense that they carried the human essence that would become a child and that men merely helped to shape and quicken this essence. So, if a man was thinking of a lovely thing, and the woman he was with was thinking of some sort of “dog-headed ape” (to borrow Isidore’s “cynocephalus” (12:60)), it was believed that her conception would result in the child being somehow deficient.

Unfortunately, the emphasis on simultaneous orgasm didn’t last too far into the medieval period since the re-discovery of Aristotle led to the adoption of his ideas on the matter. According to old Ari, only the man had to orgasm during sex; it was merely the woman’s job to catch his ejaculation properly.

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Beautiful Thoughts, Beautiful Offspring

As far as the animals that Isidore writes about here are concerned, the same principles are in play. Plus, he wisely refers to the greatest auctoritee of them all in the medieval world – Scripture.

Jacob used his own sort of animal engineering, and that lead to his prosperity, so why can’t contemporary people do the same, the reference implies.

In fact, paragraph 59, though only about mares, talks about presenting those that are fertile with beautiful things so matter of factly that the lore presented is definitely taken as pure fact.

Perhaps there is some truth to it, since a birth might not go so smoothly if a mare gets spooked in the middle of it, or is under extra duress because she’s being stared down by some cynocephalus or other.

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Closing

Check back here Thursday for Wiglaf’s washing, and the beginning of Beowulf’s rather telling speech.

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Moving from Horses to Mules [12:56-57] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Moving Mules from Language to Language
The Power of the Bigenerum?
Closing

{Simply grey, but what a worker. Image from the National Library of the Netherlands’ Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts collection.}

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Abstract

Isidore’s generalization about the three kinds of horses moves into a piece about mules, their uses, origins, and habits.

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Translation

[56] “There are three kinds of horses: those apt for war and work, others to drive the commons and the herd, but are not apt to ride, the third arises from a mixture of the diverse kinds, that are truly called two-kinded (bigenerum) which from diverse sorts are born, like mules.

[57] “Moreover, the word mule is had from the Greek for “drive” (tractum). Among the Greeks, millers truly use this mule to turn the mechanism of their mills. The Jews freed those flocks when Jacob made them conceive mules in the desert by himself, made of the first born, so that the mules from there were newly and against nature born among natural animals. Wild asses to this also are added as well as donkeys: and they themselves by the same method are found in intercourse, so that very quickly are donkeys born.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:56-57)

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Recordings

Latin:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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Moving Mules from Language to Language

Although mules are well suited to menial tasks, like powering mills, Isidore did not make them easy to translate into English. Much of paragraph 57 is understandable with some tweaks and some twists, but it all runs on contemporary shared knowledge more than anything else save for its opening sentence.

The relationship between whatever Greek word is in question and the Latin tractum is not entirely clear. The sentence could mean that the Greek is derived from the Latin, or that the Latin term and the Greek are the same, and so there’s no need for the differentiation that including both terms brings.

The quick retelling of the story of Jacob and Laban’s flocks is also altered in the original Latin. The crux of this is the phrase “Ana abnepos Esau” (12:57) Esau is a familiar name, but Ana looks off, and the combination of the two with the word for “great great grandson” makes it even more bizarre. Perhaps there’s some esoteric bit of lore about a grandson that’s at work here, but that has since been forgotten about.

Other interpretations of these passages are possible, but these are the ones that seem most likely to me, given my limited knowledge of Latin’s complexities.

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The Power of the Bigenerum?

To sum up the entirey of paragraph 57, mules are work animals.

But the question that arises from these two paragraphs is: Does this designation as a work animal come from mules’ being a perfect mixture of two types of horse – as seems to be implied by a Latin adjective describing mules – “bigenerum” (12:56)?

Given the description of mules thus far, it seems that the answer must be yes, resoundingly. After all, combine horses that can be ridden into war, and those that can be used to herd animals, and the natural result would be something hardy and used for strenuous activity.

But then, if Esau is being credited with the creation of mules, then does that mean that he did it intentionally?

According to the story in the KJV (Genesis 30:25-43), Jacob creates these mules in order to steal away Laban’s flock after he has worked for him for seven years in exchange for Laban’s daughter Rachel.

Since the idea to use the rod to scare the females into giving birth while they were drinking, resulting in mules, was his own, Isidore is definitely in the right to say that these mules were “were newly and against nature born among natural animals,” (“nova contra naturam animalia nascerentur” 12:57).

Truly intriguing in the KJV though is the mention in verse 41 of chapter 30 of Genesis that Jacob only used his trick when the strong ones among Laban’s flocks and cattle were pregnant. In other words, they weren’t just bred for necessity, they were bred for strength – something that Isidore nails here.

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Closing

Check back here on Thursday for Beowulf and Wiglaf’s brief revel, and a tragic realization.

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Isidore of Seville on Color (Pt.2) [12:53-55] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
The Trickiness of Translating Color (2)
High Riders and Low Riders
Closing

{A stained glass window from The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, also known simply as Seville Cathedral. Image from the Wikipedia.}

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Abstract

Isidore continues his descriptions of colors, and ends with an indirect description of a pony express.

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Translation

[53] “Roan is what the common folk call guaranen. Brazen itself the commons call this; which is colored in the way of bronze. On the other hand, myrtle is simply purple.

[54] “Moreover, they call it [dowry], the color that is the same as the ass’ color: that itself and ash grey are the same. They are also those colors in the wild breeds: those born, as the horse breeders say, without the ability to pass on the refinement of civilization.

[55] “Moors are black, truly the Greeks call black mauron. Gallic horses are in fact small horses, which the commons call brownish. Truly gifted the old ones call those which drive back, that is lead; or which run on public ways, going to and fro as they are accustomed to do.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:53-55)

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Recordings

Latin:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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The Trickiness of Translating Color (2)

Some things just don’t seem to be translatable. This week’s section isn’t as bad as last week’s, but one word seems to have been left behind by Modern English: “guaranen.”

This word is indeed mysterious, but it must at the least refer to some color involving brown and white since it’s comparable to the color roan, itself the name for the color of animals whose pelts mingle brown and white closely together.

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High Riders and Low Riders

Throughout the descriptions and explanations this week, Isidore consistently refers to the commons as having a different vocabulary. Since he’s writing about horses, an animal that has many functions in human societies, this makes sense.

The common folk are likely to use horses to work and get around, whereas the wealthy are those that breed them for show and for speed – arguably less utilitarian ends. A gap between these two groups is also seen in the differing terms for copper colored: “cervinus” and “Aeranen,” (12:53). The first of these refers to the color of deer and the second to the color of a valuable metal thought to last forever.

Color terms are likely to come from things encountered in daily life, since this gives them a grounding in shared experience, and the difference in experience of the wealthy and the commons is underscored by the gap between the deer that the wealthy had time to admire and a valuable metal that the commons may well have coveted.

Curiously, this creates something of a yin-yang relationship, in that each group contains a germ of the other.

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Closing

Check back here on Thursday for the final exchange of attacks between team Beowulf and the dragon.

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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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